ears ago, I worked in an auto body shop, where we hand-formed body panels.
Often we needed two matching panels—one for each side—but we never produced exact mirror images. Subtle differences were easily excused: “You can’t see both sides at the same time,” it was said.
In cabinetmaking, however, matching pieces must be exact duplicates. You usually can see them at the same time. Although some masters can accomplish this freehand, most of us must rely on carefully constructed jigs.
I was lured to woodworking in grade school when the shop teacher put me to work on the props for a Christmas play. I learned early that the time spent on the jig or template meant time saved and consistency gained.
There are plenty of jigs and fixtures on the market but, like baseball gloves, only your own has just the right fit. When you make a jig yourself, it is designed for a specific application and sized to match your project. Best of all, you don’t have to change the project to fit the store-bought fixture. It’s also less expensive.
Making arched-top raised panel doors is one example. A manufactured jig, and pre-cut templates that enable you to do the job cost several hundred dollars. For the custom piece I am working on in the photograph I built a simple template out of plywood to create the contour for the arched top rail. This particular jig is adjustable for two widths of doors. Wider or narrower doors will require another jig and a re-draft of the curve.
With the multitude of top-bearing router bits on the market, exact contours are quick and easy to duplicate. Simply rough out the piece to shape, clamp on the template, and rout to the finished shape. Another benefit of this form of duplication is that it does not leave the tool marks that a bandsaw would and therefore reduces sanding considerably. The next step is to run the pieces through a matched set of rail and stile cutters to rout the profile on the sticks and make the cope cuts. It’s a good idea to mark the dimensions, bit selection, and set-up information on the jig so recalculation is not required.
I think one of the most intriguing things about woodworking is that there is always some rigging that will make the work easier, faster, and better. The only real limitation is your own imagination.
Ted Fuller is the product manager at Delta International Machinery/Porter-Cable (Canada) in Guelph, Ontario. He is currently working in new product development and marketing for woodworking tools and equipment. He is also
a keen woodworker.
Bruce Beeken and Jeff Parsons discuss