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Small Workshop Woes: How to Make the Most out of Your Tiny Space

Posted on Aug 16, 2016
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Every tool and square foot in my small workshop has to earn its keep. I can’t afford to have a tool that does not get used every day, no matter how well it can perform a task. Nor can I mess around with a tool that does not perform its task well. And if your shop is anything like mine, every surface has to be available for a project – the table saw does double duty as a glue-up bench and the planer infeed becomes a staging area for hardware that is to be installed. The walls of my shop are totally covered with tools: clamps hanging here, blades there, and jigs all over the place.

The task at hand, every day, is to make our space as efficient and user-friendly as possible. I try to wring the most out of my small space and my general purpose tools. I can’t just add an edge-bander because a job calls for it – I don’t have the room, I don’t have the budget, and I won’t use it every day. So when I go shopping for a tool, it really needs to be the best fit, the best performer and the best buy.

I have wrestled with a relatively poor rip fence on my table saw for over 35 years. I suppose I was just plain used to it, and I didn’t notice how much I really disliked all the set-up for every cut and the lack of accuracy and repeatability. It was what it was, and I didn’t think about it much. But I messed up one too many cuts and I guess I just lost it one day and told the old fence that its days were numbered. It was the top item on my list as I headed for AWFS, thinking that I’d get one of the usual upgrade fences and spend somewhere between $200 and $400. But Biesemeyer, Delta and Powermatic, whose fences I had looked at on the web, were not at the show. I looked around a bit, but saw no other alternatives and was ready to throw in the towel, but my friend Robbie, who was with me at the show said, “Hey, why don’t we look at TigerStop?” TigerStop, to my mind (at that point), makes tools for big shops, which can afford big ticket tools for large production jobs. I fall into the exact opposite of this category, and although I had always enjoyed watching their tools run through their motions, it was sort of like watching the expensive train sets at Christmas time in department store windows – something that I loved but would never see under the tree.

What impressed me about the TigerFence by TigerStop was threefold, and none of these can be applied to any of the competition:

  • It’s heavy duty and solid as a rock. Once squared up, it would take a bomb to move it off square.
  • It is accurate to three decimal places, and while wood perhaps will not hold that kind of tolerance, it will hold two places easily and the third is gravy.
  • Measurements and setting are totally repeatable, and programmable if one wants.

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There were a couple of glitches though, and I’ll be totally honest here. The price was an order of magnitude more than I had budgeted for the upgrade, almost enough to make me walk away. The second was that the installation blocks the right-hand miter slot on the table saw. And the third was that when the fence is installed, the track is in the way of the rotation of the blade-height handle of my Industrial Model SawStop saw when cranked over to 45°.

As I said, upgrades for me are all about adding possibilities, accuracy and repeatability. I am not about to scrimp on a tool if it does exactly what I want and how I want it. But it was hard to rationalize spending as much for the fence as I did for the saw. I discussed this with Robbie, who was also on the verge of buying the same fence, and we came to the conclusion that it was the right tool for the job and it would earn its keep and become an integral part of the shop. I was assured that I could replace the blade height handle with a slightly smaller one (meant for the Contractor Model saw) for $26 plus shipping (very true). So that left the right miter slot. I spoke with the engineers at TigerStop, and they are looking into adding this for future sales, which I hope will happen. It adds tremendous value to the fence, and seems, at least to this layman, as totally doable. We found a fix for my saw which was not elegant, but it works, so I solved all three of my problems before I left the show. Robbie and I both bought the TigerFence, and I am here to tell you that it has been a fantastic addition to my shop. It’s accurate, fast to set up for a single cut, simple to recalibrate and I am thrilled with how easy it is to repeat measurements, even days later. It was worth every penny and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

AndrewGlantzBureau-1.jpgBureau built by Andrew Glantz using the TigerFence

Here are a couple of observations that I’ll share about the fence and installation:

First, the fence bolts to the front of the saw. The front edge of the SawStop saw is only 1 ½” high, and the TigerStop fence is 4” high. Robbie installed his fence first and suggested that an intermediary piece of ½” X 4” metal would give the fence way more support. This was an excellent suggestion. He used steel and I used aluminum (he has way better tooling than I do) but the net result seems to be about the same. The fence is stable and rock solid on the edge of the table.

Second, if you care about using the right-hand miter slot, talk with the TigerStop folks about creating a slot so that you can access this once the fence is installed.

Third, if you use the right-hand portion of your saw table for any other uses, make sure to allow for the total run-out of the fence: when initialized, the first thing the fence does is to go to its “home” position, which is at the very far right-hand side of the end of the fence. I installed a router drop in that end of my extension my table, but it is partially covered by the fence when it goes “home” – this means that I cannot leave the router set up and protruding from the table if I want to shut down the fence at night. I should have added a few more inches to allow for this, but at the time, I had not installed the fence and was unaware of the process.

Recently, I saw an ad for the TigerStop digital fence for miter saws. I have to admit that this caught my eye, and who knows, it might just be the next purchase I make for my shop.  

By: Andrew Glantz, Owner of Zenith Design, Past President of The Furniture Society 

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