Planning and Building a Jig #5: SHOP BUILT VS. STORE BOUGHT

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Blog entry by Peter Oxley posted 01-23-2008 10:41 PM 8159 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Apology Part 5 of Planning and Building a Jig series no next part

Some common kinds of jigs are available for sale at woodworking stores and even big-box retailers. Every time I see a jig for sale I think, “I could make that.” I imagine most of us think that! If I see a jig for sale that seems like something I could make, I try to be realistic about whether it is worth the time and effort.

I’m a cheapskate, and I almost always build jigs out of scrap, so the expense to build is very low. If you enjoy building jigs, then even if it takes an hour or two away from a paying job, at least it makes for a nice change of pace. If a jig is just a plastic version of something you would make out of wood, then you should seriously consider just making it yourself.

On the other hand, there are some jigs for sale that would be really hard to match with a shop-made jig. Sometimes it really is worth it to just lay out the cash and buy a quality jig. If you could build something “close” but would have to leave out some features or capabilities, then you should seriously consider saving up and buying the jig.

There is a third option that falls into this category: paying someone to make a jig for you. There are limitless operations you can perform with your tools, but there aren’t jigs on the market for all of those operations. You may require a level of precision from your jig that you can’t produce, or it may need to be made from materials you don’t have the ability to work. Having a jig built for you would be the most expensive of your options, but it is something to consider as a last resort. This may be a good time to make friends in other industries! I recently had a jig made for my shop, and I kept my costs down by trading labor with a friend who works with metal and plastics.

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9 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3989 days

#1 posted 01-23-2008 10:56 PM

I usually make my own, unless it’s cheap enough to buy it.

Needless to say I haven’t bought many.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Grumpy's profile


23928 posts in 3852 days

#2 posted 01-23-2008 10:59 PM

I agree Peter. There is usually a way of making your own jig much cheaper and as good as a bought one. If a first you don’t succeed try it again.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4247 days

#3 posted 01-23-2008 11:54 PM

I’m like you, I like to make jigs especially if they work and make your job easier. And to know that you made some thing cheaper than buying it. Just makes the icing on the cake. And like you say most times you can make it out of scrap. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4100 days

#4 posted 01-23-2008 11:59 PM

I have bought some and I have made some.

I like the store bought ones that are made of machined aluminum and plastic. I get them right when I need them. I walk into the store, trade them some cash, take it to the shop and start using.

I can easily spend a couple of hours or more making a good jig. If it includes knobs and T-track I might as well buy one for what I have to charge for my time.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4022 days

#5 posted 01-24-2008 02:31 AM

It’s hard to define an answer because the question is nebulous.
Could you narrow your querie down to specific fabrication aids ?

I think I lost your train of thought when you memtioned ”paying someone to make a jig for you.”

Are we tallking a “one off” here or a production jig?

Tough to answer because over my working career I have done both.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3875 days

#6 posted 01-24-2008 08:20 AM

Thanks for the comments, Gary, Grumpy, and Mike! While I get a lot of satisfaction out of building projects for clients, there is something especially satisfying about using a good jig that I’ve made.

Todd – I know you and I are on the same page about the cost of our time. If I work for an hour to save $25, then I’m really losing money, because I could have earned more than $25 in that hour. It makes more sense to spend $100 on a jig than to spend $200 of my time building one. But I try not to apply that too strictly on things that feed my soul – who can put a price on that? I find that, for me, the creative outlet and the diversion of building a jig is often invaluable. Also, I’m working on this blog series with the hobbyist and Do-It-Yourselfer in mind … someone who may not have $100 to spend on a jig, but who may have lots of time to spend in the shop. Here’s something funny that will illustrate just how cheap I can be: I honestly thought about trying to build a pocket hole jig rather than just spend the $140 on a Kreg kit!

Bob – thanks for your comment. This is a blog series in which I’m suggesting some things to consider when planning and building a jig. One thing to consider is whether to even bother! There are some options besides building them yourself, such as buying a commercially produced version or having one custom made to your specifications. This blog entry was intended to point out those options, not to seek an answer to a question. I’m sorry if that was unclear.

Again, thanks to all – the next exciting installment will be titled “TIME”. I know you are on the edge of your seat!

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View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4161 days

#7 posted 01-24-2008 12:54 PM

good points

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4088 days

#8 posted 01-24-2008 01:08 PM

I once built a tenoning jig out of scrap plywood, a bolt and a clamp. It worked fine for a while but when I could afford a manufactured one for my saw my precision really increased. I also think it became a safer task with a metal tenoning jig because of the mass of the jig.
Homemade – less than a buck.
Bought – around $100
Result quality- priceless

On the other hand, my for free 1/4” finger jig works as well as any jig I could purchase.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3963 days

#9 posted 01-25-2008 02:06 AM

Good blog, Peter,
some I’ve bought, most I’ve built. I agree with yo and Todd about the time factor. But, sometimes I just need to do something for ME. Any way, jigs is fun!!

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

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