I finished up (mostly) the router table project this weekend, and installed the router lift (and router). I’m happy to report that it works quite well, and I’m very happy with it. The only beef I have is that I apparently wasn’t careful enough when building the fence–it’s a teensy bit out of square. I may have to redo that.
Here are some photos (click on the thumbnails for full-size views):
This has been a very enjoyable and rewarding project. And it cost me only $14 for the router lift plans (highly recommended, by the way), a few dollars for the bearings and other hardware for the lift, a bunch of scrap materials, and my time. (And a router, which I got for a great price at the recent Wood Show.)
I apologize for not having photos of the router lift and my in-progress router table…I’ve had so little time in the shop recently that I’ve just been working feverishly in there and not thinking much about documenting the projects. But the router lift is pretty much done! I haven’t put a finish on it, and I’m debating what to do about that–there are clearly some parts that shouldn’t receive a finish, but I’m thinking that finishing the other parts might keep the wood from being quite so subject to dimensional changes with humidity (or the lack thereof). So I’ll probably take it all apart and spray on some polyurethane at some point.
The router table is coming along, but taking a long time, it seems. Our weather here in the midwest has been so crazy this spring. As I write this, I’ve just come in from my garage shop, where the temperature was around 60 degrees (aided by a small electric space heater); outdoors it was only about 45 today. On Easter Sunday (two days ago), it was in the upper 50s or lower 60s. On Palm Sunday (just one week earlier) there was a 4-6″ blanket of snow in the morning. Just a few days before that we had temps in the 70s. But for the most part, it’s been sort of cold and snowy in the past few weeks. (And I’ve been busy with some other stuff, so shop time has been all too scarce.)
I modeled my router table after Rudolf Baumeller’s design (featured on woodgears.ca), though I didn’t pay that much attention to his dimensions. There are eight drawers in this design (four small ones, four larger ones), surrounding a central space for the router (and lift). As of tonight, all eight drawers have been constructed and fitted, but I still need to make and attach drawer fronts. There’s a ton of sanding to do, as well, and I still need to make the drawer pulls.
I haven’t decided how to construct the top yet. I have some 3/4″ MDF, but I’ve also got some 3/4″ birch plywood that would work. One more idea is a surplus kitchen counter top, left over from a kitchen remodeling project. It’s already got the laminate on it, and all I’d have to do is figure out how to cut it down to a useful size.
The materials I’ve used for the router table (and the lift, for that matter) are all just scraps I’ve had around the shop for a long time. Some of it is pretty crappy material, but I don’t have a lot of money to invest in the project, so I’ve had to make do. The main frame of the table is made from 2×4 pine studs; the side panels are left over 5mm underlayment (from a bathroom remodeling project). The drawers are pieced together from various scraps of 1/2″ plywood (some old stuff that really is 1/2″ thick, and some that is really nasty sheathing or BC plywood, at best–about as flat as a potato chip. There are even some bits of 7/16″ OSB left over from my shop walls (and more of that 5mm stuff for the drawer bottoms). I’ve never had so many splinters from one project (hence the need for a LOT of sanding coming up).
I modeled the frame in SketchUp (with very little detail), then added a drawing of the corner post joinery, just for reference. After I cut and milled all the parts and established the overall dimensions, I pretty much made the rest up as I went along. A bit of an adventure, but fun, and pretty cool to see it all come together.
The toughest part of this project will be figuring out where to put this table in my small, crowded, one-car garage shop. My old three-wheel bandsaw and stand can go away now that I have my new bandsaw, so that will help.
