The phrase “many hands make light work” is attributed to the English writer John Heywood (c. 1497-1580). Grandfather to the poet John Donne, Heywood wor in the court of Henry VIII and, like Ben Franklin in later years, was known for his proverbs. This particular idiom refers to the fact that adding more workers can make the job go faster, but that may have changed. Nowadays, just a few hands with the right equipment can create a smarter, safer, and more efficient workplace.
In the current labor market, material handling equipment can be less expensive, easier to acquire, and easier to manage than adding new employees. Depending on the size of the woodshop, it can range from simple carts and dollies to a highly automated robotic system that loads, moves, and stacks full sheets and parts. It’s still true that moving inventory and work-in-progress requires at least some physical effort. But that, too, is changing as robotics increasingly lighten the workload.
Options for larger shops
Automated material handling is becoming almost routine with larger CNC cells, and Stiles Machinery (stilesmachinery.com) offers a complete catalog of everything from full robotics to simple handcarts. At the top end, Homag’s StoreTEQ panel storage and retrieval systems offer a customizable way to organize and handle sheet stock in cabinet and furniture shops. It includes optimized transit routes from stack to machine, and a horizontal rack system that can significantly increase productivity by making it easy to inventory and search for full and partial sheets. Beyond tilting tables and conveyors, the Stiles catalog also includes vacuum lifts, infeed and outfeed tables, drying systems, and stacking equipment.
The family of Winner material handling systems from Biesse (biesse.com) include the W1, which is particularly suited to square edge banding and boring lines, and the W2 that’s designed for loading and unloading lines in the range of 22 to 26 panels per minute. Biesse also offers robotic assistance for machining doors, and the company’s Winstore automated material handling magazine delivers optimized management of panels in nesting and sizing cells.
SCM Group (scmgroup.com) offers a wide array of automation systems in the Mahros and Flexstore lines. The range includes stackers, carriers, rotation systems, flippers, and conveyors. Mahros flippers are automatic devices that can flip panels crosswise and/or lengthwise by 180 degrees. The Flexstore elr is an automatic 3-axes storage system manages homogeneous and mixed stacks of different dimensions and colors, or raw panels and sheets as thin as 3mm.
The Store-Master system from Holz-Her (holzherusa.com) lets an operator position and store panels so that exactly the right panel is selected by a computer during removal. Stock panels can be rotated up to 90 degrees and stored in any desired direction. The automated system eliminates damage to panels, and stores materials on up to three levels in high-ceiling woodshops.
For shops that manufacture their own panels in-house, Black Brothers (blackbros.com) offers an inclined outfeed table that lets doors and panels exit a coating or laminating station without disturbing the adhesive on the bottom of the substrate. Black’s automatic panel stacker can handle materials up to 5’ x 12′, and the company also provides pneumatic panel feeders, scissor lifts, stock tables with variable height legs, and transfer carts.
For applications that require frequent raising and lowering of lift tables, Southworth Products (southworthproducts.com) has introduced new packages that increase recommended maintenance intervals from 50,000 cycles to 200,000 cycles. The dramatic increase in cycles comes from upgraded components, including more rugged and durable wear parts. The new lifts are also better suited to handling oversized or non-uniform loads that can cause uneven wear in standard lifts. They’re also preferred in congested areas, or where maintenance access is limited or difficult. All the company’s LS Series lifts can be configured for high-duty cycles. Hendrick (handrickmanufacturing.com) and several other reputable suppliers carry Southworth lift tables.
Loading and unloading single large panels can be a challenge, especially when precision placement is required. The sheets can be awkward for a woodworker to lay flat after holding and carrying them on edge.
Vacuum-based lifters are a good option here. For example, the Schmalz Jumbo can move parts weighing up to 661 lbs. and is ideal for machine loading and picking. The lifting unit, operating unit, vacuum grippers, and vacuum generator on the Jumbo can be configured according to customer specifications. The lifting unit contracts and extends when lifting and lowering the load, and a large suction area holds the workpiece safely.
For manipulating panels and sheet stock, the 9265 Pivoting Vacuum Hoist from Evans Midwest (evansmidwest.com) has a rotating arm and can handle panels up to 5’ x 12’ that weigh up to 400 lbs. The height range is 4” to 60”, the rotation is up to 180 degrees, and the pivot range is a full 360 degrees. It runs on single phase household current and draws 15 amps.
The SL900RT scissor lift from Voorwood (voorwood.com) has a rotary platform that locks at 90 degrees positions. The 4’ x 6’ platform can lift 3,300 lbs. and features foot-pedal controls.
