Sophie upgraded! SMW Fixture Tooling Plate - 6061

I finally got around to upgrading my standard sized SO3. I decided to go with the Saunders Machine Works fixture tooling plate and a couple of the modular vices with serrated jaws. Delivery was a little fraught as the courier had left 3 of the 4 packages behind in Cincinnati.

They followed some time after when it was obvious that only one package had arrived in the UK. Anyone in the UK considering a similar project should know that the import duty was £138.93 on £766.08. (approximately 18.14% so cheaper than 20% VAT)

The SMW fixture tooling plate is a very high quality product. It arrived sans some button bolts to connect the stiffener rails to the tooling plate. The missing bolts were 1/4" x 20 x 3/4" in size and obtained locally from ACCU, whom I can highly recommend for all manner of fasteners and fixings. High quality, rapid DPD service and keen prices. Saunders Machine Works customer service was brilliant. They reimbursed my expenditure immediately.

Shout out to ACCU in the UK for a whole slew of high quality products and the best service I have had anywhere in the UK.

Saunders; for folk who are not familiar with their stuff.

Connecting the two halves of the plate was simplicity. It only required the 1/4 x 20 x 3/4" button bolts to secure the fixture plate to the stiffener rails. A word about the rails. They are an option but recommended on the SMW site. I can see why because they add huge rigidity to the framework and the tooling plate and the three of them cost lest than $90 so I would say that is a no brainer.

Once I had removed the supplied MDF baseboard, I had to jack up the remaining framework so that the V wheels would permit the tooling plate to pass. I made a couple of bespoke pieces of MDF on the bandsaw. These were the width of the Carbide 3D supplied frame work and raised it high enough so that the new fitting could be slid into place.

After that, the screws from the Carbide baseboard were used and a washer that was supplied by SMW made it easy to secure the tooling plate to the frame. When removing the baseboard button bolts, I had to dig each of them out of their holes. Once the thread had become disengaged, the bolt head was still below the surface of the standard base board.

One more issue was that the tooling plate is drilled for 6 holes on each side. My frame only had five holes. Tomorrow, I will drill and tap the 3mm holes that are missing in the mirror imaged place on each of the frames. I am awaiting a small torque wrench so that I can accurately torque the screws down to the recommended 8ft lbs as seen at the link, with the appropriate sequence demonstrated.

Finally, everything seems to be as square as it was before I had started. I think a small shim on one side of the tooling plate may be necessary and it will give me the accuracy I am looking for. I will await the torque wrench so I can be sure of the differential between the current situation and after every bolt is tightened to the recommendations.

I will then look at the tramming status and hopefully I should be cutting metal very soon.

Seeing just how effective and versatile the modular vices are, I can recommend this total upgrade and the vices to anyone who wishes to increase the machine rigidity, use the whole baseboard for workpiece holding and have repeatable points at which to secure the workpiece.


My machine ready to have the baseboard removed…

This image will give you a feel for just how much height under the tooling plate that the stiffener rails add to the SO3.

stiffener rails from underneath

an irritating omission on both of my frame rails.

Highlight showing location of missing 3mm tapped hole. (duplicated on opposite frame rail at the same spot)

Two modular vices holding workpieces

Serrated jaw close up from the side.



That’s awesome, I wish I could afford it for my SO3 XXL.
I think it was about a $1,000 last time I looked.

They make high quality stuff!

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They surely do. I think it is due in no small part to @Vince.Fab. His inspirational cutting of aluminium is really something to see. Saunders Machine Works have produced the goods. Everything is so precise and beautifully finished. The tiny chamfers everywhere speak to the high quality production values that must exist at SMW.

Cost may very well be a major issue, especially for retirees like me. On the other hand if your time is valuable to you, there are many worse options. The repeatability in the vice set up is a real pleasure. Plus there is also no more carving through endless pieces of MDF wasteboard/baseboard. No more planning and drilling for inserts or resurfacing either. What’s not to like?

I considered this option for a few months and then thought, to heck with it, this is not a rehearsal and as far as I know; we only pass this way once. I also smile when I consider that is less money for the taxman when I expire because I have already spent it. :grin:


Hmmm… That looks awfully reflective for when using a laser? :star_struck: :star_struck:

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Yes, but it does facilitate simultaneous two-sided laser cutting. :grin:

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Interesting, how come you bought two vices instead of the dual-station vice? Did you have a particular reason like holding longer pieces of stock?

Also if you didn’t buy 1/4", I recommend buying a few DIN 427 screws so that you can rapidly align the vise against the plate.

If you did buy 1/4", hopefully you also got the SMW fixturing pins.

