Folding Helping Tower

A helping tower is like a step stool you use in the kitchen with a child. It gets them up to a height to be able to help out with basic cooking tasks. Unlike a basic step stool, this has sides and a back so they can be kept in place, and not easily fall off. There are a million different examples online, but most all of them are bulky (by necessity) and end up being a bit of an albatross in the kitchen. I wanted a folding one that could be packed away easily. It took a lot of prototyping, but I did it.

I normally jump into projects, but this one was a very slow methodical trial and error build over nearly 2 months. A broken AC and baby tasks stretched that out a bit. The front frame of the device consists of two permanent uprights with an upper and lower stretcher. To those uprights, a set of folding sides are attached. The right upright is thinner so that the two fold over each other in an overlapping pattern.

The middle stretcher will hold the step and let it swing into place. I needed a strong stop that would support the step and draw the sides into the step. I used a dovetail bit on the bottom of the step to make a slightly angled groove. The stops had the same angle in reverse. Now, the more weight put on the step, the tighter it will draw the sides in.

The seat can fold up and the sides fold in. Everything is compact and easy to deploy. The stops are only 1/2″ thick and don’t interfere with the fold up.

It needed some kind of back to keep people from falling off backwards. A simple swing arm accomplished this task. It was narrow enough so as not to interfere with the unit’s ability to pack up. This had all the rough mechanics I wanted, but was narrower and not as deep as I felt it should be. Also I wanted the step portion to be adjustable as the child grows. On to the next prototypes.


I am going to use dowel nuts and binding screws to make something that was strong, but could be removed and reassembled. It would take a number of holes drilled in the right places to make that work. I planned the sizes of the parts and printed out drill guides that would hold brass tubes to act as drill bushings. The brass won’t last forever, but is easy to cut and insert, and helps keep the hand drilling accurate.

First up I clamped the jig in place and used a transfer punch to mark the centers of where the barrel nuts will go. This makes drilling on the drill press easy.

Next to accommodate the bolts, I need to drill a long hole end-on to meetup with the cross holes. This can’t vary much and the parts are too long to use the drill press, thus the drill jig idea.

With both sets of holes accurately drilled, the nuts and bolts will meet up in the correct spots.


With the folding and adjusting mechanics worked out I could move on to the real thing. I selected 1×3 pine for the uprights and spreaders. The step spreader got its holes drilled with the above jigs, and the other two spreaders received a set of fair curves thanks to my new drawing bows.

Part of the assembly folding out and being stable is having the sides only fold out 90 degrees. They must positively stop when they reach the right angle. I do this by firmly clamping the sides and uprights together and routing a small pocket for the hinges. This 3d print has a center-line mark on it and is perfectly spaced to make a tight mortise for the hinges. The result is a flush hinge and sides that do not swing out past where you need them.

I assembled the step and determined how high it could go when folded up. Too high and the step hits the top spreader. Marking those places I could make a row of holes that would allow the step assembly to adjust as needed. The sides and uprights got a set of holes placed every 2 inches.

To lighten the structure and add something fun, I printed a series of shape templates. Double sticky tape holds them down, and a plunge router cuts them out quickly. I made 8 unique shapes and it really adds a lot.

I put the center spreader in at the top most position and marked where the stops should be. Each one has two t-nuts hammered in place. Bolts go in from the outside to hold those securely. Now to adjust the height you have 8 bolts to remove. 4 from the stops, and 4 from the folding step. The final unit is light, compact when folded, looks decent (even though most of it is plywood), and should have enough room for any kid small enough to need it. The swinging back stop is made with another set of dowel nuts and binding screws. Everything got a coat of shellac as basic protection.

As a final bonus, I was able to cut the shapes out carefully enough that they all survived in tact. I rounded the edges and shellacked them as well.

I want to be able to re-create this again in the future. Here is a rough parts list with sizes. Dowel nuts and binding screws are both 1/4-20s.

QtyDescription
6Dowel Nut
4Binding Screw, 5/8”
6Binding Screw 1-3/16”
4T Nut
8Pan head screw, 1-1/2”


1Back Bar: 18-1/4 x 1-1/2”
3Spreaders: 16 x 2-1/2”
1Upright Left: 38 x 2-1/2”
1Upright Right: 38 x 1-3/4”
1Side Left: 36 x 10”
1Side Right: 36 x 10-3/4”
1Step: 16 x 11-1/2”

Wee Walker Fleet

My first wee walker was pretty popular with kids of the co-worker I gave it two and didn’t need any revisions after the second version. I wanted one for us, and I had two co-workers that were having kids soon. That calls for a batch run!