James L. Taylor Mfg. (JLT, jamesltaylor.com) offers several material handling options including return conveyors that can support many different machines. They allow a shop to operate equipment such as edge banders with only one operator, and they’re available in multiple widths and lengths. The outfeed return can be customized to return components to any location near the edge bander infeed. Similar units can handle material coming off machines such as sanders and rip saws.
TigerStop’s AutoLoader (tigerstop.com) is an automatic infeed station that works with several of the company’s saw systems. It can handle materials from 4’ to 30’ in length, and the operator can configure anywhere from two to seven loading stations in 3’ or 6’ intervals. Sensors signal when the material is ready to be processed, and a single operator can load up to five pieces or bundles at a time.
Soukup (soukupamerica.com) makes a transport trolley (TR10) for larger items such as window frames, a transport cart (TR20) for small components, and the TR30 trolley for moving parts around as they dry after coating. That latter challenge is also well met by PaintLine (thepaintline.com), which manufactures a large selection of portable and fixed drying racks along with spray stands for handling materials in and after the spray booth. And Guffey Systems (guffeysystems.com) offers its PivotPoint for handling parts in small spray booths, and PivotLine for shops with higher production volume.
Shops looking for a wider menu of brands in material handling equipment might want to visit D. S. Brown Machinery (dsbrownmachinery.com), which supplies stackers, panel returns, feeders, and conveyors from a variety of manufacturers. Wisconsin-based John G. Weber Co. (johngweber.com) offers a wide range of new and used equipment that often includes material handling solutions. SoCal Machine Tools (socal-machinetools.com) is a full line machine tool distributor that provides material handling systems that include robotic technologies and lean line solutions. Martin’s Woodworking Machinery (mwmachineryny.com) carries a sizeable inventory of used equipment along with new brands such as Taylor’s straight-line return conveyors. And Hermance Machine Co. (hermance.com) usually has a wide selection of material handling equipment on hand, including used Schmalz lifters, dock and ground level lifts, and conveyors.
Small shop options
Known for its panel saws, Saw Trax (sawtrax.com) is also an established manufacturer of carts and dollies for the woodworking industry. Its Safety Dollies can be customized with fixed or locking casters, and they can be combined side-to-side or end-to-end and pulled like a train to transport more materials through the facility. There’s even a forklift option.
A traditional 30” x 48” Shop Fox brand platform truck is available from Woodstock International (woodstockint.com) that has 8” wheels, a 2,000 lb. capacity, and a handle that can be removed when needed to carry full sheets.
SCPO Outlets (cpooutlets.com) offers several scissor-lift carts and pallet trucks, along with a large selection of chain hoists.
The catalog from Acme Tools (acmetools.com) lists a half dozen Toter brand resin carts with flat or lipped tops. These inexpensive units are a good size for moving materials such as hardware or drawer parts around the shop. Beaver Tools (beavertools.com) also offers a couple of resin utility carts, and notes that the heavy-duty resin construction resists dents, chips, and rust.
There are some simple and inexpensive solutions that help a single employee when moving panels around the shop. The Speed Skate Panel Stock and Door Dolly from Woodworker’s Supply (woodworker.com) is a device that supports 4’ x 8’ sheets of material up to 1-3/4” thick on 3” polyurethane wheels. And the Material Lifter from Rangate (rangate.com) uses a couple of pear-shaped grips to close on a panel and provide a cam-like handle. It can be used singly or in pairs, with one person at each end of a panel. Rangate also makes scissors and tilting lift carts. On those, a hydraulic lift operates with a foot bar, and two of the four swiveling wheels have locks.
Among the options from Grizzly Industrial (grizzly.com) are an inexpensive manual forklift called the Bear-Lift (item T31643), and a good selection of roller tables, carts and dollies.
JET (jettools.com), a division of JPW Industries, manufactures a selection of pallet trucks, scissor lift tables and utility carts for small shops. Among them are the new DSLT series Double Scissor Lift Tables, which are ideal for lifting, positioning, and transporting heavy materials in the woodshop. The hydraulic foot pump can lift as much as 770 lbs.
The WoodRiver Deluxe Panel Cart (item No. 167545, woodcraft.com) makes it easy to get material from a pickup truck bed or a trailer to the table saw with minimal effort. The tilting carriage adjusts from a low horizontal height of 31-1/2” to a maximum 39-1/2” to fit most table saws.
Rockler (rockler.com) also offers the Material Mate (item No. 56889), a tilting cart for transporting sheet stock.
This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue.