How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Article - September 8, 2011

As most of you know, last week I took a little “vacation”. Instead of forcing myself to sit on my butt and relax all week (I can’t seem to sit still), I decided to try something different. I wound up working my butt off in the shop, while simply taking a vacation from the website. If you can believe it, this was the first time since 2006 that absolutely no posts went up on the site! Sheesh! That’s a long time! But it really served its purpose and I got quite a bit accomplished in the shop. Its amazing how fast I can build when I’m not documenting every little step. My fellow podcasters/bloggers know what I’m talking about.

So there were three primary goals this week: finish the wall cabinets, build a new assembly table, and build a new outfeed table. None of these projects were dramatically different than things we’ve done in the past on the show but I’ll point out some of the changes and my reasons for them.

The Cabinets

The cabinet carcasses were milled up by my buddy Ron on his CNC machine. I basically brought all the parts home and did the assembly, but there was still quite a bit of work to do, including drawer construction and edge-banding EVERYTHING. I used maple strips for the edge-banding and attached them with glue/clamps when I had the patience, and glue/brad nails when I didn’t. Norm would have been proud!
Once all the parts were edge-banded and sanded, I slapped on a few coats of General Finishes High Performance (satin). Even though its a water-based finish, it did a fine job of highlighting the contrast between the alder veneer and the maple edging. I think the contrast looks good and honestly, it wasn’t intentional. It was simply based on the materials I had on hand and thankfully, it turned into a happy accident.

The Torsion Box Assembly Table

One of the most popular projects on our site is the Torsion Box Assembly Table. The original design was borrowed from David Marks and the table served me well over the years. During the first shop move, I needed all the space I could get so the assembly table was given to my buddy Greg. Now that I’m back in the old space, the need for an assembly table is greater than ever! Doing the Adirondack chair build without it was a huge pain in the butt!

Instead of simply rebuilding the old version, I decided to scale things down a bit and customize the base to my current needs. The first change was the overall dimensions. Instead of going 48″ x 72″ for the torsion box, I scaled down to 42″ x 60″. Truth is, I never really needed as much space as a 48″ x 72″ top provides. Instead of being useful workspace, it usually became a place for collecting crap. So instead of a three compartment base I went with a much simpler two-compartment design. On the one side, I have room for my compressor and a pull-out drawer for my pneumatic guns, and on the other side I have a little garage for my Festool vac or a shop vac. Each side also features a shallow recess that will be used for either adjustable shelving or clamp storage. The sides of the base will also be used for hanging things like hammers and small clamps. So its not 100% complete yet, but you get the idea. A few extra details for you. The height was strategically made to be the same as my Festool MFT3, providing extra support for really long stock. And the material I used was ultralight MDF, which was MUCH nicer to deal with than standard MDF.

Perhaps the biggest change with this project was the method and materials for the torsion box. One thing I have learned over the years of doing this woodworking thing is that many of us over-estimate the importance of “dead flat” surfaces. So I knew that as long as my torsion box was mostly flat with no twist, I’d be a happy camper. Instead of working up some complicated saw horse leveling technique, I simply used another surface that I knew was already mostly flat: my workbench. And during the grid assembly, I used scrap pieces of MDF on edge to ensure that the skins remained flat and true, trusting the workbench to help keep things in order in the long dimension.

The grid itself was a little different too. Instead of creating a perfect grid, I decided to stagger the short pieces which made the process of nailing them in place MUCH easier. Everything is held together with glue and once the skins are in place, I don’t think there is an appreciable difference in strength using this technique. Especially not on a torsion box that will be completely supported. You also might notice that I have no replaceable skin on this one. I guess I’ll just have to keep it clean. Yeah right!

So you’re probably wondering just how flat the top is. In the long dimension it is nearly perfect. Along the short dimension, it’s pretty much dead flat in the middle and I have a slight dip at the last 6″ at each side. Probably by about 1/32″ or so. I can absolutely live with that. Any time I use the table for true reference, I will make sure I’m using the center of the table.

So is this woodworking blasphemy?? Not worrying about things being dead flat? Nope….its reality. By the time you are assembling a project, there are many other factors at play that will dictate whether your project stays flat, square and true. The primary one being joinery. So flatness becomes much more of an issue on the tools that you use to make your joinery, including your workbench. So if you have good square joints and consistently-milled parts, a dead flat assembly surface is not really necessary. Don’t get me wrong here. If you can get a dead flat surface, why not, right? Better is better. I’m just saying that if your assembly table isn’t dead nuts flat, don’t worry about it. Figure out where your “flattest” part is and keep that in mind when you are assembling parts.

The Outfeed Table

This was another long-overdue project. I have been using a roller stand as an outfeed support for a while now and let me tell you, that’s for the birds! There really is nothing like have 100% full support for just about any piece that comes across the tablesaw. The design is pretty much the same a my previous version, with the only major difference being the top. Instead of recessing the top into the base for a flush fit, I now have a top that overhangs the base significantly. This allows the top to nestle right up against the tablesaw which minimizes the gap. The top itself is made from two sheets of birch plywood sandwiched together. This gives the unit some serious weight and really helps to stabilize the entire thing. The shelf on the bottom provides some much-needed storage for various tablesaw doo-dads and dingle-hoppers.

The Levelers

Both the outfeed table and the assembly table required precise height adjustments. This was fairly easy to do. I simply made sure the final height was about 1/4″ below what I needed it to be. Then I used these heavy duty levelers from Rockler. What I like about them is that they hook underneath the cabinet side rather than simply screwing into the face. All of the weight is being supported in a way that won’t result in screws ripping out at some point. With a level and a straight edge, I had both the outfeed table and assembly table adjusted perfectly in minutes.

So that’s what I did on my “summer vacation”, and I’d do it all again this week if I had the time. I need a turning tool rack, a fancy tablesaw auxiliary fence, and a few storage units for various things around the shop. But these projects will be made into full episodes for the show. I can’t wait! Now if you want to learn a little more about the projects I reviewed in this article, make sure you stop by for some of our upcoming live events. On Sept. 14th at 6pm Eastern I’ll be doing a quick live discussion/Q&A about the assembly table. And on Oct. 5th we’ll be doing one on the outfeed table. All events will be recorded for later viewing but its a lot more fun if you can participate in the chat. So I’ll see you there! And be sure to check the calendar for all of our live events and video releases coming up.


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