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Hand Tool Headlines

The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator

An aggregate of many different woodworking blog feeds from across the 'net all in one place!  These are my favorite blogs that I read everyday...

Be sure to visit the Hand Tool Headlines section - scores of my favorite woodworking blogs in one place.  Also, take note of Norse Woodsmith's latest feature, an Online Store, which contains only products I personally recommend.  It is secure and safe, and is powered by Amazon.

Hand Tools

New Distaff for an old wheel

Full Chisel by Stephen Shepherd - 11 hours 16 min ago

My friend and Master woodcarver and turner Richard McDonald picked this wheel up at a local flea market.  It is in excellent condition and appears to have never been finished, it is ‘in the white’.


All that was missing was the distaff and the pitman (footman) needed to be replaced.  I designed the new distaff and pitman from turning details on the original, Richard turned the pieces and I assembled the parts.



I got very little spring back or recovery from the bent dowels.

The ribs are 1/8″ diameter birch dowels, the rest of the wheel is also made of birch.  I made a bending jig, boiled the 5 dowels, hoping to get 4 good ones in boiling water for 20 minutes, clamped them to the jig and carefully and quickly bent them to shape.  I allowed them to dry overnight and as expected I had one failure, but the four turned out fine.


I drilled 1/8″ holes in the distaff at the proper angles and spring the ribs into position.  I will glue them in place with hide glue.


No finish on this piece, still have the pitman to finish.  This wheel will be for sale when it is completed.


Categories: Hand Tools

Talent, Ability, Skill, Determination or Luck?

WPatrickEdwards - 12 hours 40 min ago
What happens tomorrow morning before dawn will determine the world champion in two of my favorite sports: chess and F1 racing.

I cannot imagine two sports more different than chess and racing the most complex automobiles on the planet.  In chess two men sit a few feet apart in absolute silence, sometimes for minutes and sometimes for a half hour, without moving a muscle.  Thinking.  Pure thought.  Anticipating the future moves and working out in your head all the options for victory.  The two who are playing what will be probably their last match tomorrow are two of the most talented individuals in their sport the world has ever seen.

At the same time that they are playing chess, two other men will be racing the last race of the season in F1.  They are nearly equal in points after 18 races, and whoever crosses the line first will be champion.  Their sport involves split second decisions, the highest degree of technology, a large team of skilled helpers and tons of money.  They sit in the cockpit of a machine which is moving at 200 miles an hour, sweating in 140 degree heat, with an engine a few inches behind their head screaming at many thousands of revolutions per minute.  For two hours they must focus on the race, where a second gained or lost will determine if they finish first or perhaps last.

I will be watching the chess match on my computer and the race on the television.  I can tell you that it will take more than a little bit of concentration on my part to keep up.

I have been thinking lately about what makes a "master" of any craft, whether it's playing chess, racing a car, or just restoring a valuable object from centuries ago.  Of course, while I do play chess often, and like to drive my car fast, I am not a "master" of either of these skills.  That doesn't mean I can not appreciate the subtleties of those professions.  In the same way, I regard the methods I use in my profession with my full attention and experience to guarantee a professional result.

I enjoy working on early furniture since all the experience you need to do the job properly is right in front of you.  All you need is a keen sense of observation.  Basically it is a question of simple forensics.  Look for the clues and you will understand what you need to do.  Traditional construction methods, hand tool marks, layout lines, hardware decisions and everything else is important and must be analyzed.   In the same way traditional upholstery is predictable and you can learn this skill by carefully taking apart the work and putting it back together using the same process.

I recently completed a large amount of traditional upholstery projects and was thinking about what makes a good upholsterer.  One word came to mind: tension.  When stretching the webbing, or tying the springs, or stitching the horsehair or tacking the silk cover, the single constant was understand the proper tension.  This is why it helps to have large "meathook" hands, like I have.  (They also are "handy" for sanding!)

