Chris Schwarz's Blog

Make Circles Without Jigs

Boatbuilders often say: If it looks fair, it is fair. I think that’s tremendous advice.

Making perfect circular components in wood is tough. If the piece of wood needs to roll, such as on a child’s toy, you probably need some jigs to keep your circles true.

But what if they only have to look round?

For the August 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine I built a simple plywood lamp that’s shaped like an incandescent lightbulb. All the pieces for the base are round and – in many cases – have beveled edges.

I considered making a simple circle-cutting jig for the band saw and disc sander, which is what I would do if I needed engineer-style results. But these parts just have to look round. So it’s easier and faster to trust your eyes.

The only tricks are to use a sharp pencil and to use some care when cutting to the line on the band saw. The best sawing advice I know is this: Always try to saw right on the line or right next to the line. Don’t try to saw a certain distance away from a line.

The result of this effort is that I had almost no material to remove at the disc sander. I used a light touch while holding the piece against the sander and kept the piece moving as much as possible.

This technique works great for circles or ellipses with straight or beveled edges. I don’t think this technique would pass muster in a machine shop, but here you are trying to satisfy only the eye.

— Christopher Schwarz

Like “Use the Force Luke” Tricks Like This?
• Jim Tolpin’s “The New Traditional Woodworker” is as much about your mindset as it is about your toolset. Both power- and hand-tool woodworkers could learn a lot from the book.

• Glen Huey’s “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails” is an entire DVD of clever tricks you can use when cutting dovetails in the shop.

7 thoughts on “Make Circles Without Jigs

  1. DaveP

    Hi Chris

    I loved this simple approach. Takes a bit of confidence though to do the cutting and the sanding freehand like that. I guess all that comes with practice.

    I will take the ‘If it looks fair, it is fair’ quote with me though. I have tended to over complicate things in the past.

    Thanks

    Dave

  2. Bradley

    When making circles, I roughly cut it out with a hole saw, put a thin srewdriver through the small hole cut through the middle, and gently lay it on a belt sander. This spins the circle around the the belt sander and makes a perfect circle.

  3. Charlie

    Makeing a jig for the miter slot in the disc sander I would think would be pretty easy, and a good way to clean up a rough cut circle and end up with a perfect circle, or several perfect circles if your doing production work.

  4. Steve_OH

    Actually, the easiest way to make the pieces for a project like this is to (1) lay out the shapes in your favorite drawing program, (2) upload the layout to http://www.ponoko.com/, and (3) sit back and wait for the CNC-cut pieces to arrive on your doorstep. ;-)

    -Steve

  5. Niels

    I am generally not a jig crazy person, but I loves me my circle cutting jig for the bandsaw (a hardwood runner screwed to a piece of plywood, and little offset nail sticking proud). I always intended to make a nicer (adjustable) one, but in two years haven’t found it all necessary. Of course, as you show even the simplest jig is also not necessarily necessary.

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