Quarantinker #2: Hand-Me-Down Table Saw Rehab

Except for occasional use, my father’s old table saw kicked around the garage for 8 years, its only movement being to for the purpose of jamming it into another corner to make space. However, one look at the current project list meant it was time to either salvage this saw, or go get another one. I think it was Robert Frost who wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. And I – I took the cheaper one.”

A straightedge placed across the table rocked like an old man on a porch. A slab of birch slid across the top hung up on the burs in the surface and came out crooked and gouged. Use of the riving knife was impossible, as I couldn’t get it to align with the cut.

Step 1 was to check the basic geometry, i.e. that the saw blade was parallel to the fence. I breathed a sigh of relief at the possibility that the haphazard cuts just might have been due to something other than a lack of talent:

That’s quite a gap on the far side of the fence.

Luckily, there were two adjustments to play with. One was to loosen the bolts that held the saw in the chassis and make sure the table and the fence rail aligned. That made the alignment with the fence itself worse. Luckily, I found the adjustment screws on the fence before giving up. I’m going to guess this is standard fare on saws. Regardless, it goes to show that standing and staring blankly at something can produce results!

Starboard screw in a half turn or so, port screw out, and things lined up nicely:

On to the table top. Much is made of “machined surfaces”, which something like this should be. As the builder of this saw took the cheaper road as well, this surface was never flat.

My old Volvo once blew a head gasket. Before giving up and heading with a checkbook over to a machine shop for a thousand dollars of work on a $500 car, I laid out some aluminum oxide sandpaper on a granite countertop, and spent three hours running the cylinder head, which was just out of spec for being salvageable, back and forth across finer and finer grits of paper in an “X” pattern. Correct procedure? No. Still blowing combustion gasses into the coolant? No.

With that in mind, I grabbed some rectangular tubing, some sandpaper, and a squirt bottle with water, and with the same “X” pattern, leveled out the pronounced crown in the middle of the table, taking out the numerous burrs that had accumulated and were gouging the sheet goods, and rounding over the rough edges.

Rehab supplies: Paste wax and a finger of grease on the worm gear that raises and lowers the blade.

Here I noticed that the insert was too high, sticking above the surface. A little sanding on the mount underneath and it sunk down flush enough to sand with the rest of the top. Next task was to check the angle of the blade and give a slight tweak to the pointer on the angle indicator to match it. While down there I stuck a finger of grease on the worm gear to make raising and lowering the blade the one-handed operation it should be. The blade itself was replaced when I first got the saw, and it was immediately apparent how much less the motor was working through a cut.

The last step will be to apply some paste wax to the surface to keep it clean, but it needs a bit more sanding first. But cutting is already much easier – and better.

Cheap and Easy Drill Press Upgrade

One advantage of having a garage as cluttered as mine is that you don’t have to trip over too many things before you fall on an easy win.  And drilling oblong and off-center holes in this mess since 2012 is a big old – albeit too new to be from the glory days – Craftsman 34″ floor standing drill press.  The press belonged to my father.  I couldn’t get enough of him before he died, and I’ll take whatever shitty, tenuous connection to him I can get.
Buried in a “10 easy upgrades…” YouTube that I unfortunately can’t find to reference here was a simple upgrade to a keyless chuck.  As a chronic loser of all types of keys, this in itself was appealing. However, I’d had no idea just how much of the press’s ills lay in the horribly made chuck itself, and how big a difference a $28 chuck would make in the ease and quality of the work done underneath it.
The work is in determining what size arbor you are dealing with.  As I tried it the first go around and have an extra, useless chuck here next to the keyboard awaiting its return to Amazon, I recommend not searching your model online for chuck size.  Best bet is to get the chuck off – I used a tie rod removal tool – and measure the top and bottom of the arbor with a caliper.  Then head here:
And match your results up with the charts.  Mine was a Jacobs Taper #3.  Jacobs #3 and #33 seem to be the most used.
The old Craftsman ended up with this chuck, and while any machinist would likely (and rightly) turn his nose up in the air at it, the difference is visible to the naked eye.  The change itself is incredibly easy.  Pickle-fork the old one off – I was careful to align the top of the removal tool with the bottom of the press so that misalignment and gauging occurred on the chuck itself – put the new one on, and smack it a couple times with the palm of your hand so it stays on while you get your hammer and scrap 2×4 to drive it home.  In fact, not content with the dearth of misery produced by such an expedient upgrade, I elected to turn it all into a protracted struggle with a newly purchased copy of Adobe Premiere Elements, and what my father would certainly have called “a long haul for a short slide” is below.