In applying a "period" finish or making repairs, there is another rule I follow: natural wood is not one color.  Many refinishers make the mistake of using only one color for wood.  The only way I have found to fool the eye into thinking that the finish was original is to use several colors, carefully layered or in different areas on the object.  Natural sunlight fades wood, and the surfaces fade differently.  Nothing makes a piece look "new" than having a uniform finish on all surfaces.  I know this sounds counter intuitive, but trust me, it really makes a difference.

The same concept works with making hand made furniture.  I do not think that there is anything sacred about 90 degrees or straight lines.  If the door opens and closes, or the drawer slides in and out, fine.  I am not saying I am careless.  I am saying that there is a priority to decision making when putting a piece of furniture together.  It needs to function and be sturdy and attractive.  It does not need to be perfect.  A drawer is not a piston in a cylinder.  It does not need to hold compression during an explosion.  It just needs to open and close.

Look at the Parthenon in Greece.  The columns are not exactly vertical.  If they were, they would be predictable and boring.  Would we be as interested in the tower in Pisa if it wasn't leaning?  (Perhaps not the best example, but I couldn't resist.)

I guess what I am trying to get at is that you spend your life observing phenomena and, if you are intelligent, constantly learn from that experience, gaining a proficiency in some form of activity.  By learning what is important and what is not critical, you can do a job quickly and effectively and with a high degree of satisfaction.  In fact, others will pay you to do that job, once you have proven your talents in that field.

I have been fortunate to have had people pay me to restore furniture for over 45 years.  Now if I could only get Mercedes to sponsor me.......
Categories: Hand Tools

Wooton-esque but Not Wooton

The Furniture Record - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:19pm

I know I said the next blog would be about tables but it’s not. Seems I need to get one more picture that I didn’t have in my extensive inventory. And I looked. Twice. I do use labels and tags but I never thought this was a label or tag I would need. I was wrong. Just this once.

Back in late October, I wrote about William S. Wooton and his desk company. (You can read it HERE.) I did find another picture of an Ordinary Grade desk:

Found this one near Des Moines on my way to HandWorks 2013 in Amana, Iowa.

Found this one near Des Moines on my way to HandWorks 2013 in Amana, Iowa.

I visited an antiques shop in Greensboro, NC a while back and found this monster:

It be big. And fairly cheap.

It be big. And fairly cheap.

Closed it would look something like this:

I could only close half. Too much stuff to close the other wing.

I could only close half. Too much stuff to close the other wing.

It is much newer than most Wooton desks and not nearly as well made. You might be able to see it in this picture:

Lots of boxes.

Lots of boxes. Not much for grain matching.

Wings lift off:

Pintle hinge. Screws not clocked.

Pintle hinge. Screws not clocked.

And it’s made by:


Grand Rapids Joint Company?

Who knew? If you know anything about them, please share.

Woodworking Demonstrations for King Career Center Students

Alaska Creative Woodworkers Association - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:16pm
Lowell K. the carpentry shop teacher at King Career Center recently asked ACWA if we would consider coming into the shop and doing some demonstrations for the students.  Of course we accepted the invitation.  Lowell really wanted to expose the student to other types of woodworking.  Today Bill P. Dave J. Steve T, Dohnn, W and Jonathan S. spent four with the students.  Dohnn and Bill turned bowls, Dave demonstrated biscuit joinery, Steve explained and demonstrated some of the basic […]

Spoon Carving Article in Woodworker’s Journal

The Literary Workshop Blog - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 7:57pm

It’s my first real woodworking article.

WJ Spoon Carving Article 2014 - 1

It’s in the November/December issue.

WJ Spoon Carving Article 2014 - 2

The pictures were taken by my friend and colleague Doug Mitchell, who is a much better photographer than I am.

The article is an update of my original blog post on carving a wooden spoon.  In writing the article, I had to re-think my carving process, breaking it down into discrete steps, so this article is, I think, clearer and more concise than the original post.  It’s also a little shorter.  I suspect writing this article has ultimately made me a more efficient spoon maker.

You can purchase a copy at any Rockler store, or at the magazine’s website.

