How to build a dovetail jig with a table saw

Written by amy moore
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How to build a dovetail jig with a table saw
Dovetail joints are sturdy and beautiful. (vintage oak dovetailed recipe box image by Scott Williams from Fotolia.com)

When cutting dovetail joints with a table saw, it is quicker and faster if you make a jig to aid you in your joint design. Dovetail joints are used in woodworking to connect two pieces of wood at a right angle. The dovetail joint is made of tails on one piece of wood and pins on the other piece of wood. These tails are shaped like trapezoids or like a dove's tail. Because the tails and pins are created using interlocking angles, they will slide together only one way. The dovetail jig ensures that you are cutting the tails and pins at the appropriate angles to make the dovetail joint.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Table saw
  • Wood
  • Table saw fence
  • Clamp
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Medium-density fiberboard (optional)
  • Safety glasses

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Decide on an angle for the dovetail joint.

  2. 2

    Cut a piece of wood at this angle to use as an angle gauge.

  3. 3

    Sketch to scale the dovetail joint on a sheet of paper, spacing the tails evenly across the board's edge. You must have a half tail at each end of the sketch and it must be symmetrical around the centre point.

  4. 4

    Use the angle gauge to draw each of the joint's shoulder marks.

  5. 5

    Sketch a line across the bottom of the pins in your dovetail joint sketch. This distance equals the depth of your wood. You do not want the joints to stick out past the piece of wood.

  6. 6

    Shade the pins on your dovetail joint sketch.

  7. 7

    Measure the distance along the sketch's edge between two right tail shoulders.

  8. 8

    Cut wood at this measurement into rectangles to use for your spacers.

  1. 1

    Position the table saw's fence so that it is at a 90-degree angle to the blade.

  2. 2

    Position the table saw's blade to the angle on the angle gauge. It should angle to the left.

  3. 3

    Position the table saw blade's height to the same measurement as the depth of the wood.

  4. 4

    Draw the tail pattern onto the piece of wood being cut.

  5. 5

    Clamp a spacer to the saw's fence so that when your piece of wood is placed next to the spacer, the first cut into the piece of wood is at the first right shoulder. The blade should be cutting into the pin side of the design.

  6. 6

    Cut the first shoulder mark.

  7. 7

    Hold another spacer along the fence between the first clamped spacer and piece of wood.

  8. 8

    Cut the second shoulder mark.

  9. 9

    Insert a new spacer and cut a new shoulder mark across the entire piece of wood.

  10. 10

    Turn the piece of wood to the other side and remove all but the clamped spacer.

  11. 11

    Cut the piece of wood the same way you did the first time through, cutting and adding a spacer. These cuts will produce the cuts for each left shoulder.

  12. 12

    Remove the wood between the left and right shoulder marks in the pin area with the saw.

  1. 1

    Position the blade so it is at a 90-degree angle to the saw table.

  2. 2

    Position the fence to the angle of the angle gauge in relation to the blade. It should angle to the left.

  3. 3

    Position the blade's height equal to the depth of the wood.

  4. 4

    Draw the pin pattern to your piece of wood.

  5. 5

    Clamp a spacer to the saw's fence so that when your piece of wood is placed next to the spacer, the first cut in the piece is at the pin's right shoulder. The blade should be cutting into the tail side of the design.

  6. 6

    Cut the first pin shoulder mark.

  7. 7

    Hold another spacer along the fence between the first clamped spacer and the piece of wood.

  8. 8

    Cut the second pin shoulder mark.

  9. 9

    Insert a new spacer and cut a new shoulder mark across the entire piece of wood.

  10. 10

    Change the position of the fence so that it angles to the right at the angle of the angle gauge in relation to the blade. This is the opposite angle to how it was positioned during the pins' first cuts.

  11. 11

    Cut the piece of wood the same way you did for the right shoulder cuts, cutting and adding a spacer each time. These cuts will produce the cuts for each left shoulder.

  12. 12

    Remove the wood between the left and right shoulder marks in the tail area with the saw.

  1. 1

    Slide the pieces together to form a right angle.

  2. 2

    Sand down any incongruities in the joint.

  3. 3

    Glue the joint together using wood glue.

  4. 4

    Place clamps on the joint until the joint's glue dries.

Tips and warnings

  • Always cut into the waste section. This is the pin section when cutting tails and the tail section when cutting pins.
  • Practice making this joint with medium-density fiberboard first. Making this joint well takes time and practice.
  • Wear safety glasses and other protective gear when using a saw.

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