I purchased the P-C 4212 jig primarily to help me make drawers quickly and accurately. Before buying it I was worried that the jig would be too fussy or time consuming to set up properly, or that it might not make good joints. After reading lots of reviews I decided to take the plunge and I am happy to say that my fears were mostly unwarranted. So far the performance of this jig has been excellent. The manual is well written and the instructions are easy to follow and precise. By taking my time and following the steps to the letter, I made near perfect half-blind dovetails on my first try. With a bit of troubleshooting and tweaking (which are explained in the manual), I soon had great looking joints coming from this thing.
One word of advice, every cut made with this jig must be backed up or you will get some serious blowout from the router bit exiting the rear of the board. In a normal operation such as making half blind dovetails, the pin board and the tail board are clamped together in the jig to provide this support, but remember that since they are offset, the last "tail" cut is not backed and will blowout if you don't add a scrap board to back it up. Also, don't forget to go to the P-C website and download the advanced joint manual. It really explains all of the fancy joints you can accomplish with this jig.
Overall, I am very pleased with this purchase, both from a performance and value-for-the-dollar standpoint.
on February 1, 2005
I bought this jig several weeks ago. It was easy to set up and use. To date I have only made half blind dovetail joints. Everything worked fine. I felt the manual was not as clear as it could have been but after a few mistakes I was able to make flawless joints. The quality of the unit appears to be quite good. Nothing flimsy or cheap. I was attracted to the carbided tipped bits but a little concerned that I may find a delay in getting the 'custom' PC bits if something happens to the original bits (I notice that Amazon does not offer the bits for sale yet!). I am a little concerned that PC did not provide lock nuts for the templet stops but, surprisingly, the set nuts have not wandered from their set points. Also, the knobs that set the tension position on the material clamps have a tendency to loosen up and if one is not careful the material may not be secured as tight as it should be. Finally, it would have been nice if PC had put the part numbers on the templets so that a novice could easlily identify them. Overall, a good product at a reasonable price.
Since I originally reviewed this item I have read where many other people have had almost no success in obtaining the dovetail bits for this unit. I have also learned that PC and Delta are now being bought out by DeWalt on 4/1/05 which might only add to the difficulty (at least temporarily) of getting these bits. Fortunately, I called PC and they sent me to their distributor in Atlanta which had 8 of the 43776PC bits. You can reach them at 404-608-0006.
on March 19, 2005
First let me tell you what NOT to buy. I first bought the Craftsman Professional Dovetail Fixture. (...) What a piece of crap! Cheap plastic, difficult to adjust accurately. I spent an afternoon and two evenings trying to get it right, and never was successful. Returned it to Sears and ordered the PC 4212. What a difference. Solid steel, easy to use. After an hour of setup and familiarization, gave it a try with some scrap and it worked perfectly. Emboldened, I made a drawer. Perfect on the first try. To those concerned about the PC router bits, I notice that Home Depot in our area is now carrying a complete line of PC router bits. Bottom line, I am very pleased with this jig.
When I first got interested in wood work the whole idea of dovetail joints was very compelling. It is kind of what defines furniture and cabinet making, the focal point for many people. "Ooh, dovetail joints..." they exclaim when they open a drawer. I imagine zillions of dollars are spent every year on dovetail-making tools.
The Porter-Cable 4212 is a solid, mid-level dovetail jig. It makes excellent joints, but only the standard evenly-spaced variety. The more expensive brands with adjustable fingers will make random joints that look hand-made (sort of). They will also allow for different spacing for drawer fronts and rears, a common design.
The PC is solid and well-made, far more substantial and better designed than the budget models I have seen and used. The price is fair for what you get.
Some reviewers have complained about less than perfect components. All tools made for the garage workshop must be adjusted, checked, rechecked and sometimes tweaked. If you are going to do nice work on a semblance of a budget, you just have to "tune" all of your tools.
The manual really is not very good. The photos are murky and don't show the details they are supposed to. Simple line drawings would have been better. The text is all over the place and topics appear to be randomly placed on the pages. The Super Collider manual is probably easier to figure out.
I do not like the proprietary router bits. That is not doing the consumer any favors. Amazon does not even sell them. Check with Google to see how far away these thing are. I had to drive 20 miles to a specialty woodworking place to get one, and paid dearly for it.
This jig has no dust collection system. Expect a shop full of dust. You will be absolutely covered in dust and chips. You will have to wear real eye protection, the best mask possible and ear protection. This is all uncomfortable stuff. We all hate it, but you will be sorry, or worse, if you don't. You might as well go out and get the best and most comfortable protection possible or you will just be miserable.
Things that may help you work with this jig (and maybe others):
1. Making dovetails is an extremely precise endeavor, perhaps the most close-tolerance thing you will do in making furniture and such. You have to measure and re-measure, work slowly and recheck every setting at regular intervals. One change in the way the boards are clamped in or the adjustment of the router leads to disaster. The manual even says that a one degree deviation from square will ruin things.
2. Practice on scrap wood of the same exact thickness as your final project.
3. It does not hurt to mill up a couple of extra boards in case you screw up and have to re-do something.
4. Fluted dovetail bits, not the straight ones, act like wedges and tend to pull down and out of the router, or put a strain on the depth adjustment. You have to really crank down on the clamping nut. And it may still pull out.
