Harbor Freight Dovetail jig

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Review by Tim29 posted 07-26-2010 07:20 AM 57641 views 18 times favorited 55 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Harbor Freight Dovetail jig Harbor Freight Dovetail jig Harbor Freight Dovetail jig Click the pictures to enlarge them

I have been wanting to get a dovetail jig for sometime now. I was up against a brick wall however. Do I fork over the bucks for a Porter Cable jig or do I buy a cheaper jig and see if it does the job for less money. I have tried this type of approach many times with many tools. Most of the time I have went on to pay for the better quality tool as well as the cheaper tool that did not work. This is not one of those times.
I paid the $23 for the Harbor Freight Dovetail jig and it works pretty well. I also bought the Ridgid router bushing set for $40 at the home depot.
I have to say that when and if you buy this jig throw the instructions away and go to this link.
These are much better instructions for the jig. The original manual said to use a 1/2” bushing with the jig. It actually needs a 7/16” bushing.
After reading through the correct set of instructions, I set up the jig like they said and the half blind dovetails fit…..loosely. I shimmed the bushing with a few wraps of masking tape and EUREKA….Big beautiful half blind dovetails!!
If you are willing to spend the money for a porter cable, I am sure it would work better, quicker, and easier. However, having talked to people that have used these jigs there is still some trial and error involved. I will likely buy one when I have more fun tickets in the wallet but for right now this jig works great.
I can only give this product 3 stars because I have never used another one and have nothing to compare it to. For me it works great and was worth the $23 I paid for it.
Thanks for reading and I hope this helps someone.

After more tinkering with settings on day#2 with the jig I extended the bit out a little more and removed the masking tape shim. Perfect half blind dovetails that actually set on the halfway mark of the face board. It helps to read the directions further. WAY TO GO NEWBIE!!!
Also, whatever bushing set you use, if you have to mount a new baseplate on your router be sure it is centered. After reading about the issues with these types of jigs, I found that a major factor is the centering of the new bushing baseplate. Do not take for granted that the holes you drill using the template are centered. I wound up drilling 2 sets of holes for my plate. The ones that were marked on the template the set came with using the cheap horrible bit provided, and the correct ones I made off of the original baseplate that were dead on center.

-- Tim, Nevada MO

View Tim29's profile


307 posts in 4070 days

55 comments so far

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3961 days

#1 posted 07-26-2010 08:10 AM

Fun tickets, never heard them called that. Well done review, I have been thinking about getting one of them. I might just throw some fun tickets HF way and get one.

View Russ's profile


357 posts in 3997 days

#2 posted 07-26-2010 08:52 PM

Thank you for the review and information as I was thinking about purchasing this unit.

-- Russ

View Pete_Jud's profile


424 posts in 4673 days

#3 posted 07-26-2010 09:54 PM

I bought one a couple of years ago, got it home and found out that it won’t do through dovetails. Took it back and bought 2 Porter Cable 4212’s.

-- Life is to short to own an ugly boat.

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3800 days

#4 posted 07-26-2010 10:21 PM

Based on the problems or issues you said you had when first using the jig it sounds like the same problems I had when I first used my Leigh dovetail jig. I watched demo videos, and read just about every page of the instructions and I still had to play with it for hours before I got my dovetails to fit right. Once I spent the time and a ton of practice later I finally got it figured out. I think with these jigs it all boils down to just getting the hang of it. After that they all do pretty much the same thing.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4497 days

#5 posted 07-26-2010 10:29 PM

Who would have guessed a HF dovetail jig worth having. I buy a number of their products but not very many.


View Routerisstillmyname's profile


763 posts in 4429 days

#6 posted 07-26-2010 10:38 PM

Yes indeed, I couldn’t pass it up for $22’s much better than some jigs selling for 3-4 times more.and works with thicker wood cause he fingers are long.

-- Router è ancora il mio nome.

View cwdance1's profile


1161 posts in 4179 days

#7 posted 07-27-2010 12:48 AM

Thanks for the review as I too have been wanting to do some dovetails but could not affort one of the expensive sets at this time. I will be heading to HF tomorrow for one of these.


