Incra Jigs: Serendipity and a Couple of Killer Applications

Incra Jigs: Serendipity and a Couple of Killer Applications

A few years back, someone on a newsgroup reported seeing an Incra Jig included with pasta makers and waffle irons on a young couple’s list of requested wedding presents. Guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Starting with his original jig in 1986 and continuing today, Chris Taylor’s invention put precise dovetail joints within reach of any newlyweds with a router table!

Incra Jig Ultra LiteToday Taylor Design, Chris’ company, makes a range of products and product lines, most of which share a common feature … they can all be precisely adjusted in set and repeatable increments … and thus the name Incra.

As Chris describes it, it was just serendipity that he happened to come up with a pretty good idea and basic design when he did. An electrical engineer in Dallas Texas — where his industry was going through a bust cycle — Chris began to think about starting his own business. Coincidently, he’d been doing woodworking as a hobby for the previous five years.

“When I started on the idea for the jig, I was just playing around and having fun since I was still employed. I was just very interested in precision and wanted to figure out a way to put precision into woodworking tools. And I was intrigued by all the common, everyday devices out there that were very precise, but used inexpensive, readily available mechanisms.”

Chris had been frustrated for years by dovetail joints and had all but given up on them. So, in just a couple of hours, he put together what he calls his first “crude” jig. It was made out of wood and used lead screws, just from the hardware store, to control adjustments. The founding principle was that all movement was linear and incremental. He added a plywood fence and attached it to his router table.

“On my very first try,” Chris recalled, “I had perfectly fitting dovetail joints. That’s when I started to get excited.”

And when the axe fell on his corporate job, Chris was ready. Working with a local manufacturer, he developed a prototype that still functioned the same as the original, but “looked a lot better”. The final product consisted of two identical top and bottom pieces and 6″ saw tooth racks (replacing the lead screw system) all made from injection-molded plastic.

Just eight months after leaving his corporate job, the original Incra Jig came out in 1987. And it was an instant success. Chris filled us in on how that came about.

“I had no business experience, and even less in marketing and advertising. My wife had a freelance advertising business and knew the importance of packaging, advertising and marketing it. That was enormously helpful. The killer application, back then, was dovetails. It’s the same today. If you looked through the index of woodworking magazines — I think I noticed this in Woodworker’s Journal — dovetails were the number one story subject. And the killer-killer applications were something we called the Incra double dovetails and double-double dovetails. I came up with them just playing around with the jig. It’s essentially a three- or four-part joint … a dovetail within a dovetail, within a dovetail, within a dovetail. We made all kind of samples and sent them off to woodworking stores. The jig, or at least the samples, sold themselves, and the orders started coming in. We were profitable from day one.”

Today Incra Jigs and Taylor’s other products are sold through most of the main woodworking stores and catalogs in America. The original Incra Universal Precision Positioning Jig evolved into the Incra Jig Ultra. And though each successive generations looks different than that first prototype — a fence was soon added, and the jig is now mostly aluminum and steel — according to Chris, the function has stayed the same. Plus, over the years, lines of miter gauges rules, table saw fences, and marking and layout tools were added … along with numerous accessories and reference guides.

What’s in the works? Though he admits they are in the midst of another design and development cycle, Chris won’t share any details until they’re ready to come out.

“But if you look at our history of product development,” Chris notes, “we have new products coming out every year and every two or three years a new product line. There’ll be some fairly new, major products coming out. We always have more ideas than we can produce.”

Visit the Incra web site.

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