Do you wanna build a snowman?

Do you wanna build a wood box?
Come on, let’s cut a dovetail!
You don’t even need a saw
Head to the shed door
There’s a jig does does it all

We used to be confused and stressed
And now we’re not
I can tell you why!

Do you wanna build a wood box?
It doesn’t have to be a wood box…

Do you wanna build a wood box?
Or make some drawers?
I think some insight is overdue
I’ve started taking to
Cutting dovetails for them all

It becomes so easy
Just routing the pins and tails


Do you wanna cut a dovetail?

For long time readers of Stu’s Shed, it is no surprise that I am a big fan of the Gifkins Dovetail jig, and not because it is Australian made.

My position on the Gifkins has been formed both from a long experience with the jig, and by my experiences with other dovetail jigs (and more broadly, my attempts to cut dovetails!)

I’ve tried Leigh, Jet, Gifkins and Incra systems for cutting dovetails, and although each produce dovetail joints, (most) as accurately and as tight as you’d like, only the Gifkins is so intuitive that you can pick it up 12 months later, and still work out how to use it, without referring to the manual (let alone in intimate detail).

For a long time, I have been using the standard jig, which can cut dovetails up to about 300mm long, but it is the jumbo dovetail that is of particular note.  It can cut dovetails up to 480mm, which pushes it into a different league, and allows the creation of boxes, the size of blanket boxes, or tool chests.

The templates for the jumbo series have been modified, with an increase of 10mm or so between pins compared to the standard jig, which is to give a more handcut look to the spacing.  Depending on the template in use, the Gifkins can handle stock thicknesses from 4mm through to 22mm.  (H templates are 4mm to 10mm, A series are 7mm to 13mm and B series are 14mm to 22mm).

I demonstrated the jig again today, and within a few minutes, we had a perfectly tight dovetail joint – it is that easy.

If you are wanting to produce some dovetail joints, and either don’t know where to begin, or which jig to choose, the Gifkins is definitely worth serious consideration.



A few years ago, Gifkins changed the Gifkins Dovetail jig from one made with a body of MDF, to one made from aluminium.  As part of the transition, there was a change to the mounting system for the templates, from one involving 5 wood screws to one with two hex bolts.

Unfortunately, this inevitably meant that old templates would not fit the new body, and vise versa.  The new template is also thicker, but that doesn’t matter here.

So what I have done, if only temporarily until I can get a full set of the new templates, is modify the old template to fit the new body.  Only takes a few minutes, and works well.

Gifkins Dovetail Templates

Gifkins Dovetail Templates

Using one of the new templates as a template (!) I marked where the new template holes go, drilled and countersunk the two securing holes.

Gave it a quick try, and got a perfectly acceptable dovetail.  Sweet!

Pins and Tails

If you think about a joint, the intersection point of two materials, there are a number of ways they can be held together.

If the material is metal, you can weld, braze, solder, glue, bolt, screw, rivet, glue, tape, just to name a few methods!

If it is wood, obviously some of these still apply, but not all. Joints can use the strength of the glue to hold a joint together, or mechanical strength (where because of friction/fibre compression and mechanical interlock, the joint holds together), or both.

A basic mitre joint requires the strength of glue to hold it together. One with dowels, biscuits, spline or dominos start getting some mechanical benefit, along with the increased glue area. A mitre lock bit pushes up the amount of glue area. A box joint even more so.

One joint that really makes use of mechanical strength and glue area is the dovetail.

Now some people have a real passion about handcutting dovetails, and hey, more power to them.
One day I’d love to have the technique down pat to be able to do that myself, but in the meantime I’ll stick with dovetail jigs.

The are a number of jigs out there, but by far and away the easiest I have found to quickly and easily create a basic dovetail joint is the Gifkins dovetail jig. No need to reference back to a manual, relearn the steps, remember how to use it, it is that intuitive.

I’ve referenced it on a number of occasions, and hope to do a bit of a feature on it shortly.

Until then, here is the current version of the standard sized Gifkins, with the latest stops fitted.


There is a jumbo version, able to produce dovetail joints up to 480mm, and 22mm thick, which would be pretty cool too.


For more info, check out the Gifkins website.

A Memory Box

Sometimes a memory box isn’t important just for what is inside, but the box itself – the materials it is made from have as much significance as the contents.  This is one of those boxes, and was one I made as a Christmas present this year for my Mother-in-Law.

A Box of Memory

The request for this box came about while my wife’s grandfather’s house was all being packed for the last time (he has recently moved into a nursing home).  Some furniture was not worth selling, and as it was about to be placed out for disposal, the thought by my MIL was whether I might be able to do something with the timber at least, to make a memory box.

The timber came from a piece of Rosenstein furniture, made from Queensland Mahogany.  There was no way that I could maintain the original finish, but that wasn’t specifically important – that it was made from this timber with family historical value was the key.

I took the panel, removed a length of beading detail, then thicknessed and drum sanded it down to a better thickness for the box.  The dovetails were created with the Gifkins Dovetail Jig.

