How to make retractable wheels for a heavy table saw

This lever-action lift mechanism will raise a heavy tool off the floor without breaking your wallet.

I’m a big fan of my late-’80s/early-’90s Craftsman table saw.

But as anyone who owns one of these machines knows, the stock fence is annoying to use. You can’t trust it to lock parallel to the blade, so you’re constantly grabbing your framing square to double check the fence.

Enter the VerySuperCool Tools T-square fence. You can buy one for $200. You can build one yourself. Or you can ask your father in law to build you one, because he actually has the skill and equipment necessary to be able to get it done in the next decade. (Plus, he already built one for his own Craftsman table saw.) In a show of humility, I opted for Option C.

The new fence rail adds a considerable amount of weight to the saw.

The thing is, if you want to use the VSCT fence, you have to upgrade the guide-rail system. The new one is made of heavy tubular steel, mandating a stronger frame to support all that weight. That meant that after we upgraded the fence, my former retractable table saw wheels were no longer strong enough to lift the saw.

Though my father-in-law built casters into the frame, that system required the leveling feet to be screwed in to engage the wheels, making them more suited for occasional use. I wanted to be able to quickly move the saw to rip a long board or rearrange the shop, without having to re-level the saw afterword. So I decided to make a new DIY retractable wheel system for my heavy table saw.

The first iteration was based on Alcala Guitars’ mobile bandsaw base. I previously used this design for a radial arm saw, and it worked great. However, it did not work so well here. Splinters ensued. I think I messed up the geometry, but even so, the design might not be well-suited for a machine this heavy.

For the second try, I dug into Fusion 360, a free 3D design program from the makers of AutoCAD. This version was a descendent of ospreygolf’s lever-action system. My plan involved two levers instead of one, with a wood crossbar connecting them at the top, to add foot-powered convenience. Sketching it out in 3D helped work out some of the bugs ahead of time.

Smoothing the cam on the final design with my drill press sanding plate.

Unfortunately, I still made two major design mistakes. One, I tried too hard to stick with only 2x4s. These just didn’t have enough room for the geometry to lift all that weight. Second, I underestimated the flexibility of the wood. Having only one frame bar, with nothing supporting the pivot bolt on the other side, let the wood twist and bend the bolt as the lever engaged. This design also ended in splinters.

For the third try, I took inspiration from flyroye3’s cam-lift system. This design depends on a 180-degree rotation of the lift lever, meaning you have to lean down to activate the wheels. But it’s very simple, and that massive arc puts less stress on the wood.

Meanwhile, I simplified and beefed up everything I could. Bigger bolts better resisted bending. Larger lumber — 2x6 deck wood — gave more room for placement of the fulcrum. Fewer levers meant fewer things to get wrong.

This version was just the ticket. It uses a simple latch system to keep the lever in place. And the build is way more forgiving compared to the other designs. See for yourself in the video above.

From left: The cam in the middle of its arc; one foot of the saw, lifted about 1/2" off the ground; engaging the latch to keep the lever in place.

Now, I have my retractable wheels back. There’s no longer a massive table saw stuck in the middle of the shop. But the table saw project isn’t over. Two upgrades remain: Sealing up the back of the saw to improve dust collection, and adding an outfeed table to improve safety and usability.

Will these next projects be as rough as the first? Stay tuned.