This article was updated on 09/30/18.
Woodworking jigs come after laying out the big bucks for that new lathe, bandsaw, or table saw.
Theyre helping tools, they're handmade, and some say they hold a cult status in the wood shop.
How many and how clever the jigs that a woodworker has devised and built is often a point of pride in the crafting DIY community. Its fair to say that woodworking jigs are right up there with homemade wood putty.
You are most likely familiar with acrylics by the brand name Plexiglas. Likewise,
a popular trade name for polycarbonate is Lexan. Youre probably also aware that most
eyeglass lens today are made of polycarbonate plastic.
So what purpose do these plastics serve with jigs? Theyre clear, so they serve as a
window into the jig. This way you can see what youre doing; you can tell when to stop
making a cut on your router table, for instance.
So which should you use? It depends on the application. Plexiglas acrylic is a brittle
material so use Lexan polycarbonate if shattering is an issue.
Phenolic plastic is an interesting material. Its made by laminating layers of paper bonded with
a resin. To complete the process, its compressed in a heated press to a precise thickness.
The end result is a very hard and smooth sheet. Making your own router table? Phenolic makes
an ideal router mounting plate due to its smoothness. The downside is that this plastic isnt
cheap and you probably wont find it at Home Depot or Lowes.
Its not just for kitchen cabinet tops anymore! You know this material as Formica.
This is, in fact, a brand name. Its also made by Bruce, Armstrong,
Wilsonart and others.
You know the process; people call drywall Sheetrock and call carbonated beverages
Coke. Terminology morphing like this is the ultimate proof of commercial success.
The advantages of plastic laminate are that its cheaper than phenolic and more readily
available. The disadvantage is that its a bit more work since its thin, so youll need to
mount it on plywood or hardboard with contact cement.
UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight)Plastic
No wonder the name is abbreviated! But what sets UHMW apart from the pack? Its slick as
molasses. Things slide across it like they were on ice, the result of its self-lubricating
This property makes it ideal for use as a runner in the miter slot of your
table saw. Its available in thin strips that are ideal for sticking on the auxiliary fence of your
table saw or router table or for applying to sticking points of drawers.
So whats the catch? Like phenolic plastic, its a bit hard to find in your local
home improvement store. It's mainly targeted towards the industrial market but most on-line
suppliers are more than happy to supply DIY woodworkers.
Where else is UHMW used? You might be surprised. On boat hulls, for one thing, which makes perfect
sense. But the food industry uses it in an antibacterial form for food cutting boards. Of course, you
would probably rather have a
butcher block countertop.
A lot better looking and so much more fun to make.
The Bottom Line on Plastic Jig Materials
Wood shopWood shop jigs have a niche of their own in the world of power tools. And you dont have to
design your own; most woodworkers and craftsmen are glad to show them off and share. All of
these plastic materials have their place when it comes to enhancing your tools and making
your shop a safer place.