Tagged: Rockler, Woodworker's Journal

T-Shirts are Back

Brese Plane - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 7:54pm
The Brese Plane "Just a Plane T-Shirt" is once again available. At one point we had discontinued offering the shirts even though we were still shipping them to customers that ordered planes and sometimes including them with planes as they were shipped.

We have restocked them in the Old Gold color and decided to offer them once again. These are heavy weight t-shirts of very nice quality.

Only available  thru this blog page, not yet on the Brese Plane web site. See buy buttons below.

 1 ea. for $18.95 shipping included in the conus or anywhere a flat rate USPS package goes

Qty 1 Select Size Below
Small Medium Large X Large XX Large XXX Large

2 ea. for $34.95 shipping included in the conus or anywhere a flat rate USPS package goes
Qty 2 Select Size Below
Small Medium Large X Large XX Large XXX Large


"Don't let schooling interfere with your education", Mark Twain
Categories: Hand Tools

Finally getting a chance to buy plywood

MVFlaim Furnituremaker - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 6:39pm

Ever since the age of sixteen I drove a pickup truck. However, when I trade my Ford Ranger in this February, I lost the convenience of running to the lumber yard and throwing a piece of plywood in the back. I currently drive a Mercury Milan while my wife drives the Ford Edge. Neither vehicle can handle a sheet of plywood, so when my wife Anita had to rent a trailer for a design show she was doing this weekend, I jumped at the chance to pick up some wood.

 photo 20141121_144916.jpg

I plan on building some built-in bookcases for the dining room, but I’ve never been able to get started on them since I had no way of getting a sheet of plywood home. I guess I could have rented an open trailer for a few hours, but I’m too cheap for that. Two sheets of 3/4″ birch and 23 board feet of poplar should be enough.

Anita told me to trade in the Milan and get another pick up truck, but I hate having a car payment. The Milan currently has 135,000 miles on it, while I drove my Ranger until it had 275,000 miles, so I’m going to have to deal with this problem for a few more years.

Any Time Now

The Workbench Diary - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 2:42pm

This is what we've been all about lately: waiting on baby. I think we're close.
Categories: Hand Tools

Magnetic Honing Guide on YouTube.

David Barron Furniture - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:05pm

The latest video to be posted is on my Magnetic Honing Guide, a great little aid to free hand sharpening.
Categories: Hand Tools

I finally finished a couple of things

Peter Follansbee, joiner's notes - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:52am

things finished – the box w drawer (mostly, just needs one more board in the drawer bottom.) and a birch bowl.


drawer open

sliding DT



This birch bowl has been around a while, but I just finished carving it yesterday, then chipcarved some of the rim last night. It’s big – maybe 20″ long or more. Great fun. It’ll be for sale soon, no paint – don’t worry. 

bowl side

bowl end

 I added a link on the sidebar to Plymouth CRAFT – where you can sign up for spoon carving, card weaving, lace making & more. http://plymouthcraft.org/

Maureen tells me there’s new felt stuff on her site too. So that’s what she’s doing while I’m here doing this…  https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event This Weekend!

Heritage School of Woodworking Blog - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:30am

    Come join us this weekend for another great Lie-Nielsen hand tool event in Round Rock Texas. This is going to be a great show and there are some new presenters that will be demonstrating and selling their wares. The show is located at the new TechShop in Round Rock. It’s right off of […]

The post Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event This Weekend! appeared first on Heritage School of Woodworking Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Turned Kokeshi dolls

Matt's Basement Workshop - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 5:00am

Coming up in the next episode I’m returning to the lathe to knock out a couple of projects to wrap up the whole Movember theme I started with the beard comb. I know you probably already have an idea of what the project will be, but just in case you don’t, I’m not ruining the surprise.

wood kokeshi doll

In the meantime, to help hold you over until I get it posted on Monday (that way you have something to watch if you’re traveling for Thanksgiving…because I’m a giver like that) I thought I’d share this turning video someone sent me a while ago.

