Power saws

Good power saws make woodworking even more enjoyable for me. 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 can definitely recommend getting the best one you can afford, and, if possible, getting the last one you'll ever need as your first one.

SawsStop - front view

In my opinion, the absolute best bet for this tool is a SawStop⩘ . It's a beautifully made machine (in one of his videos, Charles Neil calls it a "sawing instrument," and I think that's spot on). Equally importantly, it 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. The build quality is as good or 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 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.

SawsStop - oak edge detailIt 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 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 now and then).

SawStop - extension table detail

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 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.

SawStop - extension table folded

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 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 left over 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.

SawStop - brace for legs

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.

Dust collector

JDS Dust Force with modificationsThe 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.

Unfortunately, JDS discontinued their Dust Force collectors in late 2017.

Sliding compound miter saw

Note: I originally posted the following observations before I had my Festool customer disservice experience that I appended further below. For the most part, I've had really good customer experiences with woodworking tool makers, with two exceptions; oddly, both with high-end manufacturers. It's worth adding that, while rare, I have needed to have tools from other brands repaired or replaced. In all other instances, those transactions have been courteous and prompt.

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 one that met my expectations for precision. Over the course of a few years, I purchased and used three different leading sliding compound miter saws in the 10″ and 12″ categories, and for varying reasons was disappointed with each. Finally I purchased the 10″ Festool Kapex KS 120.

Festool Kapex 120 on custom stand

As soon as I began making cuts with the Kapex, I knew I was dealing with a saw that is as precise as I was hoping for. Using the 60-tooth blade it comes with, I've been able to make very clean, true cuts. It's easier to set up compound cuts on this saw than any of the others I tried, it has a 12″ reach, and there's 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 on sliding rails). Its honeycombed magnesium base makes it both light and stable.

As I've used this saw, I've thought about the reason 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 miter 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 reduce cost on their more recent saws, shaved off too much.

There are already several in-depth 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 that this is a good saw. Worth the premium price? Well, if you want precision, it may be.

Rolling miter saw stand

I also 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 sawdust that escapes tumbles down to the floor behind. While the Kapex is good at dust collection, it still kicks some around, so that helps.

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, and I'm just a bit over 6 feet tall.)

A possible alternative

About a year after I first wrote about the KS 120, Bosch came out with their intriguing, innovative, and more cost efficient Dual-Bevel Glide miter saws. They just might prove to be a worthy alternative to the Kapex, as long as the build quality is reasonable and the axial arms can hold their own against torque.

Bosch CM10GD 10-inch

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 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 in my hands.

Makita 5007MGA circular saw       Freud Diablo D0740X

Update: In 2014, Makita came out with a something really interesting, the XSH01Z cordless, which is a 7¼″ saw that uses a pair of 18-volt Lithium-Ion Batteries. It has a build quality similar to the 5007MGA including a reinforced magnesium base and durable casing, and they managed to pull this off while even shaving a few ounces off the weight of the 5007MGA. I'm impressed. Better yet, they came out with 4.0- and 5.0-amp versions of their excellent batteries at the same weight as the old 3.0-amp version, so you can tackle a job with some impressive power and run time.

I haven't had a chance to use the XSH01Z a lot yet, but my initial experience has been positive. It feels good and sturdy in the hand and runs true.

Makita XSH01Z circular saw

Scroll saw

When I finished my Windtraveler lamp, I found myself in an unusual state … I didn't have another lamp in mind. I even thought I might have reached the end of my lamp making journey. Then one day, many months later, an idea popped into my mind. Once it had, I found myself facing a new challenge, and once I figured out the solution to that one, another challenge.

The first challenge was how to execute the design I was thinking of and making the early drawings for. I took me a couple weeks to realize the solution was a tool I had not previously considered, a scroll saw. I did some research and found the one I thought I should get, a Dewalt DW788. That led to the next challenge.

While not a large tool, at 56 pounds, the Dewalt scroll saw is a bit too large to be something I would simply pull off a shelf when I needed it and then put away afterwards (if I could even find the shelf space to store it in my very full little shop). I knew that if I were to acquire this tool, I'd need a stand for it, and given the space limitations in my shop, it'd need to be a rolling stand. Problem is, there's not really room in my shop for another rolling tool, at least not if I still want to be able to walk around!

After a few days pondering this, the solution presented itself. There is one tool in my shop that I don't use very often, though I do use it now and then: my compact Rigid jointer, which is on a very sturdy Rockler All-Terrain Mobile Base. I figured I just might be able to create a removable superstructure stand for the scroll saw to sit above the jointer. After some quality time spent with a tape measure and a bit of head scratching, I realized it actually could work, so I drew up my plan and started cutting wood.

At the same time, a bittersweet event happened. I had made our first couch nearly 20 years ago. It wasn't the greatest piece of furniture, but it got us by over the years. Recently, my beloved said that now that we were all grown up and retired, she thought it was time to get a more comfortable couch. So we now have a nicer couch in our living room, and I was left with the task of taking the old couch frame apart to ready it for its trip to dump.

When I had finished dismantling the couch frame, I realized I might have enough decent pine scraps left to make up the top of the new tool stand. After a couple runs through the planer and passes on the table saw to true things up, I had what I needed. So the bittersweet experience turned a bit sweeter.

Dewalt DW788 Scroll Saw

The new stand is sturdy enough that there's no vibration or movement when the scroll saw in running. On those rare occasions when I need the jointer, I can simply twirl off four knobs (you can see two of them in the photo), and the whole top of the scroll saw table can be lifted off, leaving full access to the jointer.

A larger shop would be sweet, but I actually like the challenge of figuring out how to make things work in my small one. Now onto that next lamp. You can see some of the freshly planed wood I'll be using for it stacked up on the workbench in the background. I'm getting excited.

By the way, the DW788 is a nice tool, smooth and quiet with very little vibration. I ordered it with the optional lamp, a no-brainer (should be standard). I also got some nice after-market add-ons for it: Swiss-made Pegas chuck heads, blades, and sanding belts; Comfort Knobs from Marcus Bailey and a Scroll Arm Lifter from Papa's Workshop to make mounting and unmounting the blades a bit easier; and a foot switch pedal from Bear Woods so I can keep both hands on the workpiece when turning the saw on and off. Test cuts have been turning out nicely, so I think I'm ready to rock-n-scroll!

bks-islamicpatterns3I also like what this tool makes possible. It feels like a constraint has been removed from my imagination. For example, I've always appreciated the the tessellations in the Polyhedra Primer by Peter Pearce and Susan Pearce, as well as the designs in the book Islamic Patterns by Keith Critchlow, Director of Research at the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture. Now making things based on those designs is within reach. How cool is that?!

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