The MDF templates I made earlier came in handy. I could use them to do rough dimensioning of the plywood, and it let me efficiently nest parts together in some cases. I didn’t use them on the router table, but opted to free hand cut everything on the bandsaw. I was going to have to bandsaw the basic shape anyways, so all it took was a little extra care to cut up to the line. Power sanders took care of the rest. These aren’t very complex shapes.

Cutting wheels this big is kind of a pain. A 4 inch hole saw requires a lot of torque, and getting the sawdust out cleanly on 3/4″ plywood means constantly pulling the bit out and cleaning it. I might 3D print the wheels next time. 30% infill ought to be kid proof right?

I changed up the paint scheme a little from last time, adding black to the wheels and a stripe of black on the sides. I left the handles bare wood. This looks pretty nice on them, and isn’t too much work.

Everything is coming together with roundovers and pilot holes being drilled.

This round of building went well, with only a few minor errors. I made the holding area a lot deeper front to back, and that might be a mistake. It had the arms really close to the wheels, and might lead to kids kicking the back plate when walking. I don’t think it will be a major issue, but will want to have a shorter storage area in the next version. I’ll have to start calling myself kilted santa’s workshop.

Wee Walker Wagon V1 and 2

Getting back to baby furniture, I have seen different kinds of little pusher wagons that kids learning to walk can use to help them build muscles and coordination. A co-worker mentioned that his daughter had a plastic store bought walker that she was learning to walk with, but that it was so light that it would shoot away from her. I had him measure her height to the shoulder to act as a rough starting point

I will probably build one for us and a few for friends having kids. That means making use of templates to repeat the work once I figure out what I want it to be like. I broke out the compass and thin bandsaw blade and got curvy.

I added holes to the templates and used a transfer punch to copy those holes over to each part. That way the wheels will connect in the same spot, and the handles will go on evenly. To add a little color and flare I painted green accents to the handle and wheels and a racing stripe for +2 speed. When the paint was all dry I coated everything with polyurethane.

I was worried the walker would go skidding across the floor if placed on anything other than carpet. I printed thin TPU bands to act as tries and glued them to the wooden wheels. The TPU isn’t as grippy as a rubber tire, but I was able to produce it in house and it will grip better than the bare wood.

I spent some time fiddling with the arms, and probably built them a little too short. I will give this to the co-worker and have him test it out on his daughter.

The finished product looks nice. It is heavy enough that a child just learning to climb up will not have it shoot away, but light enough they can still push it. Lock nuts set the tension at the wheels, so there can be more or less resistance as needed.


I gave this one to the co-worker that was complaining about the plastic one his daughter was using. The only catch was that he had to report back how it worked, and let me tweak it if need be. A few weeks later the reports were in. The bigger kids liked to play with it too! They treated it like a bumper car and crashed it into a lot of things. Also they wrenched on the handle hard enough that the arms were flexing where they screwed into the body. Lastly, it was a little on the wide side.

No problem, this is why I gave it to him! I didn’t like how the old arms turned out, so I went ahead and remade the template. Instead of freehanding some curves I got more systematic. I drew two circles that were the size I wanted each end of the arm to be, and drew them further apart than the original arm so I could move the base down lower on the cart. Then, to connect them, I set my drawing bow to a nice curve and connected the tangents of the two circles. The results look a lot better than my first arm template.

I assembled everything with pocket hole screws from underneath, and a few visible screws on the side. That let me take everything apart for alterations. I trimmed the center width down from 16 inches to 12. That should lighten the look and load of the thing and make it more maneuverable.

The bumper car comment had me wondering. I had left the bolt heads stick out beyond the wheel. If they caught a piece of furniture or baseboard, the bolt would probably fair better than the target. Also, there wasn’t much cushion to the tires. I mostly added them for grip, not as a bash protector. I counter-bored all the wheels, to recess the bolt heads, and upgraded to 5/16″ bolts as that was what I had available. The old tires were cut off and replaced with thicker ones that wrap around the outside face of the wheel. Now they shouldn’t be so offensive to fine features in one’s house.

