6 Essential Bench Jigs
Planing stops and saw hooks add speed and accuracy to your handwork
Synopsis: One of the secrets to hand-tool success is keeping the workpiece from moving as you work on it. While clamping a piece in a vise or to the benchtop can work, often it’s overkill. Not only that, but clamping and unclamping adds a lot of time to the process. A better method is to use a planing stop or saw hook, which take advantage of the cutting force of the tool to keep the workpiece in place.
When starting out with hand tools, it doesn’t take long to realize that the cutting force of the tool tends to move the workpiece in the direction of the cut. One of the secrets to hand-tool success is stopping that movement. While clamping a piece in a vise or to the benchtop can work, often it’s overkill. Not only that, but clamping and unclamping adds a lot of time to the process. A better method is to use a planing stop or saw hook, which take advantage of the cutting force of the tool to keep the workpiece in place. When handplaning, the tool drives the workpiece forward. If you add a stop at the front edge of the board, you can plane all day without the piece moving. In addition, it’s fast and easy to flip the stock to surface the other faces without messing around with clamps or vises. A saw hook works the same way. Hold the workpiece against the saw hook’s fence, and you’ll get faster, more accurate cuts every time. Planing stops and saw hooks can take many forms. Some have a cleat that rests against the edge of the bench to keep the jig in place, while others are clamped in place. I use one of these bench jigs just about any time I pick up a handplane or saw. Here I’ll cover the ones I use most often.
Some take just minutes to make while others are a little more involved. Even so, you can knock all of them out in an afternoon, and then get back to serious work. The T-stop is the easiest to make and the one I use most often. In its simplest form, it consists of a thin fence screwed to a cleat that gets clamped in a vise. The fence can be as long as your bench is wide. The cleat should be thick enough to accept the screw. Anything 3⁄4 in. or more is fine. When attaching the fence, make sure that the screw head is recessed below the surface to avoid contact with the plane blade. To use the stop, clamp the cleat in a vise and then secure the opposite end—you can clamp it to the far side of the benchtop, or drill a dog hole opposite the vise and drop in a benchdog. The single screw allows the fence to pivot until it hits the benchdog, so the cleat placement in the vise doesn’t have to be right on. With the stop in place, you can tackle boards and panels as wide as your benchtop. You can also edge-plane stock up to 6 in. wide by standing it on edge against the stop.
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