Crocodile Leather Top

Another item found during the process was a bag of crocodile leather, left over from the 60’s, when my wife’s grandmother got a pair of leather boots made.  This was part of the left-over.

I took a piece and glued it to some Tasmanian Oak (so inside the box would still be worth viewing).

Edge Beading

To finish off the leather detail, I took some of the beading removed at the start of the process, ripped it down with the bandsaw, and used this smaller portion (approx 1/3 of the original beading width) to create this edge detail.

Wherever I used the original beading, I was particular in that the original finish was not changed at all, so the colouring of the original furniture is still represented in this reconsideration of the original item.

That crocodile leather is pretty awesome too, and that so much of this box carries that extra depth of meaning is significant, both for the recipient of the box, and for me as I was making it.

Underside of Lid

Keeping the lid simple, I rebated around the edge to create a lid that lifts off, rather than one that incorporates a hinge. (Wooden, handmade hinges is a project for the (near) future).  Here the contrast between the mahogany, and the Tassie Oak is quite noticeable.

Dovetail Detail

Around the top of the box (below the lid), I’ve attached the full width beading removed from the original furniture, mitred at the corners.  It was originally attached with small nails, and where that occurred I have left untouched – if it has a hole, so be it.  I used Titebond glue for both the dovetails, and the beading.

The finish is my old favourite – Tung Oil, and Ubeaut Traditional Wax

In the bottom of the box, and under the box, I’ve attached felt, and otherwise the box is a simple design.  Once again, the Gifkins Jig proves just how good it is at a simple full dovetail. (I have tried handcut dovetails, it can be done, but i didn’t find  it particularly rewarding, or satisfactory result-wise with my skill level – the darkside eludes me again) (Saw a T Shirt quote recently – Come over to the Darkside…..we have cookies!)

I still have a long way to go with my box designs, but for a long time I didn’t even dare try one at all.  A box is something that is often appreciated very closely, so if you don’t have really accurate joints (etc) it is pretty obvious to an even untrained eye.

Creating a box that not only will contain memories, but is made from them is a particularly rewarding exercise.

Last Minute Xmas Idea

If you are anything like me, around this time of year you start getting ‘nagged’ by your nearest and dearest (in a well-meaning way) for what you’d really like as a present.  And if you are really like me, coming up with an answer is excruciatingly difficult.

So here’s one for you: a Gifkins Dovetail Jig.

I have one, and I don’t get to use it as much as I’d like, which just goes to demonstrate my next statement.  This is the easiest dovetail jig out there, bar none.  The last time I used it was over 6 months ago, and yet after one test cut to check I still knew how to use it (and check calibration), I was able to accurately cut all the dovetails I needed for a box I needed to make.

No reading a manual (there is one (somewhere)), no requirement for test cut after test cut. Just size the sides and cut the dovetails, and have them come out perfectly.

I’ll document the process better in a later article – what I have been doing with it has been a bit of a rush, and I don’t want to prematurely reveal anything (to the recipient that is!)

I was just reminded just how good the Gifkins was, having to use it for the current project.

I have tried handcutting, bandsawn, Incra, Leigh, Jet, and Gifkins.  For ease of use, particularly if you, like me, don’t dovetail often enough to remember process from one time to the next, the Gifkins jig is the one I turn to when I need results.

The Ultimate Router Table Takes Shape

Guess the heading says it all.

There are still some developments in…uh…development, but I have now started making actual progress on the new “ultimate” router table.

The Ultimate

The Ultimate

As I’ve talked about (and shown the concept of) in the past, this is the router table top actually bolted together, and the original laminated top has been retired.

The top – 5 tablesaw wings bolted together with high tensile bolts.  The 5th wing is known as a router wing, as it has the hole and mounting points for a router.  The inserts for the hole are not shown (I didn’t have them in time for the photo).

The top weighs around 100kg, and is 1250 x 680mm in size. On top of that is, of course, the Incra LS 17″ Positioner, held down with 2 MagJigs.  There is also a MagSwitch featherboard in the foreground. The tablesaw wings and router table wing were all sourced from Carbatec.

So what is to come? The router currently shown is actually in the secondary router position, which is going to be for template copying bits, and for when I’m using the Gifkins Dovetail Jig (which requires you to swap between a straight cutter and a dovetail cutter – might as well have both set up ready to go, as is suggested by Roger Gifkins – if you have the luxury of having 2 outers that is!)  What I want to do is replace the second panel with one that has a cavity that can take a full router lift, such as the Woodpecker router lift with Wixey Digital Height readout.  We are talking about “The Ultimate” router table after all!

Woodpeckers UniLift

Woodpeckers UniLift

The base is also extremely temporary – it will get retired as soon as possible.  However, it will have to do until the top is properly finished, so I know its final dimensions. That top sure looks good for a router table doesn’t it!

