Workshop Architect

I’ve been having a bit of a brainstorming session today about workshop design and layout (with myself, unfortunately – bit of a one-way conversation), and was lamenting that there isn’t such a person as a workshop design specialist, who can take all the tools and workflows, and come up with an optimum design.

What is bugging me, is even with the significantly improved floorspace, I still seem to be lacking a good workshop area – open space, perhaps (at worst) with a workbench in the middle.

As much as it is great having machines with plenty of space around them, finally being able to access those machines easily, I haven’t gotten the layout right yet.

Unlike some, at least I have access to the collective wisdom of all the readers out there, so let’s brainstorm. Ideas on the table and let’s see if we can’t work this through.

In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts.

1. The mezzanine. When finished, it is going to have a good amount of floorspace, and although limited in a number of areas, how can this space be best utilisted? Limitations include:
– access (obviously), being upstairs, and accessed by ladder
– floor load capacity. Not sure the /m2 load rating – will have to find out.
– head height
However, working around these limitations, is there any function (other than storage of items not needed on a daily basis) that can be located to the mezzanine?

2. Dust extraction. The dust extraction layout will have to be compromised to work around workshop layout, and not the other way around. However, is having the extractor on the mezzanine a good option. I’m having definite second thoughts. I put it up there to a. free up workshop floorspace b. for it to be inside the main shed, as it draws a lot of air, and if outside the main shed, that is a lot of hot (or cold) air that would be drawn into the workshop, and c. as that would make it generally central to the machines it is drawing from. On the other hand, having it in the timber store next door gives better access, better noise separation, better workshop air quality (particularly on the mezzanine).

3. Infeed and outfeed on the jointer and thicknesser. These machines are claiming a lot of the new workshop’s floor space. Both in having area around the machines to walk, but also material workflow area. Is there a better layout? Would there be a benefit in moving one (or both) to the long, narrow timber store? Especially if the dust extractor is going in there. Or is there a better way to manage their floorspace requirements? If it was an option, would replacing the two separate machines with one combo be a better solution? There are some pretty interesting alternate machines out there that could perform both functions in one footprint, and with one infeed and outfeed area.

4. Location of the router table. Would it be better up against a wall (rear edge) as I had it in the previous workshop? Should it swap position with the workbench that is near the lathes?

5. Things I like about the current layout: The lathe area. That back section of the workshop is still looking as I envisaged it. The rest though, really not sure if it is right, and how best to tweak it.

6. Storage. Still a big problem. I have a lot of things still packed in crates, waiting for their new homes to be revealed. Still unsure what a good solution will be.

7. I still really need to move some machines and tools on to new homes, such as the TS10L tablesaw, and the Torque Router Master. The list of machines and tools to move on is also growing. I have a bunch of cheap clamps (quick action, Irwin style, but much cheaper) to go, a scrollsaw, even a radial arm saw. The big ticket items need to go quickly though – need the funds to pay for some of what the workshop has cost, and they take up significant room too.

So that is the current list – any thoughts?

Day of the Machine

After taking much of the day to do some family things (beach before, and BBQ after) for Australia Day, I also moved a number of machines into the shed, now that the electrical was completed and therefore the machines wouldn’t get in the way.

Heavy buggers, especially over soft, churned up dirt the backyard has become.  The pallet jack is such an asset – able to lift the heaviest machine easily, and with reasonably wide wheels, can even manage the ground to a certain extent.

Even so, it was too much to move the thicknesser on my own (230 or so kg), so with a brief assistance of a couple of neighbours, it flew across the back yard.

Paying the price for it all now though!

Never-the-less, a good number of moves was achieved – slowly emptying the garage, and the shed starting to take on real character.

Placement/layout is by no means locked in (never is in my shed!), but am roughly placing them still in accordance with the original plan.

What was moved in this time was the Jet lathe (still uncertain about its long term plan), Jet 14″ bandsaw, Torque Workcentre, the workbench, thicknesser.

