DESIGNING JIGS

I

look at a new tool as a beginning. Once it is taken from its box or crate I read the owner’s manual to learn what the manufacturer suggests the tool can do. Then I stand back and think, “There must be more to it than this.”

Inevitably, by some strange thought process I can’t explain, there appears a mental picture of a jig, sometimes simple enough to test immediately, other times elaborate enough to require a session at what at one time was a drawing board; now, I design on my computer. The new jig might enable the tool to do something its designer never envisioned, or it might increase accuracy with minimum fuss, or it could add a safety factor to a routine operation. In any case, it has to be custom-made since it is rarely available commercially.

I’ve designed dozens of jigs for power and hand tools. Still, for me it’s not an obses­sion: Practicality is essential and shop testing must prove the jig’s worth. Some folks think that jigs are only for amateurs. If so, there are many professionals working in amateurish ways!

Jigs are meant to be used. Those that I design are not made for the sake of a mag­azine story or a book and then stored or discarded. In a sense, I conceive a project that helps me exploit a machine, or assists me in working more accurately and safely, and then I share it with other woodworkers. If I’ve proven that a jig will be useful to just one reader then it has value for me.

I’m fond of the master jigs that I have made for the drill press and band saw, and especially the unit for the table saw shown in the photo at left. Its basic component is a generous sliding table with removable inserts so it can function with a dadoing tool as well as a saw blade. Its attachments include adjustable guides for accurate cross­cutting and mitering, and a mountable unit—a jig in itself—that allows cuts like tenons and slots in the end of narrow stock. The device includes a number of essential but usually separate jigs and adds the advantages of a sliding table to each of them.

There’s no doubt that jigs can help any woodworker, but they must be made care­fully. These are situations where it pays to take 10 minutes to do a five-minute job. Consider that the jig will be a lifetime tool and you’ll agree that making it right is the only way to go.

R. J. De Cristoforo, author of numerous books on woodworking and other sub­jects, lives in Los Altos Hills, California.

Ted Fuller and his