On the Misuse of Jigs

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I can hold my tongue no longer. After a decade of teaching woodworking I have become fed up with schools, books and magazines that promote a jig that reduces the general skill level of the population. It slows you down. And it is one more silly device that gets between you and the craft.

Decent craftsmen don’t need it.

I am talking, of course, about the bench hook.

While promoted as a way to get perfectly square results, this jig is a crutch that will prevent you from ever sawing straight freehand – then learning to stop your cut as soon as the teeth break through the work. This basic sawing skill, taught to apprentices for centuries, is the foundation for a mountain of other skills, such as freehand knifing of parquetry, cutting tenons without scribe lines and full-blind (meaning blindfolded) dovetails.

Oh, and the expense of the jig. Manufacturers will sell all manner of bench hooks to an unsuspecting beginner, wasting his or her money and feathering their own pockets. And beginners don’t buy just one bench hook – they end up buying four or five different varieties and end up never learning to saw.

Will you stand with me by refusing to teach beginners the use of this ridiculous crutch? And will  you send letters to the editors of your favorite magazine every time one of these spurious time-wasters appears in their pages?

I await your affirmation.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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73 Responses to On the Misuse of Jigs

  1. waltamb says:

    Interesting… what about bench hooks of different styles as a shop made work holding device?
    Are those recipients of your wrath as well?
    What about Shooting boards?
    Or is this just directed to the Miter box style Bench hooks?

  2. I’ve only ever used my hooks to support the work. I found out pretty quickly that free handing was much quicker.

  3. martingreen1511 says:

    They should be renamed bench crooks , I’ve only ever used them to help with holding work steady, same goes for dovetail jigs , they all take away valuable skills

  4. nrhiller says:

    Is this post serious or a send-up?

    First of all, who buys a bench hook? In our City & Guilds training during the late ’70s we began by making our own, the purpose of which was to support the work, as Patrick Harper says. Control of the saw was always up to the eye and hand; the fence ended an inch or two shy of the right edge of the sawing surface (or the left edge, for those of “sinister” bent). Maybe some enterprising soul came up with the idea of selling the version you show as a supposedly fool-proof guide to sawing right angles, but I haven’t previously seen a bench hook of this design. Then again, I don’t spend time looking through catalogs for things I don’t need.

  5. I have a bench hook, but it is ‘open-ended’ vs. the ‘place saw in this slot’ variety. I’m keeping it. I will defy you.

  6. Ryan Starkey says:

    What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? I’m not as “uppity” as you at the moment about it :), and wasn’t even sure if you were being sarcastic or not. What I find funny is I never bought one because I wanted to make a “proper” one, (whatever that is) and never got around to it. Now I have no use for one. A shooting board-definitely.

  7. Disobey me, indeed! Does this apply to the shop-made bench hooks described and recommended in your workbench book? I only use those hooks to support the wood when sawing, never to guide the blade.

  8. Haha. Good one! You almost had me…I think (said as he goes across the shop to confirm that he still thinks his bench hook has a place in his shop) >

  9. benfromtenn says:

    I’m one of the poor souls who bought one, but it wasn’t square . . .

  10. proclus153 says:

    What about Underhill-type (I’m not sure what else to call them) bench hooks that just steady and hold the work off the bench a little? They don’t really help as a saw guide, except visually, and they certainly don’t stop the saw at the end of the cut; no matter how gingerly I finish a cut I always seem to catch a saw tooth in my bench top.

    Also, inquiring minds will want to know if shooting boards are still kosher, or if we should all be practicing trimming miters with the wood in one hand and a plane in the other, as described in Moxon.

  11. Hear, hear! If you don’t eyeball your tenon cheeks then your really aren’t even trying.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Also down with any other form of work holding that utilizes stolen gravity (BOO!!) or nesting forces as a stop. If RIAA has taught me anything, it’s that getting something for free when you can pay middle men for it is clearly theft and criminally equivalent to murdering puppies while assaulting grandmas. Bench Crooks they should be called!

