A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

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sehast
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A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by sehast »

I define small parts to be 8 inches or less in length and width which represent a challenge to safely cut with a table saw, miter saw, or router and to a somewhat lesser degree for a bandsaw or drill press. That may be overly cautious for some but I have a healthy respect for what a spinning cutter can do to one of your fingers. A properly configured fixture board I believe is a great solution to this issue and the introduction of the ToolQuest line of products has made it even better. Rather than making this a long post I plan to break it up into several installments within this thread a few days apart to allow discussion among those who have interest.

Today I want to start with some of the things I have learned over the past year as an independent beta tester for ToolQuest. For those of you not familiar with ToolQuest please check out the website here. https://toolquest.net/

The products are very well explained there and I will not repeat it here. The emphasis of this post will be on a fixture board which may be implemented several different ways using traditional T-tracks, MatchFit dovetail slots and now the ToolQuest WoodAnchor slots. The WoodAnchor slot approach will be my focus. I have never received any compensation from ToolQuest for my testing and the opinions expressed here are totally my own.

One of the first things I did during my beta testing was extensive research into the best materials for WoodAnchor slot fixture boards. I found the very best panel material to be 1 inch thick industrial grade MDF sometimes referred to as Super MDF. It is more dense, rigid and heavier than standard MDF allowing it to maintain great flatness and stability even when several WoodAnchor slots are cut into it. A 4’x8’ sheet weighs so much I could not get it out of my truck by myself. I had to use a tracksaw in the truck bed to cut it into easier to handle 2’x4’ pieces. Also only a well stocked lumber distributor will carry it and the cost is about twice standard ¾” MDF so it might not be such a good solution for most folks. A more attainable solution is using contact cement to laminate standard ¾” MDF or standard 18 mm Baltic birch to ¼” tempered hardboard resulting in a 1” thick panel. If the slots are cut into the MDF or BB top side with the tempered hardboard on the bottom side I have found it to be just as stable as 1” Super MDF. Other materials that are close seconds to 1” Super MDF are 24 mm Baltic or Russian birch and ¾” Super MDF which also have limited availability and are pricy but are at least light enough to be manageable. Next comes standard 18 mm Baltic or Russian birch and finally standard ¾” MDF which are both readily available at a reasonable cost. I have not had very good luck with most other plywoods or MDO unless they are re-enforced at the bottom with a some type of cross hatch strips for support. Of course solid hardwoods like maple, oak or beech glued up into a panel work extremely well too but require a lot more work to use.

The first fixture board build I will discuss is one for my sliding miter saw. If I need to cut small parts I typically use the Incra Miter Express sled on my Shopsmith when accuracy/finish really matter or my bandsaw when I need something quick and dirty. Since it seems my Shopsmith is seldom setup in table saw mode it takes effort and time to configure and many times it disrupts the workflow on some projects that need repeated access to the drill press or drum sander. Dealing with this while one of the most accurate tools in my shop, a Kapex 120 sliding miter saw, sets idle is not very smart. However, without some type of additional holding capability for the parts it is far too dangerous to use for small parts. This is a perfect application for a fixture board and one using WoodAnchor slots and sliding nuts will be my preferred approach. The basic design should be general enough to work with whatever miter saw that you have so don’t tune out because you don’t have a Kapex.

