For those of us working in small shops like garages and sheds, the problems of mobility, accuracy and utility are aspects that we struggle with every day. Each machine has to earn its keep, provide an important and integral function and be stored out of the way.
I am constantly looking for ways to economize space and increase the functions of work surfaces and storage areas. I also am plagued with the inaccuracy of small-shop machinery and am on the alert for ways to improve my methodology. I don’t have the luxury of fixed machinery, of dedicated tools for very specific processes or for adding another tool just to see if it might improve my production capability. As it is, the table saw doubles as a glue-up surface and I use every inch of the top for assembly. My two-car garage shop, which sleeps one car every night, is already maxed out of space and, at my advanced age, I hesitate to spend big sums to upgrade machines.
However, I was in need of a better rip fence for my table saw and this led to a chain of events and purchases that has been a real boon to the shop. It did cost more than I could ever have imagined. Was it worth it? You bet.
Out with the old
I have an older SawStop table saw. I purchased an extension table and a dolly to go with it and have to say that both are marginally successful at best. The dolly only moved in a straight line and the extension table was not flat and was beginning to delaminate. And the rip fence required constant adjustments, front and rear, to ensure accuracy.
To start, I swapped out the old dolly for the new SawStop dolly with excellent success. I had purchased SawStop’s new sliding miter table, but had not installed it. I hesitated to cut the existing front bar of the saw, since I was unsure that the new arrangement was going to fit in my very tight space and if I would even like and use it. So I went to the AWFS fair last July with a new fence in mind, hoping that I would find something that would both replace the old rip fence and add a front bar of its own.
The problem — or the benefit — of going to shows is the huge range of things that you see. I didn’t go with the idea of getting a digital fence. I saw these as much too expensive and encompassing more technology than I thought I needed. But I didn’t see anything that gave me hope of true accuracy or that would solve my front bar problem until I stopped at the TigerStop booth. The company’s digital fence is about the same price as the saw (gulp) and, even now, it makes me wince. But I continue to ask myself what my goals are: if I want to make accurate cuts, be able to repeat cuts at will and not waste time messing around with an ornery fence, it earns its keep every day.
This purchase, of course, led to an additional chain reaction of shop renovation that has taken a good deal of time and effort, as well as expenses of its own. But I am totally pleased by the results that, even in retrospect, I still feel that it was all worth it.
I started by stripping the saw down to its basic top, removing the wing from the left side and the extension table from the right. I installed the sliding miter table to the left side and totally rebuilt the extension table for the right side. I used the same dimensions, but made the top out of 1/2” solid surface, returned the edges to be the same depth as the new fence and braced the bottom with steel-angle iron in several places. I bought a new Incra Master Lift IIR router lift that is top-adjusting. Of course, none of my six routers fits in this, so I had to get a new Milwaukee 5625-20 router for it. This is a sweet setup: it fit in the old dust-collection box, which I mounted under the new table, and I can make any height adjustments from the top of the table. The Incra lift comes with several inserts, which is handy as well.
I replaced the rear bar of the saw with a piece of 1/4” x 2” x 2” steel-angle iron and cut reliefs in it to allow the miter bar that came with the saw to slide out the rear side. I also added an extruded aluminum piece front and back that accepts Kreg and Rockler style hold-downs for a router fence. Unlike my old fence, the new fence is only usable on the blade side, so it will not double for a router fence.
On the front edge of the saw table, I was advised by a friend who did the same upgrade to add a heavier piece of metal to keep the TigerFence from tipping forward — the table thickness is only 1-1/2”, while the TigerFence is 4” top to bottom. So I bolted on an intermediary piece of aluminum 1/2” thick and 4” wide before bolting on the TigerFence. This was a great idea and really helped stability. Be advised that adding this style fence will cover up the right-hand miter slot on the saw table; the left-hand one will be intact. This setup gives me the same 48” extension table, immediate and accurate rip fence positioning and adjustments to three decimal places. Just in case, I added a sacrificial piece of solid surface to the blade side of the fence, bolted on with nylon machine screws — nothing to damage the blade or to set off the safety feature of the saw. Wow, what a change.
As always, there were a few little ripples in my transition. I did not like giving up the right-hand miter slot and tried to work around that and, to a certain extent, I was successful, but I would not advise doing it. The new fence interferes with the blade-height adjustment wheel, so I needed to swap out the old wheel with the smaller one they make for the contractor saw — not a big deal, but it saves some busted knuckles. And the overall weight of the extension table, the router and lift and the rip fence meant that it rocked on the new dolly. So I added ball casters to the support legs on the extension side and a 50-lb. weight to the left side of the saw and now it works just fine.
The last problem is one that arrives with the SawStop sliding miter table. The miter guide provided has no preset angles, such as a stop for 90 or 45 degrees. This means squaring the thing up every time it is installed on the saw (you need to take it off for rip operations). I was left with no choice but to purchase a better model from Incra (Miter 3000SE). Of course, the bar does not fit in the proprietary slot that SawStop uses in the table, but I made a very serviceable one from a stick of ebony that I had saved from an old project for just this kind of thing. I borrowed a few parts from the SawStop bar, made a few more from aluminum angle and it works like a charm.
All of this adds up to a chunk of change, but my new rig is really slick. It rolls around easily, gives me a usable router table that does not take up any extra space, provides a 6’ dead-flat work surface, enables me to cross-cut up to 48” wide with the sliding miter table and provides accurate rip functions every time with no fuss or doubt. If these are demons that plague your shop, you might consider all of this. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Andrew Glantz is the owner of Zenith Design in Scottsdale, Ariz., and past president of The Furniture Society.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue.