Stainless Steel instead of "cast iron"?

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Forum topic by JeffP posted 06-15-2015 10:59 AM 2015 views 0 times favorited 69 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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573 posts in 1354 days

06-15-2015 10:59 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question tablesaw

I am recently of the opinion that using cast iron for table-tops on large power tools is NOT “old school”, but rather “old timey”.

Despite having previously ( about 3 months ago) sanded down my table saw top and applied two coats of paste wax, the high summer humidity here in NC has done another number on it.

This weekend I had to repeat the process, after leaving a cutoff from a piece of 2X10 laying on the top of the saw for a week. The wet wood had leached enough moisture onto the table top to make a serious rust spot on it. On further inspection I realized that the whole table had developed a bit of a patina in recent weeks.

This is annoying. Why can’t they make the top out of machined stainless instead? Seems simple enough to make most of the “mass” of the top from cast iron, and then attach about a 16th of an inch thick piece of stainless to the top of that before the machining.

Is it just the cost that makes this not an industry standard? Are there any companies doing this?

-- Last week I finally got my $*i# together. Unfortunately, it was in my shop, so I will probably never find it again.

69 replies so far

View altendky's profile


169 posts in 2172 days

#1 posted 06-15-2015 11:14 AM

I’m at the PA/MD line and inland a few hours so not the same humidity you get, but still a good bit compared to Oregon where I grew up. I tried paste wax after cleaning up a jointer I bought and it lasted about, well, it didn’t. It was either a day or a week until it was rusty again. Boeshield’s acid cleaned it up nicely and the coating has kept it in the same condition as when applied maybe three years ago now. Yes, I believe you can probably make your own Boeshield but seeing as I haven’t needed to reapply it I haven’t used up the fist $15 worth yet. So, there are ways to deal with the humidity.

But, to the question you actually asked? I’m guessing the cost and complexity (especially considering miter slots) of making it really work right will make $15 of sealer look like a good option. Perhaps you (and myself and/or me?) did not apply the paste correctly? Some people say it works great for them. Regardless, I’m not going to bothering trying to figure it out. If I an do all my equipment for less than $5 per year (and dropping each year I don’t need to do it again), it’s not worth my time to find a cheaper or easier alternative.

Good luck!

View MrFid's profile


874 posts in 1867 days

#2 posted 06-15-2015 11:41 AM

I’m not a metalworker, but could it be that it’s hard to get a sheet of stainless steel as flat as iron? My other thought was that maybe it’s tough to get stainless steel to bond to cast iron dependently enough. Again just brainstorming here.

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View mtenterprises's profile


933 posts in 2655 days

#3 posted 06-15-2015 11:58 AM

I know it looks ugly but oiling your cast iron is best. Cast iron is porous once you get enough oil soaked into it it doesn’t rust, it does take years though. My old Craftsman cast iron table only gets spotty rust, my Grizzly mill lathe still gets rusty sometimes but is getting better but my old Atlas lathe has had so much oil over the years it’s never rusty.

-- See pictures on Flickr - And visit my Facebook page -

View alittleoff's profile


539 posts in 1239 days

#4 posted 06-15-2015 12:07 PM

I like you laid a cedar board on my saw a couple of weeks ago. I got to talking an walked off leaving the board there for a day or two. When I moved it i had a bad stain and some rust. I was able to clean mine with wd40 and steel wool pretty good. I’ve heard a lot of people that has good results with Johnson paste wax, but it just dosent work for me. I don’t care how it’s applied, it dosent work. I’ve put it on thick, thin, buffed and hand rubbed it, but it don’t work. I use a product called CRC but can’t remember the no. I spray it on and just leave it until I’m ready to use the saw. The humidity here in Ms. Is just to much for cast iron. I would gladly pay more for stainless steel top within reason, but think it would be expensive machining a top using it. So I’ll just keep spraying mine with some sort of oil until someone comes up with another idea for me to try.

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1139 days

#5 posted 06-15-2015 12:08 PM

I know it looks ugly but oiling your cast iron is best. Cast iron is porous once you get enough oil soaked into it it doesn t rust
- mtenterprises

Sort of like seasoning a cast iron pan before cooking in it?

my old Atlas lathe has had so much oil over the years it s never rusty.
- mtenterprises

My concern would be that if the oil soaked in could it come out? I would hate to ruin a nice looking board by finding out in the finishing process that I had microscopic drops of oil absorbed into the wood.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View ChuckV's profile


3110 posts in 3489 days

#6 posted 06-15-2015 12:28 PM

I have plenty of humidity in MA. My shop is in a barn and not temperature controllable. I wax my cast iron machines twice a year and have no problems.

I keep a loose piece of corrugated cardboard on top of each machine when not in use. This has the side-effect of making sure that I do not forget and leave something on the top that will cause trouble.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View Tim's profile


3778 posts in 1924 days

#7 posted 06-15-2015 12:53 PM

I would assume it’s not done because it’s not easy to cast them together or to bond them together and get the properties you want. Or it’s possible that no one has found an inexpensive process for essentially plating cast iron with stainless. Or the different expansion rates of the two metals cause it to not be durable. If someone were to be able to figure out a way to do it inexpensively I would think it would be a good business opportunity since a lot more than just woodworking tools would benefit.

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1193 days

#8 posted 06-15-2015 01:05 PM

Casting or molding something to the shape you want is cheaper because the raw material less is 1uite minimal because all you are going to do is surface grind it flat.

Now the real question, is it that hard to pour a SS (440c) saw top? I would say no. I would guess that SS cost way more than cast.

The first lesson I got in engineering : I had a great idea and took it to the head of R &D. After I told it to him he said “I can make a motor that will never die”. (Vacuum cleaner industry). I took the bait “why don’t you”? “The windings would be made of gold”. I walked out.

Lesson learned: yes, it really does come down to cash.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View Ripthorn's profile


1454 posts in 2947 days

#9 posted 06-15-2015 01:06 PM

Stainless would be really tough to do as it tends to work harden rather quickly. This makes mass production slower and more costly, not to mention additional costs in simply changing a manufacturing line. Additionally, you have to worry about things such as expansion contraction, bonding, galvanic corrosion, and a host of other things.

However, if you are at your wits’ end with the rusting, you should be able to get cast iron nickel plated, which would eliminate corrosion. The caveats being: 1) the top has to be absolutely free of rust, 2) plating is charged by the pound, usually, so you would be better of doing something like a brush on plating (which would probably set you back $50-75 for a table saw top, and may take quite a bit of time to get enough of a plating thickness) and 3) I have no idea how well nickel plating would hold up to the abrasion. However, if it did abrade off, a brush plating system could spot treat it quickly and easily. Please note that I have never done this, but it certainly is an interesting idea.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View upinflames's profile


217 posts in 2124 days

#10 posted 06-15-2015 01:10 PM

Well the “old timey ” way would be to use talcum powder, throw it on, rub it on, wipe the excess. When you close up shop throw some on all cast iron surfaces, rub it around, the pores in the cast will fill with powder, cheap, smells good, and slick.

View bandit571's profile


19712 posts in 2645 days

#11 posted 06-15-2015 01:11 PM

Maybe just make a solid SS top, no cast iron needed?

Of course, there is always Granite tops…..

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4901 posts in 3923 days

#12 posted 06-15-2015 02:01 PM

My tops live in N.E. Mississippi. So does my shop. :)
Non woven pads, paste wax, and a sign that threatens any one with disembowelment keeps my tops in good shape.


View altendky's profile


169 posts in 2172 days

#13 posted 06-15-2015 02:17 PM

My tops live in N.E. Mississippi. So does my shop. :)
Non woven pads, paste wax, and a sign that threatens any one with disembowelment keeps my tops in good shape.

- Bill White

How thick? How long do you let it dry? I suppose the cover just keeps drops off?

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2933 days

#14 posted 06-15-2015 02:18 PM

Cast iron is about the cheapest metal out there to produce a solid, stable flat surface.
It consists of iron, $0.20/lb., and up to 6% carbon
The energy cost to melt and cast it may double that cost to $0.40/lb.
Machining cast iron is easy. Add another $0.50/lb. so we are up to $0.90/lb.
Environmental controls and union labor, and now health insurance, in the USA will double the cost again.
So that 100 lb. top is about $180 made here, maybe $80 in India or China.

Stainless steel is 16-18% chrome and 7-8% nickel. The balance is mostly regular old iron.
Chrome costs about $2.50/lb. and nickel is about $6.20/lb.
These alloys cause the melting temperature of iron to increase from about 2300 degrees to about 2900 degrees.
Higher temperature increases energy costs substantially, increases molding cost, increases shrinkage upon solidification which increases complexity and cost of casting.
Then, as everyone knows, stainless is hard to machine.
I can see how a part that would cost $180 in cast iron could easily cost $700 to $800 in stainless.

Another option would be to hard chrome plate the top. That is the process used on things like the rods of hydraulic cylinders and in mold chambers and wear parts subjected to abrasion. This is a very durable surface and it won’t rust.

View CharlesA's profile


3312 posts in 1760 days

#15 posted 06-15-2015 02:22 PM

I have cast iron on table saw, bandsaw, and jointer.

After getting them clean (method depended on condition)
1) I use Boeshield t-9 on the surface and rub down
2) use Johnson’s wax (or something better).

Louisville gets pretty dang humid, and the only significant rust issue I have had in 5 years is when I didn’t realize that my wife had laid some wet yard tools on the table saw.

Was alone is not a good protectant—It does make it nice and slick, though.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

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