Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Confessions of a Tool Addict

So in a week and a half, we're heading off to Texas for the NoR shoot; and we're going with four people, probably about 30 guns, at least 5000 rounds of ammo, a camp kitchen and a camp pavilion, some folding chairs, and some shooting tables; plus clothes, air mattresses, bedding...

Anyway, it's a LOT of crap, honestly more than I want to carry AND have all of us in the truck, and I don't feel like towing a trailer; so I picked up a new hitch carrier.

I was thinking about the 2” Hitch Haul, with a side rail kit. I had been thinking of the Hitch haul magnum, which has the same carrying capacity and 4"x60" of extra space (20"x60" vs24"x60", but I found out they don’t have rails for it. Cabelas is currently selling them for $65 plus $45 for the rail kit; and $40 if I want the folding receiver, for $150 all up.

I was also considering the Valley industries heavy duty model. It has the same cargo carrying capacity, but lower rails. However, the rails are welded not bolted on; and it has a folding receiver built in, for $140 all up (or $120 for fixed - $10 more than the Hitch Haul for fixed, $10 less for folding compared to Hitch Haul).

Oh and the Valley can fold with the rails in position (because the rails are a fixed welded part of the frame); the Hitch Haul can’t fold with the rails in place.

What I ended up buying was this:

MasterBuilt Hitch Haul 2" reciever hitch cargo carrier

MasterBuilt Hitch Haul folding receiver bar mount

They totaled out at $110 plus tax. It would have been $25 more for the Magnum model, which has the same weight capacity, but an extra 4” of depth on the platform; and $45 for the side rails.

I looked at the depth of the side plates, and the structure of the thing; plus the size of the cargo box I’d be building, and I decided no way did I need the rails, or the extra 4”.

Anyway, on to the topic in the title...

Have you seen what they want for a truck cargo box lately? A 20x60 will cost me $150 for a cheezy plastic model, and at least $300 if I want a nice diamond plate one.

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick.

It’s 10 small pieces of sheet metal presuming fully cut sides, or two pieces from a press and brake, a piano hinge, some weather stripping, two handles and a lock.

1.5 sheets of aluminum, $20 worth of hardware, and a half hour worth of welding.

The plastic ones are even cheaper to make; and NEITHER of them have what I would consider acceptable fit finish or quality for a piece you’re paying that much for.

Anyway, I looked at that, and I looked at the cost of plywood and said “Screw that, I’mna build one”. I can build a really nice one out of oak plywood with oak stringers, marine epoxy, and spar varnish for about $100. Probably take me two hours without the finishing".

60x20x20 main box with a 4” deep lid; rabbeted corners and a mitered 1/2” oak face frame all the way around. Brass piano hinge and some generic locks and handles from the hardware store; or use amplifier handles and road case locks from musicians friend for fancy hardware if the Lowes doesn’t have it and it’s an extra $20.

The main difference of course is that I’ll actually be PROUD of the way the oak box looks; never mind the price.

I went to the local Lowes, and picked up two sheets of 3/4” oak plywood, 4x 10 foot and 3x 8 foot 1"x2" strips of red oak for the frame, a piano hinge, two handles, two latches, and a hasp.

Total: $150 after taking $20 from a friend for the half sheet I’m not going to use; $118 in wood, $32 in hardware.

I wanted to use 1/2” oak for both the plywood and the frame, and they didn’t have any; it was special order only. That would have dropped my cost about $20 on the plywood and $20 on the framing wood for $110 total if I’d had time to wait a week for the special order, but obviously I didn't have that kind of time.

The box is going to be 24"h x 20"d x 60"w outside dimension, 3.5” smaller internal length and width (because of thickness of wood) for a total volume of 22374 cubic inches, or 13 cubic feet. Unfortunately it's also going to weigh about 100lbs; but it's going to be beautiful, solid, weather tight, well made, and should last longer than I do.

What does this have to do with my tool addiction?

Don't worry, I'll get there... you need to context to understand how it all made sense at the time.

Ok, so that was Saturday morning to mid afternoon. Then, on the way home I stopped by the pawn shop closest my house which I try to check out once a week. While I was there I grabbed up a nice Bostich brad nailer for $30. I don't know where my brad nailer disappeared to when I moved last, and it's damn useful to have one around in general; plus I wanted one to build the box with.

Sunday I head out to start building the box, and I'm getting excessive vibration from my table saw; a 10" Ryobi portable.