View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3979 days

#8 posted 07-27-2010 02:37 AM

Thanks for the suggestion on the link to the instructions. I have had one of these jigs for a few years now. After several attempts to figure things out from the ridiculous instructions that came with it, I gave up and put it on the shelf and it hasn’t been used since. Maybe with these instructions, I can give it a try again with better success this time.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Tim29's profile


307 posts in 4070 days

#9 posted 07-27-2010 06:26 AM

Thanks for the feedback everyone. I was apprehensive about putting this review on here because before I tried this jig the words “Harbor Freight” and “Dovetail Jig” should not have meant anything good. I was proven wrong so I figured you guys should know about it.
I did forget to mention I am using a 1/2” 14 degree dovetail bit.

-- Tim, Nevada MO

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4384 days

#10 posted 07-27-2010 01:50 PM

thanks for the serious review. this jig, and other cheap ones of similar design, are often given terrible reviews. I’m sure the instructions are crappy, but that doesn’t mean the problem is with the hardware. there is the nice instructions that you linked, as well as a pretty comprehensive one put out by POrter Cable.

if I recall correctly, a couple big problems that people did have with hardware involved:
1) wood slipping in the clamps because the cams aren’t strong enough and the plastic will break if you force it.
2) the plastic template that you route around deflects because it is thin and weak.

could you address these issues?

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4028 days

#11 posted 07-27-2010 01:53 PM

Thanks for the review Tim. I am glad you posted this. Please don’t hesitate to post any findings on an off brand tool. An expensive tool with a an extensive warranty is one that I assume will work well and I can always take it back if it don’t. Professional reviews on those types of items are pretty easy to find. However, there are cheap tools out there that I get curious if anyone tried with good or great success and reviews on those items are harder to come by.

Just a few comments to add to your very detailed review. The link to the instructions you provided is excellent and I have a printout of the same set of instructions. This jig is exactly the same as the one offered by Grizzly and Rockler (for a few more pennies). There is math and setup involved when using the jig. There is a formula based on the size of your router plate. You did the math, you worked on the setup, you used flat boards, and you got nice results. All are crucial or the jig will not work well. Dovetail jigs are not designed as “no brainers” where you just slap the boards in, make your cuts, and everything is perfect.

Also, I have noticed an error in assembly on some of these models at the factory. On the model I purchased (and have seen on a few in other people’s shops) the handle assembly was put on backwards. This caused the handle to tighten on the boards by pulling it towards the router template instead of away from it. When the handle goes toward the template, you do not have the proper clearance to cut the dovetails. The fix is pretty simple, there are knobs that hold the assembly together. Unscrew them, turn the assembly and screw the knobs back on. If anyone has this problem, shoot me a line and I will put together a little tutorial on fixing the issue.

Thanks again Tim, great review!


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Tim29's profile


307 posts in 4070 days

#12 posted 07-27-2010 04:08 PM

On issue 1: When you look at the round black metal pieces where the handles attach, you will see 4 gray round pieces (both top and bottom handles). These are made of plastic and I can see where people could have a problem after lots of use with the clamps too tight. I have not had any of these issues yet but I have only had the jig 3 days as of 7/27. No slipping yet but time will tell.
On issue 2: The template is made of metal so no flexing or brittleness. I have however read a review where a person bought the same jig from a different store and the template was bent slightly. Bent slightly on dovetails=off horribly. If this happened I am pretty sure a person could just take the jig back and get another if so inclined.
I hope this helps and thank you for reading.

-- Tim, Nevada MO

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4384 days

#13 posted 07-27-2010 07:34 PM

thanks. that doesn’t seem that bad to me. might have to give this one a shot.

View Crushgroovin's profile


234 posts in 3844 days

#14 posted 07-27-2010 10:23 PM

So hey how did you get it for $23 bucks? I buy quite a few products from HF but don’t see any coupons or ads for the dovetail jig. @ $34 it has been on my radar but hey I would gladly save 11 bucks!

-- I wouldn't be so arrogant if you weren't such a moron!

View Routerisstillmyname's profile


763 posts in 4429 days

#15 posted 07-28-2010 05:01 AM

It’s was on sale at the store last week maybe it’s still on sale this week.

-- Router è ancora il mio nome.

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