Hand cut dovetails vs. dovetail jig. Which do you use and why?

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Forum topic by EricTy posted 07-26-2012 06:26 PM 12781 views 0 times favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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62 posts in 2785 days

07-26-2012 06:26 PM

Topic tags/keywords: jig dovetail dovetails

I’ve seen the jigs and Rockler has theirs on sale for $100 with free shipping. I was just wondering how many folks use jigs vs. hand cutting dovetails.

I know there a mystique about hand cutting dovetails and the pride and joy of a tight fit. There’s also the speed and perfection of jig cut dovetails.

Which do you prefer and why?

-- Only you know the mistakes were intentional...

45 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4182 days

#1 posted 07-26-2012 06:32 PM

Just learn to cut them and you’ll see that it’s not that
hard to do adequately and to a certain sort of personality
the working towards quiet perfection is fun.

The jig-cut joints also won’t fool a discerning eye
so in terms of doing quality reproductions they are
generally not acceptable.

View Mosquito's profile


9918 posts in 2827 days

#2 posted 07-26-2012 06:36 PM

I do hand cut dovetails. My main reasoning is because I wanted to learn them. Instead of spending $100 on a jig for my router, I instead invested that money into a quality dovetail saw instead. Another part of the reason is that I’m currently doing a fair amount of my woodworking in my apartment’s spare bedroom, so I’m forced to stick with hand tools :-P

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3020 days

#3 posted 07-26-2012 06:53 PM

I asked my uncle (a full time woodworker) his opinion on that question. His contention is that the scope of the project determines whether to do it by hand or machine. If you’re doing something small like a jewelry box, sure, do it by hand. But if you have a huge project that requires a dozen drawers or so, get the router jig and blast ‘em out.

It makes sense to me. It’s all about being adaptable. Being able to do both seems like the best option.

-- Brian Timmons -

View woodtools's profile


21 posts in 2824 days

#4 posted 07-26-2012 08:36 PM

From my perspective, it depends more on the project to determine the woodworking style, tools and approach. If I am building a period reproduction, I tend to use period tools and woodworking style.

View jmos's profile


916 posts in 2904 days

#5 posted 07-26-2012 08:45 PM

I agree it depends. I have the Rockler jig, and it works fine. If I had a bunch of drawers to do, and it was not a “fine” project, I’d use it, but I mostly do hand cut. I enjoy doing them, I think they look better, and I get more satisfaction out of them. But, when you need a lot fast, a jig is nice.

-- John

View handi's profile


159 posts in 4974 days

#6 posted 07-29-2012 04:11 PM

I own both the Rockler and PC dovetail jigs, and I even produced the demo video on Rockler’s website for their jig.

I will set up a jig if I need to make a bunch of drawers, but for a drawer or two, I can have them hand cut inte time it takes to dig out the jig and set it up.

The first couple times you hand cut them they WILL take longer and may not be as neat, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be making great joints in less time than it takes to discuss it.

I see no reason to choose one method over another (other than cost) having the ability to do either expands your capabilities.


-- Watch Woodcademy free on Amazon Prime!

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2723 days

#7 posted 07-29-2012 06:26 PM

I think there is a lot of hype around dovetails, handcut dovetails in particular, which modern adhesives have rendered much less important structurally than in days of old. Finger jointing, especially in splintery straight grained woods like Douglas Fir, is less problematic and for all intents and purposes equally good.

I have a Leigh jig which allows me to occasionally cut super dovetails without spending years getting good enough at it to come close by hand. Also, I would argue that the whole reproducton thing is also totally overblown. Look at all the other ways those guys cut corners compared to how it was done in days of old. Handcut dovetails are, in my opinion, as much about marketing as anything else.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View bhog's profile


2238 posts in 3225 days

#8 posted 07-29-2012 06:42 PM

I do them by hand.Its fun and its a skill building operation.Im sure there will be a day when I need to get a jig for it,but untill then I will do it by hand.

