Introduction: Modular Jig Handles

About: I started using tools a loooooong time ago and never stopped. all the guards and safety warnings on today's tools and equipment are mostly a pain to me. Hot things burn, sharp things cut. Be careful or pay som…

Many jigs and fixtures for power saws - especially table saws - really need to have some sort of handle for safety, ease of use, convenience, etc. A while ago, it occurred to me that, while several of my jigs needed handles, there was no reason why they had to permanent handles as long as they did the job. Permanently attached handles make jigs larger, heavier and harder to store when you're not using them. The availability of "keyhole hangers" makes it easy to make handles that are easy to attach and quickly removable for storage or to use with other jigs and fixtures. You also don't feel quite as bad about spending the time to make good, solid handles if you aren't going to just use it on one jig that you only use once in a while. And when you make a new jig, instead of having to make a new handle, you put in two screws in the right places and use a handle that you already have.

I currently have several of these modular handles and will probably make a few more as I find or think of new designs that would have some advantage over what I already have - or just for the heck of it. sometimes a new jig works better with a slightly different handle or gives you an idea for an improvement.

Being on a tight budget, I often make things out of materials that are either very inexpensive or stuff that other people consider junk or "recyclables". MDF, furring strip, 2x4's and 1x2's are common materials for me. When I need or want better quality, I'm apt to shop for plywood (rarely hardwood plywood), poplar, and red oak at my local "Home Decor Center". (Those big stores are not truly hardware stores or lumber yards, or paint stores, but are much more common and easier to find these days and have much of what is needed by most people.) They carry keyhole hangers in the specialty fastener/picture hanging section of their hardware aisle, generally for under $1.50/pair. They make this whole idea possible. They are also available from eBay, Amazon and others

Step 1: My First Modular Handle

My first modular handle, being an experiment, was made from 1x2 furring strip. It took about 11" of 1x2 (which is really 11/16" x 1-7/16"), a pair of the keyhole fasteners, some #4 x 1/2" flat head wood screws (to attach the keyhole fasteners - the ones they come with are way too long), and some #10 x 1/2" pan head screws (to attach to the jig for the keyhole fasteners to hold on to). I got extras of these screws for other jigs and handles.

I set my miter gauge for my table saw at 30° and cut off one end corner. Then I measured down about 4-1/2" (about 1/2" more than the width of my hand) and cut it again there, parallel to the first cut. Then I returned my miter gauge to 90° and cut the end off square. Out of the rest of the piece of 1x2, I cut a piece about 6-1/2" long. That's all the lumber it took - maybe 15¢ worth. (I think the 8 foot piece was about $1.29.)

For the keyhole fasteners, unless you want to just surface mount them, you need a slot in the bottom of the handle base about 1/8" deep and 5/8" wide. You can easily use a router to do this, but I adjusted the blade of my table saw down to make a cut only about 1/8" deep, and , starting with the rip fence adjusted to approximately half the width of this piece, made multiple passes, turning the base piece 180° and running it through again so that the slot was perfectly centered on the piece and increasing the distance to the rip fence slightly until I had a slot that fit the width of my keyhole hangers. Then I mounted the hangers at the ends of that piece (something I regretted later) with #4 x 1/2" flat head wood screws. After mounting the keyhole fasteners, I discovered a couple of things. The first was that I was going to have to take them back off because I hadn't allowed any space for the head of the screw under the metal plate of the keyhole fasteners. The second was it measured slightly over 4-3/4" from center-to-center of the keyholes (and that's the spacing I would need for the screws in my jig - and all future handles and jigs. I have since decided that it would have been better to use 4" c-c spacing or even 3-1/2", but that's hindsight which is always better. I may move them all later. Learn from my mistakes.) I used a 1/4" wood chisel to cut out the space for the #10 screw heads, tried the screws and gouged out a little more. This time they worked, so I screwed the keyhole fasteners back on.

It's easier if you make the spacing something easy to remember and measure, such as 3-1/2" or 4", or even 6" if you use large jigs. You just have to use the same spacing on all of them to make your handles fit all of your jigs. You can measure from the back of one hanger to the back of the other, or front-to-front, or hole-to-hole. It's all the same. That's your center-to-center distance and it needs to be the same for the screws you put in your jigs to match up with them.

After rounding off the corners and sanding the other piece (the one with the angled ends), I put it up against the base I just made to figure out where the handle would go best. I wound up pretty much centering the bottom of the handle on the base. It might have worked a little better to mount it a little farther back, but I didn't know that at the time. This was all experimental and I made lots of mistakes. I drilled two holes for #8 x 1-1/4" drywall screws at an angle up into the bottom of the handle and, after adding a little bit of glue, screwed my handle together. Then I quickly took it back apart and did the required sanding on my base to remove the sharp corners and splinters. Then I used a bit more glue and put it back together again.

After installing the necessary #10 x 1/2" screws in my jig I tried it out to find that I had the Keyhole fasteners in backwards and every time I pushed on the handle it came off (instead of tightening). After I turned them around, they worked fine. You have to have the large part of the hole towards the direction you want to push. The other way makes it come off. In fact, that's the way you remove the handles; holding the handle, you tap the rear of the jig against something and the jig comes off. It's just that easy.