  13. Classic. Well done Paul, er, I mean Chris.

    🙂

  14. skywalker011 says:

    The bench hook for sawing is a crutch. The bench hook for squaring end grain with a jack is priceless.

  15. mctoons555 says:

    ‘Dos wascawy bench hooks make me soo angwy!!

  16. bernardnaishb says:

    I have a bench with vices at front left and at right end. I can always hold wood in these when I am cross cutting and have been a little surprised to find how much more accurate this is. I have not used a bench hook for ages and teach my 12 year old twin Granddaughters this superior method.

  17. I built one of your designs, Chris. It has a bench hook on one side and a shooting board on the other. I like it a lot. I’ve never used it as a miter or guide for the blade though. It just serves to keep the piece from sliding forward on me. If you do use one however, with or without a miter slot, it should be made; never bought.

  18. joefromoklahoma says:

    Ehrmmmm – didn’t you just do a piece for PW – June, Ima thinkin’ – in which you extolled the bench hook as “the single most important hand-tool appliance…” “Owning a backsaw without owning a bench hook is like riding a bicycle without handlebars.” – Indeed!!! Spoof away to your hearts content; you remain semi-transparent.

  19. Jigs are– ahem – the prophylactics of woodworking. And let’s not mince words. Why waste precious treasure on vises? And what about us weenies hooked on holdfasts (to stabilize bench hooks)? Moxon vise? Mox nix. Real men eschew jigs and all holding devises – and especially words like eschew. I’ll never forget the Belarusian I witnessed in horror on a job site holding angle iron in one hand, wielding a Skillsaw with a cutoff wheel in the other. Sparks and shrapnel a-flying – and not a jig in sight. Oh the humanity!

  20. Owain Jones says:

    So affirmed, I’ve just sawn mine in half , damn I now have two of these useless jigs.
    Could you also post a video of your full blind dovetails technique , I’d loved to learn that skill.

  21. Haha, you had me going for awhile.

  22. sirlurkcalot says:

    Prodding the tiger again Chris? 🙂

  23. Sean Hughto says:

    I never use one, I prefer my SCMS.

  24. toolnut says:

    If you want to eliminate the use of the bench hook, I suggest you turn your attention to eliminating the bench. It’s a much bigger woodworking crutch/jig than the lowly benchhook AND by eliminating the bench, you get a two-fer and eliminate the benchhook by default, thus freeing woodworkers throughout the land of their dependency on an inanimate object. Now that’s Naked Woodworking.

  25. Tyler Durden told us you would order us to quit using our bench hooks and to stop you from spreading that message!

    • fubfcribermike says:

      The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. Someone had to say it.
      Mike

  26. wortheffort says:

    Don’t hold your breath, unless of course you’re trying not to gag on that 6th beer you’re obviously finishing off as you write this.

  27. Damien says:

    Good riddance, they were confusing anyway … when using Japanese saws. On the other hand a crutch is always something for me and Long John Silver.

  28. abtuser says:

    Awww…I just built a real fancy one with over 400 wrong settings. Guess I’ll have to burn it.

    Actually, I did just build a nice simple one for work support. Outside though, I just use a hand rail and stair stringer for work support and still get nice straight cuts. Enjoyable Friday post.

  29. ejcampbell says:

    I’ve been meaning to make one of those; not to cut straight, but to hold a board still and not doge my bench.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  30. momist says:

    Who needs them? There’s an old chair around here somewhere . . .

  31. error4 says:

    I’d like to see a picture of your grudge-holder! It’s very effective!

  32. Brian says:

    I’m with you! Burning all three of mine, and the mitre shooting gauge I made on Tuesday, in a bonfire tonight. DEATH TO ALL JIGS!!!

  33. I like to get JIGGY WITH IT

  34. gblogswild says:

    I have a Langdon mitre box. It’s mine. It’s nothing more than a cast iron adjustable sawing bench hook! I disobey!

  35. tpier says:

    Is this where Raney dies due to flying bench hook?

  36. Rachael Boyd says:

    OK I don’t consider a bench hook a jig it is a tool same as a holdfast. good try though. had me going.

  37. karlfife says:

    Well I heard that jigs can explod without warning. That’s what killed Raney Nelson.

