Akeda - BC24 24" Dovetailing Jig (Rating: 5)

First, Some Background
There's one thing I should clarify so you'll put this jig in the proper perspective: I've never made a dovetail. Not by hand, not by machine. I've never even seen a dovetail jig used (except on New Yankee Workshop). To be perfectly honest, I didn't (until this morning) know the difference between a pin and a tail.

That being said, I have aspirations of building fine furniture of my own design some day. And with those aspirations in mind, I try to make each tool purchase my first and last for that type of tool, so when I picked this jig I knew it was pricey for a neophyte like me, but I wanted to be sure that I'd want to keep it - til I die.

Why Did I Choose the Akeda
To me, the Akeda jig stood out for two major reasons. First, although the dovetail spacing is variable, it varies only at increments of 1/8th of an inch. Some see this as a limitation, but I see it as in-built repeatability. Second, Akeda displaces all the geometry of setup into their proprietary bits and guide pieces. What that means is that as long as you use the right bits with the right guide pieces, the jig is supposed to be foolproof - requiring no adjustments to dial in the cut.

I'd researched some of the criticisms leveled at Akeda as well. The biggest criticism was that the Akeda Jig was only 16 inches wide. Which is why I ordered their brand new 24 inch "Blanket Chest" model. :)

The ordering process (from The Jig Store in Canada) was smooth and simple. I did have an opportunity to email Kevan at Akeda, who replied quickly and completely-making his reputation for customer care well deserved.

I placed my order knowing full well that a Leigh jig would have been the conventional choice.

On Arrival
The jig and accessory kit arrived promptly and in good shape. Below are photos of the contents, but suffice it to say that you need a specific bit and a specific set of guides for different board thicknesses, so there are a LOT of parts and pieces. Everything is well constructed and the jig itself weighs in at about 40 pounds.

And the accessory pack that I ordered with it…

Setup was as painless as advertised and the jig was ready to go in under 15 minutes. But with the jig ready to go, I wasn't! I own two routers: an old Ryobi half horse fixed base that I use for quick edge treatments and a Triton 2.25 hp plunge that lives in my router table. The Ryobi baseplate didn't work with the Porter Cable style guide bushings Akeda supplies, so I pulled the Triton out. After fitting the various attachments needed to adapt the Triton to PC style, their was simply no way I could get it to work with the jig. I chalk this up as my own issue and not a shortcoming of the jig, but for those of us hoping to get by with fewer routers, you might want to know. So… I headed down to Home Depot to buy a PC router… and came back with the Ridgid instead.

Here's a view of the clamping arm. It has a rubbery sandpaper-like substance on it to hold the work secure.

The knob used to clamp and unclamp the work is a separate piece that you move around the jig as needed, which I like, but there's no way to quickly spin the know for big adjustments, which I didn't. This last bit is a minor shortcoming and I could easily customize the handle to address my concerns, but my bet is that if it had a longer handle (as I desire) then it would bang into the work if I was using larger pieces.

Ready to Cut
With an entirely new router in hand, I set up a test on some pine I had laying around. Since through-dovetails are the most complicated (IMO) on this jig, I figured I'd try those first.

I should emphasize at this point that I referred to the manual only very briefly to make sure that I wasn't missing something HUGE. Pretty much everything was done based on intuition, and intuition seems to be a suitable replacement for the user guide with this jig. Also, remember that I'm using a new out of the box router, and I did not adjust it at all, so the baseplate did not benefit from a detailed centering process. Lastly, I used soft pine which had not been jointed to flatness.

Tails first. I put in the tail guides (which you use for any size joint) and inserted the proper router bit (7 degrees for my 3/4 inch board). I set the bit depth by clamping my board in the horizontal clamp first and dropping the bit to meet the bottom of the board.

Then I inserted my work into the vertical clamp.

The router is well supported and slides smoothly over the jig. Dust collection works as advertised. Visibility is good too. Overall, routing the work was uneventful - just the way I like it. Also, I really like how the router is fully supported and the bit is safely "buried" in the jig when I plug in the router and/or turn it on; it's a nice little safety routine facilitated by the design of the jig.

I switched to the straight cutting bit (which you don't need to do for half-blind dovetails), switched out the guide fingers for pin cutting, clamped in the new board, and cut again.

Here's the result. The joint has a perfect feel to the fit (as far as I know!). I had to push to fit the joint by hand, but not too hard. Alignment was good and the joint appears tight. Akeda supplies (as an accessory) two different bushings that should tighten or loosen the fit if I desire; I might try those just to see what I'm missing.

(You might notice in the photos that I have one board inserted backwards; since my layout is not symmetrical it creates an offset on either end. The joint is fine… I'm the one with the defect!

Excluding my trip to Home Depot to buy an appropriate router, it took me about 40 minutes to unpack the jig and router my first dovetails-ever! And, they were perfect.

Below are my second dovetails ever. The first were not a fluke! This could become an addiction.