With those upgrades complete I reassembled everything and gave it back to my co-worker. If there aren’t any more changes needed I can go into production and make a few for myself and other co-workers that are having kids.

Table Saw Outfeed Extension

I already had an outfeed extension for my table saw. I only built it two years ago. Why make a new one? Well I love it and use it all the time, but often wish it was bigger. Wide sheet goods don’t get enough support on the side, and longer things still fall off the back of it. I have more space in my new house, and I saw a great idea from Wood Work Web. Colin over at that site used these clever folding brackets to hold the extension and in a followup added a really easy release bar. First, let’s say goodbye to the old extension.

How did I manage to get nice laminate faced plywood in these times? As it turns out if you order enough sheets of plywood from the cabinet store, they will deliver it all for a pretty reasonable fee. I got enough supplies to last me for months, supported a local business, and did it in a socially distanced manor!

The folding brackets are a cheap amazon versions of what was used in the video. They feel sturdy enough, but aren’t actually square. A deeper read of the comments would have highlighted that fact. They slope the table away from the saw. That is ok by me, but in a lot of other applications, that could be a deal breaker. After removing the old top, I was able to re-use the bolted on pine board that served as the anchor point for my previous extension. I spaced the extension far enough away to clear my fence and its hardware. There is a bolt head (circled in red) that sits well below the height of the table. I have to avoid it or risk limiting the fence’s movement. Once installed the extension folds very compactly.


Rounded Corners

I really wanted to cut some corners on this build. I know I will be lazy and leave the extension up most of the time, and I work a lot around the table saw at my router and back into the saw and extension often. Rounding these edges would make them less painful. I started with a 2.5″ radius template and used it to mark and jig saw the corner off. Next I stuck it down with double sticky tape and used a template tracing bit to smooth out the remainder.

Once both corners were done I applied a white edge banding to all the edges. This should help protect the laminate top from getting chipped or damaged. I trimmed all the excess with a sharp knife.

Miter Slots

My last extension didn’t have any miter slots. If I used any kind of sled or miter gauge they would bonk against the table. I took the time to install them in this top. I clamped plywood to the top just outside of where the miter bar would pass. I then used a short tracing bit route down enough to allow clearance for the bar. I then picked up the plywood, lined it up with the other side of the bar and routed again. It wasn’t as exact as a purpose built slot template, but was quick and worked well. With the two slots routed, I soaked the edges in thin CA glue to help reinforce them and prevent the top from chipping off.

Things were starting to look really nice and functional. I did notice that my last top had a slight warp to it. I may have stored too many things on it. To prevent warpage in this top, I took it off and screwed on a set of supports underneath. These should help keep it flat.

Release Bar

This was kind of above and beyond, but why not go all out? I wanted to add a release bar like Colin did. Between the supports I added, and the way it was anchored to the saw, there wasn’t room to do what he did. Instead I 3D printed a little funky zigzag bracket. It is threaded to accept a #10 screw. I drilled a hole in the bracket release tab so the screw would go into that hole and prevent the bracket from sliding off.

That printed part gave me a long arm to attach a wide piece of plywood. This would be the thing I press up against to release and lower the extension. I clamped it in place to make sure it was all working correctly, then screwed the release bar down.

The finished product is great! It holds a lot of weight, gives me plenty of support for wide and long cuts coming off the saw, and folds up really flat. I figured the ease and speed of pack and deploy had to be shown, so I made a short gif.

Router Table

While building my baby bookcase I noticed the table top on my router was not flat. The joinery was poor enough I had to go to the table saw instead. 10+ years of Florida humidity and a heavy router finally did it in. The red arrow is pointing to all the light coming out from under the straight level.

I use my router table a lot, so I wanted something nice to replace it. A full professional router table setup can cost 1,000 bucks with all the bells and whistles. I want something of decent quality, but not for that much money. I did a ton of research and finally broke down to buying a really high quality lift, and building the rest. Say goodbye to my old friend! By the way, I took the mounting plate out and tried it on my tablesaw top. It had a very distinct rock, so it wasn’t flat either.

The Top

These days my building and blogging are badly out of sync. Some short projects get posted in a week or two, and bigger ones linger for months before getting posted. This one started right about the time we were all supposed to limit our trips out to essentials only. The hardware stores are open, but I can’t call this router table essential. A broken toilet or water heater, this is not.

I normally would have gone to pickup laminate faced plywood, but instead I looked around and decided to use this big piece of butcher block counter top. Some friends were having their kitchen redone and saved it for me.

