The story is told that after the Great Fire of 1666, the architect Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Upon the completion of this huge undertaking, Queen Anne reviewed the work and is said to have declared that it was, “Awful, amusing, and wholly artificial.” Wren was quite pleased to receive such a compliment from the Queen! The English language has a sneaky way of changing over time, and a lot of woodworking definitions have changed or been lost as the language changed. Many woodworkers can not explain the difference between a dado, a groove, a rabbet, and a fillister. “Mullion” and “muntin” have become virtually synonymous. Many professional woodworkers don’t know the difference between a smoothing plane and a jack plane. I don’t think the change of definitions is either good or bad – it just happens.
“Jig” and “fixture” are two more words that have become virtually synonymous. Even though most of the books I have on the topic use both words in their title, none of them even make an attempt at explaining the difference, and Webster’s definitions aren’t very helpful, either, so we are stuck with my definitions. In my mind, a “jig” holds or guides a tool and a “fixture” holds or guides a workpiece. Unfortunately, these definitions fly in the face of many common uses (whoever heard of a “honing fixture”?), and there are any number of devices that hold and guide both the tool and the workpiece! I will abandon my definitions without hesitation if I think the “correct” usage might cause confusion or seem redundant. Generically, I tend to refer to jigs and fixtures as “jigs”.