What Is a Woodworking Jig?

Dan Cavallari

A woodworking jig is a device used to control the blade of a saw or the motion of another tool that will cut or otherwise alter wood. Simple jigs can be made from wood, and they can be custom-built for specific woodworking functions; a person can also buy a prefabricated woodworking jig made from wood, plastic, or even metal. The purpose of this guide is to allow a woodworker to make the same cuts repeatedly on different pieces of wood accurately and quickly. Another function of the jig is to steady the piece of wood being cut to prevent excess cutting or inaccurate cuts.

A jointer, which is used in woodworking. The jig is the device used to guide the wood through the blades.
A jointer, which is used in woodworking. The jig is the device used to guide the wood through the blades.

The size, shape, and function of a woodworking jig will vary significantly according to how it is being used and with what tool it is being used. A jig used with a drill, for example, will have a different structure than one used with a saw, since these tools function very differently and the user will need to move the tools in different ways. The woodworking jig may be designed to keep the blade of a saw straight while cutting, and it may also be designed to stop the saw from moving forward at a certain point; this is a good way to cut angles accurately.

Simple woodworking jigs can be made of wood.
Simple woodworking jigs can be made of wood.

A jig designed to work with a drill might lie on top of a piece of wood to be cut. At one or more locations on the jig, holes may be pre-drilled to indicate where on the new woodworking piece the drill must cut. If the pieces of wood being worked are all of a uniform size, the jig can also be made a specific size that will fit snugly over each wood piece. Once in place, the woodworking jig can be used to indicate where cuts need to be made, eliminating the need for the user to make measurements and guess where to position the wood.

In many cases, the woodworking jig itself is used in conjunction with clamps or vises that keep the jig securely fastened to the piece of wood being cut. This is necessary to prevent movement during the cutting process; the tools sliding over the jig can cause it to move, thereby making the cut inaccurate and defeating the purpose of using the woodworking jig in the first place. A jig may be designed to be used with specific clamps, though in many situations, generic C-clamps can be used to secure the guide in place.

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Discussion Comments


@MaPa - I think you are right on, and I heard something once on a TV show from a man who did beautiful traditional Japanese woodworking that I thought was relevant here.

He said, whether you are working with wood, stone, or metal, they all have something in common. While you can pretty much always remove or cut away more material if they first cut wasn't enough, you can almost never put back what you removed if it was too much.

Therefore, no matter what the material, planning, vision, and restraint were really important.


@KLR650 - I would say they are pretty much exactly the same, other than being made out of different materials. Both of them help you do your job a lot quicker and save you from duplicating steps.

I have done a bit of both, and I would say that woodworking and metalworking are more similar than different. You use different tools, and you can't bend wood (and metal doesn't catch on fire, at least not at any temperature you will likely use). Other than that, the process is pretty much the same.

Create a design, make a pattern or at least have a vision for how the parts will go together, cut your parts, shape them, join together, then paint or whatever you are going to do.


I saw on American Chopper the other day where a guy was making a new frame for one of their custom bikes and he was talking about using a jig. Is it the same kind of thing for working with metal as it is for wood? Seems like it would be.


These things are a lifesaver. I use them all the time in my job as a cabinetmaker, and they allow me to do three times the work in the same amount of time, since I don't have to measure and align everything by hand every time.

I just fit my wood pieces into the jig and off I go. I use them in my home workshop too for the craft items I make. Mine are just a lot smaller and simpler (and cheaper) than the ones I use at my job.

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