December 20, 2022

How to make dovetail joints with Porter Cable Jig

Dovetail joints are popular for furniture and cabinets because they are sturdy and have a decorative look. One tool you can use to make accurate dovetail joints quickly and easily is a dovetail jig, and the Porter Cable jig is a popular choice among woodworkers.

To make dovetail joints with a Porter Cable jig, you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Porter Cable dovetail jig
  • Table saw or router
  • Dovetail router bit (if using a router)
  • Wood glue
  • Clamps
  • Pencil or marking gauge
  • Chisels or dovetail saw (optional)

Selecting the appropriate size dovetail bit

The dovetail bit’s working depth must be equal to or slightly greater than the thickness of the pin board or drawer front. Choose the smallest dovetail bit relative to the pin board thickness, with the matching straight bit, for that hand-cut look.

There should be one dovetail each 25mm or so across the width. It is up to the woodworker to decide how many are needed. The project determines the size of the dovetail bit. 

Setting up the Porter Cable dovetail jig

  1. The Porter cable jig has templates to guide you as you prepare to set up your jig machine. Make sure your router base plate is centred properly on the router base. Use the centre tool.  Do not eyeball the plate onto the router base. 
  2. Set up the bit depth gauge. There should be a 3/8th between the template and the top of the stop. A fixed stop is attached to the template for half-blind dovetails and another one is attached to the jig itself for through dovetails. The one attached to the jig is the one you need for dovetails. Measure that one from the base of where the stop rests because the measurement from the stop to the top of the template varies, based on the thickness of the stock.
  3. Mount the templates in two positions on the jig, which allows the production of multiple types of joints with each template. Secure the templates by inserting the template brackets between the large template knobs.
  4. Make front-to-back adjustments by loosening the large template knobs and rotating the brass adjustment knobs. 
  5. Install the dovetail bit in your router and attach the guide bushing to the router base plate. 
  6. Set the router up for tails.
  7. Cut the tails.
  8. Set the router up for pins.
  9. Cut the pins and test.

Mark out the correct shape on the wood

  1. A dovetail template marks out the dovetail. Using a template is the easiest and most accurate way to mark out the dovetail pin using a pencil.
  2. Mark out the two half-pins at the edges of the first piece of wood. The pins are the bits of wood between the tails, so there are two half-pins.
  3. Measure half the thickness of timber plus around an mm, so the two dots on the shoulder line are 7mm from each edge.

Secure the wood in the jig

Clamp the pin board and cut down the wood. Position the clamps as close to the cut as possible for stability. The teeth on the blade point up, meaning the jig cuts on the upstroke, causing more tears on the wood in this direction.

Set the bushings and guide blocks

Attach the guide bushing to the router base plate. A guide bushing mounts to the router’s sub base with a tube that protrudes below. A straight router bit extends through the tube. The outer surface of the tube rides against an edge guide or template, keeping the bit a set distance (offset) from the edge guide or template.

To use a guide bushing, you need an edge guide to follow. Size the template slightly larger or smaller than the workpiece. Templates can be of any material, but we prefer 1⁄4 ” hardboard. To make a template, affix your drawing or pattern to the template material with spray adhesive, and scrollsaw it to shape. After completing the cut, file or sand-smooth any irregularities on the template edges.

Attach the template to your workpiece with a few drops of hot-melt glue or double-faced tape. Use a router pad to hold your workpiece on your bench while you route. Attach a backer to protect the router pad and benchtop.

Cut the wood to the correct shape

  1. Clamp a scrap board that is the same thickness as the second workpiece. 
  2. Use the T-handle wrench to loosen the screw on the left offset guide.
  3. Mount the workpiece.
  4. Reposition the left offset guide flush against the workpiece.
  5. Align the template, using the tails template line with the line formed where the scrap board and the workpiece meet.
  6. Mount the straight bit and template guide on the router and set the router bit depth using the tails bit depth guide.
  7. Route between the fingers of the jig with the template guide against the left side of the fingers.
  8. Remove the workpiece from the jig against the jig base

Assemble the pieces to create the joint

  1. Determine which piece of wood will be the tail board and which will be the pin board. The tailboard is there to withstand more pulling tension. It depends on what you are building and how you want to situate the pins and tails.
  2. Use your marking gauge to measure the depth of the pinboard. The depth of the pinboard matters. Use a marking gauge to take this measurement and adjust it to the thickness of the pinboard. 
  3. Using the depth set from the pin board, make a mark on all four sides of the tail board.
  4. You need to determine the size and number of tails. You can use two tails. Use a handy dovetail marker and a marking knife to mark the angle.
  5. Mark the tails depending on the tool you are using. Use your measurements to mark from each edge using a pencil. Find the center and mark each side of the center, leaving some inches in the center of the board.
  6. Use the dovetail marker to mark the angles. Start with one side of the board, and use your marking knife to mark down to your depth. 
  7. Mark four lines across the top of the board, and use the dovetail marker again to mark the other side. 
  8. Using your dovetail saw, cut along the line you made with your marking knife. Do not cut past the line you made with your marking gauge.
  9. Use the dovetail saw to cut across the wood to the base of the tail on each side of the wood. Make sure to follow your mark. Do this on both sides.
  10. To remove the wood between the tails, begin by chiseling along your mark. Tap the top of the chisel with a mallet. Four or five soft hits are enough. 
  11. Chisel away from the front of the wood removing only small pieces at a time. Do not rush it by chiseling away too much at once. Alternate back and forth until you have reached the center.
  12. Clean any uneven or rough edges with a file or sandpaper, so the edges become straight, but do not remove too much of the wood.
  13. Measure the depth of the tail board and mark all four sides of the pin board.
  14. Line up the wood to measure your pinboard.
  15. Using your marking knife, trace the edges of your tail board onto the end of the pin board. A marking knife leaves a tight, clean line compared to a pencil.
  16. Mark the edges of the pinboard.
  17. Clamp the pin board and use the dovetail saw to cut down the top of the board on all four marks.
  18. Use a chisel to remove the wood in between the pins.
  19. Clean up the wood. Use a file or sandpaper to flat uneven edges or remove wood leftover from the saw.
  20. Place your pieces together.

Conclusion

In conclusion, you can quickly and easily make accurate and attractive dovetail joints with a dovetail jig like the Porter Cable jig. The process does require some practice, but the results are well worth the effort. Dovetail joints are sturdy and have a decorative look that adds a touch of elegance to any woodworking project. Whether you are an experienced woodworker or a beginner, a dovetail jig can be a useful tool in your workshop. With a little practice and patience, you can create beautiful dovetail joints that add value and appeal to your projects.

David D. Hughes
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