Good power saws are an important part of what, for me, makes it possible to enjoy weekend woodworking. They provide fast, accurate, clean cuts that require minimal follow-up work.
Table saw. The table saw is a central tool in a woodworking shop with power tools. My first benchtop table saw was a cheap one; it always scared me half to death as I never felt totally in control when I was using it. Since then I've had three more table saws, each a step better and safer than the previous. Based on that experience, I'd definitely recommend getting the best one you can afford, and, if possible, get the last one you'll ever need as your first one.
In my opinion, the absolute best bet for this tool is a SawStop. It's a beautifully made machine (Charles Neil calls it a "sawing instrument"), and features an amazing safety device for what can be the most dangerous tool in a workshop: a brake that instantly stops and drops the blade if it's touched while running. While the saw is expensive, one prevented accident could make it the best bargain ever. They now have a smaller cabinet saw (the one I have) and a contractor model, which are both more within reach for a hobbyist than their original industrial cabinet saw. And the build quality is better than any other saw I've seen.
The more I use this saw, the more impressed I am; it's smooth and precise, and I feel remarkably in control with it. I'm still very cautious when I use it, but less afraid, which enables me to be more aware of what I'm doing; I'm focused on my work, not distracted by fear. That's a big deal for me.
It seems like I end up tweaking every tool in my shop. With this one, the first thing I did was to fit a piece of oak trim along the left table edge. The cast iron top is very nicely finished, but I found the left edge a bit sharp, especially the corners, so I added trim that has beveled edges matching the way the table top's front and rear edges are finished.
Next, I added a small oak arm to hold the secondary dust hose that fits into the blade guard up and out of the way of the wood I'm cutting. The arm attaches with bolts and wing nuts, so I can quickly and easily remove it if I need to cut something wider, like a sheet of plywood.
Then, I spent quite a few weekends building a folding extension table for the rear of the saw, using a pile of oak cut-offs that I had left over from a previous project.
When I purchased the saw, the store didn't have the smaller rolling stand for this model, but they did have the larger, very heavy duty hydraulic stand designed for the industrial saw, and there's a conversion kit to fit it to this saw, so I got it. I'm really glad I did, as the hydraulic system makes it super easy to jack up the saw to roll it around (and since I have a small shop, I have to do this quite often).
As a bonus, the stand sticks out behind the saw a few inches and has a ¼″ × 2″ thick steel bar running across between the two rear wheel holders, which turned out to be the perfect thing to anchor the extension table support arms to. I created a sort of vise clamp from two pieces of oak separated at top with an oak insert a bit wider than ¼″ that is glued to one of the pieces, then ran bolts through the two pieces below that. The bolts sit on top of the steel bar, and when the bolts are tight, the wood below them is clamped very tightly to the bar.
The trickiest part of the whole operation was getting the arms exactly the right length so that the extension table is coplanar with the saw's table. The second trickiest part was to get the T-tracks to line up precisely with the table's, so that I can, for example, push a sled all the way across without the miter bars hanging. Both turned out well thanks to good tools, and a little dash of luck, too!
The arms hold themselves in place; still, for safety's sake I added a 3/8″ bolt and knob to each arm to lock them in place. I can spin off the knobs, remove the bolts, fold in the arms, and fold down the table in moments, so I can quickly tuck the saw away whenever I need the space for something else.
Finally, I worked on the legs that hold up the right table wing. This is the one thing I don't like about the saw as delivered: the legs themselves are strong, but the supports that connect them to the table are short and small, so the legs can easily be bent if you're rolling the table around and bump something with a leg. I like solid! So the first thing I did was to use a wide piece of leftover poplar I had to create a brace between the two legs that keeps them from moving forward or backward.
As part of the conversion kit for the rolling stand, there were two ¼″ × 1″ steel bars to replace the longer ones that are designed for the industrial saw. I ended up with the two original longer bars left over, and they were the perfect thing to create a triangle brace between the legs and the table to keep the legs from moving sideways. The saw now has well-braced legs that can take a bump.
As another bonus I realized that this would be the perfect place to store my sets of imperial and metric T-handle hex keys, out of the way but easily accessible (my workspace is small, so I need to utilize every square inch). I created a holder that keeps them all in place, lined up by size, and attached it to the brace.
The final piece of the puzzle was to get a full-size dust collector with an air flow rating (1,250 cubic feet/minute) adequate to handle both the primary and secondary dust ports on the SawStop. It also needed to be flexible enough to hook up to my other tools. I ended up choosing the canister model of the JDS Dust Force, which I can roll around my shop to hook up to the other machines, as well to clean up the floor.
It's a good machine; its cfm capacity easily keeps both the table saw and my planer waste free, the big 1-micron canister keeps the air clean, and I like collecting all of my wood waste in a way that makes it easy to recycle it by spreading it on our wood chip paths, which wander all around our yard and through the trees.
Of course, I ended up tweaking it: I braced it underneath to make it a bit more stable, added wooden bumpers all around, built a handle to make it easier to roll it around, and moved the switch up on the handle to make it more accessible.
I'm feeling good. My shop is now ready for me to tackle my next big—and last—house project: to refurbish all of our kitchen cabinets, and in some cases build new ones.
I'm not sure when I'll begin that project, and I'm sure it will take me a long time to complete it, but I'm really excited about it. That I finally feel ready to build cabinets feels like the culmination of all the years I've been learning woodworking and creating my shop. And it will be nice to finally have all the woodwork in our home be something I created or worked on with my own hands.
Sliding compound miter saw. I didn't know what I was missing before I added a power miter saw to my shop; it makes it so much easier and faster to work. I also didn't know how challenging it could be to find a good one. Over the course of a few years, I went in-depth hands-on with three leading saws in the 10″ and 12″ categories and was left disappointed with each experience. Finally I tried the Festool Kapex 120, an innovative 10″ saw.
As soon as I began making cuts with the Kapex, I knew I was dealing with a saw in a class of its own. This is a very precise saw. Using the 60-tooth blade it comes with, I've been able to make very clean, absolutely true cuts. It's easier to set up compound cuts on this saw than any of the others I've tried, it has a 12″ reach, and there's absolutely no wobble or torque movement (torque distortion was an issue with the 12″ saw I had), perhaps because the rails are fixed and the head slides (all the other saws I've used have a fixed head and sliding rails). Its honeycombed magnesium base makes it both light and stable.
As I've been using this saw more, in addition to just plain appreciating how well it works, I've been thinking about some of the reasons it's so precise. One thing I think it has going for it is that the housing that contains the slide pipes is big, making the housing on the other saws I had look puny by comparison. This may be a case where the engineers of some of the other leading brands, looking to cut weight or cost on their more recent saws, shaved off too much. The housings on the Kapex that hold the pipes and the saw head itself are like Rocks of Gibraltar.
There are already several excellent reviews of this saw online, so it's not worth it for me to spend any more time reviewing it. What I can say is that the reviews are accurate in their shared conclusion of just how good this saw is. Worth the money? Well, if you want precision, as I do, then currently there may be no worthy alternative. (About a year after I wrote this, Bosch came out with their intriguing dual bevel, axial glide saw. That just might prove to be a worthy alternative, as long as the saw's build quality is reasonable and the axial arms can hold their own against the torque.)
Some reviews of the Kapex 120:
- Brice Burrell
- Gary Katz - written review | video review part 1 & part 2
- Rob McGilp
- Justin Fink - written review | video review*
- Dan Clark's blade review
*Note that Justin Fink got the working of the trigger lock and power switch wrong in his video review: you can depress the trigger lock to lower the saw head to the workpiece without spinning it up, in order to align the blade with a mark, something I do all the time.
I built a wide rolling miter saw stand, which enables me to easily handle longer lengths of wood. Right below the saw, I built a sloped ramp into the stand so that the saw dust that escapes tumbles down to the floor behind, though not much escapes the Kapex when a vacuum is hooked up (with the other saws, this was a much more important feature of the stand). The stand itself provides storage for some of the sheets of thin wood I use for my shoji lamps.
The reason the stand has so many bolts in it is that I initially didn't know how high the stand should be in order to put the saw at a comfortable height for me, so I built it in a way that allowed me to adjust the height. But the joke was on me: the first height I tried was great, so I never had to adjust it! (The saw's table is 37½″ above the floor.)
Circular saw. In early 2009 I replaced a Porter Cable Model 447. Over the years, the material painted on its cast aluminum shoe to make it slippery got softer and stickier until it wasn't easy to push the saw across wood anymore. Finally I sanded it off, but the exposed aluminum was sticky, too, so I decided to get a new saw.
I looked for a saw with an electric brake, a must-have safety feature for me. The Makita 5007MGA 7¼″ Magnesium saw stood out as the best fit for me. I paired it with a Freud D0740X Diablo 7¼″ 40 Tooth ATB Finishing Saw Blade. My first cut went well, and the magnesium shoe slides easily. My second cut was a more challenging angled cut through 2 feet of glued up 1½″ thick maple for an end table I'm making. When I finished that cut and looked at the results, and then repeated it several times, I knew I had a good saw and blade combination in my hands.
Jig saw. Until you've used a jig saw like the Bosch 1587DVS 5 Amp, you can't imagine how much better it is than cheaper ones. The blade tracks very precisely, it's totally easy to change blades, and Bosch makes a wide variety of good jig saw blades.
Band saw. I couldn't work without a good band saw. It enables me to cut the really unusual angles that run lengthwise along the sides of my lamp faces (the dihedral angles), as well as the very thin pieces that make up the kumiko (as delicate as ¼″ × ¼″). The Inca Model 340 10½″, which I've been using for many years, is a compact, well-designed machine with a direct-drive ¾ HP motor.
The stand I built for this heavy tool is a sturdy, rolling, double-sided tool chest. (I talk about the drawers on the Odds & ends page.) It provides me with a large amount of storage, optimizing my small shop's space. This was the first rolling stand I built, inspired in part by how heavy the Inca is. (I originally had it mounted just on the darker base you can see in the photo and carried it to my workbench whenever I needed to use it, which was a real back breaker!) I assembled the stand using a bunch of 3″ lag bolts that came out of our old and quite rotten deck when we tore it down to replace it. I love recycling old stuff into something useful!
The Swiss-made Inca line was imported for years by GarrettWade, but eventually and unfortunately, Inca went out of business. It's still possible to find used 340s for sale occasionally, and apparently parts are still available from Eagle Tools, 3027 Treadwell Street, Los Angeles, CA 90065, (323) 999-2909. There's also an online group for Inca owners.
Tires, blades, guideblocks, and thrust bearings
Tires and blades are available from Peachtree Woodworking Supply, which carries the Olson brand blades that were sold for the saw by GarrettWade.
Tires - GarrettWade's Inca 340 catalog lists it as having a 10½″ wheel, but the manual lists it at 280mm (just over 11″) and I measure it as being just shy of 10¾″. I recently installed new ¾″ × 11″ Sulphur Grove Tool Urethane Bandsaw Tires. They fit very snugly and seem to be holding up well.
Blades - The catalog lists it as taking a 73½″ long blade, but the manual lists it as taking an 1850mm long blade (just shy of 72-7/8″). The blades GarrettWade sold always seemed a bit long to me, as I had to tighten the tensioner almost all the way to get the correct tension. I recently tried a 72½″ Olson MVP blade. This appears to be a very good length for the Inca 340. The MVP is a very nice cutting, thin kerf, bi-metal blade (I tried the 3/8″ 4 tpi raker). Olson also offers the same same in their less expensive, hardened All Pro blade, and they offer a 72-5/8″ size in their least expensive Flex Back blade.
Ceramic guide blocks and thrust bearings - I recently received a G'day email from a fellow Inca appreciator, and he told me about a place that can make custom ceramic guide blocks and thrust bearings for the Inca 340 and other machines. The place is Spaceage Ceramic Guideblocks. Here's what they have to say:
Ceramic guides have been used in various applications within the saw mill industry for the pasts 15 years. You'll get cooler and quieter bandsaw operation with any of our unique guideblocks and thrust bearings offered. Ceramic guides have been used in various applications within the saw mill industry for the pasts 15 years. You'll get cooler and quieter bandsaw operation with any of our unique guideblocks and thrust bearings offered.
There's a comprehensive review of these ceramic guideblocks at OnlineToolReviews.com.
- Guide block #1: 1-1/2″ long × 5/16″ wide × 3/16″ deep with the ends cut at 45° (the angle is cut across the 3/16″ face; in other words, that face is a parallelogram)
- Guide block #2: 7/8″ long × 5/16″ wide × 1/4″ deep with the ends cut at 90°
- Thrust bearing: 7/8″ outside diameter × 1/2″ inside diameter × 1/4″ deep. The thrust bearing shaft is 1-7/8″ long from the back of the bearing to its end. The shaft is 3/8″ in diameter, except for the final 1/16″ before it meets the hub, where it is 1/2″ in diameter, the same as the hub. However, the shaft is offset to the hub by 1/16″, so that the outside edge of the wider portion of the shaft is 1/8″ from one outside edge of the bearing and 1/4″ from the other.
- Inca 340 Operating Manual
- Inca 340 Catalog
- Inca 340 Tuning Info
- Mark Duginske's Band Saw Handbook is a good book about band saws (Sterling Publishing, New York, 1989). He also has a newer book out called The New Complete Guide to the Band Saw, though I haven't seen that one.