I Tawt I Taw a Combo Saw

Combination machines are often underrated, or overlooked when considering workshop machines.  If you have the space, then a machine dedicated to one task must be better than one trying to be all things to all people right?

It is the public gym vs infomercial war all over again, in some minds: don’t buy a machine that can only do one thing, buy this workout zone for home and get 99 functions in 1.  Sounds great, but we also know for these sales pitches, the resulting contraption is built cheap.  After all, you don’t get 1 for 10 easy payments of $99.95, but they will throw in a second one for free, and an exercise mat to boot.

If you have the workshop floor area, why would you consider a combo machine, when 2 or 3 individual machines, each dedicated to the one task must be better.

Well that is not always the case.

There are a number of reasons to consider a combo machine in the workshop.

1. Price

Overall, it will typically be a lot more expensive than one of the machines it is replacing, but add them all together, and the price starts becoming rather competitive.

2. Floor Space

Unless you own the Taj Mahal of sheds, we are all space-poor to one degree or another, and some machines can be combined to minimise their overall demand on space, especially where they can share common infeed and outfeed areas.

3. Increased Capacity

If you buy a jointer, a 6″ jointer is a reasonable price, an 8″ adds about 60% to the price, and a 12″ about 4x the price.

It means as a stand-alone machine, few will be able to justify a 10″ – 12″ jointer.  But if you get a combination jointer-thicknesser, a 10″ or 12″ capacity for the jointer is not uncommon.

It makes me really wonder why the stand-alone jointers of that size are so expensive?  You can buy a 15″ thicknesser for a fraction of the price of a 12″ jointer.

4. Access to machines you otherwise wouldn’t get

A combo machine like a jointer/thicknesser is just that, a couple of machines combined.  But what about the multi-machine combinations?


The MiniMax C26 for example combines a 10″ tablesaw (with sliding table), a 10″ jointer, 10″ thicknesser, a spindle moulder, and optionally a mortiser to boot.

You may be looking for the typical combo of the saw, jointer and thicknesser, which means the spindle moulder and mortiser are bonuses – you may not have planned on buying them otherwise, but who’d say no if they are included?


So let’s look closer at the C26 particularly, as it is one that I saw at my recent road trip to Gabbett Machinery.

1. Price

C26 Stand-alone
10″ Saw w sliding table $5400 $1900
10″ Jointer $1400 (8″)
10″ Thicknesser $1500 (15″)
$2000 (10″ combo)
Spindle Moulder $1300
Mortiser +$500? $860

Ignoring the mortiser, as that price is a total guess, the C26 at $5400 compares very closely to $5200 of the stand alone machines (if you still consider the combo jointer/thicknesser), or $6100 of totally independent machines.  There are

2. Floor Space

C26 Stand-alone
10″ Saw w sliding table 5.2m2 4.9m2
10″ Jointer 1.3m2
10″ Thicknesser 0.9m2
 (or 10″ combo) 0.8m2
Spindle Moulder 0.5m2
Mortiser 0.7m2

C26 footprint 5.2m2 (that includes the area of the sliding table with the arm out at an operational position).

Standalone machines 8.3m2

And this is just the foot print of the machines themselves, not including the typical amount of space you’d leave around each machine for access, or the infeed and outfeed areas, which is significant!

There is no question about it – a combo machine saves a fortune in shed space.

The increased capacity is primarily around the jointer – getting a 10″ jointer or larger is exceptionally expensive stand alone, but not so much so when part of a combination.  The 6″ jointer I have has always been quite a limitation for me – couldn’t justify getting a larger one, but have often found it to be a limitation.

As to machines you wouldn’t otherwise have, that is a personal issue.  For me, I don’t have a mortiser or spindle moulder, so that would be the win from having a combo (not to mention the increased jointer capacity). The other thing I don’t have is the sliding table, which can prove exceptionally useful if you are trying to do a lot of crosscutting on the tablesaw.