Step 2: Second Modular Handle

My second modular handle actually started life as an attempt to make a push stick. I made a handle out of some furring strip and a base out of some scrap 1/2" MDF that was only 5/8" wide. I was going to cut off a short piece of the end of the MDF strip and fasten it with a screw to the back edge of the rest of the strip (but hanging down to catch the back edge of whatever I was pushing), but realized several things wrong. (1) While MDF is a nice, easy-to-work material that is inexpensive and easy on saw blades, small pieces split very easily when you are trying to put screws through them, and (2) this push stick left my hands too close to the blade for comfort or ease of use.

So I surface-mounted a couple of those keyhole fasteners (after routing out some space under them for the screw heads) and turned it into a handle for a push stick (used some 3/4" wide by 1/2" thick pine with a short piece of it screwed to the back end (see picture) and mounted my #10 screws in that (using same 4-3/4" spacing). It raises my hand farther away from the saw blade and the lower half of the push stick is now totally expendable (well, I can probably salvage the screws). It worked OK, but, as it turned out, this handle wasn't very useful and I wound up trashing it. The bottom part - the push stick part - worked just fine and I am still using it.

I don't know about anyone else, but to me a push stick is a totally expendable item. Any piece of scrap big enough to keep my hands away from the blade can be a push stick. It's just that this one, with a decent handle works better than just any old piece of scrap. If the saw blade hits it, no real loss. The little tail on the back edge is intentionally made to be replaceable - take out the screw and drill a hole in another 1" piece of scrap wood

Step 3: Third Attempt

I still liked the concept of modular handles and the first two weren't bad, they just had some limitations. I decided to try another one. To make this one, I took some better grade 1"x 4" (really 3/4" x 3-1/2") "premium grade" pine (oooo, the GOOD stuff!), cut two lengths about 7" long, and glued the edges together to make a piece that was just about 7" square. I marked off a quarter circle on it with a beam compass (look for something that's about 14" around and use that if you don't have one - or you can use a wire looped around a small nail in one corner and a loop for your pencil and mark an arc with that. It works well.) Then I marked two other arcs at 6" and 5". about an inch from the ends, I drilled a 1" hole with a Forstner bit (which makes a cleaner cut than a spade bit, but they'll work too). Then I used my scroll saw to cut along the arcs to connect the holes. This was painfully slow with the blade I had installed, and I would have been better off using a jig saw, but that's how I did it. This gave me a curved slot that went from almost vertical to almost horizontal on a single handle. I also found a drinking glass that had about the right radius and marked it with a pencil and rounded off the top-front edge, again using my scroll saw.

I used a 1/2" radius roundover bit with my router to go over all the edges of the handle, giving me a nice rounded place to grab. and leaving an inch for my fingers to go through. Since I already had the router out, I changed bits to a 1/2" straight bit and routed out the slots for the keyhole fasteners (after carefully measuring to keep my 4-3/4" center to center distance for the screws).

I forgot (again) to make the routed holes deeper in the center for the screw heads, so I took them off, routed out the space for the screw heads and re-installed them. (This can make you feel pretty stupid. It's better to do this without an audience.) After putting everything back together, I tried it out. It worked great! It's even better than the others. It's biggest drawback is that it's rather large.

Step 4: Try Again

I had been finding out what worked and what didn't - and why certain things didn't work so well, So I decided to try another. Using an angle cutting jig I already had (that didn't have a handle), I took a 7" long piece of 1" x 4" (3/4" x 3-1.2"), and cut a 20 degree wedge off it (I'll be putting out an Instructable on how to make and use these jigs very soon). I drew a line 1-3/8" away from this angled edge. At 1-1/2" away from each end, I drew a line crossing the other one. Those were the centers for the two 1" holes that I drilled with my Forstner bit (like in the previous handle). Then cut out between them with my jig saw. It doesn't make as clean a cut, but it's a lot faster. Again using the roundover bit in a router, I went over the entire handle except for the bottom that attaches to the jig(s). Then I routed out the recesses for the two keyhole hangers, keeping my 4-3/4" spacing and remembering to cut deeper for the screw heads. Then I mounted the two hangers, with the big hole towards the front of the handle (I'm learning) and, after a little sanding, it was finished. I tried it out with the jig I made it with and found that this was the best yet.

Step 5: Conclusion... and Future Plans

I really like having handles I can use on most or all of my jigs. It saves time and makes me a little safer.I'm more apt to use a handle (and keep my fingers out of the way) when all I have to do is to install a couple screws than if I have to make a handle each time. I can even mount a screw or two on the wall or the base of my saw and use that to hang up the jigs. The handles can be stored the same way.

There is one more handle I would like to make, but I'm not in too much of a hurry to do it. It would be pretty neat, but will be much more work to do than previous ones. I'm including drawings I've made in case you want to make one for yourself.

Step 6:

I've included both a picture and what I hope is a downloadable pdf file of the drawing. I call it my "ergonomic handle", which would, of course, have to be painted black. With this, you can make your very own Assault Jigs! When I get around to making it, I'll take lots of pictures and make another Instructable just for that one. Until then, make handles and save your fingers.