Buy Cheap, Make Better

In the binary existence set forth by the average internet comment, tools are bucketed into either the best ever built, or worthless piles of scrap that, if they don’t kill you first, will turn whatever you are machining/hammering/bending/drilling with them into similarly worthless scrap. While remembering that bad tools can be dangerous, there is a large, rich area between cheap and death-inducing, and perfect. In this realm, tools are imperfect but safe, useful and accessible. And they’re often salvaged from crap status and put there by the efforts of their owners. Spend some time improving a cheap tool, and you can end up with great gear without the bank loan, and most of all pickup a bunch of knowledge that will pay off when you work on more elaborate projects. Here are two things that, with little effort, I was able to make much more usable and durable than they were when I got them.

Harbor Freight Hoist

Engine hoists cost either way more money than you want to spend on such a thing, or way more than you can afford. Many of us settle for the former scenario, and trudge begrudgingly down to Harbor Freight when the need arises to get one that, by first glance, looks and works alright.

The Problem: The bolt that serves as a hinge at the back of the arm is affixed to the vertical support via 2 think tabs of steel welded on. Things look sturdy enough, but a closer examination revealed in my case that what was strong was not straight. As a result, the arm of the hoist was canted to the right by about 4 inches from center when fully extended. Fortunately, I was enrolled in a welding class at the local “Institute of Technology” (i.e. community college, not sure what is wrong with the term “community college” that requires the Orwellians to put their grubby mitts all over it) in which we were given the opportunity to bring in our own projects. The instructor and I made quick work of this problem – an hour or less – with a grinder and a MIG, cutting off the hinge mounts and making a new one from a single piece of square tubing. The bonus here was that, as I was repairing something that would need to take a lot of weight, any insufficient work was pointed out by a certified boilermaker and redone to standard.

The payoff: What resulted was a hoist that felt completely different, devoid of the concern inducing bending of metal to the favored side, and that has given years of trouble-free service.

$25 Shop Stool

A ruptured disk last year sent me to Summit for something to sit on while working to ease the sciatica. Unenthused about any of the selections, I was thankful to at least find one for cheap. 5 legs, wheels, it was light and held up for a few months.

The Problem: Like every garage creeper or stool with casters, the threads on the wheels loosened and stripped themselves out. I dove into the scrap pile and found 3 pieces of square tubing and set about the following list for a quick but massive improvement to a 25 dollar stool.

  1. Removed the legs.
  2. Cut them from the collar that holds the bottom of the stool and ground the collar somewhat smooth.
  3. Trimmed the scrap square tubing to roughly 14 inches to match the dimensions of the old base.
  4. Marked the center of each and drilled out with a 2 inch hole saw. This produced 6 legs with the proper contour at the inside edge to weld to the collar.
  5. Lined up the legs with clamps, got out the MIG and began to weld away.
  6. Done with this part and am using the stool. Wheels are ordered and will go on next, and then fun with a ring bender and some bar stock to create a circular tool tray over the casters. But in a couple of hours, I now have a sturdier stool.

The Payoff: 2 hours of work and some free materials produced a bunch of experience and learning on a project that had no consequences if it was completely ruined. Within a couple of hours and 24 welds, I had a much sturdier stool. Number 24 was certainly better than number one, but all welds were hardly visible. You can spend a lot more time and really mess up an expensive car project with 24 welds.