Thursday, January 20, 2011

Finished Contractor saw station, and adjustability versus custom fit.

So, I mentioned this setup in the last post. And here it is.

Front to back, this is now a shorter, more normal sized station to work at. It's also currently the only remaining router table that's set up in the shop space, so that's something I'm going to have to remedy soon. Before this re-work, there were 2 router tables built into this station. Ironically enough, there was only one that was actually usable with the fence we had mounted up, so I guess this isn't really such a change in status, but I still want to have more than one router table station, since there are three guys who use this shop.

I had to build the extension wing to replace the router table that had been there previously, so I made it out of some scrap plywood that we had lying around, and some extruded T-track and miter slot stock. The T-track is in there to use with a jig that helps hold fence settings. The miter track is there in case I feel the need to build a sled for cutting long parts. I've had the idea in the past, but never followed up on it... I figured this was the time to lay the groundwork for that project. 

Re-assembling the contractor saw also reinforced the philosophy that I was taught in school, which is basically that most tools, as they are out of the box, are still basically kits for something better. In this case, the whole fence assembly basically mounts to the table saw with two oversize holes. They provide a lot of slop for the fence to be adjusted around, and aligned with the surface of the saw. Realistically speaking, the extension wing would be drilled by hand to provide mounting holes that would line up with the bracket that bolts up to the table saw, and this would, in theory, help fix the whole assembly in place. But, as long as I was re-aligning the fence, I figured I'd do a better job of it than the factory had this time. There are also a series of counter-sunk holes in the bracket, which most likely correspond to a number of other table saw models. In this case, they didn't line up with any previously existing holes... all I had to work with were the two big sloppy ones. So once the fence was as well-aligned as I wanted it, I pulled out a box of transfer punches, and I marked the edge of the cast iron table for drilling and tapping. The fence is now held on, and held in alignment by two large bolts, as well as four 1/4-20 countersunk screws. In the future, I plan on doing something similar to the router table, but I want to swap it out with the other one first.

Some people I know would be aghast, and mildly outraged that the factory hadn't already done all of this. I'm not. I understand that the factory has a price-point to meet, and that this particular fence is actually optional equipment, and not what would normally come with the saw. As equipped, the factory did provide me with everything I needed to put together a functioning, usable saw. In this case, I felt that my own modifications would add a little bit in the way of fit and finish to the saw... and the fence does slide a lot more easily now that it's re-aligned.

This is one of my concerns with an emphasis on optimization and efficiency, I think. The pursuit of efficiency is essentially an ongoing process of trying to find quicker or cheaper ways to manufacture something that's still good enough. What that means is that once the process is dialed in to make something that's really well made, a more efficient process that saves the company money will generally be found by cutting corners, or compromising standards. In this case, it's a hell of a lot easier to drill two sloppy holes and let the end user align everything during the assembly process than it is to lay things out precisely and give it that custom fit. Sloppy adjustable holes will pass QC a lot more easily than a table saw where one of the holes was a little bit off. But the reason I bothered to drill and tap in this case is to make the whole unit non-adjustable. I don't like adjustable fit. I have some miter gauge heads that are also adjustable to get them precisely to 90 degrees... or back to 90. But the end result is that they can be knocked out of square pretty easily, and they become unreliable.

It's not that these things can't be made to work. It just means more effort is required on my part to make it happen.

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