Router Table Adapter Plate Modification

I had a little free time this weekend and used it to address a couple of things in the garage.

1. I got my motorcycle running again

  • I’m actually very proud of this. After watching a friend do it once, I took out the carburetor, took it apart, cleaned it, reassembled it,  and re-installed it in 2.5 hours.
  • When the bike STILL wouldn’t start, I hooked it up to my truck battery and jump-started it, now it runs like a scared bunny.

2. I modified my router table adapter plate

I make the adapter plate a while back out of 1/4″ thick aluminum sheet. The center hole I cut was 2 1/4″ in diameter, which was sufficient for any router bit I owned.

But then I came across a large raised-panel bit on clearance at Rockler and bought it, only to find that it was too big to recess into the hole in the adapter plate.

I bought a set of large diameter hole saws from Harbor Freight to address the issue.

The drill press powered through the cut without any significant problems (just a lot of screeching and vibration), but the result was problematic.
Router Plate - Cutting
Router Plate - Cut
My thought had been to keep the inner portion of the cut with the original smaller hole to use as a bushing to support work pieces when using a standard sized bit; but with a large gap between the inside of the new hole and the outside of the old one, I needed a way to fill this gap and keep the inner bushing secure.

So I traced the new hole onto a piece of plywood and cut it out on my scroll saw.
Router Plate - Outer Diameter
After confirming a snug fit on the large hole, I placed the bushing on top of the plywood circle to trace it and removed the inside of the circle with the scroll saw.
Router Plate - Inner Diameter
Router Plate - bushing

After a bit of quick sanding I had a completed solution: The wooden ring fills the gap between the large hole and the inner bushing, allowing the bushing to fit securely inside the larger hole.
Router Plate - Small
Router Plate - Large

All in all, I was happy with this fix, but I may still thread a screw through the inner portion and into the router base, just to make certain the new bushing doesn’t turn into a hypersonic projectile the next time I use the router table. Although I do like hypersonic projectiles

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I Need a Machine Shop…

I have a tendency to obsess over certain things.

More often than not, these “things” take to form of projects or tools.

For example, when I came up with an idea for how to store my bicycle, I couldn’t think about anything else for the better part of a week while I waited for the weekend when I would have time to complete the task.

I made designs in Sketchup, even though I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

I even spent my Friday evening boring my friends with excruciatingly detailed explanations of exactly how I planned to store my bike (“no, you don’t understand, this is really cool because the bike will be sideways… on the ceiling!“).

I just can’t think about anything else until I complete the project or buy the tool.

Another aspect of my personality is that I am always concerned with my capabilities, and making sure that I don’t disqualify myself from doing something I might someday want to do.

I focused on getting the best possible grades in my undergraduate studies, just in case I wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree later. And then I did the same during my work on my master’s degree, just in case I decided someday to go back for a P.H.D..

I have since concluded that I will not be pursuing a P.H.D. (I dropped out of my second Master’s program), but I don’t regret removing the limitation that low grades would have presented.

These two facets of my personality have recently collided… again.

I have often said, in partial jest, that I need a machine shop (actually, very often).

As far as woodworking is concerned, I have all the tools I need to make pretty much anything I would want to make; but, although I have a welder, a grinder, and a hacksaw, I don’t really have the ability to make something out of metal.

I had come to terms with this fact, and concluded that I would probably never have a machine shop, since I would never be able to afford one.

Then, one fateful day, I found a small metal lathe on Craigslist for $200. At first I was dismissive, but since it was fairly inexpensive I decided to do a little research on the make and model. It was a Taig Micro Lathe, and although it was small, it seemed like a very capable and precise little machine, and a fun way to get into metalworking.

Of course, by the time I convinced myself I wanted it and got permission from my wife, the lathe was already sold. But the obsession had taken root, and there was no turning back: I had just discovered that I could start my machine shop for less than $500, and I couldn’t think about anything else.

While researching small metal lathes and their prices and capabilities, I came across a site offering extensive input and reviews (mini-lathe.com), which in turn led me to it’s companion site on mini mills.

Uh-oh…

I had seen small mills on the Harbor Freight website, but I had no idea that they were actually respectable machines with a large and active community of hobby machinists.

It turns out that a Chinese manufacturer called Sieg makes a generic line of small milling machines and metal lathes that are re-branded by Grizzly, Harbor Freight, and others. These mini mills have steadily improved in quality and are often regarded as the standard mill for hobbyists and amateur machinists.

This triggered the perfect storm of my tendency to obsess over tools and my desire to remove limitations: I had in front of me the possibility to have the “machine shop” I never thought I would have, I could someday soon be able to make anything.

But now I had a problem. The Lathe would cost me around $500, and the Mill would cost around $600, but how could I justify spending $1100 on a set of tools I’ve never used before?

I shared this dilemma with my wife, and we came up with a solution: If I sold my motorcycle (a Honda Rebel 250), I could use the money however I wanted.

We had this conversation last week… and now I can’t even sleep.

Every night I’m tossing and turning, dreaming about the pros, cons, and prices of the Sieg x2 and the x3.

