America's Top Shops Contest
May 1, 2008
Entry Details

# 817
Alan Schaffter
Washington, NC

1.  Photo Highlights:  (L to R) Central Vac w/Mini-cyclone, A&C Cabinets, Tool Cubbies w/parts drawers, Stowing sliding Miter Saw, Wood Rack, Table Saw tables.

I vowed to build a better shop than my previous 10’ X 12’ space.   A detached shop was not viable, so, despite the disadvantages and starting from bare studs, I built a shop above my garage.  I wanted a rustic sawmill look, but when trees felled as my lot was cleared yielded over 1000 bft of white oak, I decided to design and build Arts and Crafts shop cabinets with flush-inset doors and drawers.  An advanced beginner, I used this project as a learning experience.  It is a work in progress.
Little vertical wall space to hang tools meant a bench with ample tool bins, cabinets, full-extension drawers, and shelves.  Power tools are visible and accessible in “cubbies.”  Small drawers below hold parts, supplies, etc. specific to that tool.  Chargers and an outlet share a cubby with cordless drills. A shopvac is inside and a mini-cyclone outside the lower left cabinet.   I used electrical conduit for vac ducting for it its long radius bends.  There is a long, laminate-covered, bench top for tool preparation and care.  Mid-bench is one of three compressed air drops.  The sliding miter saw mount extends for full crosscut capacity or retracts to store.  A 6” DC port is in the cabinet below.  I built new laminate-covered, torsion box, out-feed and extension tables,  mobile base, and table supports, yet the saw is still mobile.  No lower rails means an accessory cabinet can go there.  A folding extension is used when ripping long boards.  Table saw and jointer outlets are located in an in-floor enclosure which also holds excess cord.   All machines are mobile- I attached a step caster and wheels directly each machine sub-base.  A vertical wood storage rack was simpler to build and holds more wood, more securely, than a horizontal, wall-mounted rack.   I can sort, inspect, and select boards easily and safely.  

2.  Photo Highlights:  (l. to r.)  Table Saw Blade Dust Collection, Stowed I-beam Hoist, Band Saw Dust Collection Housing, VS Drill Press w/Dust Collection.

I recently designed and installed a ceiling mounted, soft-sided, over-blade, dust pickup.  The 4” tall bristle skirt contains dust thrown from the gullets and off the top of the blade, yet bends out of the way when feeding stock and allows DC take-up air to pass through.  The lower section can be folded up if necessary.  When folded, a switch mounted at the hinge deactivates the pickup’s blast gate which is located behind the knee wall.   I designed and installed a dust collection housing that encloses the underside of the band saw table yet allows the table to tilt full range.  It can be removed easily to access the lower guides or to open the lower wheel door and is connected to a 6” DC line.  It works extremely well.  I am a tinkerer as well as a woodworker and regularly drill a variety of both woods and metals which demands widely differing speeds.  This often required that I change the position of both belts.  It was awkward, time consuming, and much too often, neglected!  So, I converted the drill press to electronic variable speed and added a digital tachometer.  Some flexible hose, PVC pipe, and bendable, semi-rigid pipe work well for drill press dust collection.  The large red structure in front of the loft doors (by the stop sign), is my I-beam hoist in its vertical, stowed position.  It is discussed next.

3.  Photo Highlight:  I-beam Hoist

A second floor shop has challenges- the biggest one is moving tools, materials, and projects up to and down from the shop.  The stairs from the kitchen to my shop are steep and narrow so not usable for these tasks.  I live in a residential neighborhood and to maintain a neat exterior appearance no beams or other structures could permanently extend from the house.  Cold air and water leaks can be problem around structures that penetrate the walls of  a building.  My solution was to design and install a folding I-beam and electric hoist.   A pivot assembly, mounted to brackets bolted to the door frame header and the ridge beam, supports the steel I-beam.   Removable braces steady the beam when it is extended.  I mounted a surplus electric hoist to an I-beam trolley.  It was used to lift all machines, tools, and building supplies to my shop.   The hard-wired hoist can be operated by either shop or ground level switches.  (See previous picture for I-beam in stowed position).

4.  Photo Highlights:  (CW  from top)  Ducting, In-floor Port, Over-Blade Pickup, Cyclone and Blower, High Dust Sensor, DC (L) and Blast Gate (R) Manual Controls, AutoGate and Solenoid, Current Sensor.

I designed and built a fully automatic dust collection system (DC) around a homebuilt “push-through” cyclone, an old motor/blower from a bag-style DC, and cartridge filters.  Except for the vac pipe and over-blade pickup, no DC duct is visible.  All 6” PVC ducts and blast gates run along the garage ceiling or behind the knee wall.  The results: more direct runs, improved flow, and a neat, uncluttered appearance.  Short flex hose connects machines to their ports.  The table saw and jointer have in-floor ports with hinged lids which can be closed to move equipment there.  The jointer port doubles as a floor sweep.  

Every machine has a machine triggered, electrically activated, and pneumatically actuated blast gate.  A sensor at each outlet detects when the machine is on and activates a solenoid air valve.  20 PSI air is ported to an actuator that moves the blast gate slide.  When the machine is off, the cylinder closes the blast gate.  All automatically!  Each blast gate also has a manual control station with button and status indicator light.  A circuit detects when a blast gate has been automatically or manually opened and starts the DC.  To avoid rapid cycling, I designed the system so the blower must be shut off manually at any of the control stations around the shop.  All machines have dust hoods, including special ones on the miter saw, table saw, and band saw.  The blower and cyclone share a room off the garage with an air compressor.  Over-filling a cyclone dust bag/bin causes dust to back up into, clog, and even damage the filter(s).  I cannot monitor the dust level, so I designed and built a simple, very effective, high dust detection circuit.  It provides an alert AND automatically shuts off the DC.  The sensor is at the bottom of the cyclone.

5.  Photo Highlights:  (L. to R.) Clamp Rack, Router Table w/ Power Lift, Spray Gun Stand, Adjustable Height Assembly Table, Power Cord and Air Hose Reels, Vac Drop, Phone and Dinner Bell Strobes, Spray Booth Curtain Track, Office Door, Sink and Paint Prep Area, HVAC.

I have a toilet, sink area, and a small, unfinished office. The solid oak doors were my first interior doors.  The height of the torsion box assembly table with its unique legs patterned after a old candle stand, can be adjusted from 25“ to 36“.  This table handles many duties and I often clamp a  vise to it.  Because wall space to hang clamps is limited, I built a rolling clamp rack.  It is very stable, yet holds nearly 60 parallel jaw clamps ‘jaw down‘- I can grab two or the bars of three clamps in each hand without worrying about pinching my hand if a jaw slips.  My router table is a popular design which I improved upon, the biggest improvement- a power lift.  A 32 TPI lead screw means it takes time to crank the router up to change bits, so I added a right angle drive and a bi-directional gear motor wired to a paddle switch to motorize it.  It also has a step caster mobile base and its own DC port with autogate.  Air and electric cord reels and a central vac hose are ceiling mounted over my assembly table.  There are strobe flashers on the wall above the office- one for the telephone, the other, activated by a wireless button in the kitchen, is the dinner bell!.  A rolling medical IV stand makes an inexpensive place to hang my spray gun and pressure pot.   My assembly table is my only spray area.  I replaced a drop cloth and a make-shift backstop with a hospital bed type track and curtain.  I will still spray only low VOC finishes, but the curtain should limit overspray.  The track runs into a dormer where I’ll stow the curtain.  The house HVAC does not supply the shop, so after suffering through two hot summers and a cold winter I had a separate heat pump system installed.  

Judges Comments
CB : This guy should at least get the McGiver award, if nothing else. All kidding aside, this is on my short list. Very innovative use of a limited property size and floor space. The power tool cubbies are top notch. If this much thought went into the shop, I'd love to see what kinds of jigs, fixtures, and other tricks are up this fellow's sleeve. Well done.
JH : Very cool shop.
JH-W : A real top shop...literally and figuratively. Sweet cabinets! And the inclusion of an I-beam hoist is genius. Ditto for the dust collection (check out the flip down tablesaw fixture), and shower-curtained spray booth. I'm wondering how one man could adjust the ratcheting assembly table, but I suspect this guy has it figured out.
PA : Some amazing engineering went into this shop, no doubt about it. You can’t help but be wowed by features like the retractable hoist, fully automatic dust control systems, and strobe flashers for the phone and dinner bell. And a digital tachometer for the drill press? Whew! That all adds up to some fairly serious “tinkering.” Of course features like those are beyond the pale for most woodworkers, who won’t have the engineering savvy, budget, or patience to install them. That said, there are also a number of cool innovations well within the reach of many folks. The pullout for the SCM saw is certainly a nice addition that could be incorporated into many shops. The torsion box extension tables offer up flat, strong work surfaces, and the height-adjustable assembly table would be a great shop-helper (although I wouldn’t do a lot of banging around on it.) The mobile clamp rack would also serve well in many shops, as would the hinged outfeed table on the tablesaw. The cabinet design is outstanding and proves that this guy takes his woodworking as well as his shop construction seriously. There is a lot to see here, and he did a good job of presenting many of the features. The biggest failing of this entry is that there are no broad views of the shop that might have helped indicate overall setup and workflow.

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