I got to cutting off a nice hunk and my saw went a little nuts. It turns out the way they clamp everything together is with screws! Lots and lots of screws. If you look at the side, they even cut through some to make the counter top the right size, and just filled the void with putty. They must make these things in massive sheets, then cut down what they need.

I took my number 5 to it and planed off all the old finish that was feeling a little gummy. It looks a lot nicer now. This is really soft pine and not as flat or as stable as I was hoping. There was some twist I couldn’t quite get out.

With the top mostly flat, I built up a set of guides to install my router lift. This part didn’t go quite as planned either. I tried to attach each piece together with pocket hole screws, but going into the plywood sideways with a screw caused it to de-laminate and bulge. I muddled through with double sticky tape and got to routing with a template bit.

Once I had a recess routed that was the thickness of the router lift top, I went through and cut out the inside area. Those pesky screws came to bite me again, my jigsaw was not happy. When it was all cutout I marked the location of the leveling set screws and soaked the area with thin CA glue to stabilize the wood. I was worried the set screws would slowly sink into this soft pine otherwise.

The top’s twist was a little evident in the fit of the router top, and the template bit’s radius was off. It turns out the lift has a corner radius of 3/4″ of an inch, and my bit is 3/4″ in diameter which yields a 3/8″ radius. I think we are going to call this a practice table top. I will eventually get a new material and make a better one. I put down a few coats of polyurethane to seal it up and give me a solid surface to wax.

Base

With the top basically finished I was able to move on to the base. Using the plywood I had available I made a 3 chambered base. The left was going to be for open storage, the center would house the router and collect most of the dust, and the right would have a set of drawers for bit storage.

I set the top down and the twist is even more evident. The bottom is really uneven, so I guess they only ever planed the top to flat-ish.

I thinned down some maple scraps and cut them up to make runners. I used a piece of hardboard as a template for the drawer side height, and it also served as a square and guide for installing the runners. I nailed and glued those in place, then hit everything with boiled linseed oil to finish.

Fence

I had some ideas about how I wanted to make a fence, but wasn’t quite sure which way to go. I was also running low on some materials, so to conserve, I just re-purposed the fence from my old router table. I added wings to make it reach out further. To hold it in place I made it go past the edges of the table, then used a little clamp paw to squeeze it down to the edge of the table.

To attach the wings I just screwed them down from underneath

It worked reasonably well, except that any time I pushed on the fence in the center, it seemed to bow outward. The system wasn’t rigid enough. I added a support across the back to help stiffen it up. That reduced the bow. Next time I will sink some tracks into the table top to facilitate more centralized clamping.

Drawers

Things were starting to come together. With the top in place and a working fence available I was able to employ it in making drawers. Nothing fancy, just some plywood sides with half lap joints and rabbeted bottoms. I added drawer fronts with rounded edges and finished everything with boiled linseed oil.

The top drawer holds my trim router and all 1/4″ shank bits. Only got this thing a month or two ago, but have found it to be an incredibly useful tool.

Next are all of my 1/2″ shank bits. They fit with plenty of space to spare. I 3D printed the holders for these because I didn’t have the right sized drill bits. A 1/2″ bit will leave a really snug fit. My next size up was a 5/8″ forstner bit. Too loose! Everything is kind of grouped and there is a lot of room left for new bits. The last drawer is empty believe it or not. Plenty of room to grow!

Finishing Touches

With the drawers set I was able to work on a few finishing touches. I moved the power switch over from the old table to the new one. This works great and will stay. There is a hole in the back for the router’s power cord to come through. I covered it with a custom 3D print cover. I put a cover over the front router cavity with magnets. It comes right off if I need to service something, but otherwise has gaps to pull air and dust through when in operation. On that cover I have two printed holders with magnets for the collet release and hex tool that runs the lift. Lastly I added a shelf to the left cavity. It holds common use accessories and a stack of different brass setup bars I cut from 12″ lengths of key stock.

I have been using this table for a few weeks and it has been working really well. The router lift was pricey, but is a dream to work with. It adjusts easily and locks down securely. The top is fine for now. The pine has already gotten dented and my install job has left some gaps. The fence clamps work well, but it flexes too much. I will take all these lessons learned and do a series of upgrades soon. For now, it is back to work on other projects.

