This is not my father’s workshop

I have been spending a lot of time in the garage reclamation project.  It started with the construction of a single rolling utility bench, and now I have visions of building a giant 4’x8′ CNC thing.  Along the way, I’ve had various thoughts and experiments as I discover bits and pieces in the garage.

At one point, I had these giant wire rack shelves in there, with all sorts of plastic boxes, stuffed full of tools and toys from years of accumulated tinkering about.  One of the goals I have is to get as much as possible out of the plastic boxes, and into more visible forms, so that I’ll actually use up the supplies, rather than buying new each time I do something because I didn’t know I already had it.  For example, I swear I have at least a mile’s worth of ethernet cables stashed away.  Who knows how that much accumulates.  And that’s with getting rid of a bunch already.

I recently took apart 4 rolling peg board stands which I had built up for rolling around a much larger shop.  They don’t work so well in the garage as there’s not enough space for them to roam around.  So, I have a bunch of swivel locking casters now available for other things.  Why on earth did I purchase these giant casters then?  These casters are rated for 750lb each!  If I use 4, then we’re talking 3000lb of capacity.  I’m not sure my car weighs that much.

To make things more interesting though, I also purchased some adjustable height floor locks.  These things are also massive.  I could imagine hoisting up my house and rolling it around on these.

Why am I purchasing industrial grade equipment for home use?  Foolish tinkerer is the best explanation.  But, it’s also fun to think from the ground up.  I want to build a fairly large workbench/space.  Of course I want it to be on casters, because I want to move it around.  But, I also want stability, because some heavy duty torquing action might be taking place atop the thing.  So, I start with the giant wheels and jacks.  Honestly, If the bench is more than about 400lb (which is likely), the swivel locks on the wheels will likely be good enough.  But, having the adjustable jacks gives me the option of a relatively flat workplace as well as even more stability.

To digress, when I was a little kid, the garage workshop consisted of a giant 4×8 plywood sheet (at least my 5 year old mind remembers it being that big), mounted on a 2×4 into studs against the wall, with some legs holding it out on the other end.  My dad had various plastic bins of stuff, and pegboard on the wall for tools and whatnot.  Of course camping and picnic supplies stored below.  We had hand tools, and a power drill.  No circular saw, no table saw.  Tape measure, and whatnot.  And that’s about that.

Roll forward a few decades, and in my slightly oversized 2 car garage, I managed to have a contractor’s delta, a nice JET bandsaw, bench top drill press, compound sliding miter, and an assortment of dewalt battery operated things.  I even had a compressor and nail gun (very scary stuff).  That was good for building things like tables, shelving units, trimming baseboards, building strip kayaks, and generally being handy.  But alas, that all disappeared when I moved to India.

To rekindle the garage workshop, when I moved back to the US, I purchased a sawstop contractor’s saw.  That’s the saw that will stop before cutting off your finger.  A good thing to have in a table saw for weekend shop warriors I think.  That came from a recommendation of a woodworker who had already lost a bit of one of his fingers.  The saw itself is not giant, but I did get the 52″ extended fence, which is actually 81″ long.  That makes it quite a beast.

One more move, and finally we’re in a house with a long 4 car garage.  At first, we just shoved all manner of stuff into the garage, including those tall steel racks, and more steel roller racks, and tons of plastic bins, storage containers, wood, shelving pieces, and whatnot.  The table saw was not assembled because there was not room for it.  but, I did managed to create the rolling workbench/assembly table.  Very handy that.

After some nights and weekends, I did managed to put up some storage solutions against the walls.  On one wall, a french cleat system, which allows for attaching anything, currently using those slotted shelf attachment things you typically find in quick closet makeovers.  Then, along the other long wall, I put up the same slotted shelf stuff, but without the cleats.  With wall storage in place, many storage bin contents were emptied onto the walls, consolidated, discarded and what have you.

Then along came the 80×30″ electronics workbench.  Really this was a precursor to the more giant general workstation, but it’s been good to gather all the bits and pieces of electronics minutia laying around the shop.  finally the soldering iron has a place, and the caps and resistors are on display, ready to help the micro controllers on bread boards.  Anything else of interest has found wheels under it, like the floor standing drill press (finally usable with some eBay purchased parts).  Lumber against the wall, sorted by type and thickness.  And finally the table saw can be assembled.