The spring is really my favorite time to be in the shop–it’s not beastly hot yet, and the bugs haven’t gotten bad yet, so I can work with the garage door open…
At the Woodworking Show in Kansas City last month I found a pretty good deal on a Porter Cable 690 router–a pretty basic machine, but from what I gather, it’s a ubiquitous, fairly reliable workhorse of a router. I went to the show thinking I might look around for a good deal on a small trim router, like a Bosch Colt or one of the other similar models by other manufacturers, and there were a couple of deals on those. Maybe I’ll spring for a trim router one of these days, but I decided I didn’t really want to buy a set of 1/4″ bits (mine are all 1/2″ shanks), and it would be nice to have a reasonably hefty router installed in my router table all of the time. The PC690 is a 1.75-horsepower machine, which is just fine for the kind of routing I do at the table. It came with a fixed base, which is also fine, since I’ll be using it in the table. (My Bosch 1617 has fixed and plunge bases.)
A couple of months ago I decided I was going to build a new router table–mine is a simple little thing I knocked together with MDF and mounted on a Workmate. It has served me well for a couple of years, but I really need something with some dust-collection capability (even though I don’t yet own a DC), and with some storage built-in. My fantasy was to have a router lift, but I just couldn’t imagine spending $300-$400 on one. For some time I’ve admired Matthias Wandel’s router lift project, and the most recent version is a tilting lift, which makes a given bit useful in additional ways. It always seemed too ambitious for my skills and my modest shop, but now that I’ve got a band saw…
So when I got home from the Woodworking Show I immediately ordered a set of plans from woodgears.ca, and now it appears I’ve got a fun project on my hands. I’ve decided to build it with materials I already have in the shop–this means that instead of purchasing some Baltic birch plywood (which I can’t get locally, anyway), I’ll be using birch plywood leftover from my vanity project. I have a little bit of hard maple, but I’m saving it for a guitar neck, so I’ll be using river birch for the hardwood parts (also left over from my vanity project). There’s some hardware to buy, but that’s not too expensive. I figure that if I use the wood I have on hand, I’m not really out anything except the cost of the plans and the cost of the hardware. If I decide that I really need nicer materials, I can always build it again later.
The slide mechanism
I started by cutting a couple of pieces of 3/4″ plywood for the sliding router motor carrier mechanism, and some hardwood strips for the runners. I also cut out the two gears from 1/2″ birch ply, and my preliminary tests indicate that they should work pretty well (although they’re a little rough, as it was my first time to cut wooden gears). I believe this speaks very highly of Matthias’ design. (Pictures will be posted soon.) I had to make a minor modification to the router mount for my particular router motor, but I think it’s going to work out just fine.
The plans call for a plastic knob for locking the sliding carriage in place, but knobs are so expensive I decided to just make one from a scrap of maple and a hex nut, and so far it’s working great. This design uses a couple of ball bearings–one for the main gear and one for the lifting shaft. My local hardware store didn’t have the right size, but I would have paid up to $4 or so each if they had had them in stock. But when I saw that they’re price was more like $12-13 each, I decided I’d find another way. I went to a local skate shop and asked if they had skate bearings, because Matthias got his from old inline skates. Although the guy at the shop didn’t really know much about them, and I didn’t have a metric ruler on me (nor did he), I decided to take a chance. These bearings were only available in packs of eight–for $11. So I gladly did that deal.
Except for the hinges, I pretty much bought all of the hardware specified–I figured even if I had some of it on hand, it would take me a lot less time and cost me less frustration to just go get the specific things I needed. I spent about $41 on hardware, including the bearings, but those costs include two boxes of different sizes of drywall screws, at about $6.50/box, and I only need a small handful of each size for this project. And as I said, I didn’t need all eight of those bearings. So I’m going to estimate that I’ve got about $20 invested in the hardware, at most. Given that all of the wood I’m using is scraps, including pretty much everything I’ll be using to build a new router table, that’s a really good investment.
Don’t have a photo yet, but my lovely wife gave me an early Christmas gift this year: a Grizzly G0555LX 14″ band saw. It replaces the old Craftsman vintage saw I had been using–this is a really nice saw. I have a 1/4″ cheapo blade on it at the moment, which is working fine, but I’ve ordered a 1/2″ Wood Slicer resaw blade–looking forward to actually being able to resaw stock safely and accurately. More to come on this.