Baby Bookcase

Our household bookcase is already pretty full with regular adult stuff. A new kid will require more book space. I always like those ones that would face all the covers forward. They of course sell for a lot, but with a bit of plywood I can make my own. Final product first, so you can see where we are going.

Our small collection of baby books ready to go! The only thing I would do different next time would be to make each pocket shallower. Lots of kids books are only 4 or 5 inches high, so they get half obscured.


I wanted to make a locking rabbet joint to hold the bottoms of each shelf on to the back. I used a slot bit on my router table and had numerous issues. This plywood tears really badly without any kind of support around the small diameter slot cutter. Those Jagged edges are really nasty and will be a pain to deal with. Good thing I cut a spare shelf to experiment with.

The other problem I was having was that my joint didn’t seat up very tightly across the wide shelf. I re-did it twice and still had odd gaps. I started looking at my router table and found the source. That is a straight level on the table, and the red arrow is pointing to a very large gap where the flashlight beam is shining through.

The router table is made of MDF, and the center plate that attaches to the router is plastic. Both had sagged after 10 years of weight and humidity. No wonder my cut wasn’t straight, my table isn’t flat! I will have to fix that later. I setup the tablesaw with a 1/4″ dado blade and cut all the joints. I hate having my table saw tied up for doing joinery, but it did make the cuts a lot cleaner than the router did.

With that solved I assembled all 5 shelves. Each one has pocket holes in the base so it can screw into the shelf in front of it, and more pocket holes along the sides to screw into the uprights. I finished all the shelves and cut out the two outside uprights that everything else would screw to. Other than the locking rabbet to attach the back and bottoms of each shelf everything else is pocket holes. Not glamorous, but effective.

For finishing I decided to try my hand at spraying shellac. I broke out shellac for the first time in a while on the stacking block project, but picked up a compact HVLP spray gun to try this out with. I reduced the shellac down to a 1lb cut and sprayed away. I didn’t have the gun setup right the first round and wasted a lot of finish. The second time I got it tuned in and was able to apply a few coats in a very short amount of time.

Before
After Shellac

The shellac is dry to the touch in a few minutes, and with a little buffing, the next coat is ready to go on. Once the solvent evaporates it is set. Each successive layer will re-desolve the previous a little, so it always sticks. Not the most durable finish, but kid friendly and easy to repair.

Rolling Sink Carts

Now that my summer slog rock project is done, things have cooled down enough to get back into the shop. I am still refining the organization of my shop and turned my attention to the area around my sink. There was a pile of spray bottles and gallon jugs of cleaners scattered all over the place. I wanted to make a little set of carts that slide out to hold the junk.

The two carts sit low on either side of the sink and roll out to expose all their contents. These are already mostly full which means I either made them too small or I need to pair down the stuff I keep around.


I designed this project back in the spring based on a gallon jug of headlight fluid and two scraps of plywood I had. Thankfully 6 months later the jug was still the same size and the plywood was still there. The design is like a two shelf book case, only with no back. I made runners to go on either side of the shelf to prevent sag and keep everything from racking.

The assembly was mostly glue and brad nails, and once dry felt quite stiff. I gave everything a single heavy coat of polyurethane. I would typically use boiled linseed oil for shop furniture, but had some old urethane around and figured these would get splashed around the sink quite often.

I found really small wheels to put on the bottom. They don’t swivel, but I don’t need them to. The carts just roll in and out. Plus their compact size means I waste as little space as possible. Lastly I printed a beefy handle on top to help me grab and roll the loaded carts.

Straight Edge Clamp Saw Guide

Track saws are one of the hot new things in woodworking. I guess they have been around for a while, but it seems like every power tool company has jumped on the bandwagon. They look handy and appear perform nice clean cuts with the way the track backs the saw blade. They are all really expensive though.

A cheap substitute is to use a clamped straight edge to run your saw or router up against. It works, but doesn’t prevent you from wondering away from the guide and doesn’t back the cut. I have a few clamping straight edges from a company called E Emerson. They sell a saw plate to attach your own circular saw to their track, but it has abysmal reviews and doesn’t back up any of the cuts.

Instead I am going to 3D print an adapter to hold a sheet of 1/2″ plywood to act as a moving saw plate base. I took a pile of measurements and after a few iterations came up with the right design that would hug the tracks available on the clamp.

