Bench Stops and Hooks

Eight stone-simple designs for gripping your work

Until woodworkers evolve a third hand, we will continue to search for new ways to clamp or hold work to our workbenches. This humble-looking collection of stops and hooks still ranks at the top of my list. As far as shop-made tools go, these extra hands are stone-simple to make and, more importantly, just as easy to use.

Bench stops and hooks work by preventing a workpiece from wandering while dressing it with a hand tool. In many cases, this mechanical advantage provides all of the holding power you’ll require to complete a particular task without the need for additional levers or hold-downs. Because no fussy adjustments are necessary, these stops and hooks enable you to shift quickly and seamlessly from one step to the next.

Most of these “bench” aids don’t actually require a bench. In fact, with a few clamps or screws, they can transform any work surface into a serviceable workbench. Wherever they’re used, these simple jigs will give you a firm grip on your work.

Bench Stop Tips

  • Lightly chamfer the bottom “working” edges of stops and fences to provide clearance for dust and debris.
  • Finish your jigs with a couple of coats of shellac or varnish. One or two thin coats should suffice. Be careful not to overdo it; a thick finish may cause your tools to stick instead of slide.
  • Wax the soles and sides of the planes that contact the jigs for better control and an easier cut.
  • Drill hanging holes through your stops, and then position them on a nearby wall or under your bench so that they’re ready when you are.

Simple Stops

A bird’s mouth

One of the simplest types of bench stops is a bird’s mouth. As the name suggests, this jig is a board with a V-notch cut that holds boards entirely by friction. Although it does require a clamp in order to secure it to your workbench, once it’s attached, you can get a quick grip on thick or thin workpieces for edge-planing without the tedium of clamping, unclamping, and re-clamping each piece. Unlike a bench vise, this setup keeps stock from bending by allowing it to rest on the surface of your bench.

I made this stop from a 1 × 4 × 10" block of hardwood. The 7"-long notch can be cut by hand or on the bandsaw. I sized the opening about 11⁄2" wide, but you can adjust the size to accept your thickest boards.

Slide-up stops

Slide-up stops fit snugly in slots cut into your benchtop. When you need the stops, simply tap them upward from underneath to project the necessary amount. They register and hold all kinds of work, but they’re particularly useful for restraining thin stock.

Rout or chisel a pair of 1⁄4"-wide × 2"-long through-slots into the left-hand section of your bench. (If you’re a lefty, cut them into the right-hand section.) Use a dense and resilient wood such as rosewood to make the stops, and thickness them for a snug, sliding fit in their slots. I recommend aligning both slots with a bench dog hole, which will allow you to register wide work against three points.

Planing stick

A pint-sized version of the planing beams used by Japanese craftsmen, a planing stick offers a simple, solid surface for smoothing thin and narrow sticks using the holding power of a single nail. Mill a 1 × 11⁄2 × 24" stick from softwood, snip a 6d nail to about 3⁄4" long (keeping the head end), and drive the nail into one end of the stick so that the head protrudes about 1⁄8" above the surface.

Depending on how you secure it to your benchtop, this jig works equally well with Eastern- or Western-style planes. For pull cuts, clamp the stick between bench dogs so that the nail is at your end. For push cuts, flip the stick so that the nail is at the far end.

(Note: This jig doesn't require any finish. A freshly-planed surface gives the right amount of  grab to hold the work.)

Cutoff hooks

By raising boards above the work surface, cutoff hooks can help you start and finish a cut without slicing up your benchtop. How you position them depends on the type of saw used for the cut. With Japanese (pull-style) saws, register the hook against the rear edge of your bench. If you use Western (push-cutting) saws, reverse the hooks so they engage the front edge of the bench. Choose a straight-grained hardwood for the hooks, and bandsaw them to the profile shown below.

Hook the rear edge of your bench when making crosscuts with a pull-style saw.
Hook the front edge of your bench when using a push-cutting saw. 

Shooting Boards

Shooting refers to the process of hand-planing edges flat and straight. Most jigs are designed for 45° or 90° angles, but you can make one for any angle. Shooting partially slices into the fence, but as long as the plane’s blade is not as wide as its sole, enough of the fence remains uncut to serve as a guide.

Shooter/chopping hook

Arguably my most-used bench stop, this jig serves several purposes. By hooking one edge against my bench and then using the opposing hook as a stop and the edge of the base as a guide, this jig serves as a basic shooting board, as shown on page 65. In addition, it doubles as a place mat when chopping, sawing, or slicing small parts. (To increase its working life when the primary chopping surface wears out, simply flip the board over and use the opposite side.)

Flat-miter shooting board

Fitting miters can be fraught with frustration. Typically, it’s the last corner that needs some tweaking for a tight-fitting frame. This flat-miter shooting board tackles the most common miters, letting you fine-tune joints on flat frames, such as picture-frame miters or even three-way miters. With a hook on each end, you can trim miters from either direction; simply flip the jig end for end. (This feature also lets you tackle miters that have only one flat reference edge by enabling you to register your work against the most appropriate edge.)

End-shooting board

Because so much of my work involves square cuts, this is my most used shooting board. With it, I can trim a board for an exact fit, one plane shaving a time, or correct a mis-cut end to precisely 90°.

Make the fixture as shown below, ensuring that the stop is perpendicular to the fence. Position a workpiece so that its end sits a hair past the end of the stop. Set your blade for a super-light cut, and lay the plane on its side. Next, register the plane’s sole against the fence, and swiftly and firmly push the plane past the workpiece while pressing the work steadily against the plane sole. (Small planes such as block planes work fine for small work, but I generally prefer longer, heavier planes because the extra mass helps power the cut. For best results on end grain, use a plane with a low cutting angle.)

Edge-miter shooting board

An edge-miter shooting board (also known as a donkey’s ear for its floppy-looking shape), is a welcome aid for tuning long or short miters to precision. This stop is a bit more elaborate than the other stops, but when you need to fine-tune wide or standing miters, such as those found in a mitered box or the corner of baseboard molding, this jig is worth the time it takes to assemble. 

Despite its appearance, the jig is easy to make. If your bench has dog holes, simply build as shown below, and grasp the jig between dogs, as in the photo. (If you prefer to use your vise to secure the jig to your bench, attach a beam to the underside as shown below.) Whichever design you choose, take care to accurately rip the ledge to 45°. You may also want to assemble this jig with screws in case you want to shim the fence to fine-tune its angle.  

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