The article is from a post on mental_floss:

“Kokeshi dolls are handmade wooden dolls that originated in Northern Japan. Originally created for tourists visiting the hot springs, they are made up of a body, head, and thin lines of paint, usually in red and black. The dolls are beautifully simple, featuring no limbs or unusual colors. Although there are many different types of these toys, the most dominant is the Naruko style, seen in the video above.

This tetotetote-produced video features Yasuo Okazaki, an artist whose craft has been passed down from his father. The artist carves the doll from spinning blocks of wood in a process not unlike pottery. There’s something extremely relaxing and satisfying about watching the doll being formed right in front of your eyes.”

After watching it I have to keep reminding myself it’s all about practice, practice, practice. I doubt I’ll be able to replicate one any time soon, but it’s a lot of fun to watch this craftsman make them.

Help support the show – please visit our advertisers

Categories: Hand Tools

WORK No. 140 - Published November 21, 1891

Work Magazine Reprint Project - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 4:00am

Is your harmonium desk miserably incompetent??? Put a mantle on it!
(Birds optional)

Can't find the mantle you're looking for? Worry not, there's more.










Disclaimer: Articles in Work describe materials and methods that would not be considered safe or advisable today. We are not responsible for the content of these magazines, and cannot take any responsibility for anyone attempting projects or procedures described therein.
The first issue of Work was published on March 23rd, 1889. The goal of this project is to release digital copies of the individual issues starting on the same date in 2012, effectively republishing the materials 123 years to the day from their original release.
The original printing was on thin, inexpensive paper. There are many cases of uneven inking and bleed-through from the page behind. Our copies of Work come from bound library volumes of these issues and are subject to unfavorable trimming, missing covers, etc. To minimize harm to these fragile volumes, we've undertaken the task of scanning the books ourselves. We do considerable post processing of the scans to make them clear but please bear with us if a margin is clipped too close, or a few words are unreadable. We would like to thank James Vasile and Karl Fogel for their help in supplying us with a book scanner and generally enabling this project to get off the ground.
You are welcome to download, print, and pretty much do what you want with the scan for your own personal purposes. Feel free to post a link or a copy on your blog or website. All we ask is a link back to the original project and this blog. We are not answering requests for commercial downloads or reprinting at this time.

• Click to Download Vol.3 - No. 136 •

Categories: Hand Tools

8 more simple shop tips and conveniences

Heartwood: Woodworking by Rob Porcaro - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:23am
Again emerging from the sawdust and shavings of my shop, here are eight more quick tips that I hope you will find helpful. Pictured above, the Big Gator drill guide is great for accurate perpendicular drilling when use of a drill press is impractical, which is surprisingly often. There are cheap tools for the same purpose […]
Categories: Hand Tools

Plane Shavings

Oregon Woodworker - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 7:35pm
As many of you know, Jamie Bacon, the writer of the Plane Shavings blog, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.  I enjoyed Jamie's blog very much and he was very kind in his comments on mine.  He really loved woodworking and did wonderful work.  Just a few weeks ago, he had gracefully written about transitioning to spoon carving because it was something he could do physically.  Take a few minutes to look back over his blog, see the workshop he built, the skill he had and the enthusiasm he brought to woodworking.  I only knew him through his blog, but I know he was a fine man.  Like many of you, I am very conscious that we are a community and I will miss him.  The world was a better place because he was in it.
Categories: Hand Tools

Profit in Self-employed Woodworking?

Paul Sellers - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 3:24pm


I very much enjoy reading your blog Paul. I went to college to train as a furniture maker after I left school but was unable to find suitable work so re trained as a carpenter (don’t worry I don’t sharpen chisels with a belt sander) your blog is like a window into my dream job. I just can’t see how it could be possible I look on line for things that I could make in spare time , it just seems like there’s so little profit with the price of timber and a society that can’t tell the difference between Ikea or oak furniture land and craftsman made pieces . Any ideas ?


