Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dock Box Carpentry

Given Norm Abram's shop, getting really good results from wood working projects is relatively easy.  But doing it on the dock, with a very limited set of tools that all have to go in the dock box when you are done...  not so much.  As promised, here is Walt on s/v Suppose's post on "Dock Box Carpentry".  He makes it look easy:
There was a time when I had an oversized garage with a table saw and a long workbench with a drill press, belt sander, vise and rows of drawers filled with a variety of tools. Now, instead of a garage, we have a dock box and the trunk of our car. I thought that there might be some interest in the simplified set of tools that I am using, a cordless drill, circular saw and router.

This is my combination table saw and router table. It is a simple plywood construction shown with the circular saw mounted underneath. The trigger on the saw is not easily accessible or lockable. So, I strapped it down with a tie wrap and the saw is turned on and off by plugging and unplugging the power cord. I know that this is unsafe on a variety of levels but knowing that is exactly what makes me doubly cautious. Plus, the circular saw is not nearly as powerful as a real table saw and not as likely to kick back violently. So far, I have had no accidents or even a close call.

I mounted the saw under the table such that the edge of the saw's base is parallel to the table edge. After making a plunge cut to bring the blade through the table top, I laid a guideline the full length of the table that is aligned with the side of the blade. I measure and make marks relative to the guideline at both ends of the table and clamp a board on the marks to serve as a rip fence. It's a little tedious but works very well.

A piece of half inch plywood screwed at a 90 degree angle to a 1x2 inch rail that rides against the edge of the table makes a usable mitre guide. I added a strip of wood to the top to clamp stop blocks for repeated cuts.

This the same table with the router mounted underneath. The clamped on fence and miter guide are useful with the router as well. With a 1/2x1 inch straight bit and 1/4 and 1/2 inch quarter-round bits, I can make all of the joints and decorative cuts that I need for boat projects.

This is my favorite new tool, a portable drill press. Our rigger let me use the real drill press in his shop to drill a variety of holes through a 3/4x2 inch strip of teak which I use as a drilling guide.

There is something about my "no line" glasses that makes it impossible for me to line the drill up for a hole perpendicular to a surface. The drilling guide is a huge help.

This is another indispensable tool that I use often. Many times, the most difficult part of a job is just getting the workpiece to stay put while you hammer, drill or file on it. A solid vice can be a life saver. This one is mounted a 1 1/2 inch ash board. The board has feet at both ends so that work can be clamped directly to the board as well as in the vice.

For me, the key to getting reasonably accurate work is to build a jig for everything. This a drilling jig that I used to locate the holes for hinge pins in a spice rack project.

With patience (the really hard part), you can finish projects that you can be happy with, even though the tools that you are using are limited.


  1. This is great Walt. I know all to well working from a plank at the back of a boat shed or kneeling over a couple of milk crates on a dock. It's patience with what you have to work with. You know the finished product, it's clearly in your mind, you just have to get there with what you have!

  2. this is a great pictorial, Walt. Can you post some line drawings of the table saw for the less capable DIYer or a link to somewhere that inspired you

  3. I am pleased that you enjoyed the article. Unfortunately, we have been traveling and I don't have access to the router/saw table to make measurements. I built the table initially as a first project to try out a new router and then modified it to support the saw.

    Estimating, the table top is approximately 18" x 24". I drilled a hole at the front and back of the base plate on the circular saw and then match drilled holes through the underside of the table. It is important to take some care in aligning the saw with the edge of the table that you will use as a guide for a miter guide. The holes were counter sunk on the top to keep the surface unobstructed.

    I took the blade off the saw while working out the mounting underneath the table top. Then I put the blade on, tilted the base plate until the blade cleared and mounted it to the top. With it securely fastened, it was easy to power it up to make a neat and clean plunge cut.

    When you build the base for the table, be sure to leave a generous overhang for the top around all of the edges, That is very handy for attaching clamps.

    The nice thing about the table is that is made from inexpensive or even scrap materials. You can make one and try it for a while to determine how a second one could be improved. If you carefully at the photographs, you can several plunge cuts that I made with the saw while experimenting.

    Hope this helps and thanks for your comment.


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