Welcome to the age of the Jetsons. Flying cars, moving sidewalks and floating furniture were the norm when I was a kid watching my Saturday morning cartoons. We didn’t think that time would become a reality, but it has.
General International has introduced woodworking to the Hoverpad , a futuristic mobile base for your workshop tools. What is it? How does it work? Is it for your shop? All are great questions.
The Hoverpad is a hard plastic base that is less than 1″ thick and can lift a tremendous amount of weight (The 18″ x 24″ pad will lift 600 pounds and the 29″ x 29″ pad will lift up to 1,200 pounds. The smaller pad is priced at $170 while the larger is $250). Under the platform on which your machine rests is a series of rubber bladders that inflate to lift the weight. (They are much like the bags used to raise large pieces of fallen buildings during emergencies.) As the bladders inflate they also push air through fine holes on the bottom. That air lifts the pad slightly off the floor to allow you to maneuver the large loads around your shop. It works just like a Hovercraft.
All of the necessary components are confined to the center of the pads. This defined area can’t be altered without ruining the pad, but the outside edges of the pad can be cut and shaped to fit your machines after you have walked through the steps to properly locate and balance the machines on the pad. Just mark the desired shape, then use your jigsaw or table saw to cut the pads.
How it Works
How the air gets to those bladders is where I have an issue. Air is let into the pad through a small hose barb located at the center of the pad; a small tube must be fed from that barb through the tool to a location outside the tool. This means that the ability to use the pad for some tools is dependent on drilling access holes for the tubing — not a problem with some shop equipment, but quite a job with others. We had no issues with our band saw, but if we wanted to use the pad under our jointer or planer — two of the heaviest tools in most shops — we would’ve had to make adjustments.
The air travels through a series of fittings that regulate the pressure before reaching the bladders. The packaging from the company is complete with all the necessary fittings including Teflon pipe tape and a coiled air hose with a blowgun for moving any floor debris out of the way as you move your tool. Caveat: Before bothering with the fittings, you should first test the smoothness of your floors with the suction cup included with the kit. The pads don’t work if you have a textured floor or many gaps, cracks or saw cuts in the floor’s surface. And if it doesn’t pass the test, you can return it.
Now back to the fittings. The important components are the ball valve and flow controller (excess pressure can damage the pad so you shouldn’t bypass the fitting by attaching the pad directly to the air supply). Once the supply of air is attached to the fittings through the air inlet, the ball valve is opened and the flow control is adjusted to fill the pad and lift the tool. Too much air caused our band saw to hop gently — something that you don’t want to have happen with a 600-pound machine.
Another concern I have is that you’re directed to permanently attach these fittings to your machine. Accurate drilling is required to perform the installation and you have to position the fittings so as not to be in the way as you use the tool. This is not something I would want to do for each machine in my shop and it certainly limits switching the pad from machine to machine.
But, once everything is hooked up correctly, the Hoverpad works as described.
Is the Hoverpad for your Shop?
“Yes and no” is the answer, of course. If you’re a tool collector you’ll have to have one. It’s just that cool! If you’re an everyday woodworker on a restricted budget, chances are that a traditional mobile base will do the trick. The Hoverpad is at least twice as expensive as most standard mobile bases. But if you find your shop sharing valuable real estate, and you have to move your machines frequently to make everything fit, this is an product worth looking at.
So the bottom line is, I want a Hoverpad to impress friends and neighbors. But because I need to only occasionally move my equipment, mobile bases are my first choice , I’d need too many Hoverpads to place under all my machines, and the cost would be prohibitive. Besides, more tool manufacturers are adding integral mobile bases to their tools and that is a nice benefit.