Anyway, I decided to remount my saw "permanently" on my "temporary" work bench. I put the "temporary" in quotes there because it's a ripped sheet of 3'x5' 3/4" plywood, and a pair of heavy duty saw horses; and it's been my main wood working and general use outdoor work bench for about six months now. I keep meaning to build a couple of real benches, I just haven't had time.

I didn't have any carriage bolts handy, and besides, I couldn't find my glue brushes (those cheap aluminum tube brushes that you buy 5 for $0.99); so I headed out to the local ACE.

In the process of picking up the carriage bolts to mount the saw (and some extras to remount my bench grinder, my band saw, and my drill press, which were all mounted on these Black and Decker x-fold aluminum tool stands, which I love by the way), I hit the discount bin and grabbed a couple pairs of cheap vise grips, and a bunch of small clamps, all $o.99 or $1.99 each. It's amazing how a $5 trip can turn into a $50 trip ain't it.

But, you can never have too many clamps.

So I get home, remount the saw and test again, and the vibration is worse. I try and make a cut, and it wobbles so much that the 1/8" kerf blade is making a 1/4" kerf cut.

I tore down the saw, and the wobble was in the motor... seems the bearings are gone.

Great... time for another table saw... but not on Sunday; by then it was time to go pick up the kids from grandmas.

Monday afternoon rolls around, and I take a long lunch to go pick up a new table saw. I looked around the websites of all the local tool retailers looking for a good deal, and unsurprisingly it seemsthe best deal and selection are at Sears.

So I'm on the web site checking out the deals, and I find a couple of really spectacular ones, but for some reason when I call the local store they can't tell me if anyone in the area has them in stock; so I head down to the store directly.

There was a special closeout deal that I really wanted on this saw:

It's just a spectacular deal, $265 for a $600 entry grade cabinet saw.

One small catch though, the nearest one is in northern California, wouldn't arrive for 14-21 days, and would cost $251 to ship.

Which actually is STILL a decent deal, but no way am I going to pay $250 for shipping, and I can't wait two weeks anyway.

So, my second choice was this other spectacular deal, $250 for a JET convertible saw that lists at $500:

Another small problem, the nearest one is in Ohio, wont even ship for 21-28 days, and is $60 to ship (80lbs on this saw, vs 350lbs on the other saw).

Well damn.

So after the little bait and switch act, I'm still looking for a half decent table saw in the $250 price range. Of course Sears has a half dozen saws between $99 and $269; but the cheapest ones are really crap, and the more expensive ones aren't really worth the premium over the $200 saws. Really you're better off just buying one of the $200 saws, or going all the way and and spending the $500 to $1000 for a contractor grade saw.

Anyway, that's what I did; buying this convertible saw:

I payed $199 on sale from $220. There was a similar saw mounted on a plastic cabinet for $220, but I saw no real advantage to it. There was another saw $30 cheaper, but it had a smaller table, that didn't extend as far, and had a smaller outfeed support etc....

I read all the reviews on the saws in the price range before I went to the store, and the one I bought had the best reviews; and seemed the best value for the money, so there you go.

One REAL irritation I had in this process, other than the bait and switch: ALL the saws in this price range have these little tiny t-slot miter gages. They're so small as to be basically useless, and the t-slots are not only unstable, but you cant replace them with a standard miter gage, or a panel cutter, or any other jig that runs in the miter gage slot, because of the stupid "t-slot"

Ok, so I pick up the saw, and then head over to Harbor Freight, to pick up a couple of those cheap roller stands they had on sale for $10.

Tactical error on my part.

There are so many things waiting for me to buy them at horror freight, most of them under $5. I grabbed two new vises (one tiny hobby vise for gunsmithing, and one big benchvise) for $30 TOTAL for example. Sure, they aren't very good, but they work, and a good vise is $200. All the bar clamps were on special sale 50% off, so I grabbed about a dozen various bar clamps for a total of about $30.

Remember, you can never have too many clamps. Seriously.

Funny how a $20 trip can become a $200 trip ain't it?

So anyway, I put the saw together Monday night. I ripped some pices up and was VERY happy with the saw overall.

I started to rabbet the edges of the ply panels for the box with my router, and it was just irritating. For stop rabbets, or curved rabbets yes go for router, but were talking about long straight lines here. The proper tool for this job is a dado head cutter.

Unfortunately, I can't find mine anymore.

Also, working with the limited bench space and saw space that I had was REALLY irritating with these 5 foot long panels.

