Archive for the Category ◊ Jigs and Fixtures ◊

• Sunday, September 18th, 2016

jig for trimming tenon shoulders

This simple jig gives greater control for trimming tenon shoulders and eliminates breakout of end grain at the back edge of the rail as the plane exits. I have been using it in my shop for many years.

A tenon shoulder is correctively trimmed with a shoulder plane used on its side and registered against the cheek and the shoulder of the tenon itself. The correction usually involves just a few critical strokes of the plane.

trimming tenon shoulders

The jig easily installs in the tail vise, clamps the rail quickly and firmly, provides the essential support at the back edge to eliminate spelching, and allows planing without obstruction. Two earlier steps in forming the tenon, sawing the shoulder and trimming the tenon cheek, can also be done on this jig by simply clamping the rail so the shoulder line is positioned a bit beyond the backstop.

The jig is easily made from 3/4″ MDF. The base is 15″ wide x 9″ deep. The main portion of the backstop is 13″ x 2 1/2″, laterally centered on the base and attached with glue and screws.

A 500-pound capacity, 6 1/2″-long toggle clamp with a large retrofit foot pad is screwed to the midpoint of the backstop. The depth and outward projection of the pad are adjusted according to the thickness and width, respectively, of the work piece rail. Other types of quick-set clamps could also be used.

tenon jig

Key features are the hardwood caps on the backstop. These are 2 1/2″ in the long grain direction and 1/2″ wide, and simply screwed to the ends of the MDF. Countersink, or better, counterbore, the screws deeply enough to keep them out of the path of the plane blade. Note that I have marked a line at the depth of the screw heads and drawn pictures of the screws in red as reminders of their presence. I would hate to run a plane blade into them.

By the way, I am right-handed and never use the left side of the jig but it is useful for lefthanders at classes and demonstrations.

tenon shoulder

For securing the jig in the workbench, a 1 1/2″-wide strip of MDF is glued and screwed to the front of the base where it will butt against the front of the bench. Further, a 4 1/4″ x 1 3/8″ x 3/4″ plywood cleat is glued and screwed to the base and front stop. The cleat fits into the tail vise, which is then tightened to secure the jig.

tenon jig cleat

To trim a tenon shoulder, align it with, or very near, the edge of the hardwood backstop cap. Plane the shoulder and continue the stroke through the cap as needed. Of course, the cap gets slowly depleted over time, as shown here, but it is easily replaced.

jig detail

I think you will find this jig increases your comfort and control in the precision job of trimming tenon shoulders.

• Monday, January 25th, 2016

reference constructions

When designing and making a particular joint or subassembly, an actual sample of it is a great aid to spatial thinking. I keep a bunch of these brain helpers in the shop, including various mortise and tenon configurations, sliding dovetails, a section of a web frame, some curved legs, and, of course, a drawer or two. Most are unglued to permit study.

In the design phase of a project, when considering proportions, thicknesses, and surface relationships, the models help in a way that drawings cannot. Later, they are useful when strategizing construction methods. They are particularly helpful if it’s been a while since I last incorporated such an assembly into a piece.

A reference model does not have to be very neat or even complete. Most likely it will be one section of an assembly or the critical parts that are just enough to direct your thinking. I often write notes and dimensions on the reference models, especially if there’s something that I’m not likely to notice later. Basically, give yourself all the help you can; woodworking is hard enough already.

Accumulate the models from practice joints, experiments, or extras from a past project. It’s amazing how some in my shop of have aged and then jog my memory when needed. “Oh, that’s how that frame went together,” or whatever, in some project from the past. A piece that you completed long ago may be unavailable to you now but even if it is, you can’t disassemble it.

Since virtually all of my woodwork is one-of-a-kind, the reference models serve as brain assistants, not formulas. I benefit from my former efforts but I’m still thinking things through as they pertain to the project at hand. I really enjoy that combination!

If accumulating reference constructions is not a woodworking habit of yours, consider giving it a try. I think you’ll find it pays off.

