Taming the Wild Exer-Saw - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Taming the Wild Exer-Saw

 In Projects, Questions And Answers, Techniques


Taming the Wild Exer-Saw

By Joe Johns

Yes, it was a crisp autumn day indeed, however there are few days where I would consider the weather severe enough to keep me from visiting my favorite shopping mall. And, since I rarely need an excuse, there are some days that scream out for a visit; like when my trash trailer is brimming. For me, shopping at the landfill often has its rewards and if you're a packrat it's a relative gold mine.

I'm not a packrat.

I can say that with reasonable certainty because I don't return with more stuff than I brought, I simply shop there because of the prices and for the selection – just like Home Depot.

The trailer having been emptied, I placed the truck in creep, my eyes in scan mode and began to hunt the road on the way out. It wasn't long before my attention was suddenly drawn to something that at first glance appeared to have been spawned from hell. When I drew close enough, I jumped out of the truck to inspect the devilish contraption and decided its true function served as an exercise machine. The more I gazed thoughtfully upon it, the more it seemed better suited as a torture device. It sported handles like a bicycle, a chrome-plated tractor seat, foot pedals with straps over the top, a two-speed motor coupled to a drive shaft, which connected directly to the handles, pedals and the seat, and finally a big honking spring. Between all of this, was a hand screw device used to change the relationship of the seat to the handle bars.

It looked to me as if the framework that supported all this was rigid enough to mount a field howitzer on and, it wouldn't be long before I discovered why it was so rigid – I just knew I had to have it.

As dump protocol mandates, I stood erect and proclaimed to the four winds, "I hereby claim this item of urban refuge and promise to utilize as much of it as I am able and hereby reaffirm my commitment to aid in the recycling program by taking this," I patted, "With me as I leave."

Looking about, I allowed the customary 15 milliseconds for a counterclaim and since no one spoke up, it was mine. The only thing left to do was to load it into my truck.

Say, do you have any idea what a field howitzer weighs?

I didn't either, but I rather enjoy trash knowledge so I felt obliged to find out.

Howitzer, Field, 75 MM, Standard Issue, U.S. ARMY, 1 Ea., 1213 lbs.

I stood there casually tending to my ruptured back and breathed comfortably knowing that a field howitzer weighed exactly one ounce more than my new machine did. It was but a small price to pay when liberating such a worthy find of an, as yet, unknown potential.

As is my custom, I waved thanks to the nice lady on the way out and seized the interval of the five-mile return trip to deliberate the contraption's future, and, what purposes the various components would ultimately serve in my shop. You know, in that five-mile return trip I couldn't think of a damned thing. However, I consoled myself in that not being able to think of an immediate use wasn't serious enough to stop me from taking it apart, right?

Having arrived at that decision I distinctly heard the ominous howl of a wolf.

Prior to beginning the dismantling sequence, I somehow felt compelled to give it a final drive as it were. I surveyed that big, honking spring as I reached down to plug it in and then clambered aboard. As I nestled my feet into the pedals, I remembered pondering back at the Mall what purpose the straps on the pedals served and reached down to throw the switch.

Have you ever see the movie, The Cowboy Way? In the final scene the heroes are at the subway station and "Pepper" lassos the moving train while "Sonny" lassos the bad guy?

Well, Sir, when I threw the switch I felt exactly like that poor sap being dragged down the tracks as I experienced the contraption from Hell springing to life. It was nothing shy of a miracle that I was able to return my hand from the switch and back onto the damned handle bars before I realized my feet were spinning around as the upper half of my torso was being jolted back and forth by the cycling action of the handle bars. My knees, being ultimately attached to my feet, were quite busy, too. Oh, yeah, they were trying their level best to knock my teeth loose as they furiously pumped up and down. And, as if all this wasn't enough to confuse me, my posterior – by virtue of the moving chrome John Deere tractor seat – was being thrashed to and fro but in opposite timing of the handle bars!

During the frenzy, I somehow managed to speculate on my prior pondering; specifically, the purpose of the straps on the pedals? It was all too clear, now; if it weren't for them my feet would have been immediately dislodged and then the revolving action of the pedals would have reduced my legs to a bloody pulp in a fraction of a second. It was just then that a new terror entered my mind…

"How in the Hell am I gonna turn this damn thing off without releasing the death grip I have on these handle bars?"

You know, it's funny what a person will think of in alarming situations and this one was no different. I couldn't help but reflect on how often it was that on weekends there are any number of my pals standing around in my shop, shooting the breeze, drinking my beer or throwing darts – mainly, drinking all my beer. In fact, they'd be there for hours on end; forced to have pizza delivered because it's too late to go home and fix dinner. When I needed them the most, do you think any of them were standing around sucking up my precious air then? Hell, for all I knew every damned one of them was probably standing outside because they were too scared to enter the joint on account of all the commotion and colorful and poignant speech emanating from within.

I speculated on praying for a complete power failure but I didn't see an awful lot of salvation stemming from that because we rarely have one. The glaring fact was the engineer who designed the device wasn't your average dumb engineer. He took his good sweet time in considering where best to place the switch. Yes, he was very thoughtful indeed – the idiot positioned the switch so that you were forced to remove a hand from the bars, which then causes you to break what meager concentration you had to stay in time with the severe pounding in order to actually look down and locate the switch.

It was ghastly.

Providence was with me and I managed to switch it off before losing my last nerve or having anything that I was especially fond of being ripped from my body. For me to say I "unassed" it without any form of grace would be a gross understatement.

"Cripes," I said, "no wonder it was tossed away!"

Forming my fingers into the shape of a cross, I backed off then scurried away to fetch my rolling tool boxes. Perhaps it wasn't quite a scurry it was…well, more like a hobble, but a backward glance over my shoulder gave assurance it wasn't chasing me across the floor.

"You just stay right there," I yelled, "I'll be back in a flash to take care of you!" and paused just long enough on my way back to grab an air hose.

The only regret I had through the whole operation was not having someone there to help me – you know, like the physician's assistant who hands him the next instrument? Why? Well, two reasons actually. The first being the sheer delight of being able to dismantle the damn thing considerably faster, and the second because of the ensuing, friendly banter.

"Umm, say, Jim, do you think our patient needs this little gizmo?" and then we'd laugh maniacally as I dropped it on the floor.

I imagined us sitting on the floor – like two kids playing jacks. "Umm, Joe, our patient is reeling, I believe more anesthesia is required…you ready for 'nother beer?" and the handle bars would be flung out the door. Alas, I alone relished every moment of it and it didn't stop me from laughing maniacally. Nope, as each part joined the others on the floor my BOSEG just got bigger.

I'd yell, "Take that! You son of a…!" and drop another bolt or nut. When it was over the air ratchet was steaming and all the wrenches were still warm to the touch as the last testament of the contraption ever having resembled anything was removed. All that was left to do was to clean up the mess, stow the good parts away and think of something to use them for.

Now we fast forward ten months later and I'm in the shop working on my sign which was a project I'd been putting off making forever. The words and symbols making up the sign were plotted, cut out, and then glued onto the MDO. The next step was cutting them out with the scroll saw.

Standing there, hovering over the machine like a hunched-back gnome and wondering if the crick in my back was worth the effort, I wondered why the act of scroll sawing couldn't be made more comfortable?

For whatever reason I looked at the remains of the machine that had been stowed away almost a full year before and I eyed the framework with increased interest until my gaze was diverted to the chrome seat – at that very instant I knew what I had to do. I was going to make a sitting scroll saw station!

I also knew it was going to work perfectly.

Until next time.


Joe Johns
Twisted Knot Woodshop
"There's never been a classier joint"

Research & Development

I got started by figuring out where the seat needed to be placed – in the machine's previous capacity as a torture device, the seat was located about 12" further forward from where you see it now. The wooden members will provide eventual support for the top. At this stage I'm still trying to figure out how to secure the seat.

Going Up?

The countertop is standard; hardwood is applied to the edges of the particle board substrate, plastic laminate is adhered, the corners radiused and finally a chamfer is cut around the edge. You can raise or lower the top so the relative angle of the scroll saw can be adjusted to the seated operator. A strip of piano hinge is used to provide this pivoting action. Lastly, something was needed to secure the top in position and this was accomplished with a knob salvaged from a previous shopping trip.

Saint Vidas Dance

With the top completed, I sat down gingerly on the unsecured seat and pretended to be at work. The major problem I encountered was positively reaching the switch during that critical moment you needed to turn the machine off. So, a method to switch it on and off instantly had to be incorporated in the design. Sitting there I realized that my feet were uncomfortably resting on the floor. What if I raised them up and rested them on something?

Hummm… What if that something contained a foot switch?

Go Get Me A Switch!

Making the foot board was easy, incorporating a switch was a little more difficult – luckily, I'm a mechanical genius. I'm not a hoarder but saving things that remotely looks like it might be used elsewhere makes projects like this one a breeze. The only thing I didn't have was something to actuate the switch – here it is being turned on the lathe.

What's In The Box?

The actuator is part of the switch assembly, along with a spring, a microswitch, an 1/8" pin and a metal bracket. A hole was drilled into the foot rest then the spring was slid onto the shaft of the actuator. A hole was then drilled through the shaft to accept the 1/8" metal pin, which is needed to keep the spring. The purpose of the box is to protect everything and provide a surface to mount the microswitch. So, when you step on the actuator the switch makes then returns to the off position when you remove your foot. It's all quite simple really.

Take A Seat

While other things were going on I pondered on how to secure the seat. Take a look at the column supporting the seat – with three pivoting points something had to hold it steady or it would fold up and throw you onto the floor. In the story I said the seat adjusted in relation to the handle bars and they did this by using a threaded device attached to the pivoting seat support. It dawned on me that I could use the same device, only reengineer its capacity. Now the seat is secure and can be adjusted to provide even more comfort for the operator.

It's Electrifying!

The next step was the power and I knew three things; it needed to be supplied to the foot switch, a task light needed to be permanently attached to the machine and the light couldn't be hardwired to the foot switch. I accomplished the last one by removing the linking tab from the outlet to create a "switched" outlet – now the light stays on when your foot is off the switch.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce…"Mrs. Wazooni"

She's my greatest urban refuse transformation to date and this is a REALLY good thing! Hey! Rube Goldberg…eat your heart out!

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