How to Dovetail with a Router and Jig

Monday 9 July 2018

Save time when making drawers by using a router and jig to rout away dovetail waste, says Nick Geard

This technique may seem like cheating, but I assure you that it still requires all the skill of marking out and cutting that traditional dovetails do, except you are routing away the waste, rather than chopping it out with a chisel and mallet. It makes the whole process more fun and so satisfying.

I used it when making a pedestal desk with seven drawers, six of them of dovetail construction. As you probably know, hand dovetailing is a time-consuming process and adds great expense to a commission because of this. I find generally that removing the waste between the pins takes up the most time, especially if they are lapped.

When I first started work a few years ago, I was shown a technique for using a router to remove the waste, and found this technique very time-saving. This method still requires all the marking out that you would normally do, and all the saw cuts, but by making a jig, which I will explain, removing the waste is quick, easy and accurate, leaving only the final paring to be done by hand.

Making jig

This simple jig comprises three pieces of thick board -18mm to 25mm MDF should do – and a piece of solid timber. The jig can be adapted to your needs, but the idea is the same. I personally made mine quite big so that it could cope with big drawer components. Here’s how to construct it:

1. First, create a right angle using two pieces of board the same length, one slightly wider than the other

2. Screw and glue these together along the longest edge, using the narrower piece as the top, and make sure they are square. The third piece of board should be the same length as the other two, but narrower in width by around 25mm

3. Secure this piece to the top board, lining it up with the back edge, the one furthest from the down stand. This difference in width is for a piece of solid wood to sit in and the timber should be accurately planed up to sit exactly in this space, thus completing the right-angle shape

4. Secure this piece of wood to the jig with holes drilled close to the inside edge. This piece of timber becomes your sacrificial edge and is replaceable. It allows you to cut with a router, avoiding breakout. When machining this piece, make several other bits the same so you can replace them easily when needed

Using jig

1. Screw or clamp the jig to the edge of your bench. Having already marked your pins and cut down all the sides as you would normally do, position the component on the jig, with the end flush with the top of the jig and hold firmly with an F-clamp. This is the surface that the router will run on. Set the depth stop on the router to the thickness of your drawer sides

2. Now position the router on the jig and start to rout the waste areas away, taking cuts at different levels down to final depth, being careful not to run into any pins. Once completed this process should leave you with only minor cleaning up

Lap dovetails

For lap dovetails, simply fix a fence to the jig parallel or rout to the component to stop the router running through. This will leave you a nice clean line in which to fit your tails.

And that’s it, some of the tedious parts of dovetailing removed. It is not cheating, honest. I am sure you will agree that the results still look great and far better than jig dovetails. It just speeds things up.