What exactly is an infeed table for the table saw, and why would you need one?
I was faced with a project that had over 90 sheets of furniture grade plywood. Very expensive, and also very heavy. What made it worse was the fact I was working alone, since my employee’s were busy at the job site. Obviously a very large project. The people that would be most helpful in the shop were also the important at the site. Just not an option. I could have asked my wife to help, but I couldn’t afford a divorce or a lengthy murder trial, so that was out.
I started out whit a good attitude about the task of cutting these sheets up. It didn’t last long though. After about the fourth sheet, I had knocked over my roller stand as many times. What really didn’t help was the fact I have a problem with my right hip, which would become irritated by the movement involved in placing the sheet on the saw. After that fourth sheet, I was in a great deal of pain. So, I did what any sensible person would do. I gave up.
I started thinking, there must be a solution to this. I got on the internet and started searching. Zero, zilch, nada. Unless I wanted to spend a large amount of money on a sliding table saw, which I had no room for anyway, I was out of luck. So, I went back to the shop, and tried again with the time proven roller stand. I managed to get two more sheets cut, before the pain forced me to stop. I decided if I am going to get this done, I needed to come up with something to make it easier. I started considering the process and the problems encountered. I came up with the idea of an infeed table.
As the name implies, an infeed table is one that would be used on the front of your table saw, facilitating the feeding of materials into the cutting device. A fancy way of saying it supports the material as you cut it.
If you have ever tried to rip a sheet of plywood, or other sheet material, you know how difficult it can be. Just getting the sheet onto your table saw can be a challenge. This is exactly how many wood shop related back injuries occur. Holding up a 40 pound sheet, and walking to the saw, isn’t easy. Then trying to bend over to lay the sheet onto the saw table is a terrible strain on the back. Many wood workers actually do this while the saw is running, as the switch isn’t easily reached once the sheet is there.
Once the sheet is on the table, well actually, partially on the table is more accurate, since the end of the sheet is probably on the floor, you walk to the back of the sheet, lift it up, and then try to walk forward, feeding the sheet into the blade, while trying to keep it tight to the fence. If you aren’t able to keep the sheet tight to the fence, you end up with a crooked cut. Or in extreme cases, move just enough to cause a kick back. Kick backs occur when a piece binds the blade, causing the piece to be thrown back at the operator with amazing force.
An option to this is to use a roller stand. After all, it is what they were designed for. Most people will give up trying to place the sheet on the saw table and the roller stand in one shot. That’s because more likely than not the roller stand gets knocked over in the process. At the very least, it gets bumped, which means it is no longer square to the fence. Once that happens, it is actually fighting you through the entire cut. It tries to feed the sheet on an angle, again creating the perfect condition for a kick back. Another method is to place the sheet on the table, then lift the end of the sheet, and slide the roller stand under it. Very difficult to get it square to the fence in the manner. As it tries to pull the sheet away from the fence, you try to force it tight to the fence. At best you end up with a less than prefect cut, which has burn marks on it.
So, having considered the problems faced with cutting these sheets, I made a list of must haves. First, it had to attach to the saw, so it could never be knocked over, or be out of alignment to the fence. It also needed to be able to go on or off the saw quickly, so it was not in the way, when not needed. It should fold, so storing it would be simple. And in a perfect world, it should make it easier to get the sheet onto the unit, eliminating the risk of back strain.
The first unit was made from wood, and worked very well. We used it for over a year, before I decided to replace it with a metal one. The metal one was better, as I changed the design around a bit, based on the use of the original unit. We also realized not only it would cut our time by 60 percent ripping plywood, it was even faster for jointing lumber, since instead of several passes through the jointer, it was one pass through the table saw, using a rip sled. The roller on the side of them, made loading the sheets onto the unit very easy.
After a few years, the owner of a couple of Woodcraft stores came to my shop. He was there to see a large veneer project we were doing, with the idea of having me teach some courses on veneering. He spent a couple hours with us, and on the way out, happened to notice the unit hanging on the wall. He asked what it was. After explaining what is was, and the story behind it, he wanted to see how it worked. He was very impressed with it, and wanted to know why we weren’t selling them.
Well, after getting a provisional patent, we did start selling them. They are now in many wood shops, both home shops and professional shops, all across the country, and in Canada. They are used in High School Shops, College Wood Shops, Municipalities, Tech Schools, and many businesses that have a need to cut sheet goods.