Regardless of what type of woodworking you do, it is likely that you periodically end up building items that include shelves, whether it is kitchen cabinets, a bookcase, armoire, display case, or other furniture. Occasionally I choose to permanently fix each shelf into a location using dados or biscuits, but more commonly I find that I like the flexibility of using removable shelf pegs so that I can change the configuration later to adapt to evolving needs. To do this, I need to consistently and accurately drill a series of holes that align perfectly across each plane so that the shelves don’t wobble. Easier said than done.
The Jig-It Shelving Jig, $35, from Rockler is purpose-built to address this specific requirement. It features a sturdy Plexiglas body with a series of laser cut holes exactly 32-mm apart running on each side of the jig. There is also a handle which serves as an inset guide and attaches to one side for drilling holes 2-1/2″ (64-mm) from the edge, or it can be switched to the other side for drilling holes 1-17/16″ (37-mm) from the edge. The positioning of the insets allows flexibility for users to drill “Euro style”, where the bank of shelf holes also serves to carry the bracket of a European style hinge, and the screws for drawer slides.
The jig accommodates two shelf pin sizes, 1/4″ or 5-mm. When purchasing from Rockler, you have your choice of one of these drill bit sizes to be included as part of the bundle. For an additional $21.99, you can buy the other size bit as well. If you prefer to use sleeved shelf pins, there are two drill bit sizes available for this application as well; 9/32″ (1/4″ pin sleeve) and 7/32″ (5-mm pin sleeve).
If the column of holes extends beyond the capacity of the jig (common occurrence in large carcass construction), simply slide the jig to the next section and use a shelf pin to index the jig to the previously drilled holes. This allows the series of holes to continue without disruption to spacing.
Strengths: This jig is solidly constructed, offering spot-on accuracy and repeatability. It also enables one to proceed through the task of drilling shelving holes quickly and simply, without needing a tape measure, pencil, and square, which may be required for drilling accurate holes without this jig. I was also able to set it up and use it within minutes without reading any instructions, which is great validation of its simple design. I recently used the jig to drill holes for three large bookcases, and I would estimate that I was able to drill all of the holes in roughly 1/3 the time it would take without the jig, without any misses, or worse, holes drilled all the way through the sidewall of the bookcase. The solid construction also suggests that I am not likely to wear it out. George Vondriska, Managing Editor of WWGOA, has been using this jig in his cabinetmaking class (one jig shared by up to six students) for roughly five years and he indicated that the jig still performs well and shows little sign of wear. The jig is also versatile enough to be used for cabinets with either face frame or frameless construction, with equal ease.
A collar forces the bit to be perfectly centered in the jig hole, and a solid ridge above the collar ensures a positive stop at a depth of 9/16″, which will not blow through a typical cabinet carcass. The penetration is controlled, and the bit safely retracted, from the tension of an integrated spring.
Drawbacks: While the design provides some flexibility in allowing holes to be drilled either 2-1/2″ or 1-17/16″ from the side, I occasionally build shelves which are set back from the edge a bit to create visual interest (see picture to left). This would require an additional straight edge to be used as an auxiliary guide. Also, the only vertical spacing allowed for shelf pins is 32-mm. While this is typically workable, I am admittedly a bit of a “flexibility freak”, and I would prefer to have other spacing options. Although, it would be difficult to imagine gaining flexibility in this jig without compromising simplicity, which is one of its noteworthy strengths. So perhaps this suggestion falls into the “be careful what you ask for” category.
Recommendation: I considered buying one of these for years, each time I painstakingly drilled shelf holes. It was one of those things that I could get by without, but once I picked one up I wished that I had done it years earlier. If you build cabinets or furniture that utilizes shelving with any frequency, this jig is a no-brainer purchase. I consider it a reasonable value at $35, and I have seen it on sale for as low as $25.