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5996 posts in 3348 days

#9 posted 07-29-2012 07:27 PM

I use a jig Porter Cable jig. You can make the joints more interesting with a 14 degree router bit.
If I am churning out a bedroom set, there is no way I am cutting the dovetails by hand.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View NiteWalker's profile


2739 posts in 3111 days

#10 posted 07-29-2012 08:52 PM

I use the porter cable 4212 jig.
If I tried to cut them by hand I may as well just hack the wood up on the table saw and throw it out. :p

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View Zinderin's profile


94 posts in 2667 days

#11 posted 08-17-2012 02:43 PM

Ok, I know this is going to be considered heresy, but I personally believe waaaay too much emphasis is put on dovetails. 99% of the time, a tongue and groove drawer joint or a finger joint is more than sufficient given today’s adhesives.

Dovetails do have their purpose … unfortunately its typically to impress other woodworkers and fine furniture connoisseurs who have been convinced by woodworkers, a piece isn’t “fine” unless it has dovetails.

With 90% of your customers, you whip that drawer open and start bragging about those dovetails …. they will just stare back at you with a blank stare … they don’t understand, they don’t care, and whats more … they aren’t paying for it.

And I can’t justify not using a jig for half-blinds.

So yeah, you can note my name and tag me a “hack” ... that’s just my experience and my opinion.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2645 days

#12 posted 08-17-2012 03:09 PM

”Ok, I know this is going to be considered heresy, but I personally believe waaaay too much emphasis is put on dovetails. 99% of the time, a tongue and groove drawer joint or a finger joint is more than sufficient given today‚Äôs adhesives.”

I agree. In fact, finger jointed plywood has been used for 50-60 years under the vinyl wrap on musical instrument amp cabinets. Many of which have seen years of being moved and dropped often, wide temperature and humidity swings, and extreme vibration. I’ve even built some incredibly strong plywood lateral file drawers that are simply glued and pocket screwed together. The screws are invisible in normal use, located on the back and hidden in front by an overlaid drawer front.

That said, I love dovetails when they fit the setting, and I cut them using hand and machines. Usually it’s a combination of both.

It’s all situation dependent. For example, I’ll hand saw half blinds and fit with a chisel, but hog out waste with a freehand trim router. For a kitchen with solid wood drawer sides , I’ll do them all with my Leigh D4R. For a sofa or computer table, I’ll cut them by hand, as the jig is unable to make pins as skinny as I’d like.

I don’t think dovetails are great in plywood. I know some people, as well as factories, do this, but I’d rather see a joint better suited to the material.

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 4255 days

#13 posted 08-17-2012 05:41 PM

I’ve done it both ways. I prefer hand cutting. It’s more fun. It’s faster and easier than setting up and testing the jig. It gets my mind around the joint and its purpose rather than the settings of a jig. It’s a bonding experience with the wood and the project. I like the flexibility and the look. Plus it’s quieter. It also increases hand/eye coordination and the ability to make fine corrections quickly and easily.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View ducky911's profile


237 posts in 3324 days

#14 posted 08-17-2012 06:04 PM

I have an akeda jig If you look at my project pictures you can see two chest that i made one with the akeda and on hand cut.

which one do you like best?


View Nick_R's profile


154 posts in 2684 days

#15 posted 08-17-2012 11:28 PM

I am currently going down this road. I bought a jig made by General from Home Depot for $30. It actually worked just the way they said… but It only worked on 1/2 stock, and after a few practice trys the limitations of a jig became clear to me. The Jocks told me to get a hand saw and cut away.. I did that….. sort of.

I started messing around with a scroll saw to cut the tails and box cut type. It makes it pretty quick and if you score the wood before you cut it, it makes a very nice edge. It was a sort of compromise for me since a nice handsaw is $145 at Woodcraft.. Just didn’t want to spend the money/.

Just my opinion

-- Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

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