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Metal and Hardware for Woodworking Jigs

Materials for Making Custom Tools for Your Woodshop

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission

Carriage Bolt

Woodworking jigs are ideal for making your woodworking projects easier and safer. Whether it’s a polycarbonate see-through guard for your jigsaw or an MDF dovetail jig, you can build it yourself!

Jigs can be constructed using sheet goods (plywood, MDF, etc.) metal, and plastics like acrylics and Formica. Let’s take a look at some metal materials and hardware that you can use to make your own jigs.

Strong, Lightweight Aluminum

Aluminum has many things going for it. It’s inexpensive, easy to find in your local home improvement store, and easy to work with. It’s strong, lightweight, and perhaps best of all, it doesn’t rust like steel does.

Like other metals, it does oxidize, but not enough to cause us any grief. This is very important for those of us living in high humidity area with non-air conditioned work shops.

Aluminum Stock: a Variety of Shapes and Sizes

The fact that aluminum stock comes in so many shapes and sizes means that your work is likely to be halfway done when you approach building a woodworking jig.

It can be found in U-channel, flat in a variety of thicknesses, or angled. Thin sheets can be cut with tin snips (I prefer Weiss straight-cut aviation snips; I used to use Craftsman snips when they were guaranteed by the Sears Craftsman warrantee. I guess they lost confidence in their product).

For thicker stock, use a hack saw and clean it up with a file or sandpaper. If you use your table saw or circular saw, use a carbide tipped saw blade and wear polycarbonate safety glasses.

Jig Hardware: Carriage Bolts

You’ll find yourself using a multitude of carriage bolts. Keep a stock of them at your work bench. There are many sizes available; 5/16 inch and 1/4 inch are my favorites.

You’re not limited to conventional nuts, either. At many times, the jig lends itself better to a knob or wing nut. Be sure to keep a supply of washers on hand as well.

Inserts and T-Nuts

Inserts and T-nuts also have their place in the world of jig building. So what are they? Inserts are brilliant in the right setting. They are double threaded and look a bit like a hollow bolt with no head. The threads on the outside are coarse because their job is to dig into the hole you’ve drilled into the jig.

The interior threads hold the bolt. The tighter you crank the bolt down, the tighter the insert bites in. Inserts don’t do well in plywood.

How about those T-nuts? These fill the gap when you’re working with plywood. T-nut You’ve probably seen these before; They look like a nut with a large flanged head. Around the edge of the flange are triangular metal teeth that bite into the surface of the jig.

Using a Knob with a Carriage Bolt

There’s a mind-boggling variety of knobs out there and they’re truly a carpenter’s friend. They work really well on adjustable jigs. I usually buy mine on-line at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. Here are a few I like to keep my work bench stocked with:

  • Studded Knobs - Studded KnobStudded knobs are actually knobs with the bolt already attached to the knob. This works well with either T-nuts or inserts.
  • Captured Knobs - Perhaps the simplest of all, the captured knob has threads inside the knob body to accept the carriage bolt coming through from the opposite side of your jig.
  • Ratchet Knobs - Ratchet knob fulfill a very specific purpose when other types of knobs are impractical: in tight corners when trying to make a complete turn just leaves you with skinned knuckles and talking dirty. They come in both captured and studded versions.
  • Through Knobs - There are times when the thickness of the jig (and perhaps what you’re attaching it to) varies with your woodworking project. In this case, none of the aforementioned knobs work well. Enter the through knob. It’s like a captured knob with the threaded core wide open at the top so the bolt can extend through it.


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© 2008 all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.