Dowelmax, Jessem and XL700

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Staff member
UKW Supporter
19 Feb 2015
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North Cumbria
This comparison is about the ability to produce joints with some form of dowel and not about joint strength because they are all capable of making a joint of sufficient strength for our jointing requirements.

The biggest issue I have with dowels is it can be a slow process, especially gluing and inserting a load of dowels so any reduction in time is a good objective. I have been using the Dowelmax for some time, it is the second most expensive tool out of these three but it has delivered from day one out of the box and it is a completely self contained device that clamps to the workpiece and is extremely accurate once setup and clamped. The quality of this jig is outstanding, it has been engineered to very high standards and with an extreme level of precision. It is easy to use with no aligning of marks or lines, alignment is done by the reference block and setting the drilling block flush with the end of the workpiece, the dowel pattern does not need to be centralised so long as you ensure a mirror image on the mating face. To offset the jig for another row of dowels requires changing the spacer between the drilling block and reference plate, the incremental change being determined by the thickness of the spacer and on occasions this can require that you make a new spacer or shim. This jig also has to be reconfigured to perform side/face doweling as shown below so you need to drill all of one type before the others otherwise it can be a lot of messing about unless you have two jigs.


The Jessem is new to me, I purchased this because I like dowels and I am looking to reduce the time required to do this task although I have tried a Domino XL700 as another alternative with various degree's of success. This Jessem tool is very well engineered which is what you expect from them and it is the least expensive of these three tools, less expensive than a Dowelmax because it comes with everything needed to use 6, 8, 10 and 12mm dowels wheras the Dowelmax only comes with the 10mm capability and you need to buy the other sizes which are 6, 8 and half inch coming in at another £190 making a total cost of £390 plus shipping and any taxes compared to the Jessem at £284. I had initial reservations about the Jessem because it has to be clamped to the workpiece using clamps unlike the Dowelmax with the clamping built in but I have found this to be an advantage in that the jig does not have to be reconfigured for side or face doweling as shown above. Using the Jessem I am aligning using the Dowelmax checkmark method rather than aligning centre lines which Jessem seems to advocate, this method simply sets the jig flush to the workpiece edge and is less error prone than trying to align a pencil mark and is easily replicated on the mating piece. Using this checkmark method I am getting perfect results that match the Dowelmax and joints that close with minimal clamping even with a patern of six dowels. A big bonus for the Jessem is that the drill guide can be offset from 6 to 100mm in 2mm increments without having to unclamp it from the workpiece and without changing the spacers as with the Dowelmax, this gives far more flexability in laying out the dowel pattern. The only thing the Jessem is lacking is the pin and rod arrangement used by Dowelmax to get longer spacings as shown below.


The Domino XL700 is by far the most expensive tool and with so much plastic it does not look as well engineered as either of the doweling jigs. I have had issues with the level of precision from this tool which is also the only tool that deliberately introduces a sloppy setting to help with alignment. The Domino is a really great concept and it does drill a very nice oblong 14mm mortice 70mm deep very fast and clean, probably cleaner and faster than drilling a single 10mm dowel hole but not with the location accuracy of either doweling jig and in my opinion it lacks repeatable precision. I can drill twenty dowel holes all spot on but am still finding that with the Domiino I may get as good as 3 out of 4 which is not good enough. I have made some joints using a sloppy domino for it's bulk and backing this up with dowels for precise alignment which does reduce assembly time.

I would conclude that for anyone starting out in woodworking and not pursuing the hand tools route that a doweling jig is a good option that will deliver sound joints with minimal outlay. The Jessem jig is really good, I did not think I would find another doweling jig as good as the Dowelmax but in some ways the Jessem is better, that ability for 2mm incremental offset is great and without the inbuilt clamping arrangement gives added ease of use and 12mm dowels. The Dowelmax is still a great doweling jig and both deliver but without a UK distributor then the Dowelmax is no longer a contender, it becomes expensive to import and no UK support.
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I have looked at that DDF40 but compared to either of the dowel jigs I have got I doubt it would match the precision or versatility because it is modeled on a biscuit joiner just like the XL700. Dowels need to be very precisely located otherwise closing the joint just will not happen, I dont think a sloppy setting would work either as the dowels would do nothing. How would it deliver a dowel pattern like these, maybe someone knows:


You are also having to place two dowels at a fixed distance apart and reposition if you want more, for three you must have to remove a cutter so it is in my opinion just a very expensive tool you can live without, at least the XL700 makes a nice oblong hole even if it is not always in the right place.
Dowels need to be very precisely located otherwise closing the joint just will not happen, I dont think a sloppy setting would work either as the dowels would do nothing
Mafell do not do "sloppy". Their equipment cost as much mostly because it is very precise and robust at the same time.

for three you must have to remove a cutter
Indeed. This is a somewhat unique requirement (probably not the one this Mafell was designed for). I have drilled lots of dowel holes and have never thought to arrange them as on your image. Maybe I will always do it like that from now on :)

Thinking about it practically - nobody stops DDF40 user from using it to drill holes it was designed for (quickly and with high precision in rows and columns and on mitres) and then doing a small number of "non standard" holes by other means - e.g. by hand (without any jigs) using dowel points to mark the opposite side.

