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Dan_E10 12th March 2012 05:46 PM

Looking for more thoughts on cabinet building tools
Hi all,
I've searched the archives and found some useful threads from a few years ago but am still looking for more feedback on tools for building speaker cabinets. Basically I'm looking to get as few tools as possible to get the job done while still ending up with solid cabinets.

A little background first. I'm looking to build some new MDF cabinets. I have a pair from many years ago that have served me well and were built by a local woodworker. They're two ways and I'm looking to insert my RS-52's in between the woofers and tweeters. I took a woodworking class hoping to build the cabinets in the class but got sidetracked playing around with non-speaker related projects and didn't quite finish the cabinets. What I ended up with, I'd regard as good practice, but not what I want to use for my speakers. I decided against taking the class again for a couple of reasons. For the price of the class ($150 for 8 sessions) I could invest in some tools (especially a nicer router than the one we had in the class). Also, I know I'll be building more than one pair of cabinets in the future so it seems like a better investment to buy some tools and build things at home than fork over money for the class over and over again to get shop time. The table saw we had in the class was definitely a lot nicer than I could afford though….

Now for the constraints:

I've got enough more space for a table saw (or radial arm saw) and not too much else. I already have a descent router fixed/plunge combo and a jasper jig. I was thinking about getting a table saw. I've got lots of conflicting feedback on that. A friend warned me against any of the inexpensive (ie. <$300) table saws for cabinet building and cross cutting. Another raved about his cheap Ryobi portable table saw, but he hasn't needed to use it to build speaker cabinets. For what it's worth, I'd like to use rebate joints. I've seen the Ryobi BT3100 enthusiastically recommended here and at other sites, however it looks like they've been discontinued. Is there anything similar around today at <$300 prices?

I've also looked into getting a hand held circular saw and using a guide to rip and do cross cuts. That's definitely a tempting option as it would take up less space than a table saw, and would be a lot cheaper than a higher quality table saw. However, can a relatively inexperienced woodworker like myself get the required accuracy going handheld with a guide to build a cabinet that fits together well? I guess I could try it and see how it works out, but if the time and money is better spent starting out with a table saw I'd do that. I haven't cross cut on a table saw yet though, I'm not sure if it would be workable to go without a miter saw for that.

Another tool I'd like to avoid if possible is a drill press. The hand held drill guides like this one Sears: Online department store featuring appliances, tools, fitness equipment and more that let you connect a hand held drill look tempting too, but can they work well enough for cabinets? I'm not sure if even this is necessary as I've had good luck so far using my handheld to drill holes for binding posts and subwoofer mounts. However neither of those jobs needed as much accuracy as I'd expect would be needed to drill holes in a front baffle with smaller drivers recessed and t-nuts or similar instead of wood screws.

Anyway, any feedback, experience, or alternatives would be appreciated!


speaker dave 12th March 2012 06:17 PM

I just made a simple utility cabinet using the shop where I work. I used a table saw for all the cuts. I ended up with simple joints by cutting a rebate the panel thickness wide and through 3/4 the thickness of the mating panel. (4 such edges top and bottom, 2 such edges left and right side and straight cut panels for front and back. Once I set the blade depth I probably made 10 cuts each edge to create the rebate.

When I was a kid my dad had a radial arm saw and did everything he needed to do. I think they are better for cross cuts than ripping but you can probably get by. I think a table saw is a little more universal. Certainly nicer for the rebate opperation since, if the material bounces, it is away from the blade.

I'm sure there is something to buying a better unit if you can afford it. Condition is also key, so a well set up and maintained saw will probably outdo a better brand in poor condition. I would also check the used lists because I'm sure this is something that people nearly give away when they are moving (anybody want a 4 x 5 enlarger?).

Cutting larger panels is much more of a challenge than smaller panels. Some use the small construction type saws, but I can't imagine piloting a full 4 x 8 sheet across one. If I needed to do that I would probably precut the sheet to rough size. Our local home depot has a panel saw and you can cut sheets down at the store (as long as you purchase them!).

I don't know if a drill press would be of a lot of use. I think a router for woofer recesses would be the second tool to get. Either one of those circle cutting jigs or perhaps make a series of outside circular templates. For the utility box I will use a jig saw and surface mount the driver. In the past I have used milling machines and fly cutters, but that was at a well equiped machine shop.

Don't forget band clamps or bar clamps and a large square for assembly. A palm sander because they are cheap.

Thats really all you need to get started.


puppet 12th March 2012 08:30 PM

^ .. good advise. If you've got room for one stationary tool ... get a decent 10" table saw. Older Unisaw(delta/rockwell) would be #1 choice ... check local auctions. The smaller units you see are "toys" .. sorry but true. They do the job but running large panels on them are a real "treat". Figure on fabbing up some "dead men" either way. (Dead men are basically saw horses build to table top height. Smooth, narrow top edge for less panel resistance while moving through the blade. Lacking an outfeed table/space for one ... make several to "help" keep the panels level while sawing. Keeps you from trying to balance these and cut at the same time ... ie. unsafe)

Radials are OK .. just a PITA to setup if you intend on doing "everything" with them. Change overs diminish accuracy. If you can't afford a real good one ... these are pretty much a waste of space. Nothing that can't be done faster and more accurately on a table saw.

pinkmouse 12th March 2012 09:59 PM


Originally Posted by speaker dave (
Don't forget band clamps or bar clamps...

