My Not-So-Mysterious Benefactor

I don’t spend nearly enough time with my dad. As a fellow maker, he is an enabler in the best sense of the word. He coached me through my first furniture project, which quickly inspired me to set up my own woodworking shop. A shrewd and patient observer of classified ads, he found my 1970s Unisaw in the newspaper and called me one bright spring day to see if I was interested. We had it purchased and in my garage a few hours later.

Not long after, he fabricated a T-square rip fence for me, much like the fence he built for his vintage DeWalt tablesaw. I couldn’t have afforded to buy a commercial system at the time (I asked forgiveness, rather than permission, for spending $150 on the tablesaw), but as with all of the best lessons in making, that was completely beside the point. We went to a local metal supply shop, where I bought the materials. He built it to my specifications, giving support for 18″ extensions on either side of the 34″ cast iron top. It has worked every bit as well as one of those commercial systems, and between the saw and the fence system, I had invested maybe 20% of what I would have spent at the local Woodcraft on a new cabinet saw.

Recently, as I began to plan my workshop reorganization, I decided I wanted one 36″ extension to the right instead of an 18″ extension on each side. I simply took the two 70″ pieces of angled steel off the tablesaw and took them over to my dad’s shop for modification.

Over the past decade, my dad has invested heavily in his metalworking capacity, acquiring a hefty Bridgeport milling machine and a heavy-duty metalworking lathe. After discussing what I had in mind, he swung into action, milling new reliefs for the miter slots and new slotted scew holes for the bolts that would attach the rails to the tabletop.

Dad at his Bridgeport milling machine. This is where the magic happens.

Dad at his Bridgeport milling machine. This is where the magic happens.

After a few hours of milling and conversation, he realized he was doing all the work, and asked if I’d like to take a turn at it. It’s a fantastic machine to operate, with digital readouts in three dimensions. I wish there were two of me so I could dedicate one to mastering this new skill.

It's my turn to run the mill. And to take crappy photos.

It’s my turn to run the mill. And to take crappy photos.

I have my fence reassembled, and soon I’ll make a new extension by laminating two layers of 3/4″ MDF. Meanwhile, though, I need to wrap up my workshop reorganization.

The slot on the left was from a decade ago. The slot on the right, made on my dad's Bridgeport mill, shows the benefit of using the right tool for the job.

The slot on the left was from a decade ago. The slot on the right, made on my dad’s Bridgeport mill, shows the benefit of using the right tool for the job.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have my dad nearby, with his fantastic shop and his patient tutelage. Do you have a metalworking mentor, or a buddy who’s willing to swap favors? If you haven’t found one, may I suggest membership in one of the many maker shops that have sprung up in recent years?

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