So unlike cheap exercise equipment sold on late-night TV, a serious combo workshop machine is something well worth considering when looking at setting up a workshop.  They are not cheap, but as shown, it is comparable to the machines they replace, and they save a fortune in workshop real estate.  As I am discovering with the current shed build, workshop floorspace is worth a small fortune, and being able to save many multiple square metres is worth a lot, much more than the cost of the machine.

The Minimax C26 in particular was from Gabbett Machinery.



Although I put up the small storage shed last weekend, I really didn’t get a chance to actually make use of the space.

Today, I had a crack at trying to sort out the garage (where the majority of my machines are stored).  For a while it didn’t seem to be going particularly well – too much stuff, not enough storage, but slowly, slowly, things began to fall into place.

In the end, the 8m3 shed was filled to the brim – I would struggle to fit anything more in there at all.  And once I got that much stuff out of the garage, it was just sufficient to provide sufficient flexibility to move things around. As far as the decision to go with a shed rather than using a storage unit – I am storing pretty much all that I intended to, and now I’ll have a shed to show for it after the 2 months is up (the intended time I thought I’d need the unit). If it happens to be more than 2 months (every chance the way things always go), then I’ll be ahead on the cash stakes.  Money for jam.

So it is a shed of sorts – not able to handle large materials, but I can access each of the machines in there – the tablesaw, router table, jointer, thicknesser, both bandsaws, drill press, CNC (while I still have it), the lathes, and even the benchtop machines – there is an existing workbench along one wall in the garage.

Sure it is all a compromise, but hey – anything beats the last 5 months!  The thicknesser and tablesaw can only be run off the generator – no 15A power available otherwise.

IMG_4119 IMG_4121

Tomorrow I might even get to make some sawdust.  Exciting!


Baby Bed Build Bis

Had a change to take another crack at the cot build this weekend, which was good – more progress.

After last weekend, we had the bed itself built (as in the surround and support for the mattress), so today it was time to build the side rails. Oh, and fwiw we are referring regularly to ensure compliance with the Australian Standard for cot design, so the maximum clearance between mattress and bed, height of sides, gap between slats etc etc are all being carefully adhered to.

Once again, we started with a large chunk of timber (around 250×45) and began machining it down.

A combination of jointer, thicknesser and tablesaw gave us the rails and stiles as the frame for the sides.

Despite having them for years, this is about the first time I have actually used the jointer MagSwitch featherboards. They worked very well to ensure even pressure across the jointer cutter. A quick tap down between passes to ensure even pressure is maintained as the board becomes thinner (I do 0.5mm passes on the jointer, so not a real issue in any case). And in case you were wondering, we jointed an edge so we had something straight and true to run up against the tablesaw fence, then ran the board through the tablesaw to get 2 lengths a bit over 90mm wide. From there, we started machining the boards from scratch, jointing a side, then an edge. Next onto the tablesaw to rip the boards in half, so they ended up 20mm thick after machining.

We then spent some time testing and preparing to make the slats for the sides. A number of test pieces, and setups done to fine tune the operation. We started with the Domino – when we need mortices, why not use the best tool for the job?! So with a 10mm cutter, and set to the widest mortice setting, we got a 33mm slot, and thus our slat size was determined. We then made one, and tested it for strength. That went well too.

With all setups done, all the spare pieces, offcuts from other pieces of this job were run through the tablesaw to create the number of slats needed, with a number of spares. Each was then tested, bent and abused. A few failed, but the majority were perfect, and will be able to survive even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s kid.

Still need to actually create the mortices in the rails, but will do that after some sanding and finishing.

To get the required slat placement, the Domino grows wings. It makes cutting the required mortices so incredibly easy, and accurate.

Now I know there are two main groups out there – those who cannot understand how any tool can be worth as much as a Domino, and those who love the tool. Unfortunately, I used to belong to the first camp, but since first using the Domino and then more recently (last couple of years) owning one, I cannot help but reside in the second. Awesome machine. Yes, I know – hideously expensive. But very, very cool. One of these days, I’d love to become permanently familiar with the Domino XL too.


Finishing off the boards

From the thicknesser, the final step in producing the components is the tablesaw.