Choose what you think you'll need, then add 50% more. You'll still find you haven't enough... :)

LafeEric 13th March 2012 12:19 AM

One thing you don't really think about until you go to build is clamps. Lots and lots of clamps!

With a little ingenuity you can do a lot with minimal tools, but you can never have enough clamps.

Seriously - I didn't give it a thought starting out, but one of my major headaches was getting enough clamps.

phivates 13th March 2012 12:49 AM

I have one. A 50's vintage beauty with the old 1 hp motor which somehow equals 2-3 hp today. Something about induction/repulsion, the tool man says. Anyway. There are considerations. Old school table saws are right tilt, unless they are powermatic/craftsman/others, which means they are intended for crossscutting with a miter guide. Modern saws have gone with the left tilt arrangement, since most of us have overarm tools, chop or slider or radial arm, which make the table saw primarily a ripping tool. As such, right handed operators find right tilting saws counterintuitive when bevels are involved. If you have a crosscutting tool, don't buy a right tilt table saw.
I just installed a sliding table to my ancient unisaw so I am excited about being able to crosscut 25" dead on 90 degrees.
Woodworking is tool intensive, by the way.

weltersys 13th March 2012 01:53 AM

I have built entire PAs with a circular saw, a non-reversable single speed drill, and a jig saw.

I now have a decent table saw, but the fence only goes to 25", so I still end up using a circular saw and a 48" framing ruler with two "C" clamps as a guide for many cuts, a poor man's panel saw.
If I measure the position of the guide ruler accurately, the cuts are perfect.

I'd invest in a bunch of clamps (you can't have too many) and additional drills and routers (to avoid having to change bits so often) before I'd buy a table saw.

After seeing many people with missing fingers (while getting mine repaired :^( ) due to radial arm saw accidents, that was the only one of my father's tools I chose not to inherit.
A miter saw does all the things I'd ever use a radial arm saw for, and does not have the runaway potential the radial arm saw has- my Dad told me of one work accident where the entire motor/blade left the arm and blew through a wall, fortunately no one was hurt.

Don't forget a good shop vac, they can be rigged to suck up a lot of the dust before it hits your lungs.

A small drill press can be very helpful for drilling perfect countersink hole depth, and can be used as a poor man's lathe with some Jorgenson clamps set as tool rests.
Combined with a router, a drill press can do some very interesting things quickly.

Good hearing protection is a must, wish they would have taught me that when I was in high school shop, more of my hearing loss is due to early power tool use than 120 dB shows...


LafeEric 13th March 2012 01:52 PM

I had a radial arm saw at one time, but wound up selling it. I only had it spit a piece back at me once, but that was enough.

I picked up a Ryobi BT3100 some years ago, and I'm glad I did. It is small enough for my smallish shop, but big enough for most cutting jobs. Full panels I cut just as weltersys says, with good results.

Other than that, a router, with a Router Buddy Circle Jig from Parts Express, a drill, and some squares, etc. A miter saw is nice for precision cutting smaller pieces or reinforcing pieces to length, but not a necessity.

Actually I think the most versatile tool in my shop is the 16" Delta band saw, but again not a necessity.

mdocod 13th March 2012 02:26 PM

If you're going to build a few cabinets over a few years, I see no reason to spend money on a table saw that will just take up a lot of space and only be pulled out and used occasionally, especially when you consider that the first few cuts from a 4x8' sheet will probably have to be made with a hand saw anyways unless you have some extra help.

The price of a table saw can buy you a great straight edge, lots of clamps, and a nice start to a cordless tool collection. (get a cordless drill and circular saw set to start). Modern 18V cordless circular saws will cut 3/4" MDF without a hiccup. Yea they won't let you go ripping through 4 feet of it in 2 seconds flat, but they have no problem with the material load and are less hassle than the corded jobs because you don't have a cord constantly getting hung up on clamps and legs and generally getting in the way. Also the lower RPM cutting results in a nice row of deposited MDF dust rather than a whirlwind of it all over the garage.

When looking for a router, I like the Porter Cable units with the full range helical worm fine feed design. I'm not sure if other brands make a similar design but IMO it is great. Units that come with collets for both 1/2" and 1/4" shank tooling are also preferred, however, none of this is necessary. The only important thing I recommend, is ensuring that the design allows for a fine feed, and has a very good locking mechanism to hold a cut-depth. I have an oldish SKILL brand plunge that is basically useless because the mechanism that is supposed to lock the position doesn't hold under vibration.

Art [Weltersys] above made a suggestion about using a drill press in creative ways (as a lathe, etc). I can't stress enough how much you should not do this. Use a drill press for drilling only. Without a drawbar (like a mill/drill), applying a lateral load to the drill press spindle is asking for an injury. Lateral loads are a great way to drop a heavy chuck that's spinning 3600RPM. A light duty benchtop mill/drill for a few hundred dollars on the other hand, can be used in many creative ways for light jobs safely. Though- you don't need that to build speaker boxes (don't bother unless you have some other uses in mind).


Dan_E10 13th March 2012 05:58 PM

Thanks everyone for the responses. I do already have a router, jasper jig, some clamps (although maybe not enough), and a cordless drill. I'm encouraged to hear that a circular saw might be a good alternative to the lower priced table saws. One option I had thought of but didn't really take too seriously was just to cut panels in 2 or 3 passes with the router and an edge guide or ruler. The speakers I'm building aren't too big, maybe 15-17" is the maximum dimension.

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