5. You will have less of this pulling if the bit is sharp. Get it over with and buy spares. Figure at least one dovetail bit per 10 or more ply drawer sets. This is not an inexpensive hobby or job, so don't try to save $25 by using dull bits. New, sharp bits are a requirement for doing this properly!
6. To make sure your bit depth is constant for the entire project, score a line with the dovetail bit the whole width of the drawer side before you plunge it into the slots to actually cut out the slots. This acts like a reference line that allows you to see if the bit is getting out of adjustment so you can stop before any big damage is done. You have to actually see this, so you have to kneel down to eye level. This makes the eye protection mentioned above all the more important.
7. Putting a little silicon spray on a rag and wiping the top guide and the router base will make it easier to slide around. Don't get any silicon on the wood, hence the rag and not a direct spray. The plastic router base does not slide on the aluminum very well.
8. Try, try, try to not use plywood. Routing dovetails in plywood is not a fun or satisfying experience. It is a nasty splintery product that is simply not suitable for this at all. I bought some "drawer grade" ply that had a reasonably attractive finish. I found that even this "specialized" product was awful stuff, almost impossible to use. The veneer was actually thinner than paper, amazing that this is possible.
I guess I won't get an invite to the Plywood Cartel Association Gala Ball, but this is a product that is best used for structural sheathing and boarding up vacant buildings.
Try to use actual wood. It isn't all that hard to get boards down to a half-inch, it looks better and it is a far more satisfying experience. You don't have to hide the edges, either, so you save that time. The bits last far longer, too.
Lastly, think about not using a jig at all. The occasional small drawer project can be done by hand just as well. All you need is a chisel and a dovetail saw. And, as your mother will tell you, it is good for you.
I'll bet those old cabinet makers could chop out a drawer or three in less time than it takes to set up, test and then finally turn out machined joints. The couple of old dressers I have use clearly hand-made dovetail joints. They used hand-made dovetails on an assembly line when machine tools were readily available. It was probably faster. Today, they would use a computer-controlled mill to make them and they would be absolutely perfect.
Interestingly, the quality of the joints is less than what many people would expect. They clearly were done quickly. They are a fine way to hold things together for a few hundred years, but would never make it to the cover of a woodworker magazine. So, think about the need for absolute and total perfection on some of your projects.
So, I recommend a jig only if you are going to make an entire set of kitchen drawers, or more.
Even then, look into the excellent modern manufactured metal drawer systems by Blum and others. You just add simple wood, or other material, rectangles and get options like full-extension, soft-close sliders as well. This is a super high-end way to go and will that cost you more than buying jigs, routers, real wood, nice sliders, etc?
Also, there are custom, pre-made drawers available through catalogues. Their dovetails are obviously made with expensive machinery and are perfect. Again, this may be cheaper and better. You can add your own fronts and concentrate your efforts on what shows.
This review began with the allure of dovetail joints. I snuck into a high-end, appointment-only cabinet "studio" and played with all the drawers. Not a dovetail in sight. Is this the end of them, or is it an opportunity to make stuff that is more distinctive that what even rich people enjoy in their $200K designer kitchens?
I went the dovetail route for my kitchen re-do, even made ply look good (I have impressive hacking skills thanks to having terrible or no tools for most of my life). If someone opens a drawer they will see dovetails and the too-expensive sliders will ease it back with impressive precision. The 4212 is about the least expensive way to do this with about about as much ease as a garage-shop woodworker can expect.
on January 28, 2006
After researching several of the dovetail jigs in the $75 to $175 price range (and using them in a night school class) I decided the Porter-Cable 4212 would give me most bang for the buck. I bought one, and after just a few minutes of set-up, I was cutting pretty decent half-blind and through dovetails in scrap lumber. The jig did this right out of the box; minor tweaking on my part produced near-perfect joints. It's a well-built, solid unit.
However, I was very glad that I had some previous experience with dovetail jigs. The Porter-Cable manual is TERRIBLE! Bad explanations combined with outright wrong (and poor quality) photos would make it difficult for an inexperienced person to figure it out. The interesting thing is that P-C has recently run slick fold-out advertising in the woodworking magazines on how to make dovetailed drawers, and those explanations and photos are great. Maybe they ought to have their advertising copywriters do the manuals, too. I would have given the jig a 5-star rating if it had come with a decent manual.
I suggest that owners of the 4210/4212 jigs go to the P-C website and download the "Advanced Instruction Manual" for this jig. Although it doesn't include competitive sources, it does give the specifications for various sizes of (non P-C) router bits that can be used. The manual also contains advanced tips and techniques for neat weird things you can do with this jig.
Also, if you are doing box/finger joints, you must supply your own 1/2" straight cutting bit.
To sum it up: if you don't need a professional Akada or Leigh $500 jig, the Porter-Cable 4210/4212 is probably the best of the under $175 jigs. Plus points: It is very substantially built, easy to use, and quite accurate. Minus points: terrible manual, and somewhat odd-sized and hard to find router bits.