The Engineering of Design: The Importance of Jigs

When I decided to write this week’s blog post about the engineering behind designing and making, I considered giving it the title with some cliché reference to that Will Smith song. But I considered that not everyone would appreciate my sense of humor, so I restrained myself. So, instead I have provided a link below, for those who fancy a musical accompaniment for this short article…

It is not often that those super helpful devices that, during the making process, both hold our work and guide tools, get the recognition they deserve. Prior to my training at Rycotewood Furniture Centre (Oxford), I had never heard the word ‘jig’ associated with woodwork before. However, I have come to learn that Jigs are crafted objects in their own right, having been exposed to many examples of cleverly engineered jig designs during my furniture education.

Honorable mentions are:

John Barnes, further education tutor at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, is not only a ‘legend’ in many students words, and held in high regard by everyone that I have ever met who knows him, but he is also very skilled and knowledgeable when it comes to the production of jigs. In fact he has a first class honours degree to prove it! In 2016 he completed, as part of his personal career development, a dissertation that explored how jig design could educate young furniture makers, in a safe and accessible way. The outcome of his research was a range of beautifully made jigs (see Image 1), which aid with the production of a series of round tables. These are now in use by second year FdA Furniture Design and Make students at Rycotewood (see Image 2).

jig design jb
Image 1. John Barnes range of jigs submitted as part of his BA in Furniture Design and Making.
jig designs jb2
Image 2. One of John Barnes’ jigs being used by a second year FdA Furniture Design and Make student at Rycotewood.


2016/17 graduate from Rycotewood, Nick Peters (follow his Instagram:, chose LEAN craft as the topic for his personal project. He explored the use of LEAN manufacturing methods and how they could inform the craft process, in order to make furniture at a more accessible price point. I distinctly remember one of his jigs allowed the aesthetically pleasing turned and tapered legs of mid-century furniture, made iconic from the likes of Ercol, to be created on a spindle moulder. (For those who don’t know, a spindle moulder is one of the larger workshop machines that is a fairly standard piece of kit. It has a high-powered motor, around 2hp, that drives a vertical cutter, allowing different profiles to be applied to wood; a common example would be the shapings for skirting boards.) Nick’s final piece was a stunningly minimal Beech dining table with an under frame constructed using these turned components that his jig had allowed him to create. The faceted effect that the spindle moulder left on each table leg, meant the piece was reminiscent of the traditional style of bodgers (chair makers) who used greenwood and draw knives.

When I visited Copenhagen during Summer 2017, I met Andrea Stokholm (, who has previously featured on THIS GIRL MAKES ( She is a pioneer for creative jig design and alternative uses for machines. Her Instagram account has gained an impressive following, largely due to her ‘How To… By Andrea Stokholm’ videos. In these bite sized clips she educates her audience about her making process, which is mesmerizing to watch. Having spent an afternoon in her workshop, I know what machines she is limited to. Having no spindle moulder or wood lathe doesn’t stop her however, as she has created some clever jig designs that allow her to use a panel saw in a variety of ways. It is also interesting to note the way she has managed to batch produce objects that are inspired by the traditional Japanese art of Kumiko, through her application of angled jigs.

My most recent encounter with a jig guru was just last month, as I headed home over the festive period. A few hundred meters down the road from my mum’s house in Newcastle, I visited the workshop of Rycotewood alumnus and fellow (proper) Geordie, Nick James. Visit his Instagram:, and website: Nick is also familiar with the production of short jig videos, as his Instagram account demonstrates a selection of ways in which jigs provide ease of repeatability. A real master of batch production, Nick sells a lot of his smaller objects through Not On The High, and in the run up to Christmas his jigs, which allow for efficiency and accuracy, came in very handy! As well as his work as a furniture designer-maker, Nick has also established the creative hub that is the Mushroom Works ( These studios house a diverse group of professional artists, designers and crafts people in the vibrant Ouseburn valley of Newcastle upon Tyne.



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