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We are in the planning stages of building a new house that will include a 'workspace', which will be used primarily for woodworking (among other things). I would like to make sure I design this workspace around any future needs I may have. Right now it's in the plans as an empty 11' x 13' room (10' ceiling) with a garage door to the outside and a laundry tub in the corner. The primary function of this workspace was to allow me to woodwork through the winter, but now I see additional value as an area to install or store a system to help work with overly-heavy slabs.

Shortly after moving in I'd like to begin making some larger pieces, starting with a 14' live edge dining room table. Online calculators are telling me that a slab large enough to work into this will weigh in the 500+ lbs range. So far I have worked with some heavy pieces, but nothing beyond 100-odd lbs; until this point I could always manually carry the slab in and out and flip it using my own strength. I'm aware of the math, but cannot expand my workspace; I will either need to work with this particular slab outside or choose a smaller size.

What options are available for working with slabs like this that cannot be managed with brute strength? This would include both machinery (like some sort of hoist) or techniques (force multipliers).

I expect to have the following needs:

  • Ability to work with slabs alone, without a second person available.
  • Moving a slab from storage (possibly along the side of the workspace) to a working area (possibly in the middle of the workspace).
  • Flipping a slab so that I can work on both sides.
  • Moving a slab from a pickup truck to my storage space upon delivery.
  • Moving a slab outside would be a bonus, so I can spray coatings, sand, etc without worrying about dust and fumes so much. Also so I can work with slabs larger than my workspace. So mobile equipment is preferable.
  • Reasonable cost (under $3,000)
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    You've had some really good input in the Answers so far but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that I'm not sure would make for a standalone Answer of my own. First and observation. 14' slab in a 13' workspace does not compute! Can you leave the door open for as long as you're going to be working on it? Be realistic here, I know of guys who work with slabs a lot who take weeks on each project..... This isn't just the potential for tools to get stolen, the slab could get ruined by sun or rain or both. Which leads me on to the main thing I wanted to say, don't reinvent the wheel here [contd] – Graphus Mar 10 at 9:02
  • In terms of dealing with heavy slabs on a semi-routine basis as you're hoping to I would see how others have dealt with this before you rather than trying to problem solve it in a semi-theoretical way, which means for example contacting some woodworkers doing stuff with slabs and asking them directly. There will be some info out there already in the mags and possibly on various forums or sites (dealing with concrete countertops might be a good analogous case worth investigating) but there's nothing like getting some real-world experience directly from the horse's mouth. – Graphus Mar 10 at 9:09
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    Last point, this slab specifically..... I would very strongly recommend you give serious thought to making the leg assemblies first, having them in place and then bringing the slab in, placing it on them and working on it in situ. Dealing with any noise, dust and chips, and at the end any finish fumes in the house are preferable IMO to the hassle and risks previously mentioned. And the, let's be fair, dangers of moving the thing once it has been completed, the finish is on and you have to treat it with kid gloves! HTH. – Graphus Mar 10 at 9:12
  • @Graphus depending on how wide the slab is it might just fit diagonally. The room's diagonal is ~17 feet. a 3 foot wide slab with its corners at wall surface would be about 1.5 feet from the corners and just barely fit. Not ideal for working around, but that might be just enough to keep it indoors and level on a rolling table between work sessions done with the garage door open. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Mar 10 at 18:45
  • This the USA? You must have big trees. Here in NZ, my timber supplier does 270mm wide max (about 11 of your Imperial Inches) and up to around 5m (17' or so) length. – Rich Mar 10 at 20:29
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To be honest, moving a 500 lb slab of wood by yourself sounds very dangerous. If you're the only one home and you manage to drop it on yourself, you could end up rather dead, and nobody wants that.

That said...

I would suggest a very sturdy cart with locking wheels to move the piece around on and a second to provide stability when you're working on the piece. Put one cart in the center for movements, then one at each end for working. Having a cart at each end means that it will likely be hard to steer straight when you're pushing (since this would be very difficult to pull, I'd imagine), so a single cart gives you only one point to pivot.

You'll probably want some sort of hoist with a spreader bar and canvas slings. The hoist will only lift at one point - the spreader bar will take that central lifting point and make 2 lift points out of it from which you can then sling your lumber. Obviously, you'll want fabric slings, not chains, so as to not damage the wood. If the slings are long enough, I envision you being able to lift the piece then flip it in the slings, then lower it back to your work supports. How well that will work, solo, in practice? I'm not sure.

To get the slab from your truck into the workshop... Wait, you're going to put a 14' long slab of tree into an 8' pickup truck bed? I'm envisioning the front of the slab on the bed of the truck, right behind the cab. With either the tailgate raised and the slab at an angle, or with the gate down and the slab flat, you're going to have a lot of overhang! To the point of risking it tipping out when you hit bumps. Assuming (with all inherent danger) that you get it home safely and without damage, back the truck up to the garage door, put your cart under the edge and muscle the slab out of there.

I'd strongly suggest offering some pizza and beverages of choice to a couple of buddies to come help you out when you need to move the thing. Especially if this is a 1-time event. The amount of money that you'd fork out for the specialized tools to do this safely would most likely significantly exceed the cost of a couple of dinners. Even in that situation, you'll still want something with wheels to move it - carrying that much weight is difficult - more so with people who don't do it regularly and have a routine down. With a cart under each end and a person at each end to steer, moving it around should be easy(ish).

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  • Thanks for the thoughts. I loled at your description of transport, but I had actually just figured I'd pay the seller to deliver it for me and trust they know what they're doing; I hadn't really thought it through. You make good points about the difficulty, but it seems like I'll need to move and flip the thing many times in the process of construction, and I may want to do other large pieces in the future, so buying the specialized equipment may be worth it. It doubles as a way to keep me woodworking later when my body can no longer deal with constantly lifting 50-100 lbs slabs... – Nicholas Mar 9 at 20:08
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    Glad I could provide some amusement, @Nicholas :). Honestly, though, I'd be seriously careful about moving that on your own with nobody else around. An accident could pin you under it, and while not immediately fatal, may lead to an agonizing death. I try not to be a gloomsday type of guy, just... be really careful. – FreeMan Mar 9 at 20:15
  • Well, my partner is usually around when I work. Not that she's going to be able to lift it off of me, but she could at least call 911. But your point is well taken. – Nicholas Mar 10 at 0:18
  • @Nicholas - the same reason I prefer not to do work under the car without somebody else at the house. I'm safe and I'm not afraid of dying, I'd just rather not do it any earlier than necessary... Besides, people have been known to perform miracles when a life is on the line. – FreeMan Mar 10 at 11:45
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The piece of wood you are talking about is bigger then your work area (14 foot slab in a 13 foot area) Realistically in your current shop space you are not going to be able to work with any wood that you can't handle.

Heck even ripping a an 8 foot 2x4 into a couple of 1x4s is beyond what your shop can handle, without opening the doors.

Right now it's in the plans as an empty 11' x 13' room (10' ceiling)

If you really want to work with that big slab of wood, you are going to need to do it outside or in the garage. Get your self a small utility trailer like this one Build a frame to keep the wood off the fenders and/or tires and work on there, you will also want some jack stands to stabilize the trailer. It is remarkably easy to push one of these small trailers around when it has a balanced load.

Alternately you could get a used boat trailer that would be longer. But in many locations a brand new inexpensive utility trailer can be more cost effective.

I have one of these folding trailers, and I really like it. It folds up and sits in the back of my garage, using about 18 inches by 5 feet of floor space.

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    Depending on the width of the slab, and where the garage door is in relation to the corners of the room, they may still be able to work on it within their workroom (which will be 17 foot across the diagonal.) My back of the hand math suggests something less than 3 feet wide. Or they have a wider slab, but set it up so the slab wasn't level (one end of the slab would need to be more than 5 feet higher than the other to fit though.) – Mr.Mindor Mar 10 at 16:52
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    @Mr.Mindor they could get even more space by putting the wood diagonally up and down as well; top N corner to bottom S corner, but but using power tools and/or wood treatment products with questionable room to move seems unsafe. – James Jenkins Mar 10 at 18:15
  • Excellent point about it not fitting! – FreeMan Mar 11 at 12:13
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An engine hoist may be useful for the tasks you require. A typical hoist has gear designed to bolt into an engine block, which would also mean you'd have to either drive screw eyes (strong ones!) into your slab or build a bracket around it to which you would attach the lift.

Engine hoists are usually mobile and some will disassemble easily enough for storage.

One can go on the cheap buying from a Harbor Freight type of operation, or hit a middle ground with likely better components and longer life. Amazon has a reasonably priced model with a two ton capacity.

The photos show a respectable range of travel for the vertical component:

engine lift

A great feature visible in the photos is that you pull a couple of pins and the outrigger legs fold vertically while the boom lowers to keep the center of gravity within the remaining wheels.

For solo operation, you may find it necessary to attach and lift one end as high as practical, block it securely at that level and lift the other end, block it, then place your screw eyes or bracket assembly in the middle. Time consuming, perhaps, but can be a safe procedure to accomplish your objectives.

For managing a flip-over, especially with your budget, an investment of a second lift of the same type would permit you to elevate both ends. It would require a bracket for each end that permits rotation, but that could be done without if you use a ledge/bench/blocking on one side of the slab. As it is lowered, it will drop at a tilt approaching vertical. You would then be able to manually push it over vertical and the lowering process would complete the flip.

As noted, safety should be a consideration, but I believe that with patience and an eye towards hazards, one could accomplish your goals. These lifts are presented as a preliminary concept, not a complete solution.

I also prefer to accomplish sometimes challenging tasks solo. Newton's laws and various mechanical devices usually work out well.

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  • Thanks for the answer! This was my first thought as well. However, I hoped to avoid having to build my own bracket assembly. I'm concerned that any assembly not build for woodworking may put too much of the weight of the slab on too small a piece of the slab, or use too hard of a material, causing deformation in the surface of the wood. Also, how would you flip the slab using this type of assembly, in order to work on the other side? – Nicholas Mar 9 at 20:05
  • edited to add additional suggestions – fred_dot_u Mar 9 at 20:50
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    You can combine that with a lifting strap to handle bulky objects. (I'm not recommending that particular one; it's just the first that showed up in my search results) – Pete Becker Mar 10 at 13:33
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    While this could work for some applications, it won't work for going through a standard 36" door. And you have to be careful not to get one without castors on all wheels, since I've seen some that have 4 castors + 2 non-castors that make things difficult. Also, there's specific ways to rig a lift system to flip material. mazzellacompanies.com/Catalog/Slings-Assemblies/… – computercarguy Mar 10 at 16:54
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My background is doing set construction / assembly / disassembly in theatres. We commonly need to move large/heavy objects (as in thousands of pounds) and they often have weird and ungainly shapes (we once moved a tree across town and suspended it in mid air with the bottom of the "trunk" above head height, attached at the last minute to something that wasn't originally designed with that in mind, and we had to re-position it over and over again as the director made up their mind about where each branch should be (we had to cut off a few branches and move them).

First of all, working alone is not necessarily a bad thing. Just about every accident I've ever seen has either been someone who doesn't understand the problem (which is likely if you ask a friend to help) or communication issues (which can happen whenever more than one person is involved).

Carefully think about every step before progressing, and make sure you've got a backup plan in place if something goes wrong. Ideally you should always be able to just drop the heavy object and step back without risking injury or damage.

Another thing to consider, even for simple tasks like climbing a ladder to change a lightbulb it's good to have someone "spotting" you, even if all they're able to do is call 911. It's best to have that person in the room with you but they could just be on the other end of a phone call on speakerphone.

Moving on to answer your question, to move a heavy object, my preferred method is a set of "dollies". They're cheap, just a platform with wheels. Swivel wheels are more versatile but fixed wheels are safer for heavy items. I like to have swivel wheels ont he end I'm holding, and fixed wheels on the other end.

To lift things, ropes are great. Invest in some good quality weight rated ropes and pulleys hanging above your workbench to gain a 2:1 or 3:1 mechanical advantage. Remember to "catch" something that falls requires much more strength than just holding a static weight. Make sure you have a second safety rope that will take the weight if the primary rope fails (or just if you need to let go for some reason). The secondary rope should just have a simple fixed knot that will catch the timber before it reaches the floor - nothing complicated involving pulleys/etc.

It can be slow to work this way, moving a short distance between stopping to adjust the ropes, but it works. And it's safe. It's also cheap, though even working in theatres with multi-million dollar systems designed specifically to "fly" heavy objects, ropes are still used everywhere (sometimes wire ropes or chains where appropriate).

Oh, and wear gloves.

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as far as moving the slab to and from storage. having some sort of clamp with wheels seems like a common solution to moving them with only one person. i have watched this guys videos before and seen him use it to move very large slabs easily. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZFruJITY2w

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  • Not sure how this offers anything further than the other answers. – jdv Mar 10 at 17:35
  • Hi Tom, welcome to Woodworking. You know the drill on SE, an Answer should précis the information in anything linked to so that if the link goes stale at least something of practical use remains here. Could you expand on this, flesh it out into a fuller Answer? – Graphus Mar 11 at 8:39
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I have absolutely no experience with any of this, but if I wanted to do this, I would be dreaming about an electric overhead traveling crane. (There is a fairly comprehensive write-up with nomenclature and design considerations here, I am sure your can find a lot more information on the web.) While these things are mostly used in industrial environments, there are some 1000-lb/half-ton versions available that may fit your bill (simple versions under USD 1000; one brand is SnapTrac [no endorsement, just an example I found]; of course there would be installation costs as well).

Provided your ceiling or walls can take the weight (an important consideration!), it would allow you to move the slab around your work space (even without having to clear stuff off the floor). Since you will have a garage door, you can drive the bed of a pickup into your space and use the crane for (un)loading. If you need the slab outside temporarily, use the crane to load it onto a sturdy cart (as suggested by FreeMan) and wheel it out. To attach the slab to the hook of the crane you would probably use some sturdy straps, but I am sure you can figure that out. Flipping the slab would take some creativity (may be lifting, rotating until it stands on the edge, setting it down and holding it carefully while switching the hook to the other side ...), but you have a much better shot at it once you can lift it up.

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