How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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.

Category: Shop Journal

Comments

  1. James September 8, 2011

    Totally dig the new shop furniture, especially the open space below the cabinet doors. I had been contemplating offsetting the grid on the torsion table myself when it came time to build one, and I am glad to see that wasn’t a crazy idea. Thanks, can’t wait to start seeing this stuff in videos to come!

  2. Rick Kruse September 8, 2011

    so much for a vacation lol

  3. Boj September 8, 2011

    Nice work marc!!!!

  4. Will September 8, 2011

    Marc, you should take “vacations” far more often. :-) I do feel a little bad for your tenoning jig laying down there on the cold concrete floor all by itself though.

    • Jerry September 9, 2011

      Hey Hey! Probably where it belongs. I bought one and used once. There are better ways to do tenons IMHO.

  5. Stacey B September 8, 2011

    Glad you enjoyed your vacation :-D Hope Nicole is doing well :-D

  6. What’s a summer vacation…..or vacation for that matter!

  7. John B September 8, 2011

    Nice job! They look great.

    I built some shelf units in my shop that have turned into some serious dust collectors. I will have to go the door route like what you did.

    QUIT INSPIRING ME! This is getting to be a lot of work : ) .

  8. Brad September 8, 2011

    Marc,

    Nice work. I’m really digging the outfeed table for the tablesaw. Gotta make me one of those.

    P.S. Like the workbench idea for Guild Build. That just might prompt me enough to use my 25% discount coupon and join. I need a workbench.

    • Jeff September 8, 2011

      Where did you get a 25% off coupon?

  9. Ben September 8, 2011

    Did you band that assembly table in purple heart? For style or because you had some lying around?

  10. Tennesse Yankee September 8, 2011

    Awesome!

    I am moving into a new workshop…ka-ching. Probably the last one I will ever have, so now I will finally get to make some permanent placements for tools and resources.

    If I remember, you had the compressor within its own little closed in box under the assembly table (presumably to cut down the noise). Did you decide it wasn’t necessary for this new layout?

    Also, what height do you recommend for the assembly table since I won’t be connecting it to any tool outfeeds. (Not interested in incehs, but more like, when I let my arms hang down, should it be at wrist height, finger height, elbow, etc?)

    Thanks,

    •  

      Well the compressor is surrounded on three sides. That alone will cut down on the noise dramatically. If I want to, I can always add a door that will cut the noise even further. That may very well be one of the finishing touches I include when I have time.

      As for height, that really depends on how you use it. If it is purely for assembly, lower is probably better. Getting large projects up there and having them at an accessible height means the table could be as low as 24″ or so. But if you are going to use the table as a work surface or a place where you lay out your plans and notes and do some routing and other operations, you are going to want it at something closer to a standard workbench height. So there really is no rule of thumb. Just depends on what you plan to do with it.

  11. Kevin September 8, 2011

    Awesome work!!

    I’ve been wondering, as I also live here in the Valley of the sun. How do you do all that work in your garage / shop? Is it air conditioned?

  12. Tony M September 8, 2011

    Wait, you did all that in one week ?!?!

    I bow in reverence to your productivity !

  13. Mitch Wilson September 8, 2011

    Ah, I see that you had yourself a Bob Ross moment. (Late of the “Joy of Painting” on PBS, since he died in 1995.) One of his three most memorable quotes was “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.” Maybe, maybe, eh, Marc? But did you use two hairs and air?

  14. Mike September 8, 2011

    Looks good. Any particular reason you put the levelers on the outside edge? I just bought some for a new bench I’m building and was wondering if it was just for ease of access or some other reason.

  15. Brett September 8, 2011

    I’m glad that you had such a productive time during your vacation. I’m pretty sure that there will be much more peace of mind going into the shop now knowing how much more organized it is. Do you ever just go into the shop and look around and and think, Wow! this is my workshop? I do. ;)

  16. jim September 9, 2011

    Marc the Torsion Box Assembly Table brings back memories to when you first started I had to go back and watch some of your first videos I am starting to come back from a long sabatical. Looking forwared to the bench. By chance the grid system is that mdf as well? jim_ny

  17. Dave from Oz September 9, 2011

    Hi Marc. Good to see you took some time off from something you love doing to do something that you love.
    I have 2 questions for you.
    1. The steel drawer unit in the background in image number 8 looks a lot like the flatpack style of cabinet that I bought. How is yours standing up to workshop use?
    2. I don’t see the incra fence on your cabinet saw. Is it still around or a novelty that you have left in a cupboard and now using the Biesemyer Style T-square fence?

  18. medfloat September 9, 2011

    With the torsion box and outfeed tables complete and cabinets assembled does this complete your shop? How did you apply the finish to the cabinet? I read that spraying the High Performance finish is difficult due to the rapid drying characteristic.

    Dan

    •  

      That completes the major issues. But there are still a number of small storage shelves/cabinets and just general improvements that need to be made. But these were the big ones.

      And I actually did spray those pieces. Just opened the windows and garage door and kept the flow down so as to not create excessive overspray. Had no problems with drying. I find High Performance pretty much sprays like any other waterborne finish. It dries fast, but that’s what makes it ideal for spraying.

  19. Dave September 9, 2011

    I could seriously use that kind of vacation right now.

  20. Brian Ford September 9, 2011

    Did you also use the ultralight MDF for the top of the assembly table? I need to build an assembly table that doubles as an outfeed table since my shop is so small, and I’m trying to design it now.

  21. MarkinPhx September 9, 2011

    For someone who works so hard to keep us entertained and educated………you should have taken two weeks!! Great job on the shop furnature Marc!!

  22. Nice! I’m inspired to think about planning to consider maybe doing something too. B-)

    I was wondering if it would be possible to create a dead flat top using some sort of self-leveling cement or epoxy or something, poured over a mostly-flat surface. Just something that came to me as I read this…

  23. Ultralight MDF? I’ve never heard of that. What is it like, and where do you get it? I generally don’t like working with MDF because of the dust but there are some times when it’s the best choice. We used to work with 1-1/8″ MDF sheets at a place where I worked and that stuff was ridiculously heavy. Fortunately, we didn’t use it very often, but unloading it from the truck was a pain in the butt!

  24. BoredCutter September 9, 2011

    Geez…. Is that ALL you did in a week????
    :D
    I hope with all you accomplished last week, that you did find time to get some rest sometime at least, Marc.
    I just got a new 3 hp (220v) 2-stage Cyclone vortex dust collector. Thought that would solve all my tablesaw dust problems.
    Nope.
    Any thoughts\advise on building (or buying?) a top-side dust collecting shroud to grab the rest of the dust my tablesaw is still spewing out, Marc?

    I already have an air-cleaner installed a few years back.

    Thanks!

  25. Randy K September 9, 2011

    Hey Marc,

    Good job, and a very productive week (wish I had a friend who could cnc out cabinets for me)!

    What I’ve found very helpful (now in my later yr’s of woodworking) is for about 5-6 yr’s now instead of building a shop cart I bought a couple of those Rubber Maid ones they ran about $100. each (measuring about 16 W X 31 L X 33 H) I have a 4 gal. pancake compressor on the bottom shelf, and storage for 2 nail guns, and a stapler (and more ammo).

    I use that for my work cart, and the other is to carry parts, and clamps.

    Whaat I really like is being made of plastic, it’s surprisingly strong, and light. As a carpenter, I have to go out to the field so putting it in the back of my pick-up is very easy, and everything is always handy (incld. the pheumatic oil). That’s only if I’m doing lots of interior trim work that is.

    You should give one of those a try, I think you’ll really love having it around.

    Keep up the great work!

    Aloha
    Randy

  26. Ray Heichelbech September 9, 2011

    Ultralight MDF? Where do you get and what sizes does it come in?

  27. I’m stunned, this looks awesome. I will definitely have to build my self a small out-feed table since I don’t have much space available. You will laugh but I use my old crate from my joiner\plainer and it serves me well for now as a assembly table, but it is no torsion box. Marc your shop has a lot of character en seems to be very well arrange to handle your workflow.

  28. roger September 10, 2011

    when I first saw the title, the 1st thing I thought of was, Cheech n Chong. “first, I woke up, then, I went downtown to look for a job, then I hung out in front of the drugstore”… etc. lol The shop and the furnishings are gr8

  29. Thomas September 10, 2011

    What did you do with the nail holes on the top of the torsion table it you did not put hard board on it? Will it still be as strong if you can only nail across and up the columns of honey cones, because you staggered them. By the way, I like and think it is a better design and new way. I have the question because I’m about to make one,,,,,,,,,, like in a week or two.

    Thanks

    Thomas

    •  

      Hey Thomas. I didn’t do anything about the nail holes. You can fill them if you like but its really only a visual issue. They don’t bother me and honestly I can hardly even see them.

      As for the strength, I can’t really tell you anything more than I did in the article. I don’t feel there is a significant loss in strength using this method. The real strength comes from the skins being attached to the grid. And since the torsion box will be supported by a nice big base, you are never really testing the strength of the torsion box anyway.

  30. Todd Reid September 10, 2011

    Marc,
    I hate to be that guy but I was wondering when you are going to build a crib? The clock is ticking and the next build is a work bench so are you designing something or are you going to use Vic Hubbard’s design?
    Really great to see you got to clear your mind for a week. Cheers Todd

    •  

      Hey Todd. I actually decided against building a crib. In fact, we already bought one. The reason is two-fold. I don’t really have enough time to devote to the project. And second, liability. I thought about what might happen should a child be injured in a crib that I designed and frankly that scares the crap out of me. By building a crib on the show and giving that plan to thousands of people, I feel like it creates a huge liability.

      Crib laws and standards are more stringent than ever, so I decided not to mess with it. Did you know that it is actually illegal to sell or donate a crib that doesn’t meet today’s new standards? Crazy right? Check this out: http://www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/2.....d-answers/

      • Todd Reid September 12, 2011

        I really don’t blame you; it was more teasing you than anything else. I did not know that about baby bed/crib laws. That will be an item that I too will make sure that I never build for family members or sell.
        When is your wife due? It is the greatest moment in my life and I hope that you get the same enjoyment from from it as I do. I have four boys eight, 17, 19, 21 and they keep me young. I look forward to many more conversations with you about my two favorite topics wood working and kids. Cheers

  31. Ken B September 10, 2011

    You are right to not build a crib for your new joy. But you might think about a cradle. They are a great family keepsake and go for dolls , teddy bears, etc. I wish I made one for my sons.

  32. Ted Ames September 11, 2011

    Some day maybe I’ll be able to accomplish as much in that little amount of time. Great work but I miss the videos that usually accompany your builds.

    •  

      Well there was really just too much redundancy to bother filming these. Not to mention, if I did film it I never would have gotten that much done. Personally I’d rather get through the redundant stuff to make time for the new projects, you know?

  33. Tom Pritchard September 12, 2011

    Nice looking cabinets. Wish I had the time and cash to construct something like that in my shop. Someday.

  34. Rajesh Patel September 12, 2011

    Kudos to you, boy what a vacation. Quick question–do you have extra space to have both assembly table and off feed table? ok i more…could you have made 1 piece that encompassed both—remember I am in the process of setting up shop and I don’t have a lot of space. Thanks for the info. Rajesh

    •  

      Hey Rajesh. I sure hope I have the space, :). And I know quite a few folks who combine their large work surfaces in the way you describe. Some folks will even combine their workbench, outfeed table and assembly table. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  35. Jerry S September 12, 2011

    Great insiration Marc. Projects are looking good and quite useful. Hope you can make it to WIA at the end of this month, but understand if you can’t. I would love to personally thank you for this awesome resource of woodworking info and shake your hand. Jerry S

  36. Kristofor September 12, 2011

    Ultralight MDF. I realize that there’s actually a large range of densities in different products called MDF, and I can recognize the benefits of having something lighter to work with. Sill, it seems a bit odd to me to use weight as a differentiating factor in a product which is itself defined by its density.

    I guess that’s why I’m not in marketing… ;)

  37. Nice solid additions. It is always fun to see the evolution of the shop, work and videos and such.

    I now have dust collection in place which opens the way for many other projects for the shop.

    I could not help but to have noticed that your workbench really sucks! : )

    Have you picked out your wood fro the next version? Should make for an exciting Guild Build…

  38. I always liked your bench (not having used it) but the new version does seem EPIC. Those videos (they have in the gallery) are en-entrancing.
    So what is SOFT maple and why that? How much money/wood will that take? And will there be at least some purple heart wood? Exciting…

  39. John Williams September 13, 2011

    Marc, dude, love the shop… Maybe I missed this, but, how did you attach the “dead nuts flat” torsion box to the braces / legs? I don’t remember seeing that in the original video or comments…

  40. Doug September 13, 2011

    I wish I could have a vacation where all I did was work on projects of my choosing. Instead, I had to take my family to Hawaii last summer.

  41. Sam Butler September 14, 2011

    How did you attach the skin to the ribs since they alternated and you could not use a chalk line to nail them?

  42. You mentioned needing a turning tool rack – does this mean you’ll be doing some turning for the show in the near(ish) future?

  43. John Williams September 16, 2011

    Welp, I missed the chat last night, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. So, the question I was GONNA ask O_0… Any cons to using melamine for the assembly table or outfeed table? Great slick surface and would clean easy; like glue, paint, etc… Thoughts?!

  44. Adam Muhle September 16, 2011

    Gotta love taking a vacation from running a woodworking website to do more woodworking! :-)

  45. Rick Uster September 23, 2011

    Marc,
    I am going to be building a new shop, and space is not a problem. Do I make it Square or Rectangle?

  46. Aaron September 27, 2011

    Would love to see more detail on the sliding storage trays. As a beginner, I’m not clear on the best way to build something like this with the strength to hold all that weight. I really need to start planning this kind of storage though.

  47. mathom7 October 12, 2011

    Sorry, wish you could edit after posting.

    I meant, did you use the same double layer of 3/4″ birch on these cabinets as you show on the out feed table video today?

    Thanks

    •  

      No. The top of the cabinets is made from a double layer of OSB covered with a sheet of hardboard.

      • Gord July 24, 2012

        Hi Guys thought I would share a quick clip of my torsion box table, with a twist. I added pneumatic cylinders to get that puppy out of the way when the wife comes home and as Marc eluded to somewhere in the tutorials this baby isn’t light.

        Link:
        http://youtu.be/dMpwsgZ6ON0

  48. Dave January 14, 2014

    Anyone move forward with using the self leveling compound to make super flat table?

    I really want to try this, but don’t want to waste time and money if it would not get it perfectly flat. Thanks! Dave.

  49. Hey Marc, I like those levelers a lot, and plan on using something very similar, but at $20 a pop, it’s a little steep for me. What would the next best option be?

    I was thinking these

    http://www.rockler.com/adjustable-corner-support

    Any experience using them?
    I’m also tight on space. I’m planning on building my Delta 36-982 Contractors Table Saw a new rolling base / cabinet as well as putting in a router extension table to the right side. This to save space, but also building a rolling or flip down from the wall assembly table, that also latches onto the saw cabinet base to be used as an extension table.

    My garage floor isn’t level, it’s an old house (1926) and the concrete in the garage has more cracks than the sea floor, so getting a cabinet to roll on casters to save space, but also have leveling feet is a huge dilemma for me now.

    Any help is greatly appreciated! Love your blog Marc, keep it up!!!!!

    • Not sure if I should be posting this here, since you might have an agreement with Rockler (A fine store, I love them) but I found this. They look to be the exact same leveling bracket, sold in packs of 4, for only $14 on Mcmaster Carr.

      http://www.mcmaster.com/#6943k1/=r097qd

      AAAH just realized the Rockler ones are also sets of 4. Good stuff! Not much price difference, and Rockler has the guts to say they are 600 lbs load rated, instead of Mcmaster Carr’s 100 lbs.

      Thanks guys.

      Jim

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