Just read thru this tonight (yeah I'm a bit slow) Great post though. I have a few suggests
1. Don't know what hog rings you got. If the loose ones, they are a pain to get on and closed good. Try the automatic pliers. Makes it nice and easy to close the ends and you can get alot closer to the end of the casings....Less waste.
2. Try putting your grinder up on some kinda stand. I use a kitchenaid stand mixer w/grinder attach. Lets me put a large 8-12 qt SS stock pot under it to catch the meat.
3 If you have problems (vertically) with getting all your sausage in the smoker, Drape the strings over your dowel and pin to the sausage with a toothpick. It may drip a little juice but I have never noticed any comprimise with the finished product.
I never seem to be able to keep enough summer sausage on hand. All my friends and coworkers rave about it. One of my friends won't let me in the house during the holidays without it. LOL