DIY Mobile Bases for Equipment

My Laguna LT18 bandsaw on its new wheeled base.

Mobile Bases: Overview

Change is inevitable… This is certainly true in my studio. In the last seventeen years, my studio has undergone four major reorganizations and no less than seven process flow enhancements to improve efficiency and overall throughput. Just when I think I’m set for a wee bit, I find another way to improve my studio layout and increase my workflow efficiency. When that starts to settle in, I start a new direction in the studio and the apple cart is upset once again, requiring a completely new layout or process flow.

After battling this continual state of change for a few years, I began to warm up to the idea of adding mobile bases to some of my equipment to facilitate easier reorganization and temporary relocation for task specific jobs. I have resisted adding wheels to some of my heavy machinery in the past, because I could not find suitable heavy-duty mobile bases that were affordable. I revisited this idea from time to time over the years, but when I was doing production bowls for a living, free time was non-existent because there were always orders to fill. Therefore, I reluctantly acquiesced and tabled the idea, but I never really forgot about it.


The Problem

After one too many times struggling to move some of my equipment around, I decided enough was enough and it was high time I bought a mobile base for several pieces of machinery. It seems like a little thing, but once you have the ability to easily move your equipment around, everything gets a little bit easier in your studio. For those of you with tight quarters, you are probably already mobile. Those of us with a little more elbow room like me may not have taken the plunge yet. No matter how much space you have, it never seems like enough does it?

One of my friends used to say that “Your possessions continually expand to fill any available space,” so no matter how much room you have, you always need more! I can relate to that… Most of us are not blessed with a studio large enough to house a jumbo jet, so we all find ways to compromise with smaller spaces. Unfortunately, these compromises can create challenges when we have special projects crop up that require lots of workspace around the machinery to complete our work.

For example, ripping eight foot long dimensional timbers… Whilst tucking your tablesaw or bandsaw up against a wall, or nestling it in a corner may work fine for cutting short pieces on the saw, it will not work when you need to rip an eight feet long two-by-four. For that, you need lots of room around your equipment, not only on the infeed side, but on the outfeed side as well. You also need some kind of open area where you can safely maneuver your timber around and up to the saw.


The Solution, Maybe

Ok, adding mobile bases to my equipment seemed to offer an answer these challenges, so easy peasy right? Not so fast grasshopper! Have you checked the cost of mobile bases these days? They will give you a pause for sure, especially if you need several. Back in the day when I bought my Delta Unisaw (approximately eighteen years ago), I decided to purchase a high-end mobile base for it. It was none too cheap at $180.00, but it was nice to be able to easily move it about by myself when necessary. Whilst this mobile base has worked well enough, it’s still made from thin stamped steel that can rack easily.

When I began looking around for decent mobile bases a few months ago, many of the ones I found were just too lightweight and none of them impressed me with the possibility of long-term durability. After all, if I’m going to put my four hundred and fifty pound bandsaw on a mobile base, the mobile base better be up to the task. I looked around at some local stores and every mobile base I found was made from cheesy, thin stamped metal.

All of these bases also had wheels that were just too bloody small (after all, woodturners are known for having some shavings on the floor at times, right?), or were manufactured from some kind of brittle hard plastic, instead of large hard rubber or industrial urethane wheels. I left the stores completely unimpressed, but luckily with my pocketbook still inviolate.

Determined to persist, I did some looking online and found a few bases that looked much better than the local stores carried, but none of them screamed the kind of “heavy-duty” construction that would offer a lifetime of service. All of the bases I found looked like too cheap and seemed overpriced as well. Sorry Charlie, but tricks are for kids…


Mobile Bases: Solution Found

Ok, a quick and simple solution using my credit card was out, and a much slower and harder solution was in. After mulling it over a wee bit, I just decided to just make my own mobile bases. Making your own mobile bases has many advantages over buying them, not the least of which is that you can custom make the bases to fit each piece of machinery -- exactly. That’s much better than relying on “universal” bases that may or may not correctly fit your machinery. Universal bases remind me of those “one size fits all” socks you find in stores. Yeah, right, sure thing bruddah.

My table saw and my portable workbench were already on a mobile base, as were my two rolling toolboxes, so I only needed to fabricate mobile bases for my bandsaw, the floor mounted drill press, one of my 15-gallon pressure pots and the compound miter saw. My needs dictated frequent movement for the larger equipment, over less than clean surfaces at times and over anti-fatigue floor mats (hence the need for larger wheels,) so I wanted a heavy-duty grade construction that would stand up to frequent use.

This mobile base is made with 2" x 2" x 3/16" angle iron
using Woodcraft 3" urethane wheels.

