When Chris Taylor developed a jig to help him make more accurate cuts, he realized very quickly that it was going to change his life. That was about 15 years ago, and what he created was the prototype that eventually became the Incra Jig, a precision positioning jig that’s become a standard for accuracy in woodworking. How did he know it would be so successful? Because it allowed him to do things he could never do before.
At the time Chris was a woodworker with about 15 years of experience and having a devil of time cutting dovetails with his router table. So he came up with this very precise fence system that allowed him to make repeated cuts with frightening accuracy. All of a sudden, he was cutting perfect dovetails. That’s when he began to get excited. “I discovered that even with this very, very crude prototype, I was able to do certain woodworking tasks that I had tried desperately to accomplish before without success,” says Chris.
Taking the Plunge
He got so excited about the wide variety of tasks he could accomplish with this jig that he quit his job at Texas Instruments, invested some of the money he had saved up, and started a new business to build and sell his creation. “I just took the plunge,” says Chris, “I quit my job, and about nine months later, we sold our first Incra Jig.”
His confidence was well-founded. The original Incra Jig he calls it the Model T evolved into the Incra Jig Pro and eventually became Incra Jig Ultra. His company employs about 20 people and it now has a full line of products, including the jigs, fences, rules and the newest addition, miter gauges.
The “Incra” name came from the incremental nature of the jig’s adjustments, and it came to him in a moment of inspired boredom. He was working on a prototype jig in his garage, before the tool went into production, and cutting sawtooth racks by hand. It was tedious, he admits, but that’s when the name Incra Jig popped into his head.
Now, in the woodworking community, Incra stands for precision and accuracy and a level of craftsmanship that most of us strive for. And having a successful business has had its own rewards. First of all, Chris had to learn how to run a business. “I had a lot more confidence in the product, at that time, than I did in my business ability,” says Chris. But he did learn what he needed to get by. The learning also made him trade in his electrical engineering hat for a crash course in mechanical engineering so he could manufacture the jigs.
His company, Taylor Design Group, manufactures all of the products and sells them through a network of dealers. He was fortunate, he says, because manufacturing the Incra Jigs was fairly simple early on. The first ones were made of injection-molded plastic, while the later ones are made from aluminum and steel.
The woodworking industry, too, was a fertile ground for a budding entrepreneur. It’s still an industry, says Chris, where a person can invent a tool in his or her shop and take it to market without needing $10 million in startup capital.
Six Foot Cameras
The final measure of success, says Chris, is that his products are being used and helping woodworkers. “We’re making products that woodworkers are really, truly, genuinely benefiting from. And they let us know all the time,” he says. He also gets some interesting stories about how people use the Incra Jigs he designs.
He heard from one customer in Oregon who makes 6 foot tall wooden cameras who uses the Incra Jig for creating the precise innards for these monstrosities. And this isn’t just a hobby; this woodworker is in business making huge wooden cameras for photographers who need them for very special shots.
He’s also heard from woodworkers who are legally blind. They use the jig to help them position the wood because it has an automatic position system. That means that once you get it close to the position you want and you engage the clamp, it automatically snaps into the correct position for the cut. “Woodworkers have done some pretty imaginative, creative things with all of our tools,” says Chris.
– Bob Filipczak