Dovetails are a symbol of fine woodworking. They aren’t easy, but with practice and a good jig they get easier.
This article focuses on machine cut dovetails, or but you can also try your luck cutting them by hand.
Although they can be cut using a table saw or band saw, I find the easiest way to cut them is with a
and a jig.
There are several good jigs on the market. One style has a simple template attached to an adjustable base. One board fits horizontally under a clamp and the matching board goes vertically. The two pieces are cut with one pass of the router.
The disadvantages of this style of jig are that it only cuts half-blind dovetails and the size and spacing of the tails and pins are fixed. This means that if your stock has to be a fixed width you can end up with partial tails or pins on the end of the board.
If you don't mind the lack of flexibility, these jigs are good for making dovetails. They tend to be reliable and good workhorses.
A more sophisticated version is the Leigh jig. I love this jig. With it you can cut through and half blind dovetails in stock of different thickness.
It’s also possible to customize the spacing and size of the pins and tails to suit your project. This gives it a flexibility that is lacking in the fixed jigs.
I like this aspect of the Leigh jig because it means I can custom the dovetails for the particular project I'm working on.
It's also possible to buy different templates so you can make locking joints in different shapes. I've never used these, but my guess is they would be as easy to use as the standard dovetail template.
The negatives of the Leigh jig are that it is expensive and it has a learning curve. I've heard people complain about how tricky it is to set up, but it comes with the best instructions, both video and written, I have ever seen on any tool.
In my opinion, if you can afford it, the quality of the instructions and the jig itself make it well worth it.