Leigh R9 Plus Joinery System - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

No steep learning curve, simple to understand, easy to use, and consistently perfect results

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Leigh R9 Plus Joinery System



There are a dozen or so jigs to choose from when it comes to machining dovetails and box joints with a hand held or table mounted router.
 
Probably the most recognized name in the business is Leigh Jigs. Their four flagship jigs - the D4R Pro, and Super 12, 18 and 24 - cover the needs of just about any professional or avid woodworker. They offer the capability of variably spaced through, half-blind, sliding, and rabbeted half-blind dovetails, as well as inlaid, and end-on-end dovetails, and finger (box) joints.
 
For professional woodworkers, the increased productivity, functionality and precision these jigs provide easily offsets the initial cost and the investment of time required to fully master the jigs. Leigh has a handy jig comparison chart that highlights the major features of their flagship jigs.
 
Hobbyist woodworkers, on the other hand, or anyone who only ocassionally uses dovetail joinery, might be somewhat intimidated by the seemingly complex nature of the Leigh jigs, or deterred by their price - the jigs start at $289 (Super 12) and top out at $579 (DR4 Pro).
 
Fortunately, the new Leigh R9 Plus Dovetail Jig (patent pending) offers an easy-to-use, affordable joinery system with the same level of quality associated with Leigh's flagship jigs. The R9 uses an innovative template positioning system that makes dovetail and box joint routing easy, fast and precise. The template positioning system consists of three parts - the template, a set of three pin plates, and a beam (which you need to make from hardwood and MDF). These three components work in unison, enabling you to rout fixed width dovetails and box joints.
 
There are two ways to use this jig - with a freehand router and the R9 clamped to a bench top, or using the R9 on a router table. For freehand routing you'll need a plunge router with a 1/2" collet - you don't need a behemoth, my 1-3/4 HP Milwaukee router worked fine. Otherwise, you can use the R9 on any router table.
 
Regardless of how you use the jig, it comes with Leigh's unique e-Bush guide bushing, which you'll need to use on your router (or table router plate). The e-Bush mounts on most routers - if not, you'll need to purchase an adapter ($16 and up, from Leigh). It's a good idea to check your router compatibility before ordering the R9.


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The R9 template  

The template is CNC machined from 11/32" thick 6005A-T61 aluminum alloy - chosen for its high strength and ease of machining - and then anodized to increase corrosion and wear resistance. This results in a template that is perfectly flat and very stiff - which is what you want, as it forms the backbone of the R9 joinery system. The super smooth finish enables your router to glide across the surface (or, conversely across the surface of your router table).
 
A central difference between the R9 template and the other Leigh jigs is that the fingers which guide the router bit (the guidefingers) are not moveable on the R9. This means that you can't rout variably spaced joints. The dovetails and box joints will be fixed in width. Yes, they'll look more like machine made joints - but they will also fit perfectly together, and they'll take a fraction of the time to rout compared to cutting the joints by hand.
 
What you will be able to make are 3 sizes of through dovetails in boards up to 13/16" thick. Pin widths can be 3/8", 7/16" & 1/2".
 
You can also make 3 sizes of box joints - 3/16", 3/8" and 3/4" wide - in boards up to 13/16" thick.
 
Because of the fixed joint widths, the width of the board that you use will be determined by the number of full tails that you can rout. The user guide has a 'board width selection' chart that makes it easy to find out how wide your board needs to be for both dovetail and box joints. For example, your design might call for a 4" drawer with three tails. Referring the the Leigh chart you'll see that to rout three tails the recommended width of the board is 4-5/8". However, you do have some leeway - the board you use can be 1/8" less than, or 3/8" greater than, the recommended width. So to end up with 3 tails, you would need to use a 4-1/2" to 5" board rather than a 4" board. Which means you'll want to refer to the board width selection chart when designing a project - not after.
 
When you purchase the R9 it comes with everything you need to rout 1/2" dovetails in stock 1/2" to 13/16" thick - a #80-8 dovetail bit (for routing the tails) and a #160 straight bit (for routing the pins). To rout 7/16" dovetails you'll need to purchase the #75-8 dovetail bit, and for 3/8" dovetails you'll need the #70-8 bit. These are high quality bits that you can buy from Leigh for $17 each. Another good source is Lee Valley.
 
The dovetail bits have an 8mm shank, making them stiffer and stronger than 1/4" shanked bits, so they are less prone to chatter in use. The R9 kit comes with a 1/2" to 8mm collet reducer so you can use these bits in any router that has a 1/2" collet. You'll use the same #160 straight bit to rout the pins regardless of the dovetail bit you use.
 

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Pin plates (front and back sides) align the template onto the beam

The R9 comes with three die cast Zinc pin plates that are attached to the beam. Raised pins on the pin plates, and a series of alignment holes on the template, enable you to position the template on top the pin plates for specific routing operations. With the three pin plates you'll be able to dovetail a board approximately 18" wide. I find this a good width as I use dovetail joinery primarily for drawers.
 

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The R9 beam - careful measurement makes the process quick and easy

The template and the pin plates mount onto a beam, which you'll make from a 30" length of hardwood and some 1/2" to 3/4" MDF. It took me about 1-1/2 hours to make the beam. The process is straight forward, and quite simple, as long as you read through the first chapter in the user guide.
 
First cut the components for the beam, and then transfer all the measurements onto the stock. Lastly, drill the holes. Nothing complicated here. Take your time so that the measurements are spot on.
 
Leigh recommends that you cut additional backer boards - it's good advice, particularly if you'll be using the R9 on a regular basis, and for making both dovetail and box joints.
 

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Top: holes drilled for clamps and bolts; Bottom: pin plates attached to top of main beam

The 30" beam, with the three pin plates attached, will enable you to rout stock up to 18" wide. This is suitable for drawers, small boxes and cabinets. However, if you want to rout wider stock, then you'll need to make a longer beam and add more pin plates. Leigh sells a two pin plate pack for $10. Make the beam 10" longer for each pin plate you add. So, if you add two extra pin plates the beam will be 50" long, enabling you to rout stock up to 36" wide.
 
To use the R9 on a router table all you need to do is drill a couple of holes on the top of the beam for the table glide - it supports the free end of the beam, keeping it from rocking.
 

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The template is clearly labeled to facilitate accurate positioning - arrangement 'A' for routing pins, 'B' for routing tails

Knowing which way to mount the template on the pin plates for routing dovetail pins and tails or box joints is easy - the face of the template has all the information you need etched into the surface.
 
The photo above shows the template positioned to rout pins - in this example 7/16" pins - using the 'Pin Size' slots ('A' in the photo). When routing tails the template is turned 180° and positioned on the pin plates using the 'Tails -2' slots ('B' in the photo). The tail routing position is also used for routing box joints.
 

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Latches hold the template securely on the pin plates

There are two plastic latches that you attach to the bottom of the template - you use these to secure the template on the pin plates. My first impression was that these little plastic latches wouldn't be very effective. However, they hold the template in place very securely.
 

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Markings on the Side Stop are difficult to read

An eccentric side stop is screwed to the front of the jig. There are a series of reference marks on the stop which enable you to align your stock to the template. For example, when routing dovetails, the side stop is set at the 'TD max' position. For routing 3/8" box joints the stop is rotated to the '3/8' mark. The marking are somewhat hard to read, particularly in less than ideal lighting conditions (Leigh recommends rubbing white chalk on the surface to increase readability).


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Elliptical guide bush - the e-Bush

Leigh's innovative elliptical guide bush (the e-Bush - patent pending) is fabulous. It enables you to make perfectly fitting joints - you don't need to make any adjustments to the jig, just to the bushing. By simply rotating the barrel of the e-Bush you can make adjustments as small as .002".
 
The R9 set comes with an e10 e-Bush. The first time you use the R9 you'll want to make some test cuts with the bits, with the e-Bush rotated to the '5' position on the barrel. If the test joint is too tight, turn the barrel to the '4' position (looser) - if the joint is too loose, turn the barrel to the '6' position (tighter). Then rout another test joint.
 
You might have to do this a couple of times to get a perfect fit. Once you do, record the setting in your User Guide for future reference. Using the same router bit and the 'sweet' setting on the e-Bush you'll always have perfectly fitting joints.
 

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The e-Bush collar is easily adjusted with the pin wrench

Leigh supplies a pin wrench that makes adjusting the collar on the e-Bush very easy. Don't attempt to make too coarse adjustments - on my second test cut I only moved the collar half a division marker.


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Set up is very quick     
   
I've used the R9 clamped to a work table to rout dovetails. After making a couple of test cuts, I was very surprised at how quickly I could rout stock with this jig. Now that I've made several sets of drawers, I can knock off a drawer in under 15 minutes. Try doing that with a saw and chisel.


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The clamps hold stock securely  

The clamps hold stock against the jig very securely, though I would prefer a longer throat - as you can see in the photo above, the clamp on the left just barely makes contact with the edge of the stock. Leigh informs me that it's really not possible to move the clamp hole any further to the right, as it would increase the chance that the bar clamp might contact the eccentric Saw Stop. Still, nothing moves once the clamps are tightened. The pencil mark provides a guide for adjusting the depth of cut for the dovetail bit.
 

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For tails rout in the first and every second slot

One thing you need to get used to when routing tails is to rout in the first, and then every second slot. I simply mark an 'X' on each slot that I want to rout. Because there isn't a lot of wood to waste, not much wood dust is generated.
 

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Routing between pins generates a lot of dust

Once all the tail boards are cut you rotate the template 180°, secure it onto the pin plates, switch to the straight cutter, adjust the depth of cut, and off you go. There is a lot more debris generated when routing pins. Fortunately, most of it drops to the floor. However, you won't have to deal with as much dust if you use the R9 on a router table with built-in dust collection.


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Clean, splinter free pins and tails       
  
Because of the backer board there isn't any breakout on the back of the stock. The resulting pins and tails are a thing of beauty.


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Sweet dovetails   
 
This is the second test cut I made with the R9. You'd have to be compulsive-obsessive to want anything sweeter than this.
 

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Using the R9 on a router table (photo courtesy of Leigh Industries)

Using the R9 on a router table is just as easy as routing freehand. You'll simply invert the R9 jig, having the template ride against the top of the router table. If you use this method don't forget to attach the plastic table glide, which will keep the free end of the beam from tipping or rocking.
 
The process for making box joints in just as easy as for making dovetail joints. You'll only use the side of the template that is used to rout tails, and you'll rout each pin and socket board twice. You'll also need to purchase a 3/16" or 3/8" straight bit, as the R9 kit doesn't include them. If you plan on routing box joints, then you might want to purchase the R9 Plus accessory kit ($89), which includes both these bits, plus 7/16" and 3/8" dovetail bits, and a 5/16" straight bit and e7 e-Bush for making half-pitch dovetails. The distance between pin centers on the R9 is 1-1/2" - you can also rout dovetails with 3/4" pin centers (half-pitch dovetails).
 
The Leigh R9 Plus is the ideal joinery system for hobbyist woodworkers, or for anyone who only wants to make dovetail or box joints ocassionally.
 
There is no steep learning curve, the jig is simple to understand and to use, and the results are consistently perfect time after time.


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KEY FEATURES:

  • CNC machined template for through dovetails and box joints
  • Dovetail stock up to 13/16" thick
  • Dovetail pin widths of 3/8", 7/16", 1/2"
  • Box Joint stock up to 13/16" thick
  • Box Joint width of 3/16", 3/8", 3/4"
  • Easy joint width adjustment
  • Mount on bench top or use on router table
  • 5 year warranty

MANUFACTURER:Leigh Industries
AVAILABLE FROM:Tool and equipment suppliers nationwide
RETAIL PRICE:$169.00
MODEL #:R9 Plus
MADE IN:Canada

Author: 
Carl Duguay
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