Shapeoko 3 Upgrades – Part 1

My Shapeoko 3 has been sitting in my shop pretty much neglected for a while.

Part of it was that I’ve been busy with other things around the house – prepped and painted a room, had the holidays, etc., and other family things.

The other part of it was that I’ve been thinking about upgrades for the Shapeoko 3 pretty much since I took it out of the box. I have no quibble with Edward Ford’s design, but I’m a tinkerer, like many Shapeoko owners, and I can’t leave well enough alone.

The first mod was to add limit switches. Which then turned into selling limit switch kits, which ate a bunch of my free time (no complaints though.)

The next mod was adding some stiffness to the Z plate. This has been discussed in several threads on the forums, but I came up with my own take on it.

I had some steel shelf mounting brackets laying around. These are U-channels about 1/2″ wide with about 1/4″ sides, and pretty stiff. So I hacked off a couple of pieces, got some flat head screws and bolted them on to the Z plate. It sure feels a lot stiffer now.



I also bought some 8020 aluminum corner brackets that I will be adding, but I haven’t done that yet because on Saturday I started my next, larger mod.

The next mod – that I’m still in the middle of – is building a torsion table base. But I have in-process photos for you.

Home Depot will cut sheet goods for you. Which is good because I can’t safely handle a full sheet of 3/4″ MDF in my shop. Just not quite enough room. In the summer I can slice it up in the garage with a hand held circular saw, but it’s currently -8F here in MN and that won’t fly.

So keeping expansion in mind I had Home Depot slice a sheet of MDF into thirds for me. That comes out to three pieces that are 32″ x 49″. (The MDF sheets are acutally 49″ x 97″ at Home Depot.)

This means that I can expand in the Y axis to double the length, which is what I’m hoping to do in the future.

I wanted three pieces because I’m going to make the top double thickness for two reasons:

  • It will be stiffer
  • It will allow me to route 1/2″ deep channels in it for the Orange Aluminum T-Slot without worrying about weakening it.

I had a bunch of scrap 3/4″ MDF for the sides and ribs, so I ripped a bunch to 4″ on my table saw and cut them all to length.

The next step was gluing up the front which I made double thickness for the same reasons as the top.


After the glue dried I setup the dado stack in my saw and ripped the groove in the front.

I also tried ripping all the grooves into a single thickness sheet for the top, but that did not work out so well for me. The sheet was difficult to handle and it warped so the grooves were not a consistent depth. So I scrapped that idea and I will use my router to make the grooves after I glue the top sheet to the torsion box.

The next step was to make pocket screw holes in all the ribs. I got this idea from someone else on the Shapeoko forum (I’ll have to look them up later to give them credit) and it worked out pretty well.


After drilling all the pocket screw holes I decided that since this base will be heavy (more than a whole sheet of 3/4″ MDF + the Shapeoko 3,) it might be nice to have some handles but I didn’t want anything to stick out the sides. So I programmed up a quick oval and used my Shapeoko 1+ to mill them into the sides. Then I used my router table to run a 1/4″ radius around the inside and outside.



Next was adding a way to bolt the Shapeoko 3 to the table. I thought about putting inserts in from the top but decided that T-Nuts from the bottom would be stronger, so I measured out the hole locations for the front and rear brackets and counter sunk some T-Nuts into the top. I also assumed (there’s that word) that the expansion rails would be exactly twice as long as the stock ones and put some T-Nuts in where that would put the rear bracket. If it turns out that’s not the case I’ll come up with something else at that time (probably inserts from the top.)


After that it was time for a quick dry fit where I discovered that the ribs were about 1/16″ too long in both directions. So I trimmed them a little.


Since my table saw is not quite as flat as I’d like it to be (it’s on the list for replacement in the near future) I decided that it would be a good idea to make some assembly supports.

I grabbed a 2×4 and cut it in half. Then I used my jointer to straighten one face and edge and then my planer to make the two edges parallel and the two halves the same height.


I drilled some 1″ holes into the ends for clamps and then shimmed and clamped them to my table saw. It actually only took one shim, but that is because the warp in the table runs primarily perpendicular to the supports.


Once I had a flat and level assembly area I started assembling. I glued and clamped the front onto the top and drove in the pocket screws.


By the end of yesterday (Monday) I had one section of the table ribs done. It is going together pretty well with one caveat: When you put in the pocket hole screws it wants to pull the board sideways. So the first long rib slid over a little bit and sticks out past the edge of the table. Ah well, it won’t effect the function in any way. The other internal ribs either don’t matter so much or the screws just pulled it tighter, so that’s okay.

Here is where I left off yesterday.


I didn’t get a chance to work on it today, but tomorrow evening I imagine I’ll finish up the ribs. I might get the bottom on if I have enough time.

I have another mod that I completed already but I don’t seem to have taken any photos yet. I’ll document that up after the torsion table is done.

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