Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another Day, Another Damn Table

Two down, one more to go.

Well... for today.

My tool addiction progresses, but at least I'm doing something useful with it. As you can see from these pictures, I've been doing some panel cutting:

Which is the whole reason I was driven to build these damn tables right now in the first place.

Of course, I'm following the traditional bootstrap method; I'm using the tools I've built, to build more tools, and then using those to build other things etc...

First I built simple little jigs to help me build the tables. Then I built one table. Then I used the table and the little jigs to build more complicated and useful jigs. Then I built another table, faster, and more precisely...

Anyway, I'll build the "final" table today, and then my "shop area" will be organized enough, and easy enough to use, to get satisfactory results building my cargo box.

Of course when I get back from TX, I'm going to need to build a "saw station". What's that you ask?

See the stand the saw is resting on? Those metal legs? Yeah... they suck.

It's not just THIS saw, it's pretty much all "portable" or convertible saws. They have bases that are designed to be easily moved; and easily moved bases are... well... easily moved, both intentionally and not. Intentional moves good, unintentional moves bad. With some of the sheetmetal saw stands you can bolt them down to the floor; but that's a pain in the ass, and the relatively thin sheetmetal still isn't all that stable.

So, a home built saw station consists of a stable (and heavy) base, surrounding the portable saw on two or three sides; and having a table top matching the height of the saw (with the thickness of the base being such that the height of the saw table end up the exact same height as your other worktables and benches). This effectively turns your portable saw into a cheap cabinet saw... or more accurately you're building your own Biesemeyer tables which does something similar.

(an aside, Biesemeyer is like 10 miles from me. Too bad they don't offer a "factory discount")

Now, why bother?

Well, other than that whole stability thing (like I said, unintentional motion BAD) a REALLY BIG work surface for your saw is an amazingly useful thing.

With a BIG table, you can horse big work pieces around, clamp them down, run them along full length straight edges (MUCH more dimensionally accurate and stable than the piddly little rip fence on your saw), spin them at any angle, use any kind of weird jig you want etc...

...and of course, it's just a damn big, stable, table; which is a remarkably useful thing to have around.

But... didn't I just build three big tables?

Sure, but those tables are not very big, and not very stable. They are designed to be movable and convenient worktables. A saw station is meant to be set in place and not moved... STABLE, STABLE, STABLE is the watchword here.

Have I mentioned stability? It's not just for sawing; a stable platform is important for any number of "building and making" tasks.

BIG in this case means at least six feet long by four feet deep; and maybe as much as 8x6 or 8x8 if you have the room (I don't). Big means big enough so that whatever the biggest work piece you think you'll be cutting, will be stable in whatever orientation you think you might cut it in

Note: If you're going to build it bigger then 4x8 or so it's best to build it in modular sections that can be bolted together and then unbolted for transportation, because nobody wants to get an oversize load permit to move their tablesaw.

Heavy means 300+ lbs. Enough weight so that any work pieces you are moving around aren't going to movie the table; though not enough that you can't EVER move the thing.

Stable means you aren't building it on four widely spaced legs, you're either putting a big post of a leg every 2 feet; or preferably you're building a subfloor frame... though putting some adjustable feet on it is a good idea so you can easily level the thing. Oh and if you want to be really fancy, stick some retractable casters on the corners and center posts to make the thing easier to move when you want to.

Basically, you aren't building a table, or a cabinet, or a countertop here; you're building a house. In fact, you are building a stable floor, with decking (you didn't think I'd leave all that space empty did you? and give up 100+ cubic feet of storage? I'd have to be mad), silled and headered walls, and then another stable floor on top of it for the "second story", which in this case is your worktop. Oh and level... everything has to be completely level and plumb along the way. Enclose the whole thing in sheathing if you want, and add doors. It looks neater, and adds torsional rigidity.

Oh and the part just under the saw? box it in and put in a port for your dust collection system (in my case a shop vac, but hey). Then you've got 100 cubic feet of cabinet space AND less dust.

Now, here's the really fun bit.

Once you have your saw station built, you build tool stands that set the height of all the fixed tables on your shop tools at the exact same height (or at least the ones that should be. Some tools benefit from having chest height tables). That way you can move heavy work pieces from station to station without changing elevation.

Honestly, it sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't, and you aren't using high quality finish grade wood here, so it's not TOO expensive. The wood and hardware for a 4x8 saw station should run something on the order of $100.

If you want to get really fancy and add on some aluminum channels and rails for jigs and fences, and a steel scale and straightedge on the front, maybe another $100 added on. That's still a hell of a lot less than the $500+ for two Biesemeyer tables (on side, one back), and to my mind just as good or better.

Oh and it's still a lot cheaper than buying a cabinet saw as well; though it's not a real substitute, more of a temporary standin. Once you DO buy a cabinet saw though, it's not like you need to toss the old saw station. You can just cut out the part of the saw station that your portable saw fits into, and then match your station to the new saw (using a circular saw and a recip saw).

If you're "design challenged" and don't want to draw up your own plans (hey, I paid good money to get an Aerospace Engineering degree, I have to use those skills SOME time right?), Norm Abram did one in "The New Yankee Workshop" a few years ago; and plans and measured drawings are available on the web site. I think the version he made is a bit small, but it was designed to still be portable. Oh, and the two parter he did on table saws is excellent; and includes how to use your saw properly, as well as how to build a bunch of great saw accessories (like side and outfeed tables, featherboards etc...).

Also very useful from Norm are this Chop Saw Station, this Router Station, this Workshop System, this Miter Bench, this Shop Cabinet/Tool Stand, this Grinder/Sharpening station; and most useful of all, Norms plans for his Work Benches, Jigs, and Shop Helpers. I just wish they would get around to putting it all on DVD rather than VHS (some episodes are on DVD, some aren't).