Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are jigs fixtures?

I previously mentioned that Michael Pekovich wrote an article about what he sees as six essential bench jigs.  As should be expected, my essential "jigs" are somewhat different, so I thought I'd post about them.  I'm interested in yours too.

Before I do, however, I want to amuse myself, and hopefully you, with a semantic issue that I recall someone making a big deal about, though I can't remember where or when.  There is a difference, apparently, between jigs and fixtures.  According to Wikipedia:
Fixtures are used to securely locate (position in a specific location or orientation) and support the work... A fixture differs from a jig in that when a fixture is used, the tool must move relative to the workpiece; a jig moves the piece while the tool remains stationary.
This does actually make sense to me because the word fixture comes from a Latin word meaning "to fix," which is what these devices do. Strictly speaking, therefore, I want to share my essential hand tool woodworking bench fixtures. How about that for arcane?

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are a couple of fixtures on his list and mine that don't require elaboration:

1.  Shooting board

2.  Saw hook
Now for the ones on my list that are at least somewhat different.

3.  Split top stop

One of the advantages of having a split top is that you can have a board that you put in it as needed that protrudes 1/2" or so above the bench surface.  This makes an ideal side stop for planing wide and long boards, but I find myself using it for any number of other purposes as well, including during assembly.  Here's mine:

4.  Moxon vise

For a variety of reasons that I have written about previously, I think this wonderful fixture is essential for hand tool woodworking.  For the first year after I built my bench, my Moxon vise was the only one I had.  I learned a great deal about workholding as a result.  I now have the Veritas twin screw vise on the end of the bench, but it plays a limited role.  I would give it up before I gave up my Moxon vise.

Sometimes the most difficult parts to work on are the little ones.  The last two fixtures on my list address this issue:

5.  Edge Planing stop  

This handy and very simple fixture, sometimes called a side planing stop, works very well for planing the edges of narrow boards (for wider boards I use the skirts on my bench):

The green star on the triangle is because I keep losing the triangles, probably because they look like scraps.

6.  Stop for holding narrow parts flush with the edge of the bench

This one is important to me for use with my Veritas plow and skew rabbet planes.  If you attach a deeper secondary fence, you really need to make use of the edge of your bench, but, even if you don't, it is very convenient to use these planes right on the edge of the bench.  I find it very helpful as an aid in keeping the plane vertical.

I had tried a variety of approaches but, in thinking about this post, I decided to build a new one today.  It is made from two layers of baltic birch plywood and two short pieces of T track, which are installed just shy of the edge:

It's all half-inch plywood except for the piece across the right end, which is three-quarter inch so that it will serve as a stop, and a piece beneath it to clamp the fixture in the vise.  Of course, the plywood is not quite a half-inch, so I had to deepen the slots with a shoulder plane:

The final piece is a quarter-inch high fence that moves along the T tracks.  Here's what the fixture looks like in action:

We'll see how it works.  I think it will be useful in plowing grooves, planing rabbets and planing thin workpieces.  What about cross-grain rabbets?  Well, maybe I'll come up with something better, but right now:

One more illustration of the Moxon vise's versatility.

Some woodworkers may look at this list and think it is a lot of extraneous pieces to perform functions they can do with their bench vise.  All I can say is, I've got a bench vise, but I usually reach for them because I know I can do a better job quicker that way.  They are at hand and don't take up a lot of space.

Every fixture I have, including the Moxon vise and my bench raiser, fits in this space beneath my tool chest.

Getting back to the definition of fixture above, the whole idea is to securely fix the workpiece on the top of your bench in a position that allows you to do your best work.  


  1. What about appliances? I've seen that word used in place of jigs/fixtures. I liked the definition Wiki gives - cleared up a bit of the fog for me on this. I use the first two you list for about 99.99% of my needs.

  2. I appreciate the distinction between the terms jig and fixture. The shooting board is properly a fixture. When people dismiss the price of my product, it's usually with the idea that it's "just a jig." "Jig" seems somehow to connote quick and slapdash or something that shouldn't be costly.

  3. Hi Andy, re #6: this is a sticking board, isn't it? I can see it'll work but I made mine a bit differently: no side fence but couple more T-tracks, spaced out evenly, each track equipped with bolt whose head runs in the slot. Pierced threaded knobs allow you to tighten down slimline but strong little oak fillets that hold down the workpiece. End stop not wood but two stubby slot-head screws put into well-countersunk holes so that you can, if need be,screw them down out of the way to accommodate a workpiece longer than the jig. I've had mine for years and it works a treat. I put a piece along the side so it can be clamped in the front vice.
    John L.