very woodworker uses jigs regularly. Marking gauges, combination squares, the rip fence on a table saw, and router bits with ball-bearing pilots are all jigs that are taken for granted. And who hasn’t, at one time or another, made a simple thinga – majig on the spur of the moment to help get a certain job done?

In our shop, we design most of the furniture we make. In developing a new piece, we consider the esthetic and the building process at the same time. Our chairs, for example, have parts that don’t come straight from machine tables because we like them to have a certain stance to support the person sitting on them just so.

Some of our more complex jigs are used in chair making. These sorts of jigs are planned from the outset, tailoring the process to the design. We develop them on a full-scale drawing as we work out our concept of the furniture piece. A clear under­standing of the steps and their sequence not only makes the whole job less intimidating but often suggests ways to simplify the procedure and refine the piece itself.

Sometimes a jig is as simple as a wedge to jack up a part at the proper angle. We have also found that jigs can serve more than one purpose, traveling with a part from machine to machine. The home-made device shown in the photo, for example, is used for both forming chair legs on the shaper and cutting mortises in them on the mortiser. We start by band sawing blanks to approximate size. They are then fastened to the jig—in pairs, since the jig has two edges. We shape the inside faces of the legs. Then, by changing shaper knives, shifting the dowel pegs in the jig, and repositioning the legs, we can use the same jig to shape the feet. Once all the parts have been formed, we return the pegs to the face-shaping position and bolt the jig to our mortiser’s table. The jig then holds the legs in the proper position as the mortises are cut.

There are times that, with a little extra effort, a jig can be made to serve a general purpose: for instance, a hinged taper jig for the table saw or thickness planer, or a router boom for cutting arcs.

The use of jigs is inseparable from our understanding of how to make the furniture we design. Even if a piece is to be made just once, it is likely that we will develop and use a jig somewhere along the line. When we are producing a batch of several hundred chairs, jigs are critical in almost every move we make. Whether simple or complex, they serve as the link between drawing and tool, ensuring consistent, precise results.

Bruce Beeken and Jeff Parsons are graduates of Boston University’s Program in Artisanry. They build fine furniture at their shop at Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, Vermont.



Updated: March 2, 2016 — 3:17 am