Sometimes the old ways of doing things can't be beat. IKEA might use cutting-edge techniques to make mass-market furniture for cheap, but every single one of their products comes with a bag of dowels.
Sure you could use pocket screws and biscuits, but they sometimes cause screws to wear out. Dowels offer simplicity, precision, and strength.
It seems to be simple to drill a hole for a dowel, but it's actually quite tricky. That's where dowel jigs come in - they help you drill a hole accurately and straight.
When Being Self-Centered is Better
The core of a jig consists of a steel block with holes to guide your drill bit. Many models have holes which are threaded, allowing you to install bushings for different size drills. The holes are precisely perpendicular and are located in the center of the block. The center lines for each hole are drawn on the side of the block, which is visible through two windows.
The block has a screw which goes through it. Turning the handle of the screw moves both sides of the jig symmetrically while holding it to the wood. This is why the jig is called "self-centering" because the holes are automatically centered in the wood when it is fastened to it.
Choosing a Jig
As always there are a variety of factors involved in making a really good dowel jig. Just don't take the cheap route - you're sure to regret it eventually.
• Simple models range from $25 to $40. These are the basic jigs that have holes for multiple drills without bushings. If more than one dowel is to be used in a joint, the jig must be moved. This can lead to alignment problems, so it is advisable to choose this type of template only if you have an EXTREMELY tight budget.
• Jigs with bushings of various sizes range in size from $40 to $60. These bushings are bolted to threaded holes which allow you to drill holes of the same size without moving the jig. This model has two holes for the bushings and two holes for the drill bit that do not accept bushings.
• The jigs with the most bushing holes range from $50 to $75. These jigs have four threaded holes which give you more options for spacing between each hole, all of which can be drilled without rotating the template. Each extra bushing is an additional cost.
• Jigs that hold more capacity provide more performance. These are the most expensive and are between $60 and $90. These models can be attached to a cylinder head up to 2 3/8 inches thick which is normally sufficient, but the large capacity templates handle materials of 6 inches or even more.
With all that in mind, here are reviews of the best dowel jigs which can be purchased online.
The Best Dowel Jigs
1. Grizzly G1874 Improved Dowel Jig
When it comes to jigs and any other woodworking tool, there is a reason why Grizzly will always be recognized: they make some of the best.
These durable jigs are capable of holding a workpiece up to 2" and allow you to make holes ranging from 1/4" to 1/2" with ease. This is a professional tool, designed for professional people, but if you are an amateur willing to spend the money, it will last for years. This should indeed be on the list of any of the best dowel jigs.
This jig works automatically and handles round, square or irregular shapes. Handles are up to 2 inches thick. Drill hole sizes are 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16 and 1/2 inch. Six hardened steel bushings are provided: 2 each of 1/4-inch 5/16-inch and 3/8-inch.
It is easy to use and you can drill two identical parallel holes without moving the jig.
2. Milescraft 13110003 – Joint Pro
This tool is able to hold both boards simultaneously with perfect alignment to the hole. Up to six matching holes can be drilled to provide stronger joints.
It is fast and accurate, and can create large dowel connections. The automatic clamping jig is stable; this allows the work surface to be held in place. A detailed instruction guide helps you to produce corner, edge and surface joints.
On the downside, it sometimes leaves marks on the wood surface, so it is suggested to put a plastic cone and cover it before getting started. It's also not the fastest gun in town (you'll need to do some calculations).
3. Wolfcraft 3751405 Jig Kit
Wolfcraft is one of the world's leading manufacturers of dowel pins and is famous for different types of machine table tools, clamping tools and workbenches.
This dowel holder kit works with 1/2 to 1 1/4 inch materials. It has a 5-year warranty and is excellent for creating edge-to-edge joints. It also provides excellent performance in T-type joints and joints with flat corner edges.
It's compact and long-lasting, with hardened steel bushings which come in different size presentations to assist you in precise drilling. It also includes pre-aligned hole guides. It also has 60 dowels of different sizes.
The disadvantage is that the depth collar is not entirely resistant; it can drill deeply without noticing that the neck slips. Occasionally, the dowel may not be precisely aligned. For best results, use glue without a pin.
4. Eagle America 445-7600
This self-centering dowel jig is high-quality and high capacity. It has an excellent reputation. The template works with thick material from 1/4 to 6 inches and allows you to drill holes of different sizes.
It is a very practical, precise and straightforward jig that does not need to be measured or calculated; it works as a grooving guide that makes dowling simple. When a spacer block is attached, the compensation holes are easy to handle.
The only disadvantages of this tool are that the product can sometimes be off-center and cannot be marked with a pencil or other marker.
5. Task Premium Doweling Jig
Task is a company that manufactures hand tools for woodworking and drilling accessories and focuses on developing tools that are designed for experts. Task’s premium doweling jig is self-centering and has a full 2-3/8" capacity, and also includes two bushings for each size.
It offers outstanding features, such as giving the exact center drilling even if your wood is round, it is made of aircraft grade aluminum which can provide high protection to the jig, and to prevent corrosion it has steel plates.
However, it is not possible to drill a side to the end, so the half jig is not always useful. It includes two bushings for each size but they are more fragile than we'd like.
6. Rockler – Dowl-it 1000
Rockler's renowned chain of carpentry and hardware stores offers a well received self-centered jig. This jig is well known for its good performance, design, and ease of use.
It has the maximum capacity of 2" with various bore sizes - 3/16", 1/4", 5/16", 3/8", 7/16" and 1/2". It is plated to prevent rust, and the central block is made of solid steel.
The jig is easy to set up, so even beginners can adapt to its use without complications. It does not have earrings like other dowel jigs. It is accurate, precise, practical, fast and has the particularity that it does not have loose parts; therefore, there is very little chance of misplacing them.
However, it has the irregularity that its drill guide holes may be slightly off-center, nor does it include a stop collar.
Like dovetail joints, many people think that dowels are a bit old-fashioned. However, the truth is that they are a great way to hold things together. If used correctly, a dowel can transform a simple chair into something that looks almost like a monument, a seamless piece of wood. The joints are not held together as well as dovetails but can be used in a broader variety of situations.
What you look for in a jig will depend a lot on what you are planning to work on. While a portable device may work well for some, it will only frustrate those who are trying to work out a genuinely accurate project. For a fantastic fit, it is also recommended to drill holes of different sizes.
Jigs can be a bit complicated for those who don't have enough experience, though there are a lot of accessories that make it easy for these people, including drilling stops. However, if you perform well with the drill, a jig is all you need. Although the more experienced prefer simply to glue the drill to the desired depth.
The essential and most important thing is that you feel comfortable with the choice you make. This helps prevent hours of frustration and a lot of wasted working material.
To identify which type of jig will be useful when doing a job, there are a few features that can help you make the right choice to fit your needs:
• Self-centered. This will allow you to automatically find the ideal position for the hole to be drilled. This is essential as slight deviation can impair the final work.
• It has a self-clamping device. This feature makes the job easier and keeps the jig from moving as the tension of the jaw will hold the material in place.
• It contains hardened steel bushings. The bushings must be durable. They will be subjected to a lot of tension when they are repeatedly crossed with the drill bit.
• It has multiple sizes of bushings. Limitation is not an option when the job requires versatility. Having various options and different sizes of bushings can offer you the creativity you are looking for.
If you have been looking for a dowel jig, anything with the features listed above will do a good job. This modality, however old-fashioned it may seem, tends to work better for this type of project. Antique furniture connoisseurs implement it and who better than them to define what is right.