Doweling jigs provide an efficient and cost effective alternative to biscuit joiners and pocket hole jigs for joining stock.
They excel at the most common kinds of joinery operations: edge-to-edge, edge-to-end, edge-to-inside, rail-to-stile and miter joints. There are a number of doweling jigs on the market, three of which I recently tested. I used each of these jigs extensively over a three-month period, trying them out on all five basic joinery operations. The best jig for you will depend upon the kind of doweling you do.
The Smart Doweling Jig from the United States is the most compact of the three jigs, designed so that you can clamp two boards at once; the boards can be from ½” to 1 ⅝” thick. For ¾” boards, just pop them into the jig and drill away. For other board thicknesses you need to use shims. When drilling ½” stock you place two ⅛” plastic shims (provided) against the clamping surfaces, and insert a ¼” shim (which you provide) between the boards. The alignment slots work not only for the edge-to-inside joints but also indicate where the dowel holes are being drilled. The guide holes are ⅜”, set 1” apart. The jig comes with a drill bit, depth stop (that conveniently fixes to the end of one of the guide rods) and an allen wrench that, thoughtfully, attaches to the body of the jig. You also get an instruction booklet and an assortment of ⅜” dowel pins. The bushings aren’t removable but they are hardened, so they should last a long time.
The Smart Doweling Jig did a commendable job on all five joinery operations. It’s certainly the fastest jig to use, particularly for doing edge-toedge, mitre and rail-to-stile joinery. There is no slop along the guide rods and the handle clamping screw turns smoothly. Except for edge-to inside joints, there is no need to draw alignment marks on the boards you are joining together, as you drill the holes in both boards at the same time. I found this to be a real time saver. For edge-to-end joints you have to remove the main body of the jig and turn it around. The jig also allows off-centre (or reference face) doweling. The guide holes are only 1” apart, so when drilling long stock you end up moving the jig quite a bit. I’d love to see a wider version of the jig, with guide holes, say, 6” apart (the spacing I use when gluing up wide, solid wood panels). However, this is an uncomplicated, easy to use jig that is very well constructed.
NOTE: This jig is no longer available.
The DowelMax is a new Canadian jig from O.M.S. Tool Co. It’s an impressive jig, having won the International Innovator’s Gold Medal Award last year at the Tomorrow’s World Exhibition held in London, England. The body is machined aluminum, the fittings are solid brass, and the guide bushings are hardened steel. The jig comes with five ⅜” hardened steel bushings, one ⅜” slotted spacer and an instruction booklet. Optional accessories include two ¾” and one 1 ⅝” spacers, an indexing tool, adjustable distance gauge, angle clamp bracket, and ¼” bushings with related ⅛” spacer.
I liked the wide clamping surface of the DowelMax (a generous 3 ½”) and the fact that it has five guide holes. The knurled brass knobs are substantial, making them easy to tighten. You get a choice of drilling holes ⅝”, 1 ⅜”, 2” or 2 ⅝” apart. With the optional register pin you can easily chain drill dowel holes. The jig handled all five major joinery operations with ease. One of the nicest features of the DowelMax is the ability to dowel large stock. By utilizing the 1 ⅝” spacers the jig can readily accommodate up to 4” by 4” stock, something no other jig on the market offers. You will notice a mark inscribed on the end of the reference block that holds the bushings (see photo) and a similar mark on the inside of the reference plate (the marks are inscribed on both ends of the block). These check marks help you correctly align your stock: it ensures that you are always drilling holes from the same reference face of the stock. So, if you have two boards of slightly different thicknesses, any variation will show up on one side only. The optional adjustable distance gauge enables you to join longer boards, spacing the dowel holes further apart. When doing edge-to-end and edge-to-inside doweling you have to remove the clamp bracket and attach it to the base of the reference plate (see photo). For larger dimension stock this jig is unbeatable. The DowelMax is a well-engineered, professional quality jig that will provide years of service.
The Veritas Dowelling Jig(another Canadian product) is largely a dedicated edge-to-edge doweling jig (although you can dowel the ends of boards, you can’t dowel the inside face). Like the other two jigs above, it does both centered and reference face doweling. The body of the jig and the bushing carrier are anodized aluminum; the fittings are solid brass. The jig comes with 3 hardened steel bushings (¼”, 5/16” and ⅜”), a register pin, allen wrench and instruction booklet. A variety of bushings in other sizes (including metric) are available.
The Veritas Dowelling Jig enables you to drill holes as close as ⅝” – at a more common 1 ¼” and a full 6 ⅜” apart. I found this last dimension perfect for doweling long boards. I only needed to make one alignment mark on both boards, and then use the register pin to chain drill holes. This makes for very fast panel assembly. If you need the flexibility of smaller dowel size holes, this jig can’t be beat. You can even get a 3/32” bushing that is made of unhardened steel so you can drill it to any custom size. The hole spacing on the Veritas jig is based on the 32mm system which is part of the more comprehensive 32mm shelf drilling product line available from Lee Valley. Like all Veritas tools you get exceptional quality: really well machined parts and high tolerances at competitive prices.