It’s been really tough to get much shop time for much of this summer–I worked pretty consistently in the shop until the end of June, but then vacation and work-related travel took me away for the first three weeks of July, and ever since I returned, it’s been beastly hot (and my shop has no A/C). Plus, with all of that travel in July, I’ve had some busy weeks trying to get caught up at work.
But this week the heat finally broke for a while, and triple-digit temperatures have given way to much milder weather (80s and 90s), and I’ve managed to squeeze in some shop time and a couple of small projects here and there.
Even during some of the hot weather in late July I was able to spend a couple hours on a few mornings working with my young friend, Dereck, a high-school senior who attends my church. I’m helping Dereck build an electric bass guitar from scratch. Dereck is a talented musician (he plays the violin and the drums already and is teaching himself to play the bass), but he’s also the sort of kid who is industrious, hard-working, tenacious and creative. What he lacks in practical experience in woodworking, he makes up for with sheer desire to get things done, and he’s accomplished a lot of amazing things with minimal tools and almost no training.
We first began talking about building a bass after he showed me a bass he built out of plywood and pine. It worked, but not particularly well, and with the materials he used, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before that instrument broke apart in his hands. So we decided to pursue the construction of a “real” bass guitar, and learn together (I’ve never built a guitar before).
We visited my dad’s shop first–my dad gave us several pieces of wild cherry, left over from a project he had worked on, and we glued them up to create a body blank for the bass, about an inch and a half thick. I had some scraps of hard maple, so I ripped up some pieces and glued up a laminated blank for the neck.
Progress on the bass is going slow, as we’ve only been able to get together to work on it for two or three hours at a time, about once or maybe twice a week. But we’ve enjoyed the process, and we can’t wait to see how it will all turn out. Dereck took the body home while I was away in July and cut it out with his hand-held jigsaw, then spent hours sanding and smoothing the edges. Since then we’ve routed the pickup cavities in the body, cut the peghead from the neck blank and glued it on at the appropriate angle, routed the truss-rod groove in the neck, and cut and milled the fretboard blank (also from hard maple). Last week we took a trip to Kansas City and stopped in at a “real” hardwood supplier (all we have in our town is Home Depot), and found some offcuts of Honduran and Bolivian rosewood to use for the bridge, the headstock veneer, the truss-rod adjustment cavity cover, the controls cavity cover and any other accents we need.
We’ve also done some initial rounding of the edges of the body blank, but there is much more shaping to do on both the body and the neck blank. Then comes the really tricky stuff–the cutting of fret slots, the routing of the neck cavity and fitting of the neck, and the joining of the neck to the body. More on that another time.
One of the coolest things about this project is that it is collaborative and educational, for both of us. We’re sharing the labor–he’s doing a lot of the hand-tool work, and I’m doing a lot of the power-tool work that he’s less comfortable with. But he’s learning, and I’m doing my best to help him learn how to use the equipment safely and properly. We’re both learning a lot about making an electric bass (I’ve got my sights set on making an electric guitar at some point), and frankly, I feel like I’m making an investment in a young man who will accomplish great things somewhere down the road.
Other shop stuff
Through the wonderful magic of Father’s Day and a July birthday, I have acquired some new tools and accessories over the past few weeks–my daughter and son-in-law gave me a set of router guides for my Bosch 1617-series router, which is cool. My lovely wife got me a stacked dado set, and my other daughter gave me a gift certificate to Woodcraft, and since there is a Woodcraft store in Kansas City (less than an hour away), I now am the proud owner of a new Stanley spokeshave, a tool I’ve wanted for a long time, and which will be put to good use in shaping the bass neck over the next few weeks.
My stepmother is retiring this month, so I’m also using some of that scrap cherry to make her a little keepsake box. I actually resawed some of the 3/4-inch thick stock on my table saw, then planed it to a quarter-inch in thickness on my thickness planer. I’m ashamed to admit that I finally figured out that by using the cutter head lock on my planer, I could reduce or eliminate snipe on the stock.