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• Friday, July 31st, 2015

dowel former

The otherwise excellent square hole punches from Lee Valley have a practical problem that I detailed on this blog more than two years ago, along with a suggested solution.

In brief, the punches work beautifully to square the upper section of a round hole in applications such as a pegged mortise and tenon joint. The punches are sized from 3/16″ to 1/2″ in 1/16″ increments. Each requires boring a round hole 3/64″ less than the width of the punch and thus the use of unusually sized dowel pegs.

Lee Valley square hole punches

For example, a 13/64″ hole is used with the 1/4″ punch. After forming the square portion, the round hole could reasonably be enlarged to 7/32″ but anything further would risk damaging the edges of the square. So, here’s the problem: how to obtain round pegs in diameters such as 13/64″, 7/32″, and so forth. Even Lee Valley, despite my suggestion, does not supply the equipment to make such dowels.

There are methods demonstrated on the internet for making dowels using a portable power drill and clever shop-made cutters, but I prefer a simple dowel-former plate to make these short pegs. This is easily made from a piece of unhardened weldable steel, 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ x 5″, from the local hardware store. Rough-shaped stock is pounded through the holes to form the dowels.


Use a drill press to bore two holes for each diameter, one for rough cutting and the other for finish cutting. The roughing holes are on the right side of the plate in the photo at top. Relieve the diameter of all holes by reaming from the exit end using a General #130 6° tapered reamer, going to full depth for the roughing holes and about 1/2 depth for the finishing holes.

Deeply score the sidewalls of the roughing holes with a 2/0 blade in a fret saw and a 4″ double extra slim saw file. Use a small sharpening stone to cleanly remove the burr and create a sharp edge on the entry side of the holes. Use a countersink bit to lightly chamfer only the exit side of all holes.


Start by making stock from straight-grained wood, ideally riven, to a width slightly more than 1/64″ larger than the hole diameter. Trim the corners to make an approximately octagonal cross section. I prefer to use a small handplane for this step.

Directions for using this type of plate usually recommend whittling an approximate taper on the blank to ease its entry into the hole. However, I’ve found the forming cutting goes much smoother and more balanced with a nicely centered blunt entry point formed on the blank with a pencil sharpener or dowel pointer.

Place the former hole over a dog hole in the workbench top. Use the roughing hole first, followed by the finishing hole. Pound the wood blank with a mallet, taking care to keep the blank perpendicular. Proceed until the blank is nearly flush with the plate, then use a narrower peg to tap it the rest of the way though. A piece of blue tape under the dog hole will catch the dowel, saving the frustration of looking for it on the floor.

shop-made dowel former

shop-made dowel former

I have found that the two-stage process produces smoother cutting and better dowels. The photo below shows, from left to right, a piece of shaped stock, rough dowels formed by the first step, and straight, smooth finished dowels in cherry, bubinga, and red oak.

shop-made dowel pegs

Ideally, this tool would be made of hardened tool steel like a genuine Veritas or Lie-Nielsen but that is beyond what I can accomplish in my shop. However, the shop-made version is inexpensive, easy to make, has any hole size you want, solves the problem with the square chisels, and works surprisingly well.

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• Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

drill stops


Of course, the best drill stop is on a drill press but the topic here is drill stops for hand drilling, which for most of us means with a portable electric drill, corded or cordless. So, let’s look at the candidates.

The most common store bought drill stop is a round metal collar with a single setscrew that tightens against the drill bit. These are cheap and not bad, but I’d stop short of calling them good. Most of them tend to tilt as the screw is tightened and all of them can damage the flutes of the bit. If you jiggle or turn the collar to direct the point of the setscrew toward the bottom of a flute and then tighten the screw carefully and firmly, they can stay put and perform decently. Fuller makes a version of these that is longer than the others.

Another type of stop uses a setscrew to close the metal collar’s diameter to bind it by friction against the drill bit. I’ve found that the metal is too stiff to reliably close down snugly against the bit, or on the other hand, that the inside diameter is too close to that of the drill bit so the collar is too hard to get on or off the bit. They’re borderline acceptable; I wouldn’t call them good.

