Monday, February 4, 2013

Tablesaw Router Station Build

This past weekend I completed the upgrade of my Rigid TS3650 tablesaw.  I bought this table new in 2003 and it has served me well in stock condition ever since.  But over the years the projects I've built have required more and more routing, and often the type of routing that is best performed on a dedicated router station setup.  This upgrade project was to install a new Excalibur #40-070 cast iron wing with a router plate cutout to replace the original cast iron wing that came with the saw.

Right up front I have to say that this idea wasn't an original one of mine.  The key piece of information came courtesy of a guy named Derek over at the Making Splinters blog.  Without his discovery of the cast iron surface none of what follows would have been possible!  So mahalos to you bigtime, Derek! :)

My original table was a Porter-Cable setup that was mounted on a piece of MDF.  To use it I'd pull it off the bench, clamp it to a work table and route the project pieces.  It functioned well, had a movable split fence, dust collection system, a miter fence and track and a suitable surface.  But like any portable table bit changes and height adjustments had to be done from under the table.  And by nature they were inaccurate and often time consuming.  The setup was also heavy to move around with the router installed.  Replacing this with a dedicated table has been in the back of my mind for many years.

Somewhere in the house I have the plans for a custom router station designed and built by Norm Abrams of the old New Yankee Workshop program many years ago.  It was always my idea to build that station, but over the years as my garage-slash-woodworking shop got filled with more and more  cabinets, benches, lumber storage, and equipment, not to mention my pickup truck, it became clear that there just wasn't going to be room out there for Norm's station without something else being sacrificed.  And my truck stays inside at night!

The key piece of equipment to make my tablesaw work as a router station is the Excalibur cast iron surface.  The key piece of info that Derek uncovered is that the long dimension of this table is exactly 27-inches... the same as the Rigid TS3650 surface.  And the bolt holes in the mating surface are suitable for a 1-1 replacement.  The cutout is also 9.25"x11.75", perfect for many common router plate inserts.  Once I was satisfied with all the specifications I ordered this piece from Tools-Plus out of Waterbury, CT.  Shipping via UPS was quick.
And to make the system complete I decided on the Jessem Mast-R-Lift II made in Canada.  There are many different router lift systems on the market... Jessem, Incra, Bench Dog, Woodpeckers, and others... so choice is personal.  As long as the quality of the build is good they will all perform about the same.  The Jessem brand is well reviewed and rated and ended up being my choice.

The first task was to get the old cast iron wing off and the new one on.  I usually work by myself so most builds and customizations have to factor in how to get the work done, pieces moved around, and completed with minimal or no help.  Since I don't have the angle iron handy that Derek had I decided to build a set of custom bench beams with a length suitable for a "scaffold" system.

For most of their life in the shop these will be used as supports for work pieces during assembly or finishing, but their first job will stand them on end so they act as my third hand during wing removal and installation.  And they earned their pay.  Dis-assembly of the old wing was easy.  Putting the new one on was a little difficult to get lined up and all the bolts - which had to be new and a little longer - threaded in.  Eventually it all went back on perfectly.

In order to make the beam length just right I did need to roll the table saw up onto a couple pieces of scrap plywood... but combined with the beams and another sheet of scrap the fit was just about perfect to support the old wing and the new one going on.  In hindsight this would have all been so much easier if I'd done it a month or so earlier when the whole thing was upside down for repairs.  But nothing ever goes in the right order.  Notice here that the fences have been removed.

To connect the new surface I had to get new bolts because the new wing was a little thicker in the mating surface.  I got stainless steel bolts about 1/2" longer and fit them with washers because the holes in the new wing were oversized to accommodate various installations.  In the end all of the new hardware I got was stainless for both strength and corrosion protection.  I prefer stainless.

With the old wing was off and the new one installed one last detail had to be taken care of; holes needed to be drilled in the front and rear of the new section to reattach the fence sections.  Drilling cast iron is easy... but you need to do it in stages and keep oiling the bit to control heat.  So by the end of the first night the new surface was on and the front and rear fence sections reinstalled.  Everything lined up quite nicely too. 

The next task is to install the router lift.  Before installing the router motor in the lift I took some time to double check the fit in the insert cutout... it was tight, but it fit.  And I leveled and adjusted the plate so that it was flush with the cast iron surface.  This was done with eight (8) small allen screws supplied with the lift.  You do this in stages and check frequently with a piece of wood to make sure that nothing catches at any point.

The first problem showed up fairly quickly.  Although the insert had numerous threaded holes for a variety of inserts, none of them lined up with the Jessem plate.  You can see in the photo at the right what the problems was.  To make this work I was not going to be able to simply screw the plate secure... I would need to get the drill out again and nibble away at the material blocking the hole.  This was fairly easy to do.

If I follow up with the manufacturer of this surface it will be worth mentioning that it doesn't
work with Jessem plates.  It almost seems like they could add a little more support material at the corners and thread a set of additional holes for these plates.

But that wouldn't help me so I secured the new plate with stainless steel fender washers, lock washers and bolts.  This worked perfectly as seen below.

After a couple extra trips to Lowe's and Home Depot to find just the right nuts, lock washers and fenders the entire assembly was complete and ready for operation.  Two tasks remain:  (1) install a safety switch and outlet system; and (2) build a custom fence system.  The safety switch I've ordered has an oversize toggle that can be turned off quickly with a hand or knee, and also has switched outlets in the back for both the router and a vacuum.  This will allow both the router and vacuum to be turned on and off simultaneously.

My fence system design has been revised and tweaked now to match the actual dimensions as taken from the assembled table.  The custom t-track materials, bolts, and knobs are on order and should arrive by the end of the week.  And after a bit of rooting around in my materials bin I discovered I actually have the 3/4" baltic birch plywood needed to build the fence!  So as soon as the parts come in I'll be on it.
Custom Jessem insert plates for different bit sizes and HDMW guide bearing

A revised, nu-narrated video of the fence design is available for a look.  SketchUp is like Halloween candy... once you start with it you just can't put it away.  It's far too easy to use and way too much fun!

I'll post a quick shot of the fence once it's done.  This system will honestly up my routing game, and I can't wait to start using it.  The solution was a little more expensive than building a custom router station, but much quicker, and most importantly won't take up any more space in a limited workshop.


  1. Hope you add a photo of the safety on/off switch when you get it installed! My table saw came with a small one and it is almost hard to use safely! Great job with the install, can't wait to see the fence!

  2. If you have got recently else a router to your workshop, it's a good addition and permits you to advance to the next level within the comes you'll be able to do currently that you just have purchased this tool.

  3. The safety switch can be seen in the 02/25/13 post here:

  4. This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff.

    1. Thanks! I learned about the router platform extension from a similar blog so I'm glad that I did for someone else what that older posting did for me.