I’m a hard-core heavy-duty construction kind of bloke, so I decided to make my mobile bases from 2” x 2” x 3/16” angle iron, with heavy-duty lockable wheels sporting urethane tires. That’s very different from the thin stamped metal frames on mobile bases I found locally. To be fair, these bases may well work just fine if you only move your equipment occasionally, over smooth clean floors. As for me, I wanted a little more beef in my bases and a lot less bun!


Getting Geared Up

My local sLowesT is one of my favorite hangouts. I’m in that store so frequently that most of the employees know me by name. They have a good selection of angle iron, but I was not impressed with the wheels they offered. I took a look-see at a couple of other stores and I did not find any wheels that had a locking system that was acceptable. By chance, a friend had told me about some wheels that Woodcraft was carrying that sounded like they were just what I needed.

A close-up view of the Woodcraft 3" urethane wheel.

A quick trip to Woodcraft revealed that these 3” wheels (Item #148595, $19.50 each) had easy rolling, non-marring polyurethane tires, with ball bearings and a double brake lock that locks the wheel and the swivel rotation. In addition, each wheel offered a 300lb load rating on the ½” threaded spindle model. Ka-ching! I grabbed everything they had on the shelf in the size I needed.

Unfortunately, Woodcraft did not have enough of wheels in stock for everything I needed, so the compound miter saw and the pressure pot would be getting some heavy-duty hard rubber, ball bearing wheels from Harbor Freight that I had lying around the studio. Fortunately, this equipment is lightweight (<100 lbs each), so the more expensive Woodcraft wheels were not necessary for their bases.

The only fabrication nit I had was that I do not have any equipment for welding the angle iron for the base frames. Bummer! This left me with no other option except drilling and bolting the base frames together. Unfortunately, local welding shops will not accept jobs this small and one of my friends who welds recently sold all of his stick welding equipment. Therefore, drilling and bolting remained my only option. No worries…


Mobile Bases: Fabricating the Bases

The hardest part about making these mobile bases was cutting and drilling the angle iron. Luckily, I have an 18volt DeWalt reciprocating saw and an ample supply of bi-metal blades for cutting. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Thanks to the power tool gods for making reciprocating saws, because I sure would not want to do all of that cutting by hand with a hacksaw, life’s too short for such misadventures. I’m a power tool junkie, through and through.

Rockwell's Jawhorse is a much-needed
third hand in a one-person studio.

Although I have several work holding vises in my studio, I used another new tool I have recently acquired to securely hold the angle iron pieces, whilst cutting them in half -- a Rockwell Jawhorse. It has become an indispensable work holding device in my studio. It has a tenacious grip and is one of my favorite tools in the studio. I use it frequently for holding logs as I’m doing rough carving on the patio. This keeps all of the mess and chips outside, and not all over the inside of my studio.

Jet’s floor mounted drill press performed exceptionally well for drilling the bolt holes in the angle iron frames. Although I used a brand new set of Cobalt drill bits with an industrial drilling fluid to drill the holes, I still had to use my Tormek Drill Bit Sharpener Jig to resharpen the bit to complete all of the holes. Every time I drill or cut metal, it makes me appreciate working with wood.


Assembly

Once all of the frame rails were cut and drilled, I was ready to assemble them and load the machinery/equipment onto each base. The bases for the pressure pot and the compound miter saw were made from two-by-four’s, that were nailed, screwed and glued together, so I only needed to install the wheels on the bottom of their wooden bases. This lightweight equipment did not require the industrial strength bases needed for the eighteen-inch bandsaw and the drill press.

The metal bases for the bandsaw and the drill press needed to be bolted together securely, so I used hardened bolts with locking washers for the frame bolts and the wheel stems. Once the bases were bolted together, I started thinking about how to get the equipment onto each base. The compound miter saw and the pressure pot were easy to lift into place, but the drill press and the bandsaw were a different story.

The bandsaw weighs around 450 pounds and since I do not have WWE wrestlers as neighbors, I knew I needed a way to safely lift my bandsaw onto the mobile base. Luckily, there is a lifting eye on the top of the bandsaw frame, so I used my new lathe crane to lift the saw onto its mobile base. Man-o-man, how I love those lathe cranes! The drill press presented a unique challenge, as it is top heavy and I had to play around with the lifting straps to get them positioned properly for a straight up lift. This took a bit of fiddling around, but I was able to centre the load properly for a straight up lift. Sweet!


Mobile Bases: In Use

Jet's floor-mounted drill press works great on a mobile base if you add supplemental weight.