Since I have some 1” Super MDF left over from my testing, I plan to use it for the base and fence but standard Baltic birch or MDF could also be used. Some design considerations include having enough slots in the right places for clamps and jigs but not so many that the structural integrity of the panel is compromised. Having one in the fence running the full length of the table seems valuable as is one not too far from the fence on the fixture board. Another thing that must be decided is how angled cuts will be performed. The saw can be rotated to make any cut +/- 45 degrees of the center line which is standard operation without the fixture board or it can be fixed on the center line and the work piece held at the desired angle of cut. I decided to hold the saw fixed on the center line and move the work pieces to the desired angle when using the fixture board. I don’t have a strong justification for it other than it just feels better when working with small parts and always knowing where the blade will cut by simply using the kerf in the table allows for a quicker setup. That being decided, slots about 3” from the center line on each side will be needed for holding and a couple of others distributed over the length of the table will finish the basic design as shown in the figure. I know that the slot placement seems kind of arbitrary but when you see the hold down fixtures and clamps it will make more sense. With a 1” table thickness I plan to set the depth stop on the saw at 7/8” to make a 1/8” kerf in the fixture board. At that blade height the fence will need to be a little over 1” wide to ensure complete cuts at the end of travel. I choose to just laminate two 1” thick strips 3” high to make the fence thickness an even 2”. That will limit my cut capacity from my normal 12” when no depth stop or fence are used to 9.25” with the 2” fence and 7/8” blade height. For small parts I think that is very acceptable.
MiterSwFixTable.PNG
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With the basic design complete the next installment will cover the build and type of fixtures to used.
DLB
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by DLB »

Very nice. I'd like to ask a couple of questions.

1) The WoodAnchor appears to be usable over a fairly wide range of slot depth. I presume you are using something near the minimum depth.(?) Is it your experience that this works best?

2) Did you consider a WoodAnchor slot in the top of the fence? If you were putting one there would you choose a different material for the fence?

- David
sehast
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by sehast »

DLB wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 6:53 pm Very nice. I'd like to ask a couple of questions.

1) The WoodAnchor appears to be usable over a fairly wide range of slot depth. I presume you are using something near the minimum depth.(?) Is it your experience that this works best?

2) Did you consider a WoodAnchor slot in the top of the fence? If you were putting one there would you choose a different material for the fence?

- David
When I made a spoil board for my CNC router table I used deeper slots because I knew that I will be skim cutting the top down periodically and wanted it to last a fair amount of time. I also have bottom support for the bed so fixture board structural integrity is not much of a concern. Most of the time I use the minimum depth but it depends on the application. You definitely don't want to go less than 7/16".
I did consider a slot on top of the fence but think the one on the face will be all I need. When you see all the fixtures I intend to use it will become more clear. I have not tried putting a slot on a MDF edge but I have no reason to think it would not work. But a hardwood fence of the appropriate thickness would definitely be an upgrade from MDF for many reasons.
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reible
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by reible »

Interesting. A much more robust design and implantation then my design. Don't have the tooling or parts so far for this sort of project and I'm waiting to see the details as you present them. Especially interesting in the clamps you will be using.

Ed
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sehast
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by sehast »

Today we will look at the construction of the fixture board for the miter saw and some of the stops and clamps that can be used with it. The first picture shows my current miter saw station. I have it setting down on a 30” wide shelf so it is level with the foldable wings that extend 4 feet on each side. I want to be able to be able to easily install and remove the fixture board without making any changes to the miter saw configuration. I am shooting for change over times of less than one minute. There are two Festool hold down clamps that are part of the miter saw system behind the fence which I plan to use to secure the back of the fixture board. On the front of the board close fit holes will be drilled to mate with tapped holes in the two aluminum angle bars on each side to ensure quick, repeatable and accurate placement each time I re-install it. I recently added a ProStop Digital Fence System which I won’t cover here but probably will do a review on after have a little more time to use it. It is fully explained here for those interested.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZPXW6998o8&t=8s

