Small- and medium-sized woodshops face a challenge. They don’t process enough volume to justify some of the latest cutting-edge technology, but they still need to remain efficient, versatile and competitive. Adapting existing machinery for new purposes and tasks is the most logical and viable option.
Take, for example, the basic table saw. It doesn’t take much to turn it into a horizontal panel saw, just by adding a sliding crosscut table. For shops running SawStop equipment (sawstop.com), the company offers sliding tables that match the company’s contractor, professional and industrial saws for easy, repeatable and accurate full sheet (4x8) processing.
The table is made of T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, with a black anodized coating that allows product to slide easily, and installing it is a simple task using pre-drilled holes. The bearings are large and smooth, so they can handle heavy loads. The fence angle can be adjusted from 60 degrees left or right with a twist of a single, large knurled knob. An extension slides out of the end of the fence to provide a stop that’s a full 58” from the blade, and it comes complete with heavy duty flip stops. The miter gauge holding the fence is huge and has markings that are easy to see and read – the adjustable scale even has a built-in magnifying glass. The table is set up for quickly adding sacrificial fences, and the miter gauge can be locked in any position along its travel for repeat cuts.
For shops on a stricter budget, Grizzly’s T10223 sliding table attachment mirrors many of the features of the SawStop table at about half the cost (online at grizzly.com). The unit installs on most saws (not just Grizzly brands) that have 27” deep tables.
I’ve had a Canadian-built Excalibur sliding table attached to an industrial saw for more than a decade and have found it to be both reliable and accurate. Made by General International (general.ca), the table is very large and handles full sheets easily. It rides on 14 sealed steel bearing rollers and fits most 10” to 14” saws.
Beyond cost (most units run between about $750 and $2,000), other considerations when upgrading a table saw with a slider are floor space and maneuverability. The extension table eats up a lot of room and may interfere with traffic flow in the shop. So, a little rearranging may be in order. And take a good look at how easy or difficult it is to remove the fence when it’s not needed.
Saw-mounted router tables
Adding a router table to a table saw has two big advantages. It saves floor space, as the new enhancement usually just replaces a saw wing or attaches to the edge of the existing machine, and it can often share the table saw’s existing fence system. However, there is one big potential drawback, especially for woodshops that use the table saw to build casework. You can’t always use both machines (table saw and router table) simultaneously.
You may find that the setup you just spent 20 minutes perfecting for the router table needs to be taken down because a sheet of plywood crossing the saw won’t fit. On a left-tilt saw, it’s advisable to attach the router table to the right-hand end of the saw to minimize conflict. One solution here is to involve a local machine shop and make the router table hinged, so that it just drops out of the way if necessary, without having to take down the setup.
Rockler (rockler.com) offers an add-on router table in its Bench Dog line. Grizzly’s version, the T10222, is more robust (about 70 lbs.) and features an industrial fence system.
Incra Precision Tools (incra.com) offers four models designed to complement the company’s TS-LS and TS-III aftermarket table saw fence systems, and all include the TS Router Table Support Kit with four brackets and two table stiffeners. The brackets can be positioned anywhere along the fence rail and they are vertically adjustable.
Peachtree offers a cast-iron router wing (item No. 3040 at ptreeusa.com) that has a lift-out router table insert. It can be purchased with or without a fence, so some users will elect to share the saw’s fence for routing. And MLCS (mlcswoodworking.com) offers three configurations of its extension cast-iron router tabletop and fence, including options for an aluminum, a phenolic or no insert plate.
Most of these manufactured table saw router kits can be outfitted with various lift kits for raising and lowering the cutter either electronically or manually.
Baileigh Industrial (Baileigh.com) offers a single machine that combines all three functions – a table saw, sliding table and router table – for $4,095 in a small footprint. The model TS-1020WS includes a 3-hp, 220-volt, single-phase motor and a cast-iron tabletop.
If the shop is building five-part doors and face frames, Tigerstop (tigerstop.com) offers a large catalog of stop gauge and material positioning systems for rapid, precise positioning of parts on a miter saw. Adding a manual or electronic stop, especially one with repeatability for more than one length of material, can dramatically improve yield and productivity while reducing scrap waste and labor costs.
Mortising and other attachments
Furniture builders, more than cabinetmakers, sometimes find themselves chopping mortise and tenon joinery for a project, but not often enough to invest in a dedicated machine that eats up cash and floor or benchtop space. One traditional tool enhancement here is a mortising attachment for the drill press that uses that tool’s action to deliver fairly respectable results. But be warned that they are intended for fairly rugged presses. The chopping action can play havoc with an undernourished quill and leave you with a wobbly drill press.
The Home Depot and Lowes both carry a kit from Delta that includes four popular mortising chisels and bits for a little over $100. Northern Tool offers a budget version from Ironton for about half that. Grizzly’s H7789 sells for $118. If the shop has a spare drill press that can be set up and left that way, these kits can make a lot of sense.
One of the handiest tool enhancements in any woodshop is a large diameter disc sander that works on a table saw. This is especially true if the shop has a portable saw that is usually only used for installation work, so it can be left set up to sand. Woodcraft (woodcraft.com) offers the WoodRiver 10” table saw sanding disc mounting plate (item No. 129272, $23), and it takes full advantage of the saw’s miter gauge and tilting arbor to sand angled edges with precision.
One of the smartest tool enhancements in any woodshop is an automatic blast gate system for dust collection. For larger shops and industrial manufacturers, EcoGate has this well covered. But for small professional and dedicated hobbyist shops, there’s an affordable alternative. GrnGate (grngate.com) offers a system where a woodworker starts a machine, completes a task and turns the machine off without ever thinking about dust collection. A sensor detects when the machine is started and that opens the tool’s associated blast gate. This in turn starts the central collector. When the tool is turned off, the gate closes. The company offers a three-gate Starter System that contains three 4” blast gates, three sensors, a system controller and all the necessary cables for $395.
The bottom line is that the woodworking industry is awash with great ideas for shop tooling, jigs, fixtures and new ways to get the most out of existing machinery. People who build things are naturally inventive, so there’s probably a solution out there somewhere on Google or YouTube for your latest challenge, whim or desire for tool enhancement. Half the fun is finding it.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.