Building a Panel Saw?
Ellis Walentine and Rob Johnstone
"Having walled off my garage door, I now have room for a panel saw. I've been researching these saws for about a year and cannot bring myself to pay $1,100 - $2,500 for a decent unit. Thus I have decided to build my own. My ceiling is 12', and my intent is to build a frame that will accommodate 4' x 8' sheet goods when standing on end. I've decided to take this approach as a means of ensuring somewhat more accurate lengthwise cuts without having to resort to bearings, wheels, or other sliding mechanisms, and to save horizontal space. While the height may seem awkward, I'm convinced that for the few times I have to cut to a full 8', a step ladder can be used. I intend to affix the saw frame to the wall with heavy-duty hinges, so that it might be folded flat against the wall when not in use. Someone is going to ask why I don't use sawhorses or the floor to cut sheet goods. The answer is limited shop space and a pin in my back that makes crawling around on the floor with a circular saw a somewhat painful exercise. I am very interested in hearing how others have approached the challenge of a homemade panel saw. Additionally, I would like to obtain feedback from anyone who has purchased Woodsmith's or Rockler's panel saw kit components."
Ellis Walentine: "I've seen a number of shop-made panel saws but I don't think I'd trust any of them to be quite as accurate as a European style saw or even a Safety Speed Cut setup, although even these expensive saws rely on sharp blades and well-tuned mechanicals to work properly. If pretty darn good is good enough, you might want to look into components from anoutfit called Saw Trax."
Rob Johnstone: "I actually designed a panel saw for Today's Woodworker (issue 55, Jan/Feb. 1998) a few years ago. It is the one featured in Rockler's catalog. I worked with an extruded aluminum company and came up with a very accurate saw sliding system. The aluminum kit is expensive (about $300.00), but it is the heart of the plan and key to its accuracy. The only down-side to the panel saw is that the aluminum kit is a bit tricky to assemble ... but if you go slow, it is not too bad. The sliding carriage is convertible from a circular saw to a router, which is a handy feature. I must admit to being a little bit proud of the plan. Literally hundreds of woodworkers have built it and I have not received any significant complaints."
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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