Hey, guys! Welcome back to behind the sawdust where we give you an inside look at the happenings in the Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal shops. This past week I’ve been working on a new homemade machine. Which is like 90% of what I make these days. I have a long list of furniture and other projects Mrs. Stumpy wants, like everyone else has. I don’t mean that everyone has a list of things to do for my wife. I think it’s more likely that you have a honey-do list of your own, and it’s probably way longer than the number of days you have left on this earth. So how do you deal with it? Lots of excuses. And the more ridicules they are, the better. When I was in school I never did my homework, because I didn’t feel like it. I couldn’t say I didn’t feel like it. The teacher would just poke me in the eye and send me to detention. But if I said my mom died, that would buy me at least a week without math homework! So when Mrs. Stumpy asks when her kitchen cabinets will be finished, I have a whole list of distant relatives to sacrifice should I need to buy some time. And what do I spend that time on? Making homemade jigs and machines.
The project that has consumed most of my time lately is this box joint jig. You’ll see it in action in the upcoming July issue of Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal. This is my third box joint jig design, not counting the one that attaches to my table saw super sled system. Why so many box joint jigs? Because I like them. They’re fun to build, fun to use, and they impress the ladies. And it seems I’m not the only one who feel that way. Other YouTube channels have built box joint jigs of their own. It’s actually quite interesting to see how the idea has developed.
The first one I ever saw was made by Matthias at woodgears.ca. His was brilliant. He came up with the idea of using a sliding carriage that was driven by a lead screw, an innovation that has influenced a number of other jig designers, including me. His jig used a system of wooden gears to control the distance that the work piece moves between each cut. You swap out different gear combinations based on the spacing you want between the fingers of the joint. I found the idea fascinating, and I wanted to try and build my own.
So back in 2012 I made my first box joint jig. I used Matthias’ idea of a lead screw driven sliding carriage, but I made some major changes. First, I used drawer slides rather than wooden tracks for the carriage. I eliminated the swappable gears in favor of a fixed 2:1 gear ration. One turn of the crank moved the carriage 1/8 of an inch, two turns for a quarter and so on. I also created a quick release mechanism that would allow you to move the carriage back to the start position quickly. And you can lock the release in the open position, which allows you to move the carriage by hand without the crank. This enabled me to add a template feature as a secondary option if you don’t want to count crank turns. And finally, I added an adjustable fence to help prevent the workpieces from shifting out of alignment as their bottom edges drag on the base of the jig as the carriage moves.
In the meantime, another YouTuber named John at ibuildit.ca was developing his own jig. His also used a sliding carriage as well, but instead driving it with a threaded rod, it was entirely template driven. I like the template idea, which is why I had put an aluminum template on my jig. But John’s was different. His template was a strip of wood with grooves cut into it that are spaced according to the joint you want to cut. A hand operated lever latches onto the grooves, pulling the carriage the proper distance before moving on to the next one, and so on. His carriage ran on wooden tracks like Matthias’, although he also added a piece of low friction HDPE plastic for smoother movement, and his carriage was also open on the front. I suspect he may have gotten that idea from Incra’s I-Box, which had an open carriage. But it’s also just as possible that he had never seen the I-box and came up with that feature on his own. Either way, his pattern driven jig was a fantastic idea.
During this same time, around 2012/2013, I had begun experimenting with a homemade version of the Incra positioner. I’ve had Incra fences for years and always liked the way they used two mating pieces of threaded rod as a positioner. That idea has actually been around since the early 1900’s, but in the early 90’s Incra applied it to cutting box joints by providing paper template strips for their table saw and router fences, which you could align with the threads on their positioner. I used one of their fences for quite a while, and then in 2013 I started building a dedicated box joint jig with my own version of their positioner. Mine had an open carriage like the Incra I-box, and a threaded lead screw positioner like the Incra table saw and router fences. I created my own paper template that aligned with the threads on the lead screw, making it possible to cut any joint size precisely by moving the carriage by hand, then locking a split nut over the threaded rod. When those two mating threads mesh together, the carriage is nudged into precisely the correct position. As long as your eyesight can get the cursor within 1/16”, the positioner will take it from there. Another thing I changed on Jig #2 was, instead of using drawer slides for the carriage, I used an extruded aluminum dovetail shaped bar that ran in a mating track on the front of the jig.
The next year, in 2015, John from ibuildit started designing his second box joint jig. This one featured a version of Incra’s lead screw positioner, an idea that he had been playing with for some time as well. But he applied the idea in a different way. Rather than meshing threads together, his uses a single threaded rod and wooden finger that catches on the thread and pulls the carriage forward, much like his first box joint jig, only he swapped out the wooden template strips for a permanently mounted threaded rod. It’s set up to move the carriage in 1/8” increments, which is also the width of most full-kerf saw blades. If you want ¼” fingers, you move the positioner twice, three times for 3/8 and so on. He also made some more minor changes, but the fixed lead screw driven by a wooden lever was the biggest one.