 Once everything was in its custom mobile base and the equipment was bolted to the base, I rolled everything around the studio to see how easy it moved. The compound miter saw and the pressure pot were a breeze to move, as they do not weigh much at all. The bandsaw weighs about 450 pounds, but once you get it rolling, it moves with ease. This was a treat for me, as this was the first time since I bought the bandsaw that it had been on a rolling base. Woo hoo! No more grunting and groaning to move this bad boy around!

Close-up view of my DIY mobile
base for the Jet floor-mounted drill press.

Of course, my bandsaw is connected to a central station dust collector via a six-inch flexible hose. This means that I am somewhat limited in the movement I can accommodate, whilst keeping it connected to the collection hose. To solve this challenge, I fabricated an extension hose that allows me to move the bandsaw about fifteen feet from its normal location, which is more than enough to accommodate any of my needs. When moved into the primary open area in the studio, I have approximately eight to ten feet of free space on all sides of my equipment.

The drill press rolled around great on its mobile base as well, save one little nit. Because it’s top heavy, it tended to lean a wee bit when you first pushed it. To solve this, I added approximately 75 pounds of additional weight to the base. This eliminated most, if not all of the top-heavy concerns that existed. It now rolls around without any fuss. The added weights were repurposed lamp and pop-up tent weights that were collecting dust in the studio.

An old microwave cart was repurposed to
create the rolling base for my compound miter saw.

Hard rubber wheels from Harbor Freight
were used for the compound miter saw base.

The compound miter saw (CMS) was attached to an old microwave cart that I beefed up with two-by-fours on the base. I also installed thick extruded aluminum rails under the saw to lift it up to a more comfortable level for my 6’2” height. The microwave cart has a closed cabinet with doors on the bottom, which is great for holding the odd bit of kit needed when using a CMS. I decided against buying a professional CMS cart base, because I do not use my CMS enough to justify the expense. I’m a wee bit of a cheapskate at times, and this proved to be one of them…

The mobile base for this 15-gallon pressure pot allows
easy movement inside the studio when necessary.

The pressure pot base was made from wood as well. All I really wanted this base to do was allow me to move the pressure pot out of the way if necessary, or over to the compressed air filling station when I’m pressure-casting resins, or stabilizing timber. A 15-gallon pressure pot is not very heavy, but if you move it back and forth a lot it can become a chore. You might be wondering why I did not just mount the wheels on the mounting braces on the bottom of the pressure pot.

The mobile base for the pressure pot was made
with scrap wood and the Harbor Freight hard rubber wheels.

A set of wheels even comes with the pot when you buy it. Sounds nice if you pull that little bugger around painting, but it’s none too easy trying to lock the wing nuts on the top when the bottom is moving around. Therefore, I mounted rubber-leveling feet to the bottom of my pressure pot. When it’s on the floor, it is solid as a rock and it’s much easier getting the lid dogs secured.

Close-up view of the top of the 15-gallon pressure pot,
showing the large liquid-filled pressure gauge I added
to make the pot more user-friendly.

When I’m using the pressure pot, I take it off the base and set it on the floor. The mobile base allows me to easily move the pot out of the way if needed (it always seems to be in the way), or back and forth to the filling station. It works a treat. My other 15-gallon pressure pot is mounted in a horizontal position on a bench, so it never moves.


Mobile Bases: Conclusions

It’s so nice to be able to easily move equipment around now by myself! It’s funny, when I first thought about adding mobile bases to some of my equipment; I wondered how often I would actually move the equipment. Well, like so many things in life, when you have access to something, you tend to use it. It’s a common thing for me to move equipment around now, not only for cutting operations, or filling the pressure pot, but also for maintenance and cleaning.

Moving everything is so much easier now and I don’t have to worry about possibly straining my back. If you are a one-person studio like me, or if you just want to make your life easier in the studio, consider adding some mobile bases to some of your equipment. You can buy them or make them, but either way, they are nice addition to your studio and will save your back every time you use one.


Lathe Wheels

I do not use wheels on my Oneway lathe. I find the lathe is not as stable as I would like when it’s mounted on wheels. Therefore, it’s sitting on metal feet, which can be leveled as needed. I have been considering bolting the lathe to the floor, but that idea has not gotten much traction.

There are pros and cons to having a lathe bolted to the floor (I would probably want to move it once it was bolted down anyway) and I need to research this more before I decide what to do. I use heavy-duty temporary wheels if I need to move the “Dragon Lady” around, since she now weighs close to 1,400 lbs in her current configuration. With some additional enhancements planned for next year, she will balloon to a whopping 1,700, or 1,800 lbs.


Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.