I think celebrate the freedom we have to live outside the box of educators and plan a career in spheres of creativity that actually defy many constrictive practices and extraneous input. Now we can move forward. Being self employed and in creativity also defies banks who treat you exactly the opposite and really don’t want you sitting on their office seat if you work as a woodworker. Anyway, being self employed  takes guts, critical thinking, risk, initiative, entrepreneurialism and generally these essentials don’t fit people that give up. Now I’m not saying you gave up so much as perhaps the time was wrong and now it’s more right than it was then. You won’t find many successful businessmen or women teaching in educational establishments because they were successful but because they were not successful. Same in schools too often. Those that found their sphere of creativity and became successful live in realms that have nothing to do with money or, more likely, money happens as a byproduct to lifestyle craftsmanship.  See, what banker hinges his bets on risk takers, free thinkers and those inspired by  people like PS. People occupying these creative spheres defy quantification and yet the business world is made up of a massive section politics and economics cannot quite ignore. Join the team and enter the world of small businesses.


Remember this as you look forward to your future. Many colleges and woodworking schools may have something small to offer, but its usually smaller than they make out. You’re convinced (by them and others around you) that they are the gateway to your future and it may be true to some level but not for the reasons they and you might think.  The qualification often doesn’t match the reality of real life and that’s probably in some measure what you discovered after going to college. You joined the ranks of many thousands and then you thought the problem was you or the circumstances. Fact is when you are young and inexperienced in life in the real working world of wood, which is not college, people, customers and businesses that might further engage take a lot of persuading to trust in you because they have very little to go off.

DSC_0194 Colleges and schools do indeed make promises that rarely pan out in actual jobs or career paths for furniture makers as far as I have seen over the past couple of decades. Like many sources of misinformation they flounder all the more as they rely on ancient models. It’s mostly about bums on seats I am afraid and you pay for it. Now, before you give up, this then leaves me with a lot of hope because if anything this gives us face to face reality for our situation.DSC_0187

I doubt that apprenticeships will ever return in the fulness they once did except when craftsmen and women find a space in their workshop to add in someone who they believe they can help. That’s what I and others have done for decades. Often of course, to do this, we have to work outside of our comfort zone because trainees often take too much of our time for very little return. Make no bones about this. As I said I doubt that apprenticeships will be as available as they were in my day, not without some radical transformation in global economics back to more sustainable local changes we can live and work in and with. Now there is something you can believe in.DSC_0272

I have always liked challenges and when I made my mind up to be a furniture maker making pieces I decided many things not the least of which was that it was my responsibility to find and educate my customers, not to sell them furniture like a salesman. Generally customers find us because they are already on the lookout for something we have. Sales is not a nice job for a creative crafting artisan.  I decided that years ago – decades. Soon, when you see you have a good product, you also see that there is no need to manipulate them or use any stories to bolster your case and that absolute honesty is essentially our responsibility too. We craftsmen and women should always make sure we have an honestly made product that never compromises forested lands resulting in deforestation, prices that are always just and fair, staff always paid appropriately according to skill levels and that the presentation of a finished item always represents appropriate quality according to price. My work always carries a lifetime guarantee that I will always repair a piece if the damage results from negligent workmanship or materials. I have never been back to a piece in 50 years that I can recall. I always stick to my estimates even when it costs me if it’s because of my own failure.DSC_0043

But above all of that, I have been a lifestyle woodworker as a furniture maker and woodturner and the emphasis here is lifestyle. Lifestyle for me means more than anything; that I came to a point where I chose to continue in my craft and that economics, social recognition, political movements and so on could not influence me to change. That means I no longer had the choice to do or be something else. I was going to make my craft work as a provision for me and my family even if that meant I would work twice as long for half as much as the expectations others might have as employees.DSC_0047

Though my life has changed somewhat over very recent years, 95% of my working life over a 50 year span has been as a producing craftsman. Even now I still make several pieces in any given month. My chosen and self imposed lifestyle of woodworking can always be applied to all crafts requiring skilled work as a lifestyles and this includes gardening for food and small animal husbandry, farming and market gardening. It’s not really to do with the costs of materials but educating our customers and elevating the meaning of craft so that they feel inclined to support a lifestyle.

The post Profit in Self-employed Woodworking? appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Beading Planes from Caleb James

Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 3:08pm


Fair warning: If you read this blog entry you might end up with a dog that has decorative details.