Now, you would think that after all these different jigs, there wouldn’t be much else you could improve upon. But people who were trying to build my second jig started telling me that the aluminum dovetail bar that they needed for the tracking mechanism wasn’t available anymore. So I was forced to redesign it. No problem, because I already had some ideas for improving jig #2. With jig #3 I went back to the closed carriage design with drawer slides that I used on my first jig. The positioner on Jig #3 is pretty much the same one used on my jig #2, but I beefed up the latch mechanism to eliminate any lateral movement, and I upgraded the thread rod from 3/8” to 1” because the course threads mesh together much better than the fine ones. Of course using 1” rod was John’s idea, and it was a good one. But rather than using a lever to move the rod, I stuck to the age old meshing threads idea that Incra and so many others have used. And rather than permanently mounting the rod, I made mine so that it will rotate using a crank on the end. This means the jig can be operated in two different ways. You can move it by hand, or by turning the crank. There’s a template which has all sorts of different joint configurations including complex inlaid joints on it. Or you can skip the template altogether and just count crank turns like Matthias’ jig, or my first jig. Again, I’ll show you everything in more detail in the upcoming July issue of Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal.
So that’s six box joint jigs, built by just three woodworkers over the period of about five years or so. And there are other ones out there too. Some that use these same ideas, others that use shims and spacers and all sorts of other innovations. And I suspect we’ll see more down the road. Which one is best? That depends entirely on your personal preference. Frankly, I’d build them all. Because it’s not just about having a jig to cut box joints. Heck, you can make a crude jig for that in a few minutes. But the reason why so many people like to build these complex versions is because it’s fun to make something unique out of wood. Some people build whirligigs, some build automatons, some build marble machines, and some build complex jigs. These projects are fun; they give the builder a well-deserved sense of satisfaction having completed one. They’re truly useful in the shop, and let’s face it, they look pretty impressive when your buddies come over. Check out our homemade machines section over at Stumpynubs.com for all sorts of woodworking jigs, tools and machines you can make yourself. In the meantime, let’s head over to our homemade workshop, where we put all of these shop built machines to work, for a quick tip with Mustache Mike.
In the last two episodes I showed you how these bundles of woodworking joy are born, from their conception at the computer workstation, to how I use monitors throughout the workshop to display the digital model as I cut out my parts. This is where my process probably becomes quite different from the typical workshop. Because we have to film and photograph everything for Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal as I work. We don’t do a lot of filming during the dimensioning phase. I figure most people know what a piece of plywood passing through a table saw looks like. But once those parts are dimensioned, the cameras start rolling.
This is the assembly area. I have my flip-top t-track table and downdraft sanding station here; my big workbench where most of the assembly occurs; sanding machines for fine tuning over there, and another monitor to display the digital model and direct me as I work. As I’m working in this part of the shop, I do my own filming. I have a camera set up next to me, which is always in the way, but I’d rather deal with it myself than pay someone to stand next to me all day while I work. That wouldn’t make a lot of sense. On top of the camera I have a dimmable LED lamp, which makes it possible to get just the right amount of light into the shadows. I used to film in HD and take photos at the same time. Then I could use those photos to make woodworking plans for other people who want to build my jigs and machines. That was a little bit of a pain, until I got my first camera that would shoot in 4K. A 4K video is 4X the resolution of high definition video. That means I when I edit the video later I can zoom in up to 400%, pan around, reframe the subject, all sorts of things, and the final video is still going to look good in HD. It also allows me to pull full resolution photographs right out of the video, so I don’t have to take separate photos as I work.
So that does speed things up. But it's still a big hassle to film and build at the same time. There’s so much to learn about controlling light and focus; and there’s a bazillion settings on the camera that all do different things. I have to be a woodworker AND a videographer. Not to mention the writing, editing, web design and everything else that goes along with publishing a digital woodworking journal. I’ve been doing this for longer than most YouTubers, and while I’ve come a long way, I still get frustrated with something in nearly every video. Part of the problem is I like to experiment with different equipment, trying to find the perfect solution that works with my workflow. But all of those changes mean I have to constantly learn new equipment, and so do the other people who work behind the scenes here. We’ll talk more about that next week. It’s time to wrap up this edition of Behind the Sawdust. Don’t forget to support our sponsors, we literally cannot do what we do without them, so visit their websites for just a minute or two. I’d consider it a personal favor. While you do you can sit back and have a cold one, because you’ve earned it, my friend!
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