extending a budget table saw

Like most of the amateur woodworking community out there, I can’t say my basement shop is a dream shop. Neither is it an “It’ll do” shop… more like an “it’ll have to do” shop.

Plagued with a ceiling literally a hair or two overhead, steep and awkward stairs, and a lack of electricity, I’ve learned to manage, cutting plywood outside or at the “Big Box” stores to help fit in the car, as well as down into the shop. Also, keeping things mobile (my vintage Shopsmith, other power tools on carts, small and/or folding work tables, and so on) allows me to rearrange things to suit the project at hand.

My tablesaw is really suited to little more than crafts and hobbies, not major home reno. It was marketed as a real bonafide table saw, but what do you want for $80 (after rebate)? I may have out grown it, but don’t regret the purchase. Its major plus (and minus) is the size. On the one hand it can go anywhere it’s needed in the house (or car). On the other hand, the small top isn’t always up to the task. But with a full size table saw at my in-laws, as well as a circular saw, I’ve been able to manage just fine.

This weekend’s challenge, however, was another story. I have a 9- shelf unit to make for work, (4′ x 19″ x 16.5″) all out of one sheet of plywood. My sketch allowed for no usable waste, and, unless I wanted to do this project on my dime (in addition to my time), everything had to go perfectly the first time. I had an employee at the Big Box store cut the sheet down to five 4’x19″ pieces. I’d have to cut the 15″ shelves, and 16.5″ top myself.

I could either eyeball the cuts with the tablesaw (and cross my fingers for clean, straight edges) since my fence goes no further than the foot or so on either side of the blade. Or, I could use the circular saw with a straightedge, likely ending up with edges that weren’t exactly straight and with lots of tear out).

Enter a sheet of MDF. It occurred to me that I could mount a new, larger work surface, and raise the blade through it, creating not only a larger work surface, but also a zero-clearance opening for the blade.

Aligning the fence was a piece of cake; I just measured over from the kerf, front and back – perfectly square. Not having access to a router (yet), I did forgo the sliding track for the miter gauge, but otherwise, this add-on has increased the performace and capability of the saw dramatically. No tear out, and perfectly square, straight cuts.

Challenge met, and conquored. (with kudo’s from my colleagues) The dowels on top were one spontaneous design change – an allowance or, perhaps a concession to add a ninth shelf, with a 6″ storage capacity, without either exceeding my one sheet of plywood budget (or make the shelves to short to be useful). The dowel, and the 1/4″ ply back were leftovers of a previous project, (and therefore free, right?)

My next step (concerning the saw) is was to add support under the MDF to keep if from sagging off the edges. But for now, this has certainly extended the life of my saw, and the shop it’s in. I’d still love to get a larger, better saw. But this will tide me over until we either move, or I can upgrade the workshop location (or conditions).

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