Making a Jig

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Sara, here

Making a jig is all about efficiency, even though it doesn’t feel like it at all when you’re making one. They are used by artisans of all walks, from woodworkers to metalworkers, fabric artists and painters. They are painstaking to get right and take loads more time than we usually plan or expect, but they are worth it for the time and effort saved when finally finished.

Makers create jigs to help expedite both mass production work and also in order make a custom piece. Jigs can be made from wood, steel/metal, bone/hide, leather, a piece of tin, string, and basically any other scrap you have on hand that’ll do the trick.

Before I had tinsmithing stakes, I used PVC pipe and a vise to form copper sheet metal. That’s a jig. Before I had a jigsaw, I used wood, cut with a saw and sanded, in order to create unique shapes for forming metal. Some jigs still are a combination of wood and metal bits that have held up (or not) when making handles for copper cookware.

Bob taught me to use ¼ soft steel to make jigs as well, which requires the use of said jigsaw to cut, with various blades for the finer edges. A grinding wheel and sanding finishes off the rough and sharp edges.

What a jig also requires is math. I’m really very slow at math, especially fractions and decimals, so you can believe this is my least favorite part. I’d rather spend more time with the saw and grinding wheel. A checking of figures over and over again, measuring to a millimeter at times, and taking into account any particularities of the piece the jig is being made to help produce. Will you need a thicker metal than ¼? Will you need a wood backing to keep the metal from getting scratched?

There is some trial and error to a jig, just like making a custom piece of cookware. However, when it’s figured out, a jig can save oodles of time, and make the creation of a piece so much easier, nicer, and faster.

So next time you sort of groan to yourself when you realize you need to stop everything and create a jig for yourself, know you’re not alone and it’s going to be worth it.

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