I assembled it.  It actually takes a fair bit of work to get the fence rail situated correctly.  But there it is.  Also, there is a router stand (kreg) with router (bosch), and router lift (jessem).  I still don’t have the pocket holed, and the giant band saw, but basically back to a full strength shop.  But what’s different about this vs what my dad had?

After assembling all this stuff, and finally making it usable, I find that I want and can have different things out of the shop than what my dad had.  CNC machines are relatively cheap, compared to the days of my dad’s garage.  In fact, back in those days, we did not even have ‘home computers’, let alone micro controllers flying quad copters.  So, home milling would be an extremely specialized manual apprentice sort of thing reserved for people who were actually in the trade.  But not so today.  Today, I can work in metals.  Given an appropriate CNC, and a MIG welder, I could probably assemble a lot of serious stuff from raw materials.

The CNC offers other possibilities as well.  I purchased the table saw with the idea that I’d be cutting up wood in various configurations for furniture mostly, but possibly to make different types of machines as well.  But now what?  Can the CNC just do everything the table saw could have?  In general yes.  It can easily make any of the straight or angled cuts I would have done on the table saw.  It can even do the various beveled cuts, and at a lot more interesting angles to boot.  The CNC can also take place of what I might have done with the jig saw, and a lot of the easier profiling work I might have done with the router.  I can even take on a lot of the simple drilling work that I would have done with the drill press.

My gosh!  How could I ever need any other tool?  The CNC can/will do it all!!  Well, maybe not absolutely everything, but I’m willing to bet that most of the stuff I would have done with those other tools can easily be handled by the appropriate CNC machine.  So, what’s appropriate?

Starting from the desires, and working my way up.

I want to be able to work in metal.  At the very least, I want to work in aluminum.  I want to be able to work with a plasma cutter for the most interesting metals.  I want to work in wood.  All of this at least in 3-axis.  I’m willing to assuming a 5-axis machine is a separate deal altogether.

I want to be able to handle 4’x8′ sheet goods, straight from the home improvement store.  I want to be able to carve foam, way, frozen rubber, acrylic, whatever.  I want it to be relatively safe, and I want enough variety to be able to change it over time, adding tools, and capabilities.

Whew, that’s a tall order, and mothing like what my dad had in the garage.

What I need is a giant universal workstation which can support various activities, least of which might be a giant gantried CNC machine.  But, I’m willing to start small.  In the small, there are two things I really need.  First, is a rolling cabinet for the saw stop.  I’ve gone back and forth a few times as to whether this is the giant end all be all workbench, but I think I’ve finally settled on a much simpler ambition.  I need something that can carry the saw, and act as a general wood cutting station.  It will need to hold the sawstop, and it’s super long fence.  It does not have to double as a router table, because one already exists, but it should be the same height as the first rolling workstation so it can act as an out feed table.  I’m thinking something like this plan.  The saw already moves around now, because it has the contractor’s stand under it, but this will make it more convenient, and provide storage for all those little bits and pieces that are related to shaping wood with power tools.

That leaves the giant station.  This thing will have to hold a CNC machine of fairly large girth.  I’m thinking something on the lines of this large support structure.  At first, I’m not going to build that giant machine, but I will build the workbench that might support it.  In the meanwhile, I’m going to put together this much more diminutive Grunblau Platform machine.  Over time, these CNC machines will no doubt weigh in the hundreds of pounds, thus justifying the giant workbench, so that’s where I’ll apply the industrial equipment.

The garage workshop is in transition.  I’m a lunatic in terms of playing around with stuff, so I’m way out on a limb with my considerations and requirements.  But, I would not be surprised if within a few years, instead of seeing table saws, routers, and jig saws in the local home improvement center, we don’t start to see CNC machines, with the options of working in wood, metals, and other materials.  They’ll have tool heads, so you can add a 3D printer if you like as well.  It’s all about automated motion and software at that point.

In short, software rules the day, linear motion is easy, garage workshops are transformed.  This is not my father’s workshop, but I’m sure he’d be proud and fascinated to use it.

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