If you build furniture of a traditional sort, you should consider owning some beading planes. While beading planes are (in general) quite common, furniture makers use the less-common small ones – usually 1/8”, 3/16” and 1/4”. These planes add shadow lines to traditional work that are sometimes lost on the modern eye.

The margin between backboards or bottom boards, for example, is much nicer if beaded. And any flat expanse is best broken up with a bead when you have drawer fronts and door fronts that are flush to their face frames.

Heck, bead those face frames while you are at it.


I couldn’t imagine building furniture without them. Beading planes are faster than a router or scratch stock and leave a beautiful, ready-to-finish surface without sanding.

The challenge, however, is finding beading planes that are a notch above firewood. This summer I hit several tool emporiums and inspected at least 100 beading planes that were sized for furniture. None was worth buying.

So if you can’t find vintage beading planes, you need to find someone who will make them for you. Phil Edwards at Philly Planes is one excellent source. And you might be able to talk Matt Bickford into making you some. Old Street Tool still isn’t taking orders.


So please take a look at the work by Caleb James, a chairmaker, planemaker and excellent craftsman in Greenville, S.C. I met Caleb in person for the first time in the spring, used his planes and placed an order for two beading planes to round out my set – a 1/8” and a 1/4”.

I’ve had the 1/4” plane for a while, and the 1/8” came today.

They are outstanding. Beyond outstanding, really.

One of the nice details on Caleb's planes is the chamfer on the escapement. This makes it easy to press the iron against the blind side of the mortise.

One of the nice details on Caleb’s planes is the chamfer on the escapement. This makes it easy to press the iron against the blind side of the mortise.

Caleb isn’t taking orders for planes right now as he is clearing out a well-deserved backlog. But bookmark his site and watch for when he opens ordering again. Then pounce.

When your beading planes arrive, you’ll want to put a bead on everything. Even your dog.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Handplanes, Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

Cleaned Off Some Shelves

Benchcrafted - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 12:48pm

This time of year we're preparing for Black Friday. In other words, we're pondering spending that time in the shop making things other than money. We hope you do too.

Doing a little warehouse cleaning this morning we found a few vises we set aside for a moment like this. And the when the moment is right...

1. Glide Leg Vises.
This is the previous version of the Glide, with the single Dymondwood knob, and fully machine handwheel. These are vises that may have some porosity to the cast iron hanwheel (very minor) or were used on demo benches. They are 100% functional and are just slightly cosmetically deficient on the handwheel. That's it. All other parts are brand new. We usually melt these down, but these are so close to being 100%, we're offering them for your benefit. Price is $300 with Crisscross Solo (add $40 if you want a Retro.) We only have two of these.

2. Classic Leg Vise Hardware Only SOLD
The hardware we used to take the glamour shots earlier this year. If anything, this is likely nicer than what you receive when buying new, since we already buffed out the parkerizing and oiled it up. It's a beaut. Price is $130. We only have one of these. If you'd like to pair it with a Crisscross, request that when you order.

And here's how to do that. Send an email to info@benchcrafted.com stating what you'd like, including your shipping address, and we'll email you an invoice to pay. Simple as that.

Categories: Hand Tools

2 Ways to Warm up For Dovetails (Without Cutting One)

Chris Schwarz's Pop Wood Blog - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 12:26pm

My dovetails are always at their best if I warm up before sawing. But I’ll be honest – when I am pressed for time I have no patience to cut an entire joint, much less prep the wood for a practice set. So here are two things I do to get my sawing on track that don’t require extra material or significant time. Crosscut Your Rough Stock by Hand Even […]

The post 2 Ways to Warm up For Dovetails (Without Cutting One) appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Categories: Hand Tools

Seven Secrets of Successful Woodworking Jigs

360 WoodWorking - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 10:23am

Like most woodworkers I have a bunch of jigs kicking around the shop and like most guys my age I have firmly held opinions. As a reader I’ve seen more than enough articles about jigs for this and fixtures for that. As an author I’ve tried to steer clear of writing too much about jigs, although from time to time my name has appeared. To me, jigs exist to make certain tasks (usually repetitious ones that require a consistent degree of precision) safer, faster or easier. A really good jig will do all three of those things. Some authors are specialists in devising intricate solutions and some woodworkers get sidetracked into making jigs as their hobby instead of using jigs to make things. I am neither of those.

