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December 11, 2017

Dovetail Jig Templates – Fixed vs Variable

A major decision to make when choosing a dovetail jig is between one with a fixed finger template and one with a variable (or adjustable) finger template. You have to make this decision at the outset, as you can’t buy a fixed template jig to start and then just upgrade to a variable one later.

Dovetail jig fixed finger template

Fixed Finger Template

Fixed finger templates are machined from a single piece of aluminum with equally spaced guide fingers for the pins and tails. By definition no adjustment is possible, and so all the pins and tails that you cut will be equally sized and spaced, and although some people think that this gives an obviously machine cut look, they still produce perfect dovetail joints that are attractive and strong.

 

Dovetail jig variable finger template

Variable Finger Template

Variable/Adjustable finger templates consist of a series of moveable guide fingers that slide along a supporting bar. Each “finger” is actually a pair of two “half fingers” which means that you can adjust the width of the pins and tails as well as the spacing. This means that you can customize the look of the dovetail joint in any way that you want to produce unique designs.

Benefits of variable finger spacing:

  • Variable spaced pins and tails give a hand-cut appearance and allow you to design customized, beautiful joints
  • Make your joint match your stock – with a fixed finger jig you will have to make your stock match the incremental pitch of the template because all dovetail joints should begin and end with a half pin. With a variable finger jig you are not restricted at all.

Downsides of variable finger jigs:

  • The price – typically in excess of $500. Hard to justify unless you will use it regularly
  • A steeper learning curve. None of it is rocket science, but if you only use the jig occasionally you may have to re-learn how to use it each time.

Benefits of fixed finger jigs:

  • Ease of use – less setup time and less to forget each time you use it
  • The price – you can get a good entry-level fixed finger dovetail jig that will cut perfect dovetails time after time for about $100.

Downsides of fixed finger jigs:

  • It’s a matter of personal opinion but some people think that the equally sized and spaced joints have a very machine cut look. However, purists say that even the joints cut with a variable jig don’t look like a hand cut dovetail joint.
  • You will have to make your stock match the incremental pitch of the template because all dovetail joints should begin and end with a half pin. It’s preferable to be able to choose any size stock and then match the jig to it, rather than the other way round.

For most people the choice comes down to price – it’s hard to justify spending $500 unless you know you are going to get good use out of the jig. Depending on which way you decide to go, we’ve got two top picks:

Best fixed finger dovetail jig – Porter Cable 4212

Porter-Cable-4212 Dovetail Jig

The Porter Cable 4212 is currently the best selling dovetail jig on the market, and it’s perfect for most woodworkers’ needs. It’s a top of the range fixed finger dovetail jig which comes with templates for all the most common types of dovetail joints.

Click here to view on Amazon

 

Best variable finger dovetail jig – Leigh D4R

Leigh D4R Dovetail Jig

If you need the flexibility of variably-spaced joints or you just want to have the best, most versatile dovetail jig on the market then the Leigh D4R is the one to go for. The ability to cut variably-spaced joints means that you adjust the jig to fit the stock which in turn means that you are free to use any size stock that you want. You’re not limited in any way by the jig, and you can cut the pins and tails different widths and spacings to give a totally custom look.

Click here to view on Amazon