A router for the Leigh Dovetail jig - advice appreciated.

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Forum topic by bluekingfisher posted 12-19-2014 09:47 AM 6894 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1333 posts in 4270 days

12-19-2014 09:47 AM

I have a rudimentary grasp of the router, however, and although I own a few, I have never utilised their range or expanded beyond the relative basics. Why? I don’t know, I suppose because I have often found a way of getting the job done without the mess, noise and fuss associated with setting up a router.

Having purchased a Leigh dovetail jig a couple of years ago I have been thinking about pulling it from the box and making some router cut dovetails.

I know there are some great routing aficianados in LJ land so I am hoping some one can point me in the right direction??

The Leigh jig makes use of 8mm cutters, and although most 1/2” routers come supplied with the additional 8 mm collet to fit the smaller cutters the router itself can be a fairly weighty machine, which may be difficult to control when edge routing or when working on a dovetail jig

So, my question, or questions are as follows -

Is there a preferred router for use on dovetail jigs? would a mid size 1/2” router due to its smaller mass be more effective, comparative to its lesser power output. If so, which models are recommended?

Is a plunge or fixed base router more suited to this procedure?

Alternatively, should a dedicated 8mm router be considered?

Is a variable speed control necessary for this particular operation?

Dust control – The jig is supplied with vacum attachement, will this be enough to deal with chips and dust. Is a vac attachment for the router required, or is the additional hose to the router just an obstruction.

Sub base – The bushing supplied with the jig may only fit specific routers, will I have to consider the additional expense of a sub base?

Quite a few questions there guys and gals I know but if anyone would like to take the time to share their experiences or advice then it would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks in advance


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

20 replies so far

View hoosier0311's profile


706 posts in 3315 days

#1 posted 12-19-2014 05:04 PM

Not really a router guru, but I have been using the Leigh super 24 for a long time now. I have a craftsman Router, not sure what model but it is a full sized one that accepts the 1/2 collets. Keep in mind that when using the DT jig one has to make one pass, you can’t nibble away at the tails. So you need something powerful enough to eat through the 1/2 stock you will probably be using. One goes into the stock unobstructed by anything, simply glide in between the jig fingers, a plunge base in not required. Once the correct depth is set do not change it until you are finished. I think the jig itself is more likely to challenge you than a router choice. Read the directions carefully and watch the DVD. When they say make small adjustments they mean just that SMALL adjustments. Too aggressive on the adjustments send your dovetails from “they need a minor tweak” to “Holy crap they are waaaay to lose”
Here are my top few “learning moments” with the DT jig.
1) follow the directions to the letter
2) be patient especially in terms of feed rate, very easy to tear out some stock. This makes really crappy looking dove tails.
3) cut all the tails first, then cut all the pins. make the pins too tight at first, you can always trim some away, but you can’t add material to make up space

My .02

-- atta boy Clarence!

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

491 posts in 2971 days

#2 posted 12-19-2014 05:16 PM

I use a Porter Cable 2 1/2 HP fixed base router because that’s what I have around for it. I have smaller routers but they don’t have 1/2 collets like you said and I find bigger ones or even the plunge base on the Porter Cable to get uncomfortable and tippy even with the dust attachment on the jig. If I could get a 8mm collet for my Dewalt compact router I would use that with the fixed base in a heart beat but I have not seen one.

I see Dewalt does sell the 8mm version of the router in Erupoe but I can’t find the collect only at least not in my 2 minute search.

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 4270 days

#3 posted 12-19-2014 08:38 PM

Hoosier & Richard – thanks fellas for the input, much appreciated.

I need to have a look at the jig and take the time to set it up. However, as with the router fiddling and fudging around really puts the bite on me lol. That said, once the basic technique is mastered I’m sure if will become an enjoyable experience.

Thanks again gents for sharing your tips and experience with the Leigh jig.


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View dawsonbob's profile


4188 posts in 3045 days

#4 posted 12-19-2014 08:47 PM

If you happen to have a Bosch router, you can buy an 8mm collet from Amazon for a little less than $20:
I’m afraid that that’s all the help I can offer.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

View pintodeluxe's profile


6497 posts in 4103 days

#5 posted 12-19-2014 09:07 PM

I like fixed base routers best for cutting dovetails. I have tried Freud, Porter Cable and Dewalt with a jig. I really like the Dewalt 618 best for cutting dovetails because it sits very low and feels stable. I would look for a dedicated 8mm collet, as opposed to a 8mm sleeve that fits in a 1/2” collet.

My favorite joint to cut is a half blind dovetail. I cut it in two passes. One router I set up with a spiral bit, and hog out most of the waste. Another router has the dovetail bit, and completes the cut. That way the dovetail bit doesn’t overheat or get jumpy.
The single best tip I can give you is to lubricate the fingers of the jig and your router base plate with a dry lube such as Bostik Top Coat. I didn’t realize how much friction there was between the router and the jig. Eliminating that friction makes the cuts easier to make and more accurate.