At right is my set-up for drilling the cup holes for Euro hinges. It’s a straight fence glued and stapled down to a piece of 3/4″ thick plywood. There is a rabbet on the fence that keeps chips of JIGS_1494wood from keeping the edge of a door off the straight edge. The three pencil lines are my intricate system for placing the holes in the same location on every door. The center line is in line with the center of the bit, and the other two lines are an equal distance away. When I have the jig positioned where I want it, I lower the bit 1/4″ or so into the plywood base. The next time I need to use it, I lower the bit into the hole and clamp the base down to the drill press table. That puts the jig back in the right position without any fuss or measuring. All I need to do then is set the depth of the bit and I’m ready to go. In use, I line up the corner of the door to one of the outer pencil lines and drill. This is a pretty good example of my philosophy toward making and using jigs.

  1. Don’t expect a jig to give you skills or precision you don’t have. Simply put, if you can’t measure accurately, make parts to an exact size or put a square line in the right place you won’t be able to make a working, reliable jig; you’ll end up spending a lot of time without getting the desired results.
  2. If it takes longer to make the jig than it does to perform the task without the jig, you’re wasting time unless it’s a task you’ll be doing on a regular basis. Knowing how long things will take is an essential element of successful jig use. If you don’t know, you’re better off working without jigs for a while. When you find yourself in the midst of a repetitious task, you’ll start thinking of ways to make life easier and you’ll probably come up with a good idea.
  3. Good jigs are one-trick ponies. Universal and micro-adjustable take way too long to make, take up too much room to store and usually don’t work as well as simple, quick and easy. These are the kinds of things you’ll see in print and if you’re tempted, ask yourself how often you’ll be tapering legs and what range of lengths and angles you’ll be needing. Chances are pretty good that it’s a narrow range and for me it’s a lot quicker to make a new dedicated jig each time I’m faced with this task. It isn’t likely that you really need the T-track extrusion and all the gizmos that go with it.
  4. Make jigs from material you have on hand. A trip to the lumber yard or hardware store can easily wipe out the time-saving advantages of making the jig. The exception to this rule is to keep some 1/2″ and 3/4″ plywood, a couple of hold-down clamps and an assortment of fasteners on hand so that you’re ready when inspiration strikes. It still  isn’t likely that you really need that T-track and all the gizmos that go with it.
  5. Put the jig together quickly, glue with staples or nails, a couple of screws or hot-melt glue work just fine. One of my uncle’s favorite phrases was “you ain’t making a grand piano here” and it applies to jig construction. Get the job done, but don’t get fancy with it.
  6. Don’t make a jig for an anticipated need, wait until the task is in front of you. That micro-adjustable finger joint jig that will handle any size material and any size of fingers might look tempting but will you ever really use it? Most woodworkers make finger joints once or twice an move on. If I had a nickel for every finger joint jig gathering dust in American wood shops I could probably retire.
  7. Use a minimal number of pieces put together in the simplest possible way and don’t bother to apply a finish other than some paste wax where things need to slide. As the parts list grows, the chances of making something that actually serves a useful purpose diminishes exponentially.


Jigs are essential in most shops, and I’m not against them.  I am generally opposed to wasting time and my thinking is influenced by experience making things for sale. In that world, I only get paid for the time I spend making pieces of wood smaller, so jigs are only worthwhile if they enable me to make more pieces of wood smaller in less time.

The problem with the simple jigs I tend to use is that they look a lot like scraps. So I tend to keep them piled in one place and I also like to label them. When I’m feeling really clever I give my jigs a name, generally what the thing is good for followed by . . . Master and a number with a lot of zeros at the end.

–Bob Lang


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by Dr. Radut