If I was absolutely determined to use one single tool to drill all holes (not sure why though) then - In theory - if distance between the single hole (to be drilled) in the centre and next (existing) hole equals the distance between cutters - then one of the cutters will just go into the existing hole. Having never held this tool I am not sure how you can precisely position the tool for this task though.

in my opinion just a very expensive tool you can live without
True, especially for a hobby woodworker where speed is not of the essence and peace and quiet worth more.
However - if a tool like this became available to me within my budget then I would seriously consider it.

If you are still interested - here is a review of Mafell doweler I found (which covers precision topic):
I got tired of marking, clamping, drilling, blowing chips, adjusting jig and drilling again. Spent like 4 kg of dowels, 8 mm by 40, and two kg of 12 mm by 50. I used Jessem jig with them.

So recently I got domino and drilled 96 elongated holes in an hour, including marking, and no chips to clean around. Would be double amount for 8 mm dowels.

I might still use dowels when needed, after some mental rest. Jessem jig is holding well and works nice for multi row patterns. I use biscuits for panels.
This shows that there is no one solution that suits everyone and delivers expectations so the only thing people can do is keep buying tools and more tools so they have every angle covered. I will say that not only does the domino make a nice hole it is also easy to set an exact depth, I just wish I could get 100 % accuracy every time but still practicing and trying so things may change. I am getting much better success using an oblong dowel and the sloppy setting with a dowel for alignment so maybe that is a solution for me, reduces the number of dowels and speeds up assembly.
I have put all these three to some simple joinery task to find which one suits my requirements and the conclusion for me is that both the Dowelmax and the Jessem doweling jig deliver extremely precise results every time without fail, both tools can be trusted to deliver. The XL700 has now been relegated to the garden tools shed and I have parted ways with all the FC alignment jigs to someone who wanted them for some other engineering task. So two left and almost nothing between them, the Jessem is quicker in most applications but the Dowelmax is really well suited to some task but for me I think the Jessem will be the main doweling tool going forward and although I have reduced the time to do the drilling I cannot find any way to reduce the glue up and assembly time but that is something I am going to have to live with.
This is really useful experience. Thank you for sharing @Spectric

If you do not mind me asking - why did you go with DF700 as opposed to DF500?
Is it just because you mostly work with non sheet material and wanted stronger joints?
DF700 looks limited in its application (being so big and bulky)
If you do not mind me asking - why did you go with DF700 as opposed to DF500?
I tend to use more real wood in larger sizes than sheet goods and the DF500 just does not have the plunge depth to make strong joints in say 2 by 3's but then it was never intended to do so. I have used the Dowelmax for many years with 10mm dowels and the end result is always bang on but on some projects using 96 dowels it can get a little tedious and the glue up can be time consuming so I thought the Domino would resolve the issue, instead of five or six 10mm dowels I could just use a single 14mm oblong dowel or a pair of 12's. This has never worked out, it is a heavy and bulky tool with for me serious alignment issues which might have been solved had I accepted the sloppy setting but I want tight joints without the voids. I then brought the DAJ from FC tools and that helped on sheet goods but not so much on the heavier stuff at which point it was dawning on me that there are no 3rd party accessories for the Dowelmax or Jessem to help with alignment because they don't need them but many for the Domino's trying to make it more usable, Domi plates, DAJ's and others.

So the time has come where I no longer want to flog a dead horse and put anymore money or time into trying to get it to deliver, any form of dowel whether round or oblong needs some very precise alignment which the 700 cannot deliver in all situations so hence the sloppy setting.
You could always sell the domino, they go well.
Eventually I'd like to get a 500 for mainly carcass construction doing built in units etc. From what i gather ( never used one ) you set the first mating holes very carefully so it aligns well, then the others on sloppy setting. Whilst there will be voids to the edges, the glue line of the biscuits ( i mean dominos 😉 ) should do a good job of holding it all together.

I haven't used one, so in practice it might be difficult? Don't they have a locating pin to set the dominos at the correct spacing?
I haven't used one, so in practice it might be difficult? Don't they have a locating pin to set the dominos at the correct spacing?
They have pins that can help locate but it is not always that simple, because it is large and bulky alignment can be problematic. I tried the FC tools alignment jig which really delivers precision on sheet goods but on heavier timbers it is not so useful. For me the final deciding factor was the Jessem dowel jig, out of the box and perfect alignment with no issues, it just delivered strong joints that closed nicely. I now think that the 500 although it only plunges to 28mm is the tool for MDF and carcases but the scaled up version in the form of the 700 is not as good as having a 500 but the dowel jig is good for both.

This is the 700 showing the cutter centre and spacings using the pins.

Sorry to drag this old thread up but can you drill dowels in a 45 degree joint , like a picture frame connection with a Jesse setup? If you can do you have to have an extra piece or part to add to jig?

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