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Yes, this was the reason. I wanted to be able to hold stock that was longer than the size of the standard SO3 wasteboard (400 x 350mm). Two vices make the whole surface of the fixture plate usable. Anything which may be clamped directly to the tooling plate will give me an additional 6mm of Z height too. I did order some DIN 427 screws, following your earlier recommendation, and I expect them to be delivered any day now.

One of the issues I had after ordering everything metric was finding that the stiffening rails were drilled and tapped for a 1/4" x 20 thread. That was also carried through in that the hobby vice was nominally for M6 threads but that was only to secure them to the M6 tapped fixture tooling plate. All of the other threads on the vice are in imperial sizes.

I guess that SMW made the decision to save costs/inventory by only having one design of vice and only adjusting the size of the holes used for fixation. I found it a curious decision because it required the Metric user to own hex keys in both Imperial and Metric sizes.

Nevertheless, I am delighted with the quality of the tooling plate and the modular vices. I think the mechanics of the 1/2" vice are more desirable but at the hobby level, these are pretty impressive.


That’s a beautiful upgrade, Jeff. Great choice - It really adds some class! Oh and its useful too :slight_smile: I love your squad of vices too.

Is it possible the right hand plate needs rotating 180 degrees so that it finds the missing tapped hole? As in, does it work orientated like this?

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And how. I love the careful work put in by SMW to make a really high quality product. The vices are the icing too. Low profile, modular and can take any size of stock if it fits between the jaws. Buying a machinist’s vice with say… 6" opening jaws is a considerable overhead in weight and cost and it still would not open to 14 inches.

The modular vice concept is really well thought out and it just may be the very best reason to make this particular upgrade. I suspect that it is far more versatile than ‘T’ track. The repeatability of position is worth its weight in gold. The whole machine feels like it belongs in a machine shop now.

I might have to check in with the management and see about moving house to grab some more space. I was considering something like this old Cincinnati which can make a 5inch depth of cut in steel, with a 1 inch endmill! :grin: It looks like I may be able to move the old lady into the shed, gut the house and stengthen the floors and add a little 3 phase electricity. :rofl: Damn! This hobby CNC thing is getting outa hand. :wink:

09:20 if you cannot spare the time to watch the whole presentation, which was really interesting to me.

Great thought, Gerry. There are just not 6 holes in the frame on either side. (Friday night frame?) :grin:

Hearty +1 to that. I wish they’d at least included one of those black Chinese hex wrenches in the pack. It would have cost cents. Luckily for the jaws I had one laying around from something else I’d bought (probably 3D printer?) but I didn’t have a 1/4" one for the clamping bolts. The 6mm one I did have worked but…


What’s .35mm between friends. It may not be very good practice but when trying to undo my baseboard button sockets, I had a good quality Wera 3mm hex wrench but the whole thing was easier with my tiny Were socket set and a torx head.

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Just be sure not to use that set during a full moon. :slight_smile:


Oops! Good catch! :grin: Sometimes the automatic spellchecking is unhelpful.


Yes, it was very definitely possible. That was a very astute observation, Gerry. Thank you. I was just being very dumb. Now my frame has two needless M5 holes which I have drilled and tapped beautifully. After which I turned the plate through 180 degrees and all is well. :grin:


I love my fixture plate an vises as well. I also use these to easily locate the vise square with the machine:

As long as your machine is square to the fixture plate, it sure makes lining up the vises easy.


Yes, the fixture plate is an outstanding package and this was one of my reasons behind choosing to make the change. The improvement in the ease of use and the work piece location reproducibility are real benefits.

Downsides? I will probably become a bit more critical when using a dial test indicator and have to settle for a few tenths of a thousandth of an inch out. To that end I have r̶e̶p̶l̶a̶c̶e̶d̶ upgraded my perfectly fine Mitutoyo 2046S (± 0.013mm and 0.01mm gradations) dial gauge. I settled on a Mitutoyo 513-504T dial test indicator set. Accuracy ± 0.0002" with divisions marked every 0.0001".

It was on sale and I could not turn down the opportunity to purchase one including the accessory kit. It should be easier to use because the included 3/8" stem will fit directly into the router. I don’t think the management will be sympathetic so the delivery will end up in the s̶h̶e̶d̶ workshop without being opened in the home. :grin:


Lol! I too had to get a better test indicator for myself. Luckily no need for approval from management. I settled with 0.0005" of resolution though. Nice Mitutoyo set that caused me to spend almost a week tramming my spindle with much frustration… Realistically, I’m ecstatic if I manage to hit +/- 0.002 with this class of machine on any parts I make.


Plus there is also no more carving through endless pieces of MDF wasteboard/baseboard. No more planning and drilling for inserts or resurfacing either.

I love this upgrade and I kind of hear you here… but doesn’t this just trade one time suck/nuisance for another? If I’m cutting full depth, I zero off my wasteboard and just kiss it. I’m usually rocking the masking tape/glue trick, so I’m actually a hair up off the wasteboard as I zero z on two pieces of tape.

While a vice saves the tape+glue… how do you machine full depth? Or you have to take the time to figure out how to flip to clean up the bottom? Or machine soft jaws to hold the already-machined portion of the part? If I want to just clamp down to my wasteboard, I certainly don’t mind of the bit just kisses the MDF… I’d think twice about that on a fancy aluminum board though!

I still love this… and have salivated over it (and might just get it at some point), but still don’t feel like it’s a fix all. You get some conveniences with locating and fixturing, but I think you pick up worries around a less-ruinable/forgiving substrate and potentially having to design in flipping/fixturing. Perhaps for aluminum this is moot as you’d have to clamp on MDF as well vs. getting away with tape+glue.

Anyway, just thinking out loud. I’d be really curious on any sort of measurements really comparing the total time to go from stock to a designed+machined part using MDF vs. aluminum.


Hi John. Yep, it may do but it does depend on what you are cutting. The last image in my opening post shows the vices from the side. The workpiece rests on the ledge just in the front of the serrated jaws. This means the workpiece does not have to touch the aluminium fixture tooling plate. Additionally, the two sets of vices can be fixed any distance apart which is another instantly available advantage. I can hold any sized workpiece that will fit inside the total area available to me.

Yep, been there, done that and got the hat, coat and ‘T’ shirt. Although the common wisdom in the community appears to be very much in favour of zeroing off of the baseboard, so that the cutter cannot descend below its surface, my own preference was to zero off of the stock top. When using tape and glue, I still got the cutter to within one thickness of tape.

I suspect that my method now would change a bit and I would opt for a thin MDF protection sheet. All it would need would be a couple of 6mm holes drilled and I could screw it directly to the tooling plate. My main reason for the tooling plate is that I want to mill metal. The inaccuracies inherent in MDF fixation suggested to me that I would do better if I upgraded the machine for functionality and rigidity.

Having learned more about the things which influence a good cut and accurate parts, I decided that there is a benefit to machining things in a manner more akin to machine shop practice. There is no doubt in my mind that the tooling plate and the stiffener bars have created a very much more rigid assembly than was possible with the previous MDF baseboard. I have also been able to get the tramming more accurate without really trying. The ease of use when placing vices anywhere for any size workpiece, just cannot be overstated, in my opinion.

Of course. I recognise, at base, that the SO3 is just a home gamer’s hobby CNC machine. Now if someone came up with a really easy to use, accurate and sensible belt tensioning system, I would buy it at the drop of a hat. Whenever I adjust the belt tension, I find myself dealing with that ‘L’ shaped bracket that always gets in the way of the ‘V’ wheels. I may have to wait for ball screw enhancements for all of the extrusions, which would do away with the need for the belt tensioning dance.

Would any item you select be a “fix all” ? Probably not at this level. I dare say buyers of 5 axis Haas machines may still look enviously towards the six axis machines of Zimmerman. All we can really hope to do is understand our technical needs and mix that with our desired future needs and then try to buy a machine that is the best ‘fix all’ for our situation.

To some extent I think this is right but I will just learn to work within the limitations of the set up. On the basis that one cannot have everything, I will settle for my easier locating and set up for my workpieces.

I can help with that. If I was using tape and glue, I could set up a job really fast. If I had to repeat the job, I now have to consider a jig and alignment of parts. I suspect that initially, I will be taking quite a bit longer to place the vices and to secure the workpieces. It should however be much easier for two sided milling. I had taken to attaching aluminium angle to my MDF spoilboards so that I could always reference parts off the right angle. Not a great success for two side milling and always just out by 1/4mm which was just enough displacement to ruin the work.

Overall… I have to say I am a fan. The fact that I can use Carbide’s clamps anyway and anywhere also was a substantial bonus. Using a vice at any desired size is a great benefit and modular vices completely kill the notion of a vice with a maximum opening for the jaws. I will plan to locate the vices at rapid positions when I can. This too will help with centering and consistent starting points for position and z height. I don’t see myself as having lost much. Rather… I am gaining the ability to work in a more machinist like manner.


I personally like an MDF surface when working with wood. I really only cut aluminum an plastics so the ease of fixturing and locating a vise with better rigidity as a bonus can’t be beat. When I do have to cut wood, I put an MDF wasteboard with the hole pattern drilled into it on top of my fixture plate.