I had some phenolic faced plywood left over from making my own table saw inserts. I cut the plywood to the rough size of my circular saw base, and attached two long guides.

To attach the saw, I tried printing some different bracket styles, but was never happy with how they held. Instead I found a 1/4″-20 threaded hole in the base near the front to take advantage of (I think it was for some kind of moveable crosscut guide you could buy), and just drilled a hole in the back. It worked out though, the ribbing in the saw plate holds a nut perfectly. I counterbored holes in the bottom to keep the screw heads from interfering with the plate’s movement.

The saw is well fixed now and ready for me to plunge the blade through. With this setup I cut a slot that is perfectly sized for the blade. Now any cutting I do will be well supported and have little to no tear out. It is like a moving zero clearance insert.

It just so happens that I had a full sized sheet of plywood that required crosscutting down to reasonable sized for a project. Here is the setup ready for its first cut.

Everything went smoothly until I got to the end. The guides got hung up on the folding clamp lever (blue and pointing downward in this picture). It left me with a few extra inches of plywood still left un-sawed. Kind of a bummer.

I regrouped and decided to move the front guide back until it touched the rear one, this would buy me a little. It still wasn’t quite enough, and some heavy sanding was required. Once I shaved it down at an angle I was able to make a complete cut across the plywood.


Once I got the cutting part figured out I wanted a set of guides. Setting up one of these straight edges always involves a bit of math. You need to know the distance from the blade to the edge of the saw plate, and are you concerned about the inside or outside edge of the saw kerf? I made a set of plywood blanks that show exactly where your cut will land. Now you can make a mark. line the blanks up, and voila. Just line it up and that is where the cut will happen.

I made a number of different length guides all designed for 1/2″ plywood and uploaded them to thingiverse.

Router Table Dust Collection

The next item on my dusty hit list is the router table. I have a dust port in the back of the fence, but that only really gets half the mess, and depending on what kind of operation you are doing it might get none. A lot falls down below the table and gets everywhere. The router is a high speed cutter and makes a lot of fine dust. Here is what the surface below the router often looks like.

I need some kind of box to go around the router and capture most of the dust that falls below the table. They can be bought online, but for 100+ dollars I will make my own. I made a back and bottom with dust port in the back to take a 4″ hose.

I wanted all the other sides of the box to move out of the way when I am working on the router. I attached the left and right sides with hinges so they can swing closed or wide open to let you get your hands in and work.

To hold everything closed and attach a front door, I put strips of magnets on the front edges of the side walls and the front door. It just snaps into place and keeps the side walls from swinging open.

I attached the bottom of this box directly to the toolbox base that the router table sits on. There is a small gap between the top of the box and the underside of the router table, and a large gap at the front wall. These gaps help by drawing air in and pulling the dust away. If this box was completely sealed you wouldn’t pull any dust out.

The quarters are a little tight under there, but the front door just pulls off and comes out any way you want. The sides naturally swing open a little and there is all the access you could ever want to the router for adjustments.

In the back I attached a duct splitter and have one hose going to the box and the other to the fence. Hopefully the 50/50 split will always be enough to get the job done. I wanted to add blast gates to adjust which side got more flow, but didn’t have space. Maybe a 3d printed part that acts as a flow control valve is in my future!

To test it out I routed a bunch of rabbets in some random plywood. There was a little left in the bottom, but most was removed. Any left over dust is at least confined to this box instead of in the air and all over the shop.

Dust Collector Upgrade

I picked up my current harbor freight dust collector probably some time in 2010. For the price it is an awesome deal, but after these years it is time for an upgrade. The motor (lower left in left picture) pulls in dust and blows it into the upright section. Everything swirls around so big dust falls to the clear bag while finer dust gets filtered in the white upper section.

It is an ok principle, but has issues. The upper bag filters down to 5 micron, but no further. A very fine dust will land on everything in the shop when using this for a while. Those finer particles are bad for your lungs. The bag is a pain in the butt to replace and often gets rips in it from sucked up chunks of wood.

I spent about $350 on this upgrade. Over half of that was the filter. Considering a new harbor freight dust collector can be had for about $180, that is ludicrous. A new tool with good filtering and easier disposal is in the $1,500 neighborhood. We have had a ton of house expenses, so maybe a diy upgrade isn’t so ludicrous after all. I want to keep my lungs clear, so let’s get started. With a dust mask on, I ground off some rust spots and repainted with whatever green I had lying around.

