Jig for tapering table legs on a table saw.Just to confuse things, there are two terms which need to be defined; fixture and jig. We’ll go with the Wikipedia definitions where a fixture is “a workholding or support device [to] hold a workpiece during either a machining operation or some other industrial process”, and a jig is “a type of tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool”. The main point to grasp is that a fixture holds the material being worked, while a jig guides the tool doing the work. In the common language though, jig has become a general term to refer to either or both cases.

So, back to the question at hand. Should you use a jig? There is only one answer – Yes! Let’s look at why.

FiJig for placing center hole in Whirlwind slats.rst off, a jig gives us control. This can be both a safety and an accuracy concern. Cutting an odd-shaped piece on a table saw is made much easier by mounting the workpiece in a sled-style jig. Using a dovetail jig helps to maintain consistent spacing.

Secondly, a jig allows us to repeat an action on more than one piece. When making our Whirlwinds, we use a small jig on the drill press to ensure the center hole is correctly positioned.

Finally, they save us time and money. You don’t have to calculate and mark each cut, and there is less waste due to mistakes in measuring or while cutting.

With these points in mind, if you have a difficult or awkward operation to perform, or need to perform an action more than once, there are very few arguements for not using a jig. However, there are a couple. Principally, you have to stop working on your project to build a jig, or you have to shell out more cash to buy a commercially available jig.

Stopping to build a jig has not been much of a concern for us. Most of the simple jigs we use only take a couple of minutes to throw together, and that time is recovered when actually using the jig on our projects again and again. More complicated ones require a little more planning but even if it is only used once, the benefit of better quality control and less risk of waste outweighs the time used building the jig.Jig for cutting birdhouse walls on table saw

Cost is an issue on so many projects. As hobbyist woodworkers we’d prefer to put our cash into the project itself, however, here again we have to do some weighing. A homemade jig can be made from scrap wood, so the cost is minimal, but sometimes that just won’t cut it. Commercially available jigs are often easy to use and more versatile than the homemade one will be, but they can get quite pricey. So, we look at it the same way we would a new router bit. Will it do the job? Will we ever use it again? As long as we can answer yes to both questions, it’s pretty likely we’ll be buying one.

We may post about a specific jig in the future, but for now we hope this gets you thinking about the situations where you could have used a jig to simplify a project. There are many examples of woodworker’s jig all over the web, it seems there are as many types of jigs as there are woodworkers, so don’t be afraid to pick through them until you find the one you think will work the best. About.com has a few examples of different jigs to get you started.