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

View brtech's profile


1173 posts in 4213 days

#6 posted 12-19-2014 09:20 PM

That collet will probably work with a Hitachi M12VC, which you can get for $99

The standard 1/2 collet on that router tends to stick for most users. The M12VC is a very nice 11 amp router with variable speed and soft start.

View bonesbr549's profile


1589 posts in 4357 days

#7 posted 12-19-2014 10:15 PM

Been using mine for a long time. I reccomend two routers to make your life easy. Use one for the tails and one for the pins. Once you get your setup, you can fly through the cuts. I use a PC690 and festool of1500. Try to avoid heavy units. I have a PC890 that is top heavy and don’t prefer to use it.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s a snap.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View johnstoneb's profile


3183 posts in 3463 days

#8 posted 12-19-2014 10:20 PM

x1 on two routers. I use the PC 690 and a Dewalt 618 both fixed base.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Todd Swartwood's profile

Todd Swartwood

258 posts in 3015 days

#9 posted 12-20-2014 12:35 AM

I have quite a few routers, 3 of them are Hitachi M12VC. They are my favorite to use, and if you look at Big Sky Tools you will find that they have them on sale right now. If you don’t mind re-manufactured tools
they have them in grade C for $72.00 or grade A for $85.00.
I like to get my router set for my Leigh DT jig and leave it set up unless I have to use the router the bit is in.
If you have the vac attachment that sets at the front of the jig it will handle the chips and dust pretty well.
I actually have to set mine up in the next couple days to do 6 drawer boxes. I have never used all the features
mainly the 1 pass 1/2 blind DT. I may get adventurous and do the 2 pass through DT set up like the hand cut ones.

If I can help you at all with the process don’t hesitate to contact me.

Merry Christmas and have a blessed evening, Todd

-- Todd Swartwood (Todd Swart-Woodworks)

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7177 posts in 4484 days

#10 posted 12-20-2014 06:17 AM

Hey Amigo,

Sorry, but I can’t help you any…I’ve never cut a dovetail joint, but I’ve got a dovetail jig….I bought one from MLCS about 6-7 years ago, and it’s still new in the box. I couldn’t tell you how to set it up to use…I thought I might be using it, but I use more box joints when I make personal projects, and that’s not very often…..So….I guess i should sell it for all the good it’s doing me…..I have the right routers, just not the desire to use dovetails.

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 4270 days

#11 posted 12-20-2014 08:31 PM

Fellas – thanks very much for taking the time to respond.

Thee are a lot of interesting tips and hints submitted, I will investigate further.

I may have to get back to some of you again, however the battery on my ipad is about to die, so until recharged, thanks very much, greatly appreciated.


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4094 days

#12 posted 12-21-2014 02:04 PM

I have no answers for you David, but, I will be following along. I purchased a Vermont America dovetail jig for a super good price about 2 years ago, and, I’m embarrassed to say, I haven’t used it yet. 2015 sounds like a good year to cut some dovetails.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 4270 days

#13 posted 12-22-2014 09:43 AM

Roger, like you I am a tad embarassed, I have had my Leigh jig for a couple of years at least and still in the packaging.

I hope you are right about 2015, a new skill to be learned I think.

Rick, I heard those antique MLCS jigs fetch a fortune at auction lol

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Farkled's profile


28 posts in 3606 days

#14 posted 12-22-2014 10:56 AM

My biggest problem with using the Leigh jig is setting up the router bit depth adjustment. You need to add 0.45” to the width of your stock if not setting to a scribed baseline. On my PC 690 (two wrench deal) the bit needs to be held up in the air to get the necessary depth which requires 3 hands. I finally gave up and bought a plunge router with adjustable turret stops (Festool OF-1400). Life is much easier now.

IMO, the VRS attachment is worth it. It helps to keep the router level which avoids cutting lower than the baseline. The VRS attachment helps but cannot be relied upon as an immovable router support – you need to check it often. With the VRS, I’m no longer buried in dust & chips. For through cuts, make sure there is a fresh backer (MDF) for every new corner. Make sure your bits are SHARP. If you go by the book (making sure that the proper face is facing out), your pins will start out ever so slightly fat. A slight adjustment should get them dialed in. Then go ahead and cut everything and glue it up before your panels warp.

Make yourself a “cheatsheet” for each type of corner; i.e., through, half blind, etc. It will help you remember the trials you went through. If you update it with how you overcame the challenges of each project, you will soon have a foolproof way to DT corners.

View Bill7255's profile


428 posts in 3575 days

#15 posted 12-22-2014 01:09 PM

+1 on the VRS. I would say it is almost a necessity. As far as routers I think the Hitachi M12VC is a good choice. I tried my Bosch, but didn’t like the guides as they are shorter than the PC style. I don’t have a PC or Dewalt to compare. i also use my Freud, but it is a bit larger, however the on/off is nice to use with the jig.

-- Bill R

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