I've been needing to build a couple new benches and work tables lately anyway...

So, I headed down to the Lowes again, pick up the dado set ($40) three sheets of plywood (1x 23/32" and 2x 15/32" A-C - $65), 10x 10 foot doug fir 2x4s ($27) and 3lbs of 3" deck screws ($15); or $107 total for three tables, or $35.33 a table.

That's gonna give me three tables; two 3'x4' and one 2'x4'. The tables are saw height (35.5"), with two layer tops 1-1/4" thick (one layer is 1/2" the other 3/4", glues and screwed together), with the frame fully deck screwed together, and a 1/2" plywood shelf on the cross braces.

I may make the tables 32' to fit through standard interior door jams, or 24" to fit through exterior jams; I haven't decided. The two larger tables are intended for exterior/shop use, and I could use the extra couple inches of work space. Besides, I have a sliding glass door I can get the tables through if I have to. Of course I may not always have that option, and it IS only losing 2" or4"... I'll figure it out as I go.

Unfortunately, while I was loading the plywood, I managed to jerk my arm free and accidentally ram a 1" long 1/4" thick splinter deep under the surface of my left forearm, exactly at the spot where I cant get to it, and deep enough that Mel can't dig it out.

And by can't dig it out, I mean can't get it out with a scalpel, a 1/4" deep 1/2" long incision, and forceps. I was an EMT basic at one point and I don't see any point in going to the emergency room if you can do it yourself.

Anyway, it's bad enough, and deep enough that we cant get it now; so I've butterflied it up. I'm taking antibiotics (tetracycline lasts for 3 years without refrigeration), and waiting a couple days to see if it pushes towards the surface enough to get at it. If not I'mna have to go in for surgery to have it removed.

Oh Joy.

Anyway, nothing I can do there; and now I'm really irritated, so at about 6pm I saw "screw it, I'mna go build a damn table.

At 9 'clock, I had this:

A 2' by 4' saw height smooth top table. It's not completely done yet, I still need to put in the final two side stringers around the bottom, and screw down the lower plywood shelf; but other than that it's ready to go.

The best part of course is that now that I have one table, building the other two is going to be MUCH faster; because I have a nice large work surface at the right height. It should be two hours each for the other two tables, maybe less.

The BOM on this table is pretty simple:
  1. 1x - 2'x4'x3/4" a-c plywood. Used as tabletop base glued and screwed to the finish top
  2. 2x - 2'x4'x1/2" a-c plywood. Used as finish tabletop and shelf
  3. About 40 foot of 2"x4" whitewood. Longest length is 4'.
    • 4x 48" long stringers (top and bottom)
    • 4x 34" legs
    • 2x 19" top side rails
    • 2x 15" top rail doublers
    • 2x 11" bottom side rails
    • 2x24" feet
  4. 70x 3" deck screws (just over a pound)
The plywood top configuration here assumes you are making multiple tables, and taking advantage of that extra 2' whacked off the end. If you want to just built a 2'x4" table you can do it with just one sheet of 1/2" plywood, cut into 4x 2'x4' planks, and tripled for the top.

A 1/2" sheet of a-c ply is $20, 4x 10 foot studs are $11 and a pound of deck screws is $6. Throw in an extra stud for insurance, and you've got a total of $40 for the whole thing.

Considering Home Despot will charge you $60 for a "kit" for a similar, but lower quality table (thinner, lower quality wood), or god forbid $150 from Sears for a cheap sheetmetal one... that's a pretty good deal.

I built this table as a workbench with a 2" clamping lip on the front edge; if you want flush rails, add 2" to the side dimensions. Obviously, for the 3'x4' tables, you just add 12" to each of the side pieces, and another 8 or so screws.

The same design can be extended out to about 4'x6'; but any bigger than that and you'll probably want to go to 4x4 posts for the legs (or use a doubled 2x4 mitered or lap jointed into an "L" angle beam, but a 4x4 is simpler), and 2x6s for the main frame members.

Oh and you can build 3x 32" deep tables from the same number of sheets, if you are looking to buld tables you can move through interior doorways... or you can take the extra 8" and make two back splashes (I prefer no back on my benches and tables so I can slide stock around on them).


So, what started off as a simple $110 cargo carrier, is ending up as a $110 cargo carrier, $500 worth of tools and $300 worth of wood and other materials... oh and maybe a $500 urgent care trip to boot.

Hello, my name is Chris, and I'm an addict... but I swear, I can stop any time I want to.