Challenging My Own Claim

A few weekends ago, I ended up proving a point to myself without really setting out to do it. I needed to make a couple of boxes, and I wanted a quick but elegant solution for joining the corners together.

As it turns out, I’ve been a little delinquent lately in getting my tool test tools returned to their proper owners. It’s been pretty busy here in the shop since Christmas, and those shipping tasks keep getting pushed further down my to-do list. So, I still have the Keller 1601 Pro Series Dovetail Jigs here from our December ’09 dovetail jig review. My bad, but actually, a good coincidence.

At the end of that article, I gave Keller our “Best Bet” tool award and made the following claim:“The sheer simplicity of this system makes dovetailing both accurate and fun. I’m confident that with these templates, I could lose the manual and still be cutting perfect dovetails in minutes.”

There was the gauntlet I unknowingly laid down for myself.

Fast forward to my recent weekend project. With workpieces at the ready, it occurred to me that the Keller system would be a good way to go for this little weekend project. But, the manual for the jig was in the house, and that’s about a football field away from my shop. It was cold and wet out, and I wasn’t walking all the way back to the house to fetch the manual. Time to test my own claim.

I set up the jigs—which as you’ll remember are just two plates of aluminum. One for the pins and the other for the tails. I chucked up the piloted straight and dovetail bits that come with the jigs. And, most importantly, I attempted to recall from memory how to use them. They’re simple, you see. I said that in print.

Turns out, these jigs are just as simple to use as I remember. I haven’t used them since last fall. According to my shop clock, in 27 minutes I went from pulling the jigs out of the box to completing the first of eight dovetail joints. By no special skill of my own, the “test” joint was a push fit on the first try. The other seven joints turned out just as good.

While, in reality, it took me more than “a few minutes” to knock out that first joint, I didn’t need the manual. That’s how well made and transparent these jigs really are to understand. Two plates, two router bits and a simple process are all it takes to make what can otherwise be a very tricky joint.

What a pleasure it is when a tool works this well.

If you are considering buying a dovetail jig this year, again I’ll say, these Keller jigs are a solid choice.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

5 thoughts on “Challenging My Own Claim

  1. Would you reckon that they are better than the Leigh system?I have recently requested info on this,i must say it look very good,but here in South Africa that stuff is extremely expensive

  2. Louis,

    There are many devotees of Leigh Dovetail Jigs, but I have never used one. Maybe other readers can offer their opinions about Leigh here. However, in terms of ease of setup and use, I really appreciate the Keller templates. They are rugged, simple to understand and offer extreme precision.

    I hope others will share some comments about Leigh with you. Good luck with whatever jig you buy!

  3. Louis,

    I have heard the earlier versions of the Leigh jig had a high learning curve to get setup properly. I can’t speak from experience but I think the newer versions may have improved in that regard. What the Leigh does offer is variable spacing of the pins.

    I have heard great things about the Akeda dovetail jig! Very easy to setup, completely adjustment-free, always consistent and every one of your layouts is 100% repeatable with absolute accuracy! I know someone who has one and she loves it!

    Between the Keller and the Akeda/Leigh it really comes down to how much is it worth to you to have the variable spacing. I think each fills a niche’ !

  4. I have used both Leigh and Keller jigs, and they are different. Keller is so easy to use and delivers an excellent result. You are not restricted at all by length of joint. But what you see is what you get.
    Leigh jigs are simple to set up because they have a dead easy manual which makes even the most complex joint simple to achieve. Leigh jigs offer the most flexibility in their class for variation of spacing and variety of pin sizes, and more.

  5. Actually, I’ve used a Keller jig for years for casework and I always vary the spacing–usually just by skipping fingers on tails and cutting off the extra pins. You can also do true variable spacing by marking your joints with a knife–just like hand-cut–and moving the jig accordingly. It’s slower but it works.

    I also own a Woodrat and with it you can not only do true variable spacing, but you can use dovetails bits of different pitches.

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