I also may have solved a mystery that has dogged me for months…I had some old drawer fronts that I had salvaged from a broken-down chest of drawers, and I’ve used much of the wood to make small boxes. But I could never tell exactly what kind of wood it was, and it was driving me crazy, because I loved the aroma of that wood as I worked on it. Well, in the hardwood store the other day, with dozens of species of wood all around me, I started sniffing boards to see if I could find that wonderful, sweet familiar scent. I limited my sniffing to boards of the appropriate color, and after smelling about two-thirds of the species in the store, I found it: hickory. Nice. I see some hickory projects in my future.
The weather seems to have been the biggest factor in my available shop time in recent weeks–we’ve had some warm days here and there, and then winter expresses itself again (we had another inch or two of snow last night after a couple of days of 50’s and 60’s). But in between cold snaps and snow, I’ve had some time for a couple of little projects. My lovely wife was away on Saturday for a meeting out of town, and I spent pretty much the whole day in the shop, making sawdust, sweeping up, listening to basketball on the radio, and having a great time.
I needed to make a small table for a printer in my office at the church where I work–this particular printer (which is used to print labels on printable CDs) shakes so much when the printer is working that I’m afraid the printer will just shake right off onto the floor some day, so I scrounged around my shop for some suitable scrap lumber and made a table. It’s made from bits and pieces of dimension lumber (2x8s, 2x4s and also some wood from a packing crate)–I milled it, glued up a top, cut mortise-and-tenon joints all around (16 of ’em), added a cross-brace underneath, and now I’ve got a table that I’m pretty sure won’t move much at all when the printer gets a-printin’. Best part of all: all I had to buy was some hardware to fasten the top to the apron.
I couldn’t find any of those little figure-eight jobs that you might normally use for this purpose, so I bought four small (2″ long) mending straps with a hole on each end, mortised them into the top of the apron, and screwed the top on with the remaining holes (sorry I don’t have photos of this). It was easy, and cheap. Today I bought a can of polyurethane (it still needs a finish), which added a bit to the cost, but it will be enough for several projects, so the whole thing cost maybe six bucks.
I had the final dimensions in my head when I started–beyond that, I just made it up as I went along.
When that was done, there was still some basketball and daylight left, and it wasn’t too cold yet, so I finished up something I had started a few weeks earlier–I made a marking gauge. My first attempt had been admirable, but a failure, nonetheless–I used some scrap maple, but I had a hard time chiseling the maple into the square shape I needed for the sliding bar. Since then, I purchased a drill press that made it possible to drill at a perfect 90 degrees, and I made a new block out of some scrap mahogany (which I salvaged from a built-in bookcase that I removed from my house years ago for a remodeling project). I added a threaded insert and a thumbscrew, and bada-bing, bada-boom–a marking gauge.
There was only one remaining problem–the thumbscrew was marking the wooden bar. So I scrounged through my little set of small-parts drawers and found one of those little plastic screw-cover caps that came with a cheap knock-together bookshelf–it was thin enough to fit between the bar and the block, and the little part that sticks up (to snap over the screw head) fits up into the hole for the thumbscrew and when the bar is in place, it seats firmly, forming a nice little pad for the end of the thumbscrew. Works great. I used a wire brad for the marking tip–just filed it to a nice point. After my first failed attempt, I bought a marking gauge from Rockler (they had a great sale price on one), but the first time I used it for a project, I realized why I’ve seen so many shop photos with multiple marking gauges on the wall–it’s really handy to have more than one. So now I do, and this one cost me about $1.50 for the insert and thumbscrew.
We had a warm spell a little over a week ago (just before the big blizzard came), so I took advantage of the warmer temperatures in my garage shop to unbox and set up my new table saw, which I’ve had since early December, but couldn’t set up because there was no room for it. The saw is a Jet JPS-10CW, a hybrid saw with cast-iron extension wings, and I bought it from Tools Plus (http://www.tools-plus.com), which normally provides $6.50 shipping on anything, which is an incredible deal, but they were running a special post-Thanksgiving sale, and not only was the saw discounted significantly, but shipping was free! (This is pretty remarkable, given that we’re talking about a shipment of over 350 pounds!)