With the side against the table (and now either side can be used as the reference, both being flat, parallel to each other, and at 90 degrees to the machined edge), and the planed edge runs against the fence.

The boards are then cut to width.

Ripping the board

Next, the fence is moved out of the way and the mitre fence added to the mitre slot.

Mine is the Incra, and like many, has a T end to the bar.  Rather than fluff around trying to insert the end at the near end, place the bar into the slot – it will ride up because of the T end.  Slide it forward past the end of the table, so the T slot clears the end, then drag it back.  So much easier than the other!

Crosscutting the ends

With the Incra Mitre 1000SE and Shop Stop, it is very easy to both dock the ends, and cut the boards to an exact, repeatable length.

First crosscut one edge, just enough to remove any checking, then flip the board over to dock to length.

Box sides

The final, nicely figured box sides.  Each is exactly the same thickness, the same width, the same length as its matching side, all ready for whatever joinery method is going to be chosen.

The extra, significant satisfaction that these boards have been formed, hewn from the trunk of a tree in your own workshop.

Completing timber dressing

The boards have been resawn on the bandsaw, and had a side and edge dressed on the jointer.  Next step is the thicknesser.

15" Thicknesser

I have a 15″ thicknesser, with a fixed head and the table rises and falls.  I prefer this style of thicknesser, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

The other version has a fixed table, so any additional infeed and outfeed support can remain at the same height, and the motor and blades rise and fall.  Winding the height down isn’t a problem – gravity and all that, but increasing the height is a lot more work, especially with the weight of a decently-powered induction motor overhead as well.

On the other hand, my thicknesser has a motor in the cabinet, and rise and fall is only the weight of the table – very smooth, very easy.  Added bonus, as the head doesn’t move, I have my drum sander located on top,  and a very functional arrangement it is, especially as the thicknesser and the drum sander both have the same requirement for infeed and outfeed.

Dressing boards

With the side dressed on the jointer face-down, the boards are fed through.  There is no point rushing the process – a little taken off each pass will still result in a finished product very quickly.

If I had a spiral head, things may be a little different, but I still have a thicknesser head with straight blades, so loading the machine and chipping away needs a little more finessing.

This doesn’t refer to the ‘spiral’ heads that have a bunch of the small square cutters arranged in a spiral around the head, but are still presented to the timber straight on.  This means the loads on the blades and machine are much less, but they are still chipping at the surface.

Instead, there are spiral heads where the small blades each present to the surface at an angle, producing a slicing motion.  This gives the best finish, combined with the benefit of much lower loads on the tool, and excellent waste clearance.

Completed boards

The boards, now complete (and you can see the bookmatching, if I intended to use the timber for that).

In this case, I now have a dressed side, the other side also dressed and parallel to the first side (and the boards are a uniform 10mm thick).

One edge is also flat, and at 90 degrees to both sides.  This side will be very relevant for the next step – the tablesaw.

How a thickness planer works.

From Wikipedia - a diagram of thicknesser operation

An illustration of the operation of a jointer ...

From Wikipedia - compare the above operation to this one which is how a jointer works.


DAR, better known as “dressed all round” may be a term used for timber sold for the building industry, but is no where near the sort of finish and accuracy really needed in woodworking.

You can do a lot better in your own workshop, and correct some common defects at the same time.

Whether you have resawn your own timber, or bought some already (theoretically) dressed-all-round, the next stop is the Jointer (also called the planer in UK/Au/NZ, not to be confused with the planer in the US, which we call a thicknesser!  I will stay with my nomenclature of calling this the jointer, and the other tool the thicknesser – saves confusion (hopefully!))

The jointer has two main purposes in life (although once you have one, there are some other related tasks it can achieve).  Those purposes are: 1. to produce one perfectly flat side, and 2. to produce one perfectly flat edge at exactly 90 degrees to that first side.

Yes, you can angle the fence over, you can use it to produce tapered furniture legs etc etc, but the reason for having the tool in the first place is 1 side and 1 edge being flat, true and square to each other.

