Canadian Woodworking

Simple jigs are the best jigs

Blog by Rob Brown
Cutting moulding

About a year ago I wrote about a trim job I was doing around the house. And last week I wrote about lugging my beast of a mitre saw around, much to the dismay of my poor back. The topic of this week’s column fits in right between those two.

While I was installing the fireplace surround the other week, I needed to add thin decorative trim to some of the panels that make up the surround. I much prefer to do as much work in my shop before I arrive on the jobsite, but since I didn’t know exactly where the crown moulding would finish, I couldn’t add the decorative moulding to the surround, as I needed to keep all the offsets in mind.

You can read about last year’s trim job here.

As last week’s readers know, I bought a small mitre saw to help me with some of the base, crown and other trim pieces. It’s lightweight, worked great and didn’t hurt my back when moving it around. Last week’s column was in praise of smaller tools, and like many things in life, size is relative. While this nice little mitre saw was perfect for the medium-sized mouldings I was working with, it was relatively large for the thin decorative mouldings. Though I could have used an auxiliary fence to provide rear support to the tiny mouldings I was cutting, I pictured the odd piece blowing out. Also, the thought of making even more sawdust at a client’s house makes me nervous. I guess I’m a neat freak. Weirdly, this affliction only pertains to my habits when I’m at someone else’s house. When I’m home or in my shop I don’t have a desire to be overly neat.

Back to the jobsite, and how I was going to cut these small mouldings to size. Instead of using a power tool to cut them, I remembered the simple jig I made a year ago. It was nothing overly special; just a melamine base with a spruce fence that would allow me to use a hand saw to cut some crown and baseboard. To be honest, it didn’t work too well on the larger pieces of trim. The material was too wide and thick to be easily and accurately cut by my hand saw. However, the decorative mouldings I was working on last week were much smaller, so I thought of revisiting that approach. I grabbed a plywood base about 6″ wide x 18″ long, ripped another piece of plywood to about 3″ wide, then made a few mitre cuts to use as the fence. I attached them to the base, all with the front faces in-line, while making sure the gaps between the three fence parts would house my Japanese hand saw nicely. It wasn’t rocket science.

On the jobsite I was able to measure to determine the length of decorative mouldings needed, mark the mouldings, then cut them with my hand saw. Each cut took about five seconds and was ready for assembly. This time my jig approach worked like a charm. And to cap it all off, the amount of sawdust I had to clean up after making about 30 cuts was extremely minimal and confined to the area within a few inches of where I made the cuts.

The moral of this story: Just because an idea doesn’t work in one situation doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Keep the idea in the back of your mind for when a more appropriate situation arises.

The second moral of this story: The smallest, simplest approach is usually the best approach.

And the third moral: Japanese saws are usually the answer, and folding ones are a nice touch for the jobsite, as they’re less likely to get damaged.

Here, I’m making one of the many cuts to size the decorative mouldings at the jobsite.

Simple Is Best

My simple hand saw jig cuts narrow moulding quickly and accurately, and leaves minimal sawdust to clean up. The sawdust you see here is from about 10 cuts. It also makes no noise. On top of that, kickback is eliminated. What’s not to love?!

Cutting moulding

Before the Jobsite

I prefer doing as much work as possible before I get to the jobsite. For a few logistical reasons I couldn’t add all the decorative mouldings to the panels. Here, my son helps me cut, glue and pin as many of the mouldings onto the cabinets as we could while we worked in my shop.

Before the Jobsite
Last modified: August 25, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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