I had thought about doing a lesser version of this many years ago, but never got around to it. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do one upgrade and make it count. I will show where we are going, then explain the journey in steps.

The motor has been turned sideways from where it originally was. Below it is a pre-separator (red). It pulls out most of the junk before it gets to the filter area. As everything swirls in the upright the leftovers fall into my new bag replacement (blue), and finally out through a new hepa filter (green). Everything gets attached to a mobile base. Let’s start there.


Dropping Some Base

I was going to need more space for the pre-separator and wanted nicer casters than the original assembly, so I started with a cut bit of 3/4″ plywood. A set of 2×4 uprights with plywood and angle brackets support the motor in its new configuration.

The motor is really heavy and caused the base to flex a lot. I added a rib along the right side and eventually a 2×4 underneath to further stiffen the bottom. With that I had a good mobile base for my new dust collector.

I reused the circulator and upright rods to attach that section to the base.


Pre-Separator

Before hitting the motor or clogging up the filter most dust will be caught in the pre-separator. The design is called a Thien Baffle. The exact dimensions seem to be debated, so I just made it up as I went along. Basically everything comes in through a right angle port so it swirls around and gets flung to the edges. Gravity takes over for the particles and the air goes up through the center.

My circle cutting jig came back in full force with a lot of inside and outside cuts. I love this thing! I cut out a top for the separator and added a groove for the weather seal that would go up against the trash can top (left). Next I cut the baffle that keeps dust in the bin from getting pulled back up (right).

I clamped the two together and match drilled the 1/4″ threaded rods that hold the two sections together. I used the circle jig to drill out the 4″ inlet and 5″ exhaust ports. The inlet port is sized to allow a 4″ right angle dust fitting to slip into the top. The bottom goes onto a 4″ tight PVC drain elbow. I custom printed this to work with the parts I had around. I used silicone calking to seal it and screws to hold it in place. The center is larger and will accept 5″ hose to go between the separator and motor. Same method of silicone calking and screws to seal and hold.

I bolted the bottom baffle on and fitted it all to the metal trash can. This section is before the motor, so it will be under vacuum. I think the metal can will do better than a plastic one in preventing collapse.

I added weather stripping to the lid where it interacts with the trash can overlapping the interface to help form a better seal. With everything underneath I just needed a short segment of 5″ hose to attach the two.

Here is the pre-separator fully assembled and in place.


Bag Replacement

Ideally, most of the dust is already out by the time it passes the motor. Some will still exist and it will need a place to go. Instead of a thin plastic bag that rips and is difficult to install, I wanted another rigid bin. A 20 gallon rubbermade can was just about the right size. I temporary attached two pieces of 3/4″ plywood and match cut the interior and exterior diameters, the cutouts for clearing the metal upright bars, and holes for screwing the two halves together.

The upper section had a groove in it to lay a generous bead of silicone calking to help it seal with the metal ring of the circulator. It turns out that ring isn’t very circular, so the gap in that groove varies wildly.

I didn’t trust the calking alone, so I cut down some right angle brackets and drilled/screwed them into place to help support this mating ring.

The bottom half of the mating ring will attach to the 20 gallon trash can. I installed 1/4-20 T-nuts so a bolt can come in from the top to draw the can up and seal it. I put another thick bead of silicon calking on the ring and screwed the can down through the lip. The combo of screws and silicon made for another slid connection.

It is pretty important that you don’t let this section get too full. Otherwise the circulation of dust might get up to the filter and damage it. I cut a thin section of clear plastic and added a viewing port to the can.


Last but not least is the filter. Made in America from Wynn Environmental, the filter is a majority of the cost of the project. The new filter gets down to 0.3 micron instead of 5 micron. That doesn’t hamper flow though, instead of the 30-something square feet of filter the bag had, this one has over 200. The kit comes with little cleats that look like modified hose clamps to strap everything down from the inside.

To test out my new vacuum rig I had 20 board feet of 4/4 maple to plane. I got through all the boards and looked into the grey plastic bin. I was horrified to see a pile of shavings in it. I thought the pre-separator had failed to… well separate.

Turns out the pre-separator was past full and the shavings had gotten up past the baffle into the final stage. Good thing emptying both sections is easy and only takes a minute. The newly revamped dust collection rig works well and the pleated filter on top makes it breathe even better than before the pre-separator was added. Very happy with this upgrade.