    (At least that’s what killed him the first time, before being killed again, later by his exploding bench)

  38. southernwill says:

    You use a saw! Loooxery! When ah were a lad we ‘ad to gnaw the wood off!

  39. karlfife says:

    Festool makes a wonderful bench hook. It is only compatible with their saws, and requires the use of metric wood, but the results are stunning, you can finish without further preparation.

    It’s $175, and comes in a systainer 2.

    • John Koten says:

      Chris, What would you say is the “must have” bench hook out there today? You know, the finely crafted one made of Martian Rosewood and recycled Ancient Egyptian Bronze that belongs in every self-respecting woodworker’s kit?

  40. Damn! Couldn’t you have come to this revelation before we drilled holes to hold said device in our new workbenches from the class this week. I guess I will have to look for something like an old hot dog to fill that hole….

  41. Ham Salad says:

    Good Lord man, what’s next? Round dog holes? Micro bevels on plane blades? When will this nonsense stop? Could you, just for once, use your powers of influence to at least help the common good instead of dashing peoples hopes and dreams in such a way? Have you no fiber of goodness in you? To see people throw away something they have learned to love because “The Oracle of Kentucky” says it is no longer considered useful is just wrong. This… This is the reason we can’t have nice things…..

  42. I agree. Wait, no. I have to disobey you. Now I’m confused. Well, that passed rather quickly. Carry on.

  43. A good one, had me for a couple of minutes. I wonder how does a freehand cut parquetry looks like, hmm.

  44. travisrknapp says:

    Are you objecting to the kerf lines cut into the fence of the bench hook? I’ve never used those and cut off the end of the hook so that if I don’t stop after cutting I cut my bench. I agree that using those kerfs as a 90 degree and mitre box set is a bad idea. But the bench hook all together has a 103 other uses that help save your bench from being massacred never mind the basic sawing of small parts which I guess you will object to Mitre Boxes next so I will be happy to add another small millers falls 15-1/2 with a LN Saw to my collection. : )

  45. John Switzer says:

    I thought you were going to talk about sharpening jigs. Oh well,when in doubt refer to rule #1, “disobey me”

  46. I can exist without jigs.
    I refuse to give up reels and flings though.

  47. theindigowoodworker says:

    I missed it, who are we making fun of with this time?

  48. Please don’t use satire in the future. I’m old, forgetful and never was good at the intricacies of writing. If I don’t make jigs what do I do with all of my scrap wood?

  49. riksgewijs says:

    Hello, I am a new reader from Holland, Think this is all very interesting what has been writing here. Only now I cannot understand what is wrong with a Jig for working wood. Yes, I can follow youre opinion with fabric made jigs. That’s pure profit making, I understand that. My point here is simple due to this type jigs. It was my first project I made at school for handcrafting. We did a lot woodwork when I was in the first collage years. Now I can even say, this jig learned me to make proper dovetails, proper saw-techniques. Use an handplane, use scrapers and how to made a proper edge with a small plane. After finishing the jig I also had a good tool to protect my workbench with small works and drilling with a vice or use as a handfast. Now more than 25 years later I still use them. I do not use this jig to get an proper cut. Or to saw a good strait cut. That’s all by hand, eye and feeling.
    Just my 2 cents about using a jig.

    • This is, as stated before, satire.

      What makes one jig better than another? Why are some simple jigs accepted universally (bench hooks) and others (honing guides) are hated?

      The post is intended to make you think. Not to throw away anything.

  50. Niels Cosman says:

    I personally do not rely on the crutch of saws or any “edged” tool. In my opinion woodworking via “wedge and edge” is a perversion of traditional techniques. Any operation that cannot be accomplished via splitting by blunt wedge has no place in my shop or in my life. Futhermore, I condemn the description of “edged craft” in craft literature or periodical, via blog, tumblr, tweet, or it’s likeness being displayed on Instagram or Snapchat.
    Will somebody please think of the children!

  51. Wait, does the Schwarz effect work in reverse? Is the bottom about to fall out on the whole bench hook industry?

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