Should you use a Jig?

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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. has a few examples of different jigs to get you started.

Floating Shelves

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We are finally reaching the end of our re-design of the boy’s room. The last step is to hang some shelves across one wall. After looking into a few styles, we decided it would be a good time to try Floating Shelves. The look of them fit into the style of the room, and they have been a bit of a curiosity for us.

Floating ShelvesThere are plenty of descriptions and free plans online to explain how to build and install this style of shelf, so we only spent a few minutes looking them up. Here is one link with some decent videos which was helpful: Ron Hazelton’s Housecalls.

We played with the layout of the shelves, using painter’s tape. After several tries, we finally decided on one long shelf across the top with two lower shelves pushed to the far left. A little time spent finding and marking the studs and we were able to cut and attach spruce 2×2’s to the wall where the shelves were going to go. Then it was out to the shop to start making the shelves themselves.

We ripped some 1x pine into 1.5” strips, then chopped them to the lengths we needed for our frame. Following this, we ripped some 3/8” plywood for the shelf tops and bottoms. And finally, more 1x pine ripped to 2.25” for the facing pieces.

The lower two shelves were easy to figure out – build a frame leaving 1.5” at the back of the shelf for the 2×2, cover it with 3/8” plywood, attach the facing pieces, round over the edges, and sand. Actually, it was a lot easier than we expected. Then, it was on to the top shelf.

The top shelf was to be an 11’ span, from corner to corner, and we were instantly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to maneuver the shelf into place if it was one piece. So, the simple answer would be to split it in half, hang two shelves side by side. We chose to modify the frame for these shelves to accommodate an extra brace to go between the shelves, tying them together. Then, we added overlapping mitres to the facing pieces to make the seam between the two shelves a little less noticeable.

When it was all said and done, these shelves were very easy to make, which makes us wonder why we waited so long to try them. They look good, and seem more than strong enough for general use. And so, from one Woodworking Hobbyist to another, try building a Floating Shelf, even if it’s just for your shed or garage. You will be pleased with the results.

If you do try it, or have built them in the past, please leave a comment. Let us know how it went, or any tricks you picked up along the way.

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