Instead of nightmares of showing up to work in my underwear, or forgetting about a final exam, I’m waking myself up with all the unanswered questions…

…How much money should I allocate for vises and tooling?

…If I don’t sell the motorcycle for enough money to buy both a lathe and a mill, which should I buy first?

…If I sell the motorcycle for more than I expected, should I only buy a milling machine and accessories and upgrade to a better machine?

…Should I buy new or should I wait for a deal on Craigslist?

…If I find a used commercial milling machine that I can afford, do I really want one that weighs 1000lbs?

Why won’t my motorcycle start?!?!

<to be continued…>

How To Shop At Harbor Freight

If you are unfamiliar with the Harbor Freight retail chain, hopefully you know of a similar concept near you with unbelievably cheap tools that are frequently dismissed as “Chinese Junk”. If this is the case, substitute each reference to “Harbor Freight” with the retailer of your choice, because the basic assumptions and principles will likely hold true.

If the concept of such a retailer is completely foreign to you, you should still read this post, because I am sensitive to rejection.

If you are extremely familiar with Harbor Freight, you can skip the next two paragraphs, and save yourself a few seconds.

HF_Store

Harbor Freight is a remarkable store. All manner of tools can be purchased for absurdly low prices, and there are always sales and coupons for even bigger discounts.

It’s a wonderland for the budget-conscious Do-It-Yourself-er in pursuit of a well-stocked garage. I have clamps, angle grinder blades, earmuffs, safety goggles, a vice, a bench grinder, magnetic tool holders, air hoses, a small hydraulic shop press, a tap and die set, bi-metal holesaws, a gas motor, and a flux/mig welder, all from Harbor Freight, and each is serving its purpose admirably.

<those of you already familiar with Harbor Freight, resume reading here>

However, my relationship with the company has not always been so symbiotic.

My first experience there was terrible.

This was several years ago (seven, I think), during a  trip to visit my family in Washington. My dad was looking for a certain type of wrench, and I was looking for parts to make a potato cannon.

I was immediately struck by the amount of JUNK merchandise on the shelves.

“There’s no way a $10 angle grinder will last more than a week…”

“For a tool store, I sure am seeing a lot of plastic…”

I didn’t end up finding what I was looking for, and vowed never to darken the door of a Harbor Freight store again, or a Walmart (same family visit, different story).

I held this view and kept my vow for four more years before my heart started to soften. This thaw was precipitated by a change in circumstance followed by a sudden realization:

Circumstance: I bought a house with a garage

Realization: Harbor Freight sold a welder… at a price I could justify to my wife

Welder

I had been looking at welders and wandering through cyberspace reading rants and reviews, and my initial dismissal of all references to Harbor Freight gave way to a remarkable fact, people were buying these welders and were giving them good reviews.

This fact deeply disturbed my worldview.

No longer could I make character judgments upon hearing the statement “I bought it at Harbor Freight”.

No longer was the term “Happy owner of a Harbor Freight tool” a laughable oxymoron.

Up was down, down was up… what was left that I could know was true?

I bought the welder.

Once I got used to the basic principles of welding and worked through a few projects (such as my router table), I could confirm that this was a very usable welder that turned out good-quality welds that looked clean and were plenty strong for my purposes.

After buying an auto-darkening welding mask from Harbor Freight which also worked without any issues, I began to wonder if  my initial assessment, and the widely-held sentiment, of the retailer’s inferiority was completely erroneous.

I found some coupons and went back to the store and bought some F-clamps and a bastard file. The F-clamps worked great. The bastard file was useless.

So I started forming a more accurate picture of Harbor Freight’s merchandise: some of it’s great, some of it’s junk.

I continued to make selective purchases, and slowly developed a series of guidelines and bits of wisdom to keep in mind while shopping at Harbor Freight:

  1. If you need precision, buy elsewhere, and don’t be stingy, tools with tight tolerances are NEVER cheap
  2. If the cheapest version of a tool at Home Depot is unreliable, the Harbor Freight tool will be just as bad, but not worse
    • A cheap air tool or rotary tool will probably die young, wherever you buy it
  3. Don’t buy anything with a lot of moving parts
  4. Don’t buy power saws (Circular saws, reciprocating saws, compound miter saws), the motors and the bearings they use tend to burn out prematurely
  5. If the tool is simple, blunt, and made of metal, the Harbor Freight version should be okay
  6. Subscribe to Popular Mechanics
      • Aside the fact that they often review Harbor Freight tools, they, like many magazines, contain a regular Harbor Freight ad, with a “20% off anything” coupon

    harborFreightAd

This is not a foolproof system, or universally correct, so if you are considering a particular Harbor Freight tool that you cannot afford to have fail, check reviews online and consider buying the extended warranty.

Even after taking the above guidelines into consideration, some of you (as I once did) may have a bit of an ego to swallow before you enter Harbor Freight, let me help you with that:
Flowchart

Of course, that being said,  your first choice for the majority of your tool purchases should be Craigslist… and I’ll still never shop at Walmart.