Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Putting things on wheels

In a small shop it is a great thing to be able to move heavy pieces of equipment around. Since I am in the process of putting wheels under my ''new to me'' jointer, I thought I'll go over some options you may want to consider.

Years ago there was not many choices, then HTC came out with a line of mobile bases, Porta-Mate (see video review) specifically for us hobbyist woodworkers. Since then, there is a lot of "copy" of their original design floating around, from Woodstock International and various look a like under various woodworking business's  brand manes; Grizzly, Craftex, Shop Fox, Harbour Freight, etc, etc...

Throughout the years there has been various DIY ways to put wheels under your heavy stuff, but those universal, expendable mobile bases, offer a quick sure way to mobilize your tools. They may all look alike, but they are not built alike nor would support the same weight.  This video is on the Harbour Freight version which uses user's supplied pieces of hardwood to customize the base to your tools (another HTC original design). If you take a look around this video, there is all kinds of home made design's video.

The way, I ''mobilize'' my heavy stationary machines, reflect those changes in that field.

Since I did move around a lot, I never really have a dedicated permanent spot for my machinery. The first machine I bought that needed a base was my Unisaw. In the days prior to the Porta Mate mobile bases, I simply made a wooden base to support the extension table. That saw came to me with the extension table without any legs support, can you say more tipsy than a drunken sailor? (with apologies to Ralph :-) At that time, mobility was not a big concern, since that was to be my ''Ahem'' retirement shop. Now 4 shops later, it has long became a must.

I simply used 2X construction lumber to machined the base support members.
The whole thing is attached to the cabinet base, 
you can see my old tenoning jig resting up on it.

That saw was later replaced by a different one that came with no extension table and its original Jet Lock POS fence. In Ottawa, I had a very small garage, and mobile bases became a priority. I bought a Porta Mate PM 1000 to put under my bandsaw.

The original, PM 1000
It works OK, but I find that it makes the bandsaw a bit unbalanced when moving, since it tilt a tall skinny package sideways. suspect you would have the same effect when moving a tall drill press.

In an effort to help balanced it better I moved the wheels assy. on the outside.
Only annoying thing with it, is that even when resting on its foot support (immobile) the saw is a bit tilted, I'm used to it, but someday, I'll address that.

In this pic you can really see the tilt on it in rolling position.

Overall, its a good base design, very strong despite the Swiss cheese effect on the rails. I had some reservation about the aluminum flip lever, but they have lasted more than 10+ years and 2 moves across the country without problems.

Next to be moved up, was the Unisaw. I originally simply used a plywood base with 4 wheels on it (now dedicated to my chips barrel).
Although the PM 1000 and its bigger brother 2000 are rated at 400 and 500 pounds, the design did not inspired me confidence to hold up my Unisaw.
I found this cheap mobile base at Princess Auto in Ottawa which was rated for 1200 pounds! It was way too small to fit my cabinet saw, but it was expandable.
I simply bought some square tubing at Metal Supermarket and made a custom fit base. Super Heavy Duty base, easily hold my fully kitted Unisaw.

Sizing up my pieces for a custom fit.

This thing has non swiveling solid metal wheels. It is a tad tricky to maneuver but it does not move often and it provides a solid base.

When it is time to move the machinery for a move, the base and the tools becomes separated for greater stability and are then put back under at their new location.
I moved my WW machine with a friend from Greenwood NS to Ottawa On
since we first moved to Military housing with no garage.
Once we bought a house, we moved them.

Unloading at my new house. When we bought, the bottom panel of the garage door was damaged, I asked to have it replaced and not to paint it (so I knew it was replaced) at purchase time. Once I finally painted my door all white I keep driving past my house in this cookie cutter's house  neighborhood :-)

My machines awaiting to be re-united with their bases in Bagotville PQ.
The plywood base I was talking about has the Unisaw temporarily resting on it.  

My bench top planer is mounted on a older HP 10 Mb hard drive mobile cabinet, yes that's 10 Megabites!! Shit I'm dating myself :-)

It has locking wheels under but I never bother with that, I just wheel it into place and used it, then wheel it back into its resting space. The addition of a longer bed has practically eliminate any and all snipes. It removes easily for storage. 

The one I recently purchased, CT 184, a Taiwanese copy of the HTC Porta-Mate design, seems very strong and was easy to assemble. Remember Meccano sets as a kid? That was my long time favourite toy at Chistmas and birthdays, putting together one of these base is very much like playing with Meccanos :-)

One thing you may want to address with these bases, is being ''universal'' they never quite fit exactly your tool footprints and the tool can moved around inside your base (watch what happen when the guy move his drill press in the above video review of HTC bases ). I plan to secured them inside their bases for peace of mind.

The Unisaw having a custom fit base, does not have this problem. And if you plan on using the ones that can be customized with pieces of wood or square metal tubing, problem solved.

The jointer stand being splayed out, it appears that it would provides a stable base. I have yet to recruit help to marry the jointer to its base, still got some prep work to do first, but I am confident it would be a good combination.

At any rate, I really need the ability to move it around for now. The wooden stand behind it (LH of pic), is my lathe, it too is gonna get a set of wheel. Probably some sort of custom job to fit the custom wooden base that came with it...

One last thing to consider, adding a set of wheels under your machine is going to increase the working surface height a bit. This increase may make some of your machinery seems a bit too high or a tad more unsafe for you to work comfortably with them. This is strictly a matter of personal preferences, but do keep this in mind. Myself being a 6 footer person with a bad back, height is critical for my comfort and safety.  All my machines are at a good comfortable height for me. 

Bob, with his shop on wheels.


  1. Bob,

    I've tried a number of mobile bases, the one I've had the best results from is the Shop Fox sold by Grizzle. Pretty easy to install and work by yourself, It's a better base than either the PM or the HTC bases I've tried. I've one under my 1000 lbs of pig iron aka a planer and my General TS. I'll Soon remove the PM from under the bandsaw and replace it with a SF.


  2. 'Hi Ken
    We have the Shop Fox around here, i'll look at them next time I'm in the city.
    My only annoyance so far is on my bandsaw, don't like the angle its resting at.
    Are you replacing the one under the bandsaw for the same reason?

  3. Yep, that and it feels very unstable when moving.

  4. I don't know what meccano toys were. Something I will have to goggle at lunch to find out.
    I have often thought of putting a mobile base on my 14" delta bandsaw but getting it into the base would be problematic. Maybe a harbor freight chain fall like Bartee used on his workbench?

  5. Meccano was a construction toy, of British origins, made with strips of perforated metal and you assembled everything with screws and nuts, I had the steam engine that powered everything. My all time favorite toy for many years. Whish I kept it and all the other toys I ever had, I'll be rich today :-)

    You may want to wait for Ken to try the Shop Fox base under his bandsaw before proceeding. The one we both used now is not very satisfactory. It is definitively a 2 persons job to put the wheels under, or if you have a guy like my old friend J C Picard, he could just grab my bandsaw in his big paws lift it and asked me where I wanted it ...
    Bob, who wishes JC was around here for my jointer :-)