A woodworking jig is just a homemade tool to make your project easier or safer. Face it, that new power tool, say, a table saw or band saw is well equipped, but were creative folk, and theres room for inovation!
Hardwoods are the best woods for wood shop jigs because hardwood can take a beating and is somewhat resistant to changes due to humidity. You are also very likely to have some choice chunks of oak or rock maple in your scrap box from that last butcher block counter top or other project recently completed.
Although hardwood may form the central part of the jig, many times the jig components need to be connected. This is where sheet goods can come into play.
Plywood is all over the place nowadays so its taken for granted. What kicked it's popularity into high gear? Garage doors and loading dock doors. Imagine how clumsy these doors were to operate before plywood burst on the scene!
What advantages does it offer you when it comes to building jigs? Because its made of alternating plies, it tends to stay flat and stable over time, unlike particle board (don't get me started on particle board and how its ruined so much furniture and kitchen and bathroom cabinets).
But not all plywood is the same. For jigs, I prefer Baltic birch. Why? Fewer internal voids and more plies. Both of these factors add to its strength and overall reliability.
Hardboard is also known as high-density fiberboard and is an engineered wood product. But unlike particle board, which uses wood chips in its construction, its made with finely ground wood fibers and synthetic resins. Then its compressed under high pressure.
Tempered hardboard is also inexpensive. This is an important consideration for those jigs that tend to get chewed up with use. You can crank out a batch of replacements and rebuild your jig on the fly.
Since hardboard is manufactured in uniform thicknesses (1/8 - 1/4 inch), you can count on it being consistent.
MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)
MDF shares many advantageous characteristics with tempered hardboard: its inexpensive, stable, and smooth.
MDF is also available in thicker sizes. And its a heavy product. This makes it an ideal material for jigs used where vibration is an issue, such as a lathe or a table saw. On the flip side, Its weight might make it undesirable for larger woodworking jigs. Pick your poison.
The Bottom Line on Sheet Goods
Wood shop jigs have a niche of their own in the DIY community. This is definitely a case of a better mousetrap being built over and over again. Whether its a featherboard or a dovetail cutting jig, someones done it before, just not as well as you have.
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About the Author:
Kelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.