Sometimes the old way of doing things is just better, even if you use power tools to achieve your goals. Dowels are one of the easiest ways to join wood together, but the precision required in aligning a drill for this purpose can be something of a pain.
This is where a dowel jig can come in handy. These handy devices will allow you to drill a perfectly straight hole with remarkable accuracy in order to ensure you get a picture perfect fit for whatever your latest stab into woodworking is.
The main thing to look out for is extra sizes, but let’s take a quick look at 4 of the best dowel jigs around before we get into the nuts and bolts of using one.
Eagle America 445-7600 Professional Wide Capacity Self-Centering Dowel Jig
If you’re looking for a great dowel jig around, then Eagle America has you covered. Finding a high-quality variation of this tool actually made with serious woodcrafters in mind can be something of a challenge since almost no one uses dowel joints anymore. The sizes that come with it range from ¼” to ½” (see full specs) so you’ll be able to use almost any dowel size you want easily.With this one, you’ll be able to quite easily get the perfectly centered and straight holes you need to make sure that your project lasts for a long time to come.
Bench Dog Tools 10-076 3/8-Inch Doweling Jig
While a bit limited, this dowel jig is perfect for most beginners. You’ll have to find your own clamps, but the face of the jig is transparent which makes it extremely easy to align everything properly. You’ll be limited to using a 3/8” bit with this tool, which means that many experienced carpenters might be passing it up, but for the beginner its perfect and it’ll allow you to get in on the joinery action.
Milescraft 1310 Joint Crafter Hand Held Doweling Jig
The Milescraft 1310 is a bit different from the other doweling jigs on this list. It’s hand-held, so you’ll be able to precisely align it when you’re lining up for the hole you’re drilling and goes from 1/4″ to 3/8”. The same thing that makes it so useful, however, can make it something of a pain the first few times to use, the tool will have a tendency to “walk” when the bit is being applied, but as long as you’re careful you’ve found a great solution and one of the best dowel jigs around.
Dowl-It 1000 Self-centering Doweling Jig
If you’re looking to go truly old school, the Dowl-It 1000 (see full specs) is the same design that’s been used for more than half a century. It opens to a full 2” so you’ll be able to clamp it on almost anything, and has its own built-invise to get you going. It’ll self-center as well due to the clamps, making it a great option for those who don’t want to invest in another tool. It’s a bit pricey, but at the end of the day, it’s one of the best around.
Getting Jiggy With It
Much like dovetail joints, a lot of people consider doweling to be old fashioned. But it’s actually a great way to keep things together and can help maintain an almost seamless joint. Used correctly, a dowel joint can turn a simple chair into something that looks almost like a sculpture, a seamless piece of wood. The joints actually don’t hold together quite as well as dovetails, but they can be used in a much wider variety of situations.
What you’re looking for in a jig will largely depend on what you’re planning on doing. While a handheld one might be perfect for some people, it’ll only frustrate those who are trying for truly precision work if it decides to walk. For a truly impressive fit, it’s also necessary to drill holes of more than one size.
Jigs can be a bit hard to use for a beginner, and there’s a ton of accessories out there to make them more accessible to the initiate woodcraft, including drill stops. If you’re a sure hand with a drill, however, a jig is all you need. Many people with a lot of experience in the field prefer to simply tape the bit at the desired depth.
The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your choice. This can make the difference between a perfect fit done easily and hours of wasted frustration and a lot of wasted wood. You’ll definitely want to try strapping some scrap wood together before you begin on a finished project that just needs to be joined.
Ideally, if you’re looking to get serious about matters you need the following qualities when searching for the best dowel jig:
• Self-Centering- A self-centering jig will automatically find the proper placement for the hole to be drilled. This can be imperative since even a slight deviation will be hugely noticeable in the final project.
• Multiple Sizes of Bushings- You don’t want to be limited to just one size of dowel. 3/8” is actually the most common, but having multiple options available allows you to get more creative about things.
• Self-Clamping- If the jig is self-clamped you don’t have to worry about it moving since the tension from the vice will hold it in place pretty much no matter what. If you opt to use separate clamps you might alleviate this problem, but it also requires the clamps themselves.
• Hardened Steel Bushings- The bushings need to be tough in order to stand the test of time since you’ll be putting them under a lot of stress by putting the drill bit through them repeatedly.
If you’ve been looking for a dowel jig, any of the above should suit you just fine. Keep in mind that the more expensive and old fashioned ones actually tend to work better for this kind of project. It’s an old-school technique but a good one and it’s still a favorite amongst connoisseurs of old furniture.
Get the best dowel jig you can afford, and join the hundreds of years of carpenters who’ve favored the dowel joint with a surprising amount of ease. You might just fall in love, and at the very least you’ll have learned an important new woodworking skill.