When I was young, I used to work summers with my dad. He'd leave me on site with the painters, concrete crews, or carpenters. But it was Neal, my dad's finish carpenter, who put the spell on me.
I remember him building an entire house's trim package right on site. He made cabinet cases, drawers, doors (jambs and all), closet surrounds, track, shelving, and supports. Neal used a huge cast iron table saw for all this work. The thing resembled a stationary shop saw more closely than a contractor's saw. It took four guys to move it.
The advantage of one of those heavyweights, or today's somewhat lighter contractor saws, is the ability to rip up to 25-inch-wide stock on a very stable, accurate surface. The trade-off, of course is the weight.
I followed my father's and Neal's footsteps into building. Today, the tradition of setting up and building out complete cabinet and trim packages on site is alive and well on my jobs here in California. But instead of wrestling with a heavy cast iron table saw, I use a lightweight portable saw with a collapsible Rousseau Porta-Max stand. I've added some custom features to get the most out of this setup.
I use a Makita 2703 table saw, which cuts almost as smoothly as the pricier and heavier Bosch, Rigid, and DeWalt models. The Rousseau stand secures the saw at a comfortable height and also provides a 32-inch rip capacity.
I crosscut and rip 8-foot sheets of plywood and MDF on site, so I need a big work station platform that can handle almost anything. I bought the stand with accessory wings, bringing the cost of my set up to around $600. That's approximately what a top-of-the-line portable saw would've cost me. There are lots of stands with wings out there; I prefer Rousseau's because of its solid top and because the universal stand accepts most portable saws.
Outfeed table. An outfeed table is essential when working alone to prevent long boards and sheet goods from dropping off the back of the saw. There are plenty production models out there, but I built my own from Baltic birch because I wanted a wide, light table I could easily store in my van.
My outfeed table is 24 inches wide and 48 inches long. It attaches to the stand with a simple 1/2-inch hook-strip of wood, which I screwed to the underside of the extension table. Two legs are also hinged to the underside of the table, beneath the back edge.
Router table insert. I don't use my router table nearly as much as I do my table saw, but having one on site is indispensable. I use the router for rabbeting, edging, slot-cutting, and even cutting raised panels. I've collected several Rousseau plastic inserts, so I can quickly drop a different router into the table without changing bit set ups. That's especially handy when using cope-and-stick bits to make cabinet doors.
Gary Katz is a woodworker, photographer, and writer based in Reseda, Calif.