MitersawFrontHi.JPG
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I used a track saw to cut the 11”x 33” fixture board and the two 33”x 3” strips for the fence. The two strips were glued together with the aid of dominos or biscuits for alignment. After the glue cured I took light cuts on the jointer and planer to ensure the laminated fence was square and parallel on all sides. There are several choices for cutting the WoodAnchor slots. I have used my table router that has a 3.5hp Milwaukee router in it and my gantry type CNC router which has a 1.8 KW spindle. Both have enough power to cut the slot in a single pass at 17,500 RPM and 30 IPM feed rate using the special Whiteside bit. That is definitely the way I do it on the table router but on the CNC I get better dust collection if I first use a 3/8” or 7/16” spiral bit to cut a starter slot prior to a pass with the Whiteside bit. On the table router it is too cumbersome to do multiple passes for starter slots so I do it in a single pass with the Whitside bit and just put up with the saw dust mess. Dennis has used a handheld router to make his fixturing grid worktop as discussed on the ToolQuest web site but I have never tried that. I am pretty sure I could also use the Whiteside bit with a single pass on the PowerPro at 10,000 RPM at maybe a slower feed rate. Unfortunately, the ½” shank does not allow the use of the Shaper Origin but you might be able to use the SO to cut 3/8”- 1/2” starter slots with a standard straight bit which then could be finished with a standard handheld router. I might try that technique sometime because if the starter slots can then be used as a guide for the handheld router it could be very worthwhile. If you are using Baltic birch make sure you make all of the cross grain cuts first and then do the slots with the grain. As I found out the hard way if you do it the other way around you will probably get chip out on the slot corners. I use the minimum depth of cut of 7/16” for the slots to preserve as much structural integrity as possible for the fixture board. Once the slots are cut the fence can be glued to the base using dominos or biscuits for alignment. Finally I mounted it on the miter saw using the miter saw hold down clamps and drilled two close fit holes in the base to use with button head screws in the aluminum angle bars. I then finished sanding it and applied Osmo hard wax oil for an easy but durable finish.
Table.JPG
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You will see that after the finish went on some very noticeable areas along the fence where glue residue is preventing the hard wax oil finish from soaking in. I didn’t notice it until the finish went on so now only a few options remain. The most obvious would be to aggressively sand and scrap the glue areas and re-apply the finish but I would run the risk of creating divots or valleys in the fence and base that might effect cuts for small parts. If I were really a perfectionist, I would just start over but I am choosing to just live with it. It is smooth, square and functional so I will take it. It will serve as a reminder for me to use blue painters tape to prevent glue squeeze out issues like this one.
The next picture shows an array of clamps that I have used on other fixture boards which might be candidates for this one.
Clamps.JPG
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First you will notice that most of these are standard clamps for ¼” T-tracks that have been fitted with a plastic sleeve which fits perfectly in the WoodAnchor slots. I am in the process of beta testing these prototype sleeves for ToolQuest and so far most are working out great. From right to left the first set of clamps are a very cost effective and compact set from PowerTec. They have a limited throat capacity but are great for holding small parts without not getting in the way.
https://www.amazon.com/POWERTEC-T-Track ... 785G&psc=1
Next up are the standard MatchFit clamps that many of you may already have. With the plastic sleeves you will be able to use them in WoodAnchor slots and still use them in dovetail slots without the sleeves.
https://www.amazon.com/Micro-DVC-538K2- ... 242&sr=8-3