The router mounted extremely easily to the router wing shown above

Triton Router Mounted

Triton Router Mounted

There are T slots on the underside of the router wing, and all I had to do was partially grind down the two coach bolts on the Triton router that are there for quick mount & release in the Triton router table.  (They are under the black knob seen here on the base of the router).  It means the router is still almost as easy to remove and replace as it was in the Triton router – you just need to slide it along the T slots!

As you can also see here, this Triton router doesn’t have any of the plastic dust extraction shrouding on it.  That is because I use a 4″ dust extractor on the router table, rather than 1″ pipe going directly to the Triton base.  These are routers designed for permanent table mounting after all, so optimising the setup for that seems sensible.


I now have the inserts for the table, so here’s photographic proof. Also, the benefit of a good cast iron table makes for easy storage of the MagSwitch featherboard! Storing it like this will degrade the magnetic strength over time – something in the region of 5% loss in strength after 100 years apparently.

Surround & MagSwitch Storage

Surround & MagSwitch Storage

The inserts are not as flush with the table as I’d like – it’s a shame that I can’t retrofit the inserts from Woodpeckers.  Hmm – that just gave me an idea.  It is a long shot, but maybe I can (with a bit of filing / grinding).  That would be excellent if I could.  I’m thinking of something like this set here:

Woodpeckers Router Table Insert

Woodpeckers Router Table Inserts

For those wondering why the Triton router, the answer can be as simple as 4 words: Above-Table-Bit-Changing. There are plenty of other reasons, but that one is hard to walk past! And it only needs a single spanner.

Above Table Bit Changing

Above Table Bit Changing

Now, in answer to David’s question, here are some further details of fitting the Triton router to the CI router wing.

T Slots

T Slots

The underside of the router wing has these T slots cut, which are perfect for the router’s quick release bolts. They are not wide enough for the full width coach bolts, so I removed the two bolts from the router base and ground them down a bit on a grinder.

Ground down coach bolt

Ground down coach bolt

At the end of the day, it is only a coach bolt – if you stuff it up, just buy another for 20c!  You can’t grind the wing completely flush with the bolt – you still need a lip, as that is what is holding the router in place after all.  At some stage I might consider replacing the bolt altogether with a high tensile one, but given how well this solution works, that may never happen!

Quick-mount mechanism

Quick-mount mechanism

This is all there is to the quick mounting mechanism of the Triton router.  One coach bolt, a spring, and a knob with a captive nut.  One of these on each side of the router is sufficient to retain it in the table.  It may not seem a lot, but I’ve never heard of the mechanisms not holding a Triton router sufficiently to the table.  You could always add some extra support for the router using the same T slots in the table if you felt you needed to.

After and Before

After and Before

The router on the right is the original Triton setup.  The router on the left is the one ready to be mounted under the CI router wing.  You can see the ground down head of the coach bolt, and also that I have removed the plastic base.  The base is only there for handheld work, so why waste the extra 3mm or so in potential router bit height for a base that is not needed given the router will live under the table?

Gifkins Dovetail Jig

It has been a while coming for me to write about the Gifkins Jig, and you’ll have to be patient with me a little longer, so I can put together a decent sequence of photos of the jig in action.

However, with my recent project that used the Gifkins to create the dovetailed joints, I found it to be an incredibly easy system to use – surprisingly so.  I had used one a few years ago for a few test cuts, but perhaps my woodworking was not at a point where I could really appreciate how easy a task it made it, or perhaps my woodworking was not at a stage where the rest of the construction would do a dovetail justice. However, by whatever road I have arrived at the current point, I can now really appreciate the benefits of the Gifkins.

Gifkins Dovetail Jig

Gifkins Dovetail Jig

The jig pictured here is the current model, now using an aluminium body, and comes with two stops as standard.  In addition in the foreground is the finger joint template, and the associated router bits for the two templates.

To the left of the template is the variable space upgrade set – a method by which you can achieve variable spaced dovetails despite it being a fixed template jig.

Mulga Box

Mulga Box

This box, recently pictured on the site was the result from a Gifkins Jig.  I am planning on having many more examples from a number of different projects this year!

Skirting the Edge of Boxmaking

I’ve been intending to get more into some of the classic projects, and time always seems to be against me, but finally got a window of opportunity to start a quick box for Xmas.

Still plenty of steps to go (did the glue-up this evening), so it is progressing at least.

Dovetailed Sides

Dovetailed Sides

The sides have all been (machine) dovetailed. (Ie, using the router table rather than cutting them by hand – leaving that for another day!)  The outside of the box is yet to be sanded, let alone have any finish applied.

The dovetails were cut with the Gifkins Dovetail Jig – a very quick, and successful method for firing out full dovetails. A slot was cut around both the top and bottom of the box.  The lower slot is for the base, with a rebated edge to fit neatly into the slot and sit flush with the table.  In this case, there is also an upper slot which is for a sliding lid.

Lid Assembly

Lid Assembly

The lid is made with a slot all round, both for the tongue and groove joint for the frame, as well as the floating raised panel.  The raised panel was made using a rounding panel bit on top, and a rebate cut on the bottom.

Not much to look at currently – will have some more photos during the finishing phase of the box.

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