Some of the stops used in conjunction with a countersink are pretty good and some of the Forstner bit stops seem good but those are other matters.

An utter failure is the red plastic stop that twists on and supposedly tightens against the drill bit. I have found them totally unreliable – they easily slip. Sorry, I wouldn’t use them in a hundred years on any project of importance.

Now let’s look at what I think most of us use: masking tape. Wrap some blue tape tightly around the drill bit and squish it in against the flutes. Then fold over the last bit of length so it forms a little flag that sweeps away the drilling dust on the work piece to signal that you are at full depth, and later to make the tape easier to remove.

In any careful work, I put a mark on the drill bit at the bottom of the tape with a Sharpie. Then, as I’m drilling successive holes, I check repeatedly to see if there is a gap between the mark and the tape, which would indicate that the tape has slipped. Alternatively, I keep checking with a ruler.

What about for very careful work, especially drilling many holes, such as in carcase dowelling? For this, remove all doubt and make a dedicated wooden collar drill stop as James Krenov recommended.

drill stop

Work out the required length according to the desired depth of the hole and the length of the drill bit. Use a drill press to bore into the end grain of an over-wide squared block then saw off the stop itself. Chamfer the long corners for safety so they won’t hack at your fingers. If you cut the cross section of the stop to size before drilling, it will register less accurately against the drill press table and the drilling is likely to be dangerous.

making a drill stop

The cutting depth can be fine tuned by adjusting the amount of the drill shank inside the chuck – assuming it is a good chuck. This type of drill stop has never let me down. It’s worth the extra effort. By the way, dentists understand this.

So, yes, there is a good drill stop, but you have to make it.

• Saturday, February 01st, 2014


These practical Japanese toolboxes with characteristically clean design and clever functioning are based mostly on Toshio Odate’s article in the October 1995 issue of American Woodworker magazine, pages 58-59, available online.

Overall dimensions of my version are 32 1/2″ long, 13 1/2″ wide, and 10 3/8″ high. The primary wood is quartersawn Douglas fir, obtained as dimensional 1-by stock. The tight grain reminds me of the raked sand in a Japanese zen garden.


The sides and ends are assembled much like Odate’s but using deep thread screws instead of nails. The lower edge of the end “handle” is undercut with a 15° bevel to help the four fingers grab it reliably for lifting the box while the thumb comes over the top end piece. I added a like-sized piece below it onto the main end piece for extra rigidity.

The bottom is 3/8 Baltic birch plywood fit into a rabbet, glued, screwed, and nailed. I preferred the plywood to avoid seasonal dimensional conflict posed by a solid wood bottom fixed cross grain to the end pieces. True, nails allow some give but the modern material avoids the risk of splits and is strong. Eight hard plastic feet will minimize abrasion wear on the bottom as the boxes are inevitably slid on hard floors.


For the top, I similarly went modern with cherry veneered 3/4″ plywood. I found it by chance on sale but I like its looks with the Doug fir. The plywood allows a tighter tolerance between the top and the sides than would be possible to maintain with solid wood. The sliding-lock top is based on the traditional version as described by Odate, but with a very clever wedge lock described by George Snyder in an article on the Woodcraft blog. (Thanks to Wilbur Pan for the link.)



I added contoured undercuts on both edges of both top battens to make the top easier to handle for insertion and removal.


I’ve had the Odate article bookmarked on my web browser for years, so I’m glad I finally got around to building these boxes. The decision to use plywood for the top and bottom, and the wedge lock for the top resolved my reservations with the traditional design as presented by Odate. Then, finding the beautiful Doug fir got me building.

These toolboxes will no doubt see plenty of rugged use but with their bombproof construction they should be up to the job. They were fun to build.

• Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


The review of router tables and lifts in the Fine Woodworking Tools and Shops issue (#237, Winter 2014) prompted me to again think about the subject. I have to admit, after reading about all the nifty gadgets, I was tempted to complicate matters and foul up my happily working simple system, which is described here, here, and here.


I recently added a T-track system instead of F-clamps to lock the fence in place, and a while ago upgraded to heavy-duty locking casters, but otherwise the setup is the same. There is no removable plate, no router lift, no above-table height adjuster, no fence microadjuster, no miter gauge track, no above-table bit removal, and no insert rings. No shoes, no shirt, no problems.

So, how does this home grown model “Easy 2” stack up against the models reviewed in FW? Let’s look:

Price: At a total cost of about $180, which includes the extra Bosch base, the Easy 2 is $470 less than the “Best Value” and $920 less than the “Best Overall” system in the review.

Flatness: The E2 has an intended crown of .003″ over the full length of the table, and, owing to the lack of an insert ring, a deviation of less than .001″ in the critical area around the bit opening. This beats all the models tested with the possible exception of the Festool, which has a .002″ dip. I agree with the author that a slight crown is preferable to a dip. I disagree, however, that a dip as high as .030″ is acceptable for quality work.

The Big Easy achieves this fine accuracy by employing the wonderful flatness tolerance of stock MDF plus shims. Here is the undercarriage of the table with supports across the width of the table near the router base, along with blue tape shims, aka “microadjustments.”


Fence: The E2’s continuous fence is flat and square within .001″. A split-fence attachment is easily installed and removed with finger knobs.

Here is a rear view of the fence locking system:


Dust collection: With simple fittings available from Rockler, the E2 is probably as efficient as all of the tested models except the two with enclosures.

Bit height adjustment: The Bosch microadjustment dial easily allows at least .004″ adjustments with no discernible backlash using a dial that can be zeroed out at any time. Each of the easily visible increments on the black dial is equal to the thickness of a typical sheet of paper.


I do not have a device to measure vertical alignment as described in the article, but this is not likely to be a significant issue because the router base, which has been flattened on a granite surface plate using sandpaper, attaches directly to the MDF that is manufactured to excellent tolerances of flatness and thickness.

It is necessary to squat to reach under the table to attach the router motor and to make height adjustments. I do not mind a bit, but for those who prefer to avoid the latter, Bosch makes the router base usable with a simple hex key to allow height adjustments from above.

My intent is not to disparage the fine products reviewed in the article, but rather to demonstrate that there is a different, simpler way for those who might prefer. This router table system works – it allows me to build what I want.


[By the way, I disavow the detail in the plan drawing of the shop on page 58-59 of the same issue, which shows the woodworker’s router table with an insert plate and an insert ring. He also doesn’t own a two-wheel grinder and he wouldn’t lay a plane on its side. Nice shop though.]

• Tuesday, August 13th, 2013


It pays to have a wide repertoire of options to hold wood in place while working on it. Here is a very simple, albeit unoriginal, device that can be used in conjunction with many of the other methods discussed elsewhere on this blog.

The idea for these planing stops came to me from a version made by Veritas. The adjustable feature of the Veritas is nifty, but I have an inhibition about forcefully pushing my planes toward large pieces of metal, even aluminum. The shop-made version is super-simple, super-cheap, and wooden.


These are made from 15″ x 1 3/4″ x 7/32″ poplar with 1 /1/2″-long pieces of 3/4″ dowel attached with brass screws, deeply countersunk. I spaced the dowels to accommodate the holes in my workbench. If I had great forethought several years ago when boring those holes, each pair in both directions would be separated by a constant distance. As it is, I had to make three planing stops, each with a different dowel spacing, to make full use of the hole patterns. This is not a problem because I want to have a few stops in any case.

The low profile of these stops allows their use with thin workpieces but is still sufficient to secure thicker boards.

For planing along the length of a board, two dogs usually suffice to secure the wood. However, vigorous planing with the scrub or jack, working diagonally or directly across the board, tends to dislodge it. A third stop is very helpful in these cases. Similar situations often arise in random orbit sanding, routing, and carving. Workpieces that have curved edges, live-edge boards, finished drawers, and wide panels also can thwart the simple two-dog work holding system.

