Doweling Jigs

If you have a drill press, you can perform most doweling operations by using a fence and stop arrangement (like Dana Batory’s on page 24) and/or dowel centers—little marking devices that fit into a hole and precisely indicate the center of the hole on a mating piece so it can be drilled to match. Those without a drill press, however, will need some type of doweling j’g’

Several factors should influence your choice of a doweling jig: the jig should be easy and quick to set up and use, accurate, and absolutely repeatable. The joints made with it should be absolutely invisible.

The main problem with doweling jigs is that casual use of them tends to multiply the minuscule errors which are inherent in any jig. A shop-made wooden jig, for example, will be progressively less accurate each time it is used, and while it is easily replaceable, in most shops, time is money. Commercial jigs with bushing that don’t fit straight and square will be less 1 accurate than those that do. More complicated jigs are likely to become less accurate with age and abuse be- J cause moving parts come out of alignment more readily when there are more of them. One thing that will help you 1 to maintain accuracy is the simple matter of using your own ‘ doweling jig rather than someone else’s. You’ll learn to use it to the degree of accuracy and speed that suits you. and overcoming its idiosyncrasies will eventually be second nature to you.

Most old-timers I know use the “Dowl-it” #1000 or the Stanley #59 doweling jig. Virtually every school shop contains one or more of each. You’ve probably seen the Dowl-it jig enough times to know about its heavy aluminum sides: lack of loose parts; patented automatic self-centering action which ensures accurate center drilling with up to 2″ thickness capacity; and the five clearly marked hole sizes (1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, and 1/2″) permanently cast in the sides. If you can remember to align all your work from the same side as you put it in the jig, the Dowl-it should make awfully good joints for an awfully long time.

However, I don’t understand why these old-timers don’t prefer the Dowl-it #2000 jig as I do; its 7/16″ and 1/2″ holes are still “set” in the drill block, but the 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″ holes can be paired with the bushings at about 3/4″ (on center) apart. This is especially useful when assembling face frames. Indeed, this is where another jig, the Dowel Crafter, offers some competition: its holes are adjustable from about 9/16″ to 2″ apart on center. Your preference will be determined by how you feel about “off-centering” the work, which is easier with the Dowel Crafter jig, and by whether you prefer bringing the jig to the work or the work to the jig. The Dowel Crafter jig has a nifty quick-mount attachment for your vise. I have a feeling—but no real proof— that bringing the work to the jig might be better for the jig in the long run, unless you are less afflicted with the “dropsies” than am I.

Another feature that makes the Dowel Crafter ideal for all edge-to-edge doweling is that its two revolving turrets permit staggered holes. Its twin clamping surfaces guarantee perfectly mating holes, and its indexing marks are both logical and plainly visible all the way around the jig.

So far, the jigs I’ve mentioned are good only for edge-to-edge joints. Since there are other types of joints that sometimes have to be doweled together, none of the jigs we’ve discussed so far will suffice by itself.

The special beauty of Kaufman’s jig is that it’s adjustable to countless angle positions; only this one can readily join parts at other than 90° or 180°. Everything about the jig is incredibly adjustable: the table moves up and down: the angle of the bushing block will rotate through 45°; an adjustable toggle clamp holds the work in place; and the user even gets a choice of two quick, easy ways to mount the jig.

The manual advises users of the Kaufman jig to be sure to use a drill stop when drilling angles to be sure not to drill into the jig’s moveable table; this brings to mind a catch: when doweling other than edge-to-edge joints, the length of the dowel is limited by the thickness of the boards being joined, minus whatever margin you feel comfortable with for sanding and finishing. This massive jig is the most expensive of the lot (though not on a cost per pound basis!), so you may not want it if all you do is edge-to-edge joining. However, if you have lots of angle joints to dowel together, this is far and away the best choice. You can modify many of the others so they will cut angles like the Kaufman cuts, but when you’re jigging a jig, you’ve got to be losing accuracy.

Early models of this jig had no means for locking the adjustable table; now they’ve added a lock knob to the side, eliminating this flaw. If you have the early model you can have it updated at no charge; just return it prepaid, and enclose $5 to cover return shipment. This jig’s heavy castings are square and true, but the bushing block could use a centering mark on the side somewhere to show when edge holes are exactly centered.

The ARCO 3—in—1 dowel jig #582 is for simple, accurate doweling of comer butt joints, edge-to-edge joints, and T-joints. The maker says, “The combination of line-up bracket and preset distance for dowel locations guarantees perfect alignment of matching holes without cumbersome measuring and guess-work.” Their other model, #581, claims, “Does More than Any Other Dowel Jig! One-step operation jig for drilling all holes at the same time in both work pieces with accurate alignment of matching holes.” This is mostly hogwash; I’d be happier without the hyperbole. For the money, these are good American-made doweling jigs in a Field of comparably priced, good doweling jigs.

Disston’s Dowel Magic Plus Kit #5350 includes a doweling jig exactly like Wolfcraft’s #4641, but the kit also comes with 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″ brad point wood drills with adjustable stops, and Five dozen fluted and chamfered dowels in assorted sizes. No written instructions are needed with this simple plastic jig. If country of origin really matters, the drills are made in Austria, the jig is made in West Germany, and the dowel pins are made in the USA. The Wolfcraft #4641 has good directions on the carton and a better English language insert than with the Disston set containing this jig.

Wolfcraft’s Universal Doweling Jig (#4660) “Dowel-Master” is, so far as I can tell, more or less exclusively available from The Woodworkers’ Store. It’s a self-centering jig for materials up to 1 -3/8″ thick, and it can be used for comer and T-joining as well. The instructions are more difficult than they need to be; you’ll leam everything you need to know about operating this simple jig by looking at the manufacturer’s photos.

Wolfcraft’s model #3751 is available from The Fine Tool Shop. The instruction manual is supplied in 7 languages: once again, the English language instructions make using this jig appear more complicated than it actually is. Should you choose this jig, read the instructions away from your shop, figure out what you can from them, then go play with the thing to discover for yourself what it can do. After you get the hang of it. it’s good for comer joints, T-joints, and edge-to-edge joints.

The General Dial Setting Doweling Jig (#841) seems preferable as a complement to its cousin, the #840jig, rather than as the be-all, end-all, do-all of jigs. Its initial plastic impression gives way to an impression of reliable underpinning. The jig includes 3 drill stops for accurate depth control and its color-coded dial selects dowel hole size and position based on wood thickness. The jig’s applications are right angle and T-joints.

General’s Revolving Turret Doweling Jig (#840) features a spring positioning revolving turret that accepts both standard twist drills and the preferred brad point drills. Graduated guide rods assure proper alignment of dowel holes. General’s manual shows how to use the 840 for edge-to-edge and surface doweling, which are useful for end joints, multiple stock joints, comer joints, round joints, and preliminary mortising. One could surely do lots worse than the 840/841 pair of doweling jigs; between them, they will accurately cut any doweled joint except the angled joint which appears to be a Kaufman exclusive.

The Vermont American 17811 (7910) Dowel Jig is the least expensive of the lot; its best feature may be its guarantee:

“Vermont American Tools must give the user complete satisfaction or be replaced free of charge.” If a jig requires an extensive manual, there is probably something amiss with its design. Some of the jigs contain wordless instructions that are better than their verbal counterparts. Only the Marples/Record Doweling Jig (#148) really requires instructions—and then only for those of us who hope to use 100% of its great potential. It will do things that other jigs only dream of; it eliminates the need for precise marking out and ensures ease of assembly without error. The “bare» jig comes with 6″ rods, a jig clamp and a set of drill bushings for 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 6 mm, 8 mm, and 10 mm, and a comprehensive instruction manual that is easily the best of the lot. A careful worker, one who has «accurate» habits, will be able to do things with this jig that are impossible with any of the others or any combination of them. In the chart, I rated it as the most difficult, but considering its versatility, it really isn’t difficult at all.

Accessories for the Marples/Record include extra bushing carriers, extra fences, extra bushings, and rods of 12″, 18” and 30″. If it matters, this is the jig I have used for the past many years; having played with all the others, I still regard it as my doweling jig of choice for all but simple edge—to-edge joining.

Finally, there is the question of doweling verses plate joining. As doweling jigs get fancier and ever more expensive, plate joining gets ever more cost competitive. Plate joining is faster and the biscuits have more gluing surface than do dowels. However, dowels will go places that biscuits won’t. This fact alone means there will always be a need for doweling jigs.

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