Next are my favorite, the Festool Quick clamps that are used in MFT dog holes and track saw guide rails. When outfitted with the plastic sleeves they are my go to clamp for WoodAnchor slots as well.
https://www.amazon.com/Festool-491594-Q ... 233&sr=8-1
Next are the Kreg bench clamps configured to fit into 20 mm or ¾” dog holes. Here a Toolquest prototype adaptor is used to convert the base into accepting a ¼ - 20 screw that in turn screws into a WoodAnchor sliding nut. A little too big for small parts but works great for larger pieces.
https://www.amazon.com/Kreg-KBC3-BAS-Be ... 35&sr=8-71
Last is a ToolQuest prototype CAM clamp that I am testing which is a little awkward for small parts but works well on larger ones.
The next picture shows an array of stops and some miniature clamps that are very useful.
Stops.JPG
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Again from right to left the first are some stops I made myself using ¼” brass. They were fairly easy to make out of brass remnants off of Ebay and work very well as low profile stops with a button head screw and WoodAnchor sliding nut. Next is a 12” long slotted stop also out of ¼” brass which can be used as a secondary fence that can be set at most any angle using WoodAnchor sliding nuts in two parallel slots.
Next are the two most useful low profile clamps for small parts from Carbide 3D. At the bottom are the Gator Tooth clamps which grip small parts from the top.
https://shop.carbide3d.com/collections/ ... 5366461501
Then above the Gator Tooth clamps are the Tiger Claw clamps that apply lateral pressure against the work piece using a screw for adjustment. They work great with a WoodAnchor sliding nut for clamping pieces against one of the stops or the primary fence.
https://shop.carbide3d.com/collections/ ... 8957712445
Next are what we call floating dogs which are now in the ToolQuest prototype stage. They are used just like dogs on a MFT but can be positioned and tightened down anywhere along the WoodAnchor slots. As long as you have slots that are square two floating dogs in a horizontal slot can be used to establish a fence that is perpendicular to a work piece that is aligned by other two dogs that are in a vertical slot. Alternatively they can be positioned to hold a work piece at any angle on the fixture board.
I show a ToolQuest washer to indicate that you can make your own clamps out a wooden block that you provide, a button head screw and a WoodAnchor sliding nut as shown in the picture with a knob instead of a lower profile screw. Choose a block thickness that is slightly less then the thickness of the work piece and simple tighten the screw down on the washer next to the work piece. These clamps really work well and you can’t beat the price. I have a set of blocks for use with all the common stock thicknesses that I use as hold downs on my CNC router bed. I recommend using the heavy duty washers from ToolQuest. Fender washers are not nearly as good for this application.
Clamp.png
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Another application of the washer is a make shift floating dog. Simply stack several washers on top of each other and secure them with a button head screw into a sliding nut. It can be positioned and tightened down anywhere along a slot just like a stop or floating dog.
That concludes this installment which got to be longer than I planned. While some of the hardware discussed is still in the ToolQuest product pipeline, it is nice to know that they are on their way and will be available hopefully in the near future. In the mean time the washer-based clamps/stops and the Carbide 3D clamps can serve you well for small parts holding. Next up are examples of how some of these stops and clamps can be used on the miter saw fixture board.
RFGuy
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by RFGuy »

Steve,

Thanks. I am really enjoying this thread and seeing some of the ways you have been able to utilize the WoodAnchor system. Since you brought up the ProStop Digital Fence System, I have been eyeing them for some time now. I would very much be interested in getting your opinion on this company/product at some point if you have time to author a thread on them.
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sehast
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by sehast »

RFGuy wrote: Wed Jul 21, 2021 6:55 pm Steve,

Thanks. I am really enjoying this thread and seeing some of the ways you have been able to utilize the WoodAnchor system. Since you brought up the ProStop Digital Fence System, I have been eyeing them for some time now. I would very much be interested in getting your opinion on this company/product at some point if you have time to author a thread on them.
I will get one out on ProStop in a couple of weeks. Want spend a little more time with it but so far its been great.
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BuckeyeDennis
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by BuckeyeDennis »

I'm learning from this thread too, Steve. I wasn't aware of the Tiger Claw clamps. They look very similar to Legacy LowPro clamps, but those always seem to be out of stock, and they're pretty expensive.

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I just stumbled upon these economical low-profile clamps on Etsy. They appear to be very nicely 3D-printed, and cost ony $30 for a set of four.

il_794xN.2419568306_s9yv.jpg
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I ordered a set of the blue plastic ones to try out.
sehast
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by sehast »

Good find, Dennis. They also are more forgiving when a router bit or saw blade unexpectedly comes in contact with them. 3D printing is just scratching the surface of woodworking accessories currently but I expect much more in the near future.
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reible
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Re: A Fixture Board Strategy for Machining Small Parts

Post by reible »

OK the clamping makes a lot more sense now. I did know they were developing adapters to use standard t-track hardware. It becomes a lot more useful with that.

I like where you put the blue tooth switch! I have my saw plugged in but have thought about adding another blue tooth so it would be easier to move the vacuum around and not have to unplug the saw etc. I also like the idea of adding a second hold down. I have on on my list for later this year.

Things are looking great!

Ed
{Knight of the Shopsmith} [Hero's don't wear capes, they wear dog tags]
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