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Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo
Complete, hyper-versatile and priced right
Text, Photos and Video by Tom Hintz
A frequent request received at NewWoodworker.com LLC has been for a review of a capable yet moderately priced dovetail jig. After comparing a number of jigs within the moderate price point, the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo featured here consistently came out on top, especially in terms of bang for the buck.
Out Of the Box Versatility
Unlike many we looked at, the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo is as complete as it is versatile. Templates for half-blind and through dovetails are included, along with instructions for making traditional, offset and rabbeted half-blinds. Instructions are also provided for using the included template to cut box (finger) joints.
Setting the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo further apart from the competition are three carbide-tipped bits and a quality brass guide bushing that are included in the box – and the price. This is an important point impacting the overall value of the kit as well as ease of start up. Dovetail jigs are based on geometry that requires the use of specific bushing and bit sizes. Having the correct ones in the box eliminates a separate purchase that can be frustrating, especially for newer woodworkers that are unfamiliar with dovetail jigs.
The guide bushing has a 7/16” outside diameter collar and fits the popular 1 ¼”-diameter Porter Cable style, stepped baseplate hole. Most popular routers either come with a compatible baseplate or it can be obtained from the router manufacturer or aftermarket sources.
The bit set packed with the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo box consists of a ½”-diameter, 14-degree dovetail bit for half-blinds, a ½”-diameter (13/16”-cutter height) 8-degree dovetail and ¼”-diameter (1”-cutter height) straight bit for through dovetails. All bits are carbide-tipped and have ¼”-diameter shanks, making them compatible with nearly any router on the market.
The Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo is designed to work with material from ½” to 1 ¼”-thick and up to 11”-wide. While less than some more expensive jigs, the width capacity is more than sufficient for the vast majority of drawer and box making needs of today’s woodworkers.
Assembly and Mounting
The Rockler Dovetail Jig comes almost fully assembled, needing only to have the operating handles for the eccentric material clamps screwed into place. The half-blind template is loosely installed and its four retaining screws have to be tightened before use.
The base of the jig is made from heavy steel sheet stock that while not as cool looking as a machined aluminum piece, is more than strong enough for the job.
The bottom of the base has a pair of pre-drilled holes for securing it directly to a bench or to a board so the jig can be secured with clamps when a dedicated spot is not available for it. The instructions also describe how to make a base for mounting the jig in a bench vise.
The instruction sheets included with the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo are more than adequate to get you making properly fitted dovetails. If you are new to this form of joinery there will be a learning curve, as there is with any dovetail jig regardless of price.
The key with any dovetail jig is to take your time and follow the instructions carefully. Cutting test joints in practice wood and making adjustments to the jig and/or bit height to perfect the fit is a fact of life with all dovetail jigs. Along with perfecting the joint, this process familiarizes new users with the jig itself and the process of making dovetails.
The Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo uses a pair of cam-type bar clamps, each operated by a single handle that makes securing the work pieces a fast, one-handed task.
The clamping bars are adjusted with a pair of knobs so that when the clamping handles are in the released position, the wood can be slipped into place. The cam action levers, mounted directly to the bars need no adjustment. Slip the stock into place and the handles lock it down easily.
A Different Fixed Spacing
While the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo uses fixed space templates, adjustable side stops on either end allows the user to center the wood on the fingers to produce equally sized joints at both edges.
During setup, the wood is aligned with the template so equally sized pins or tails will be cut on either side. Move the adjustable side stops against the wood, tighten their screws and the corresponding piece is automatically offset the correct distance.
This system may not be quite as versatile as a true adjustable finger jig but the results are very professional looking and strong. Plus, you have an extra $200 or so in your pocket to further buoy your spirits.
In the Shop
At first, the instructions that come with the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo look a little complicated. However, followed step by step, they guide the new user through the setup in an easy to follow logical progression. As with all dovetail jigs, using up a few pieces of scrap to confirm the adjustments and become familiar with using the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo is a smart thing to do.
If you are one of those who just can’t resist trying to cut dovetails without reading anything, go ahead, we’ll wait. When you get frustrated and decide using the instructions might be a good idea after all, we will continue.
A feature that makes the Rockler Dovetail Jig compatible with whatever router you have is adjusting the fence position. To determine this setback double the thickness of the stock being used, add that to half of the routers base diameter and subtract half of the bit diameter. This bit of math is far more difficult to explain here than it is to do.
In addition to accommodating virtually any router, being able to reposition the fence allows fine tuning the depth of half blind dovetails. Taking a few minutes to get this setting right will eliminate long periods of sanding ill fitting dovetails flat. I have done this bit of corrective sanding in the past and can promise you will learn to love the fence feature of the Rockler Dovetail Jig.
I screwed the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo to a board so that it can be secured with clamps quickly. After preparing a few pieces of wood and making sure the ends were square, I went through the half-blind instructions.
A piece of 7 ¼”-wide wood was aligned by eye so that both sides matched fingers of the template equally. Slide the side stop against the edge and tighten it down. Though I was a little concerned with the accuracy of the automatic offset the stops produce, all joints we cut were perfectly aligned at the edges.
After installing the collar and bit, set to 9/16” I cut the first test joint. (The accompanying video in this review is of that first cut) The result was a nearly perfect joint. The fit was slightly loose and the pins were slightly recessed below the surface when assembled. The bit was raised in the router slightly and the fence bumped out just a tad. The second test joint came out perfect, a remarkable feat when setting up to make half-blind dovetails on virtually any jig.
During our evaluation we also tried the through dovetail template, following the instructions and cut perfect joints immediately. Normally, through dovetails are far easier to cut than half blinds because they are not sensitive to bit height. On the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo, through dovetails are close to a no-brainer.
The Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo would be an exceptionally versatile, easy to use tool at twice the price. But, with a price tag of only $138.99 (6-9-2006) the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo is a great value for any woodworker regardless of experience level. If you are a new woodworker or just new to making dovetails, the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo should be particularly attractive. Being able to buy one box with everything you need in it (except the router), including the bits and guide bushing, will have you cutting joints while others are still searching for the correct bit and bushing.
If you want to cut dovetails with a router, the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo should be on your “must see” list. If the tool budget is a concern, the Rockler Dovetail Jig Combo will probably be alone on your list.
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