Do a Jig!

I was really busy in the shop yesterday working on a big project and I decided that to help myself out I needed to make some jigs. My shop is really my garage and there’s not a lot of space. I built a decent size workbench on wheels when I first started making things and that’s served me well, but I needed to add some functionality to it. 

My main need was some kind of vice to clamp boards vertically to help me make cuts in the ends of them. I could clamp things to the side but that only held them flat so it was still hard to use. I decided to make a jig that would attach to the top of my workbench and that I could clamp to. 

My first step was to cut two 6″ pieces of 2×2. I chose 6″ because I had a scrap piece of 3/4″ plywood that was already 4″ wide that I would use for the fence of the jig.  They would serve as the legs of the jig that fit into the bench so they needed to be longer than the fence.  

My next step was to take the 2×2 pieces to the lathe. If you don’t have a lathe, this step could be done by cutting the the corners of the pieces vertically to the depth you want so that the piece you’re cutting ends up as a more round shape, then sand down to smooth once you get it the diameter you need. I knew I wanted the jig to fit into the top of my bench, so I knew I would need to drill holes. I have a 1″ hole saw already so I decided that would be the size diameter I used. 

Before putting the piece on the lathe, mark the centers of each side by drawing a straight line diagonally across the corners. Also draw a line around the whole piece where you want to start turning with the lathe. My design for these pieces was that they would be square on top to screw into the fence board but round on the bottom to fit into the holes on the bench. In the picture above, I marked the piece at the width of the fence board. 

Next I turned down both jig legs to 1″ (I measured them using a caliper I got from Harbor Freight for about 10 bucks). The next step was to reinforce my bench. 

As I mentioned, my bench was not designed to be incredibly strong, just strong enough for a few things I was building at the time. So before I drilled holes in it I decided to reinforce the area where the jig would be. I used a 3/4″ thick piece of plywood I had from a different project and glued it down the the underside of my bench as well as screwed in the corners. A tip for later: when you go to drill holes later for the jig, make sure to avoid these screws. It’s also a good idea to drill the holes offset from the middle of your bench. That way you can flip the jig around and have different lengths of working area on your bench. 

I drilled one hole, then with the jig leg in it went ahead and attached the fence board to that one leg. I used star-head deck screws because they rarely strip out and they grip the bit really well so you can drive the head flush with the wood. I put the second jig leg where I wanted it and traced around the bottom of it to give myself a guide to drill the second hole. After drilling it I put the leg in place and attached it to the fence. 

I realized a little while later that it would be nice to also be able to use this jig perpendicular to the way I had originally designed so I drilled a third hole for that purpose, marking it first the same way though this time with both legs attached so that it would match the length. 

And that’s it! These pictures show the finished fence, along with the “horizontal” positioning and the “vertical” positioning with the fence facing either end of my bench. This jig works in all four directions and is very useful for clamping things vertically while working on them. I used it yesterday for cutting out dovetails. The downside to this jig is that unlike a vice, it is not incredibly stable. It will wiggle back and forth some. However, it works great for what I needed it for and hopefully it can help you too!



I can’t take credit for this one, I saw it in a book called “The Encyclopedia of Joint Making” and decided to steal it. It’s really simple. It’s just a piece of wood cut to the shape of a dovetail and another small piece of wood that goes on the top lip to rest it on the corner of the board. You trace along the edges of it to get perfectly uniform marks for dovetail joints (although cutting them out nicely is up to you!). Just find an angle you like, cut it out of a scrap piece (mine is from pallet wood) and glue the little chunk on top and you’re done. (You can also see my new clamping jig in action in the picture).

Author: Sam Adams

I am a musician, educator, and composer based out of Kentucky. I also dabble in wood working.

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