You could, if so desired, use hand tools to achieve the same – the trying plane was made for this purpose, but that is also valid for most (if not all) other powered tools in the workshop – they are versions of hand tools that work faster, with less effort.

The outfeed table is at exactly the same height as the cutting blade (and if not, welcome to snipe city), and you vary the depth of cut by lowering the infeed table below the blade.  I have mine typically set to 0.5mm – no need to waste any more timber than necessary, and although a bit slower (needing more passes to flatten a board), I’m not in a rush either.

You start by flattening one face (I’ll get into the whys and hows another time (and there is already info about that on here somewhere!)).  Ensure you use push blocks – the potential injuries if something does go wrong (too much pressure, hands slipping etc) is not worth considering.

Once you have a true, flat side, this is pushed against the fence, and the edge is then machined straight.

Check out the before and after photos – this didn’t take many passes and I now have a nice, square piece of camphor.

With that, this tool has finished its task, and it is onto the next – the thicknesser.

You may (and many have before) wonder why you cannot use the jointer to then flatten the other side, which will give you 3 sides, each at 90 degrees.  Sure, you most certainly can, if you want to produce a door wedge!

See, each side is at 90 degrees to the other, which is what the jointer can achieve.  But it can’t ensure the two sides are parallel!  For that you have to use the thicknesser (or a machine, such as the overhead router that references off one side of the timber when machining the other – which is what the thicknesser also does).

The jointer and thicknesser – two machines that are often spoken about in the same breath as they are very complementary.  Between them, you can produce DAR timber that is actually worthy of the title.

The New MagSwitch Range has Landed!

After whetting our appetites at the Melbourne Woodworking Show with the new products in their range, they have arrived and are now available for sale (which is great with the Brisbane Woodworking Show on next weekend!)

Some we have seen already, and have just undergone a colour change to “safety yellow”, a change that I am actually very pleased with – makes quickly spotting the required jig in the workshop a lot easier!

Now onto the new stuff.

A really cool one, and one that is awesome to see added to the range: the Universal Featherboard.  It goes both ways 😉

Universal Featherboard on the Tablesaw

Universal Featherboard on the Tablesaw

It doesn’t restrict you in its operation, being able to be used on both sides of the tablesaw (fence on the left or right of the blade), and also on the fence (if its cast iron!), and router table.  If I had to choose only one MagSwitch featherboard, it would be this one. It is so versatile.

Universal on the Fence

Universal on the Fence

Now one thing I was rather surprised about when I opened the package.  The Universal is based around a 20mm MagSwitch, and not a 30mm. However, after querying this with the company I found out what the thought process was behind it.  Obviously cost is a definite factor, and there is a price difference between having 2 x 20mm MagSwitches in a product and 2 x 30mm. The featherboard primarily has to resist a shear load, and so what they have done is applied a Titanium Nitride coating to the magnets, which boosts the shear load capacity of the 20mm jig up to the same of the normal 30mm MagSwitch.

You can see the colouring caused by the Titanium Nitride in the next photo.  It is also worth noting that a finish like this is not a surface, added to the metal.  The coating actually penetrates the surface, and turns the outside layer of the parent metal into an alloy, with its own properties (in this case increased magnetic shear strength).

Titanium Nitride Coating

Titanium Nitride Coating

This also gives a very good view of the double-sided aspect of this featherboard.

Next, is what a lot of people have been waiting for – the MagFence Combo Kit.

The vertical fences have either one, or two bearing rollers, depending on the application.  The kit itself comes with both, and one universal base (and two 30mm MagJigs).  The base is interchangeable between the two fences, so you can use whichever is suitable to the task at hand.

It is also a good value kit – if you take the $200 price tag, and then realise that the two MagJigs that it comes with are worth $100 on their own ($50 each). And these MagJigs can be used anywhere – switch them from task to task (and jig to jig) as needed.