The photos above are at the right side of the bench with the tail vise and wooden bench dogs. (The blue Record holdfast hole is not involved in this system.)

Below is the hole pattern on the left side of the bench. Following are some of many possible configurations of planing stops, Veritas Bench Pups, and bench end stops.


Here the planing stop is set up as a simple end stop, assisted by a single Pup:


Here, Pups in the front vise and the two stops at the end of the bench work with the planing stop:


Yet another variation, to put work further outward:


With all of this gear, something can probably be worked out to manage just about any work piece on the bench top:



Before settling on this version, I experimented building an adjustable version using different types of screws with the heads projecting from the tops of the dowels. The heads would then run in a T-slot in the stop piece. This would make the dowel positions adjustable like the Veritas version.

It became too finicky for my taste, especially since I wanted to keep the stops less than 1/4″ thick so they could be used for panels and other thin work pieces. The adjustable design can be done using a thicker stop piece. Readers may want to give it a try, but I like the thin and simple version.

• Wednesday, April 03rd, 2013


Having covered the design and construction of the sharpening station in the previous four posts, I will now discuss how I use the system. This is not meant to detail my sharpening techniques, but, in general, I want to get an excellent edge on the tools as efficiently as possible so I can get back to working wood.

First, I gather the dull tools and assess their requirements. Then I make a trip to the bathroom to fill the pump spray bottle, get water to fill the Tormek tray if I will be using it, and do any emptying required on my part since failing to attend to this last necessity will surely interrupt the rhythm of a sharpening session.

At this point, the entire operation is independent of a water source. I get the Shapton stones out from their dry storage and select the shopmade angle gauges needed after consulting my recipe chart. I bump the bridge into a fixed position, then secure the first stone in place with a tap on the wedge from the tool to be sharpened, and then give it a little spray of water. I lean the other stones on the left wall of the basin with their bottoms facing outward. I store the tools on the right side of the sharpening bench or, if there are several, on the left end of the workbench on top of the Tormek cover.


Grinding on the Tormek is done first if needed, but most sessions involve only honing secondary bevels. I work through the succession of stones, spray clean each when done, and lean it against the basin wall. Depending on the number and types of tools being sharpened, I may go through all the tools with each grit, or bring one blade through the whole process. In any case, I avoid letting wet steel sit for long because corrosion can start quickly, especially in O-1 steel.

Some blades, such as a smoothing plane iron, get a light stropping with diamond paste on leather.

Before leaving the bench, I reflatten each stone on the bridge with the Shapton diamond plate (trying to forget what I paid for it, even when it was cheaper than now), then rinse and pat dry the stones, and store them leaning against the wall or the outside of the sharpening box. Later, I return them to their boxes.

Just about all of the mess and water is contained in the basin, which can be emptied now or later. Since I generally like a tidy shop, I wipe away any errant mess on the sharpening bench with a rag or paper towels.

I oil the tools as soon as possible. Most important, I get back to working wood with sharp tools as soon as possible!

Once again, I emphasize that this is the setup and system that works quite well for me. I have presented it in hopes that readers will find it helpful for anything from gleaning a few tips to using the entire design. In any case, as I always emphasize, craft is necessarily personal, and each woodworker must find what works best for him or her.

• Friday, March 22nd, 2013


The bridge gets soaked repeatedly, of course, so to avoid wood movement and distortion as much as possible, I used quartersawn mahogany and finished it heavily with polyurethane. It is 3 3/16″ wide, 19″ long, and 1 3/16″ thick. Aluminum or painted steel might be good alternative material, though the wood has endured very well.

A key feature of this whole system is its absolute rigidity in use. The bridge must not shift at all while you work blades back and forth on the stone, yet must be easily removable for clean up while wet.

Cleats, 4 5/8″ long x 1 1/2″ wide x 3/4″ thick, are each attached to the bridge with a single stainless steel round-head wood screw and a nylon washer, just loosely enough to allow them to freely rotate. First, screw the rear cleat in place. Then, to position the front cleat for attachment, use a shim about 0.04″ (1 mm) thick (such as a non-flexible 6″ rule) between it and the outer wall of the box. This will create a slight gap.

In use, a firm sideways bump at the front end of the bridge, to angle it and thereby close that gap, makes it lock tightly to the walls of the box. An opposite bump releases it. This is quick, stable, reliable, and durable. If you prefer it to be less diagonal then shown here (which works well for me), use a thinner shim when attaching the front cleat.


The stone is held firmly in place on the bridge with a simple wedge system. Attached using SS screws, the rear cleat is at 90° and the front cleat has an angled edge, placed to position the stone slightly toward the front of the bridge. The cleats are about 5/32″ 9/32″ thick, which will keep them below the level of my Shapton Glass Stones for a long time.

The wedge angle of 10° works well; a shallower angle might make it hard to remove when wet.  The loose wedge is 4″ long so its ends extend beyond the sides of the bridge to allow easy tapping in and removal. I usually use the blade I’m working on to tap the wedge.

The cleats have been ideally placed for the 8 1/4″ long stones that I use, but the loose wedge is long enough to accommodate stones from about 7 3/4″ to 8 1/2″.

I’ve tested the stiffness of the bridge by leaning on it and using a straightedge and feeler gauge. It deflects only 0.0005″ (half a thou) at most. Nonetheless, to avoid error accumulation, I flatten the stones while wet after use, still in position on the bridge, using a diamond lapping stone.

Next: I’ll describe how I use the system.

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• Friday, March 22nd, 2013


This and the next installments of the series will describe the box-basin-bridge apparatus for hand sharpening. This setup is quickly put into service and can be left as is after finishing the sharpening session – the mess is contained and may be efficiently cleaned up later.

Good ergonomics are important to this system, especially proper height adjustments. The height of the bench and its components will depend on your stature and body mechanics, the grinder and stones you use, how you construct the box-basin, and your sharpening techniques. Therefore, if you are building a sharpening station like this (or any other kind), please do not accept my height specifications. Rather, experiment and adjust everything to your situation, then build. By the way, I am right-handed.

The basic idea is a plastic basin spanned by a bridge that holds the sharpening stone, but the basin is not nearly rigid enough, so a strong box must surround it.

Buy the tub first, then build the box to fit snugly around it. In my setup, I used a sturdy Rubbermaid brand storage container with outside measurements of 15 3/4″ x 10 3/4″ x 5 3/4″ high, including the 1/4″-wide x 1/2″-high lip that surrounds the top edge. The inside dimensions of the box are therefore 15 1/4″ x 10 1/4″, and 5 1/2″ gives a little extra space in height.


The box is made with butt-jointed 3/4″ plywood sides, and a 1/4″ ply rabbeted bottom, all glued, screwed, and finished with polyurethane. The inside seam where the bottom meets the sides is caulked. A polycarbonate spray shield, attached with screws, covers the left outer side and extends 6 1/4″ above it. The corners are rounded, the edge is made more visible with red marker, and the seam is caulked.


The box is screwed to the benchtop through the inside of the bottom near each corner. It is positioned just 1″ from the front of the benchtop for good ergonomics, with 5″ of handy space to the right.


Note the notches in the front and back walls of the box to permit easy removal of the basin. As you can see, I made them unnecessarily large and had to insert a patch at the front to extend the area where the bridge could grip.

The bridge must rest on a rock-solid footing, not the top edge of the basin, so hardwood risers, 3/8″ wide and slightly more than 1/2″ high, are screwed to the top edges of the box at the front and back. It is important that they are proud of the top edge of the basin and slightly shy of the outer walls of the box.


There is still plenty of room for the Tormek on the left side of the bench.


Next: the details of the bridge that holds the sharpening stones.

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