Jig Material Preference

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Forum topic by pete79 posted 11-18-2009 04:21 AM 10087 views 2 times favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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154 posts in 3703 days

11-18-2009 04:21 AM

I’m sure the answer really should be “it depends on what you’re making” but…..

In general what is the preference material for making jigs? I’ve seen people make them out of MDF, Ply, and various hardwoods. I’m not at a point where I can really justify spending the money on expensive hardwoods to make jigs, so I’m curious what everyone prefers out there? MDF vs. Ply vs. “inexpensive” hardwoods?

I have a long list of jigs to make, and I’d prefer to make them right the first time.

-- Life is a one lap race.

29 replies so far

View GFYS's profile


711 posts in 4033 days

#1 posted 11-18-2009 04:27 AM

I make jigs out of what I have.

View westside's profile


77 posts in 3678 days

#2 posted 11-18-2009 04:29 AM

That is a great question Pete. Being new to woodworking, I am going to keep an eye on this post. There are a lot of great woodworkers here who can give great advice I’m sure.

View drfixit's profile


318 posts in 3706 days

#3 posted 11-18-2009 04:35 AM

I made quite a few last year out of MDF, and now I am remakeing them. Very high humidity here durning the summer months and a lot of them have swelled up, so I am using plywood at a minimum. I bought a piece of UHMW plastic for my table saw fence, and have been using the left overs as much as I can. Depending on how much moisture you have to deal with mdf may do fine for you.

-- I GIVE UP!!!! I've cut this @!&*!% board 3 times.... its still too short!

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3721 days

#4 posted 11-18-2009 04:52 AM

Baltic birch ply for some things, MDF for others. Sometimes straight hardwood boards, like for my TS cove cutting jig. Sometimes, hardboard – other times UHMW.

Not trying to be vague to annoy anybody, but Is usually depends on the type of jig and it usually comes down to what I have on hand.

I will say that it’s nice to have an array of hardware on hand, like t-slots, knobs, handles, carriage bolts, hold downs, etc.

-- jay,

View BlankMan's profile


1490 posts in 3915 days

#5 posted 11-18-2009 04:55 AM

I too will make jigs out of what I have laying around but I do prefer MDF and will buy some for some of the jigs I make. I find it easy to work with for jigs and its smooth surface is a plus. I do not like the fine dust it produces when cutting it but that’s the price I pay.

I made the router sled below to lower my bench for my new RAS out of oak and MDF and actually had to buy the oak for it. This was a one time dedicated use item so using oak may not be everybody’s choice but I wanted its strength so it wouldn’t flex and I wanted the MDF for the base so the router would slide easily.

-- -Curt, Milwaukee, WI

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2202 posts in 3721 days

#6 posted 11-18-2009 04:57 AM

Oh, that’s nice, Curt!

-- jay,

View BlankMan's profile


1490 posts in 3915 days

#7 posted 11-18-2009 05:05 AM

Thanks. It was the only way I could figure out how to cut down the bench and keep it level. Jig’s still sittin’ on the floor, may become firewood when it gets cold here. That’s kind of a shame but I can’t see any other use for it and trying to reclaim the wood would lead to awful small pieces and I’ve got enough of those.

-- -Curt, Milwaukee, WI

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3931 days

#8 posted 11-18-2009 05:07 AM

It depends on what the jig is for. If I make one for a specific task that is only going to be used a little, I use MDF, if it is permanent like my crosscut sled, it is cabinet grade ply and hardwood.

View BlankMan's profile


1490 posts in 3915 days

#9 posted 11-18-2009 05:12 AM

That’s a good point Dan, I wouldn’t consider making a crosscut sled out of MDF, I used baltic birch and hard maple.

-- -Curt, Milwaukee, WI

View cstrang's profile


1832 posts in 3730 days

#10 posted 11-18-2009 05:15 AM

I use alot of MDF in my shop, I have never had any humidity problems with it like drfixit has, MDF is getting better and better and the water problem that once was is starting to trail off it seems. MDF is very durbale, I love it.

-- A hammer dangling from a wall will bang and sound like work when the wind blows the right way.

View Jeff8020's profile


1 post in 3669 days

#11 posted 11-23-2009 03:56 PM

You might consider making your jigs/fixtures out of 80/20 t-slot aluminum.

View GMman's profile


3902 posts in 4260 days

#12 posted 11-23-2009 04:32 PM

Anyting left over it can be a mixture, also it depends on the jig like what Dan said.

View PurpLev's profile


8553 posts in 4211 days

#13 posted 11-23-2009 05:00 PM

it really does depend on what you’re making though. each material has certain characteristics which make it more suitable for certain jigs:

Masonite: darn cheap, easily machined, thin – good to surface surfaces, fences, and for templates
MDF: darn cheap,flat, even thickness, smooth faces – good for fences, or things that your parts need to slide by it.
BB Plywood: flat, stable
hardwoods: machineable, hard, continuous grain pattern (rigidity)
UHWM: naturally slick (good for runners, or fences) but is not naturally flat (easily gets out of flat/straight if not screwed to anything, also cannot be glued – has to be screwed)
Phenolic: naturally smooth, flat, rigid, stable.

it usually boils down to what scrap you have at hand, but if you are making something more planned out – just find the material that suits the purpose of the jig you’re building, and use that. sometimes more than 1 material for a jig.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View TexasJim's profile


86 posts in 3798 days

#14 posted 11-24-2009 08:11 PM

Another it depends. If it’s a jig you are going to use a lot I would go with Baltic Birch ply and hardwood. For one time use, MDF or anything you have around. If you use MDF make sure you have good dust collection and a respirator would be a help, too. It makes awfully fine dust.

-- If the world was a logical place, men would be the ones who ride horses sidesaddle.

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Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3848 days

#15 posted 11-24-2009 08:21 PM

I like Baltic Birch, Flame Maple and Bubinga. Yes it’s overkill, but it makes great looking jigs.
degoose likes Purple Heart

I don’t care for MDF on jigs unless it’s a one time thing, then it’s fine. It won’t hold screws well.
However, it does have it’s place.

Phenolic is great if you can afford it. Perfect for jigs you want to last forever.


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