Monday, April 10, 2017

Workshop Upgrades

From J:

Greater than 50% of my free time is now spent in the garage. A has yet to complain. Not sure what to think of that. Anyway...

A few big upgrades recently to the shop. First, I/we decided that a car wasn't going to go in there any longer. This let me add some more permanent/larger equipment, namely...(drumroll)...a SawStop.

I've wanted one since I learned what they were. The table saw, if you aren't aware, can be a fairly dangerous tool, finely engineered to be efficient at cutting wood, a much harder substance than hands. It has a large and exposed blade. Your hands often are somewhat close to this blade. The potential exists for you to be in the market for custom gloves if something goes wrong.

Enter SawStop. Invented by an engineer-turned-patent attorney, loved by those who have them and loathed by those who can't afford them, if the blade of a SawStop saw hits flesh it: 1) detects it, 2) recognizes that it's not cutting wood, 3) fires a brake into the blade that 4) stops the blade and drops the blade below the table top, all within a few milliseconds. Most people who trip the safety brake end up with something that needs a bandaid for a day rather than surgery and an 8 week recovery time.

Over Black Friday, 2016, I found a site that had them on sale...and these things NEVER go on sale. So, I sprung for it. I bought their smallest cabinet saw (the nicest type of saw a hobbyist will ever need), a 1.75HP, 30" rip capacity model - small enough to fit in the garage. It is beautiful. It is heavy. It is a forever tool. I also bought their nicest mobile base, a version that has an integrated hydraulic lift, so that I can easily move the saw around the shop as needed.

New table saw purchased, time to get the rest of the shop ready to work with it. The next upgrade was a new outfeed table. Outfeed tables are used to help support large boards through the entire cut so that cuts are safer and easier. For my table, I also wanted to use it as a place for storage of offcuts and other to-be-determined items. Because my garage floor is far from flat and level and I move the saw around occasionally, I designed a version that had an independently leveling top (with built-in storage drawers and slots) and a base on casters with storage shelves. The leveling mechanism is four feet that are adjustable with a screwdriver through holes in the top; this allows me to adjust the height and slope of the top to match the saw itself, regardless of their positions. The base is solid beech with pocket screw construction, shelves are plywood, and the top torsion box is made from plywood. Frame on the top is also solid beech. The drawers are some scrap plywood and MDF with polyethylene side-mounted runners.

Final upgrade: a new workbench. I've gone through a few workbenches, realizing what I liked and didn't like about each of them. Now, it's time for what I consider to be my first real bench: a solid wood, extremely heavy bench with a vise for workholding.

There are two general schools of thought for this sort of bench. The first school, which I do not proscribe to, says that a bench of this magnitude should be built as a showpiece. Use attractive (and still extremely solid) joinery like through-tenons and dovetails. The materials should be hardwoods and it must be a flawless showpiece of your craftsmanship. The second school of thought is that it's going to ideally get beaten up as you, you know, work on it, so why make it fancy? Use solid and straightforward joinery and use inexpensive materials.

While I respect the students of the first school, I am far too practical to want to drop $1000 on the lumber required for such a bench. I built my workbench out of laminated 2x10s using simple half-lap joints. While it's not as heavy as one made from maple or as pretty as one made from cherry, it only cost me $150 in lumber. Add in a vise that I got on sale, some pop-up casters, and about $20 of glue (it's a lot of laminated boards), my cost is about $250. Not bad.

This bench will serve as my new assembly table and worktable. It's roughly 31" x 66" of solid, 4"-thick pine. The legs are triple-laminated pine and the stretchers (with the exception of a couple of them, by design) are double-laminated. I spent four very hard hours of work flattening the top using my hand planes, a first for me. The top is lag bolted to the frame through the long top stretchers. The total weight is well over 200 pounds. It does not move unless you want to move it.

So, bench finished, my shop is ready for some more work. Up next are a new jewelry box for my loving and patient wife and a new entry table. Looking forward to trying some new things with each build.

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