The single roller one I have been particularly waiting for.  It is designed (and is perfect for) resawing on the bandsaw.  The idea is that because a bandsaw blade has a real tendency to track, the operator guides the work as needed to cut a uniform thickness piece (such as a veneer).  Setting a single point of contact the right distance away from the blade really aids this, and being only a single roller means it still allows the operator full control over guiding and compensating for blade tracking.

Resaw Fence

Resaw Fence

Here the fence is set quite away back from the blade (for the photo).  If I was setting up for a veneer cut, the fence would be within a couple of mm of the blade.

Back of Resaw

Back of Resaw Fence

This image of the back of the fence reveals a number of details.  The base is interchangeable as mentioned, and it only requires 4 hex bolts to be undone to switch between them. The diagonal members are the same as is used for the vertical attachment featherboard.  The difference is the addition of the ‘sled’ below the support member which has the butterfly bolt sticking out.  This is so the angle of the fence can be controlled to ensure the roller is vertical to the table.

There are the two 30mm MagJigs as mentioned. I have fixed them down with the supplied bolts, but that isn’t actually necessary – the jigs work equally as well without the MagJigs fixed down.

Used as a Holddown

Used as a Holddown

The fence itself (either one or two rollers can also be used on other tools, as here as a holddown on the planer.

Combo Fence Kit

Combo Fence Kit

Here you can see both the single and double roller unit.  The roller bearings are supplied equally spaced as you can see, but you can rearrange them if a different layout is needed.

The last part of the kit is simple, and clever – good engineering. The holes in the Universal base are designed for the 30mm MagJig, but you may prefer to use 20mm MagJigs (or fit 20mm MagJigs into another jig with a hole for the 30mm).

20mm Adapter

20mm Adapter

In the foreground you can see a standard 30mm MagJig (base).  Behind it, a 20mm in an adapter (also shown to the left).  Simple, smart.

The final item, and again really simple, and very clever, are adapters that allow the vertical featherboard to be converted to horizontal, resulting in a multiple (high) featherboard.

Vertical Riser Adapters

Vertical Riser Adapters

This is what is provided in a single kit.  There is a longer set of bolts required for the triple featherboard orientation that you have to provide.

These are the layouts you can achieve with the various combinations and orientations.

Dual Featherboard

Dual Featherboard

High Dual Featherboard

High Dual Featherboard

Triple Featherboard

Triple Featherboard

In the final image as mentioned, I needed to provide my own bolts, and the middle featherboard is one of the old ones.  There is no difference, except in colour.  That’s a bloody large featherboard when it is tripled up!

So that’s a look at much of the new range. Watch out for me at the Brisbane Wood Show (on the MagSwitch display), and even better, get some for your own workshop – they are great!

Scavenging from the Firewood Pile

This is a mini project in reclaiming timber, destined for the chimney.

It is rapidly approaching winter here down-under, and having a fire in the evenings is becoming commonplace.  I always wonder just what is being turned to ash, and if it could be redirected to more aesthetic purposes (not that staring into a fire in the hearth doesn’t have its own appeal).

This block of redgum seemed more interesting than some, so I thought I’d just see what I could find inside, and if nothing, nothing lost (even the sawdust gets used!).

Redgum Firewood

Redgum Firewood

The first step was running it through the bandsaw.  Given the thickness of the block, I fitted a 1.3 TPI 3/4″ ripping blade, which made short work of the task.  You can just see a short section of the blade behind the block in this next photo.

Creating Sawdust

Creating Sawdust

I slabbed the block in pretty thick sections, so I had plenty of material to work with when machining the boards flat, while still maintaining a reasonable material thickness.

As-cut boards

As-cut boards

So here are the resulting boards, still chunky and rough.  The next job will be to start running them through my stock preparation machines (the jointer/planer, thicknesser (although they are pretty short for that), and the drum sander (with some 60 grit attached).

The plan is, if I can get 4 reasonable boards from this, to then produce a dovetailed box and finish it, so it will be an interesting evolution.  If it all goes pear shaped, then I’m sure the fireplace will make short work of it!

%d bloggers like this: