With new T-Track accessories from Rockler, like the T-Track Work Stops, the Auto-Lock push and hold down clamps, you still need some type of table to use them on. These, and other T-track accessories, work with specially shaped aluminum extrusions that are sold by Rockler and other woodworking supply companies.
You can buy single or multi-width t-track channels, which can be inlayed into an existing workbench top or surface. Rockler also sells a T-Track Table for $249, which sometimes does go on sale, but it’s still an expensive investment — especially if you’ve already dropped serious dough on the T-Track accessories.
Or, you can make your own T-track table.
After my shopping spree, when I purchased several of the new Auto-Lock clamps, I decided that I would build my own T-track table, rather than sink more money into a pre-made T-track table, and I would do it on the cheap.
Rather than make a stand alone table, I would make a T-track table surface as an auxiliary top for the downdraft table I built a few years ago.
Aluminum T-track extrusions are inexpensive, if you just need one or two parallel channels. But the costs start mounting for a table-top project where you need many channels, pre-made or custom-cut intersections, and a large router bit for installation.
Since I already owned a T-slot cutting router bit, I decided to use it to route T-slots in a piece of 3/4″ MDF rather than spend a lot on extruded aluminum tracks. Since I already owned the router bit that was purchased for another project, all I needed to buy to make my T-track table was a sheet of MDF.
Design and Layout
After playing with the Rockler T-track table in the store, I had a few improvements in mind. First, on the Rockler table, you have to start the T-track accessories at the edge, which is inconvenient and not very visually appealing. Second, I felt the Rockler table needed more T-slots spaced closer together. As it’s designed, you’d need to use blocks to span the gaps between the tracks in many circumstances.
To solve the issue of starting the accessories on the edge, I decided to cap the edge of the table with edge banding and create circular junction where every T-slot intersects. That way you don’t have to move more that a foot to start an accessory.
Since my down draft table uses 2′ x 3′ tops, I cut a 2′ x 4′, 3/4″ MDF handy panel to fit. Then I applied some white laminate, which gives the table top a reduced friction and slower-wearing work surface. I won’t go into details about laminating MDF here, there’s plenty of tutorials you can find to learn how to do that.
To visualize where I was going to cut the T-slots, I laid a bunch of 3/4″ wide scraps over the table. Once I had a layout that I liked, I ended up leaving 1-1/2″ of white space around the border and spacing the four longer slots 10-1/4″ apart. The four shorter slots, I spaced 11″ apart.
Cutting the T-slots
Once I had the layout down, I started cutting the T-slots. Since the T-slot bit only has cutters on the wings, you need to make a 3/8″ groove first, plus you wouldn’t want to cut the whole slot at once anyway. To make the groove I usually use a 3/8″ router bit and make the groove in a few passes, alternatively you could use a dado blade on a table saw.
To set the depth of the bit, I used a piece of scrap into which I had previously routed a T-slot. If you’ve never used a T-slot bit before, you’ll probably want to experiment first on scrap material to find the right depth.
When cutting the groove, I used a clamping straight-edge and router jig consisting of two rods and a piece of scrap that make the router ride the straightedge like a rail. Then I ran the one shallow pass before I set the router for full depth and ran the second pass.
Leaving the straight edge clamped in place, I changed the bit to the T-slot bit and set the depth using the same piece of scrap as before. I then cut the rest of the T-slot in a single pass. Yes having to change bits twice every time I routed a new T-slot was a little inefficient, but my cheap Harbor Freight clamping straightedge is very fussy to set up and I was afraid I’d never get it lined up exactly the same way twice.
Drilling the Circular Junctions
In order to make each intersection a place where I could start T-track accessories, I needed to find a drill bit that would make a hole large enough for the T-bolt to pass through. I found that a 7/8″ Forstner bit worked nicely. Since I didn’t have any place to start the bit, I drilled through a piece of scrap with the Forstner bit to use as a guide.
I centered the guide over each intersection and clamped it in place using the Rockler Auto-Lock hold-downs — how often do you get a project assisting in its own construction! Then I slowly started the Forstner bit in the guide until it touched the table top and pulled back the drill trigger until the corners were gone. Sometimes the hole wasn’t perfectly clean and I had to remove some debris with a chisel.
Edge-banding the Table Top
To cover and protect the open T-track ends and stiffen the top, I ripped some 3/4″ red oak into 13/16″ strips (remember the thickness of the laminate), then I applied them to the edges of the top. Since this was a shop fixture, rather than bothering to miter the corners, I just used butt joints.
Again the table helped with its own construction, I was able to use the T-slots in conjunction with come quick clamps to hold the banding in place while the glue dried.
Cost Break Down
Assuming you already had all the power tools, the supplies for this project break down as follows:
- 2′ x 4′ sheet of MDF: $10
- 30″x 48″ sheet of laminate: $12
- 1 qt contact cement: $6
- 1″ x 4″ x 8′ red oak board: $12
- Rockler T-Slot cutter: $30
Starting from scratch, it should cost you about $70 to build a custom T-track table like this one, but if you already have a T-slot bit and/or a shop full of materials it’ll probably cost you considerably less.
Buy Now (T-Slot cutter via Rockler)
You can find similar bits from other brands, but I’ve had good experiences with this one from Rockler.
After playing with the table for a while, I learned I should have cut more T-slots. In many situations, the slots are still too far apart to be really useful for clamping without resorting to some intermediate blocks. I’m sure this can be mitigated with some thought and smart placement of the materials on the table, but the whole point of a system like this is speed. There’s always the option to add more routed T-tracks down the line, rather than building a whole new table.
Another thing I noticed was the Rockler auto-locking clamps and hold downs have very short T-bolts, if you make the T-slots too deep, the T-bolts won’t reach the tightening wheels on the clamps. Obviously this is less of an issue for the aluminum extruded T-tracks because they can be made shallower. Remember, Rockler’s T-track accessories are likely optimized for their T-track channels.
When I first proposed this project to Stuart, he was a little wary that routed T-slots wouldn’t be strong enough to stand up the forces the clamps would apply to the table. So far, I haven’t damaged one T-slot I’ve cut in MDF. If you look at a 5/16″ T-bolt, it provides over 1/2″ of grip on both sides of the track.
Plus, many clamping jobs require more sideways force than downwards force. Once tightened down, the sideways force is provided by the friction between the surface and the base of the clamp, at least with the Rockler Auto-locking clamps. Yes there are times when you need a lot of downward force, but you can save your table by using more clamps with less force.
While the routed T-slots aren’t as strong as the extruded aluminum T-track, the T-track can have its own problems (besides the obvious expense):
First, they might require that a deeper groove be cut or routed into the work surface for installation, and so you might meed a thicker top. I’ve found that, for some materials like MDF, they don’t provide enough mounting holes. I’ve had aluminum T-tracks pop out of their grooves while clamping things down, although this is easily remedied with a drill and countersinking bit. Also, I find it hard to install long stretches of aluminum T-tracks completely flush with the work surface, no matter how careful I am.
The T-Track table top only took me a few hours in the shop to build, and it cost me less than 20% of what Rockler’s version did. All in all I’m pretty happy with it.
I think that we’re going to need more details on your downdraft table!
Sorry it’s so late, but here you go…
I like it!
Very nice. I think I will have to build one of these once I get the chance. I do have a t-track bit i got from Yonico a while back to make t-track slots for a router table fence. Unfortunately I still haven’t had time to build that either, lol.
Looks great, but I only have a 1/4″ router. Do you think this would work with Rockler’s keyhole slot bit? It cuts a 1/2″ channel as opposed to the 5/8″ channel that the t-track bit cuts.
It might be possible, and if it is, you might be limited as to the hardware you could use with it. A 1/4″ hex bolt is 7/16″ across flats. But will the thickness fit the keyhole slots? Clamps and jigs with larger T-bolts probably won’t fit.
With all that in mind, I think that you would be very limited using a keyhole bit. But that’s also based on assumptions. If you have the bit already, it might be worth a try with scrap material.
I have a small Bosch keyhole bit, and I know that it would not be suitable. That’s why I thought fastener thickness might be an issue. The 1/2″ one you have in mind is probably a bit larger, but it comes down to whether it’ll fit the hardware you’d want to use.
I measured .510″ for the width of the Rockler T-bolts. so 1/2″ isn’t going to work, unless you go with the smaller t-bolts..
Check out MLCS they have a 1/4″ shank T-slot bit that should be compatible:
The larger diameter is 3/4″ not 5/8″, but it should work.
I also found this bit which should be compatible.
but it’s currently out of stock
Just get another router! 🙂
Seriously, though, Harbor Freight has some routers that are quite acceptable quality. I got two solid years out of mine before upgrading to DeWalt’s top of the line combo multi-base set. By then I had a wide range of router bits collected from doing specialty projects like this, and the single-speed HF router had become a limitation. Also look at Ryobi. I have been very impressed with their tools considering the price, especially if you aren’t using them day-in and day-out. Though I didn’t like their plunge router and returned it, opting for the DeWalt instead. But I’ve used their standard routers, both single and variable speed, to great success in shops where I’ve worked.
Also look at Yonico and Roman Carbide brand bits on eBay and Amazon. I find that eBay is generally a little bit cheaper, but Amazon gets them to me faster. They are a great value. While I buy Whiteside and Amana for my high production bits, Yonico and RC help stretch my tool budget for the specialty bits. I have the Yonico T-slot bit. Actually two; one for regular t-tracks and one that is specifically sized for 1/4-20 hex head bolts, so you don’t need special T-nuts, just cheap bolts and shop-made star knobs. Both have cutters on the shaft as well as the head, and they cost a fraction of what Rockler is charging.
And, no, I don’t see a way for the keyhole bit to do the job here. Not with any decently sized hardware. Too narrow and shallow. But that is one of my favorite bits because it adds such a great feature to wall-mounted projects!
Aside from this tool, If anyone has a dream tool that they did not want to pay pricey shipping on then this week is your time. Lee Valley is selling all their tools with free shipping with a 40 dollar limit Go for it
There are a couple of less expensive sources for aluminum T-Track. You can’t get the fancy junction pieces Rockler uses in theirs, but you can make your own with some patience and careful miter cutting.
Orange Aluminum (https://www.orangealuminum.com/t-slot-framing-systems-and-tracks/t-track.html) is the cheapest I’ve found, less than $8 for 48″.
While that is pretty cheap, it’s not compatible with the Rockler style T-bolts. It does fit 1/4-20 hex head bolts which possibly be more useful if you weren’t tied to any system yet.
I’ve been eyeing the Shop Fox T-Track at Amazon 36″ will run you $9.36. BUT, in the comments they say you have to slightly grind the Rockler T-bolts to get them to fit.
I have a piece of the shop fox track and had to slightly file the t-bolts I had to get it to fit; the same is true for the track supplied with the Harbor Freight drill press table. It’ll also fit 5/16 bolts with a similar treatment.
Nice job! I looked at making one but embedding Rockler t-track. When I figured in the cost of the Rockler intersections, it ended up being cheaper to get the Rockler table top on sale during free shipping. I figured that not having track would be a problem with strength. Good to hear that it seems to work. I like your use of the intersections as a way to put on and take off clamping accessories.
Interesting that it’s still not enough track, since the Rockler has even less. Another way to go is to make a top like the one for the Festool MFT with dog holes much closer together.
I was sooooo close to doing this on an auxiliary top I had built for a work bench a few months ago. However, I don’t have the bits or the accessories, and thought that I don’t have a real *need* at the moment for such a t-track top (at least for now). I liked the way yours turned out, especially with edge banding covering the ends of the track and MDF.
Also, regarding the MDF tracks holding up to the rigors of clamping, I think you might be surprised at the role the laminate top has in reinforcing especially the edges of your tracks.
Oh, and if you want more tracks, consider diagonals between your forstner bit drilled holes. You won’t need to take the edge-banding off to start these, either, so you can modify your top directly.
Can you compare the Rockler auto clamps with the Kreg Automaxx clamps? The Kreg ones for table use aren’t usually sold in home stores, but you can at least see them in their YouTube videos. They look more useful to me than the Rockler ones, but they cost a bit more as well. I’m wondering if you (or anyone who owns the Rockler ones) can give me their best guesstimate about the better value. Thanks!
I’ve looked at the Kreg Automaxx clamps before. I was thinking about reviewing the Rockler auto-lock clamps, but a comparison might be interesting.
The Rockler clamps are very different from the kreg automaxx table clamps. My impression: the Kregs need the very heavy duty Kreg track and would pull out a regular t-track, or blow out one machined into the table. This is due to the way it exerts pressure. The Rockler clamps are lighter weight, also.
This is speculation only, though I got a couple of the Kreg Auto table clamps with the intent of using them with the mounting brackets (not the kreg track) and also with the vise configuration of short track mounted to the side of the table. I got some of these things at a great price from Grizzly on clearance, but mounting them in a table is not going to happen for a while. The deep Automaxx face clamps are one of my favorite clamps. I use them all the time, which is why I got the table clamps.
Where do you find the sheets of laminate, I have looked everywhere and can’t find any that size?
I found the sheet I used at Lowes back by the laminate counter tops. I’ve been looking for plain white laminate for a while and this was the first time I’d seen it at Lowes. I don’t know if it was a special order for that store or what.I think I paid $40 for a 48″x96″ sheet.
I found the actual sheet at their website: http://www.lowes.com/pd_446590-76323-949-58-48X96-900___
You can check availability near you. If a local store doesn’t have it you can probably talk them into ordering you a sheet.
Unless you want to special order the problem with sheets of laminate is you usually have to take what they have. For years the best I could find was some fake marble stuff I used because everything else was hideous.
Other sources: Home Depot used to sell sheets of laminate, I haven’t seen any recently though, but you can have it shipped to store:
If you have a Menards around you they always seem to have laminate sheets, but they are all ugly.
If you have any cabinet and counter top stores around they can probably either get it for you or can tell you where to find it locally.
Where in God’s name did you find a 30″x 48″ sheet of laminate or $12??
Everywhere I look they want at least $50.00 for a sheet that size.
Look at the comment right above yours. I bought a full 4×8 white sheet for $40 cut it down, so I prorated for what I used. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Lowes carries that same sheet any more.
I know the price still doesn’t divide out right, but I think the $12 figure came from what they charge for partial sheets about that size at Menards — but they are usually butt ugly patterns, not a nice solid color. Once I found a decent stone print I used for a benchtop router table.
Drill the holes first then the slots