The saw came in three cartons–the larger one contained the saw itself; the long, skinny one contained the fence rail components; and the other one contained the fence itself. Everything arrived in good condition, no shipping damage, and no significant damage to the packaging, either. The saw and its parts (legs, extension wings, miscellaneous hardware, etc.) was packed in a sturdy foam block, everything in its own compartment. I unpacked everything and laid it all out to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and everything
was there, down to the last screw, washer and nut. There were even some assembly tools included–a couple of hex wrenches and an open-end wrench. These tools were sufficient for most of the assembly, though an additional metric wrench was needed for a couple of bolts.
The saw was packed table-side down in the shipping carton, and although I tried to lift it out, it was too much for my tired, old back to handle, so I cut the carton away and broke the foam packing away so I could attach the legs (which is the first assembly step).
I was impressed with how sturdy the saw felt with the legs attached. The fit and finish of all of the parts was really quite good, too–everything fit together exactly as it was supposed to, all of the holes for bolts lined up properly, and there were no burrs or other finish issues that caused any problems during assembly. If you happen to buy this saw, I would simply recommend that you have a friend handy to help you set it up. Once I had the legs on, the next step was to set it upright, so I had my wife and son come out and help me lift it and turn it over. Attaching the cast-iron extension wings was a bit of a challenge, but I used the top part of the foam packing material as a stand and with a few blocks of scrap wood, I was able to get
the wings to a convenient height and bolt them on without assistance.
One other thing to be aware of is that all of the ground cast-iron surfaces are slathered with oil or grease and covered in plastic for rust-prevention. Have plenty of rags handy to clean these surfaces off before you handle them–and this isn’t just to help you keep your clothes clean. You don’t want to drop one of those heavy wings because it was slippery.
Although I haven’t really done a full tune-up on the saw yet, I managed to get the wings pretty much level with the saw table, simply by loosening the bolts a bit and tapping here and there with a dead-blow mallet before tightening everything down. I can’t really say whether the saw table is perfectly flat, but it looks good to me. The next assembly step was to attach the fence guide rails on the front and rear of the saw table, and adjust the fence. There was some leftover hardware, which I discovered was intended for use with the optional extension table (which I didn’t buy). But again, everything fit together well, and it was pretty easy to get things adjusted.
The rip fence is a nice one (though I’ve only ever used one other rip fence in my life, so I don’t have a lot to compare it with). The sides of the fence are extruded aluminum, with integral slots on the tops for the attachment of jigs and fixtures of various types. The fence glides easily along the rails, and clamps securely with moderate pressure on the clamping lever.
The blade guard seems a little unwieldy, but you can prop it up and out of the way for blade changes, etc. Adjusting the alignment of the splitter was one of the trickiest parts of the assembly process for this saw–the guard, pawls and splitter are all one assembly that doesn’t seem to come apart easily, so while you’re trying to adjust the little lock-nuts the guard attaches to, guard and the anti-kickback pawls are sort of awkwardly in the way, and there is little you can do about it. But patience prevails.
Most of the time people tell you to just throw away the blade that comes with a new saw, on the assumption that those blades are junk. The Jet blade that came with this saw isn’t a Ridge Carbide TS-2000 by any means (I have one of those coming), but it isn’t junk, and I’m definitely not going to throw it away. It is a carbide-tipped combination blade that did a respectable job on my initial test cuts. I still have some tuning up to do, but the saw works, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
One more thing: I will probably re-wire the motor for 240V operation. I’ve got the 240V outlet installed, and I’ve read that running at higher voltage (and lower current) is actually better for the motor.
So, some real sawdust has finally been made in my new garage woodshop! (By the way, please excuse the poor quality of the photos here–they were all shot on my cell phone 🙂