The thought of buying a larger or dedicated panel saw inevitably crosses the mind of every cabinet shop owner. For those that act on that thought, there's the question of what to buy a sliding table saw or a vertical panel saw.
Tim Schulte, owner of Colonial Millwork Inc., in Atwood, Mich., purchased a sliding table saw about four years ago, and Norm Franzle, owner of Franzle Custom Home Specialties in Sun Valley, Calif., purchased a vertical panel saw about six years ago. Both share their thoughts on how their respective saw has changed life in their shops as well as some saw usage tips they've learned along the way.
Sliding table saw
Never looked back
Tim Schulte's decision to purchase a sliding table saw did not happen quickly, in part because of a hasty decision years before to purchase an entry-level vertical panel saw which gave him nothing but headaches. While the small size of the vertical panel saw worked well in Schulte's 1,600-square-foot shop that he shares with a helper, he had difficulty with ripping, carriage movement and matching up scoring blades. There were also issues with keeping the saw level. Nonetheless, Schulte admits that if he had purchased a bigger, more solid vertical panel saw, he might have had a different experience.
As a result, Schulte took a year to decide to purchase his sliding table saw. "I knew I wanted to get a piece of equipment to move up so I could get a little faster and get better at things. I was toying between an edgebander and a sliding table saw," Schulte says.
Schulte ultimately decided to purchase a Casolin Astra Digit sliding table saw from Adwood. "I've never looked back," Schulte says. "I am completely satisfied. The saw took me to a whole new level." Schulte had previously used a Rockwell Unisaw, which he says he parked with a dado blade after getting the sliding table saw.
The timing of the purchase worked out well for Schulte. Shortly after getting the saw in place, Schulte's major client initiated a remodeling and expansion phase that increased Schulte's volume by 50 percent. "When I look back, I realize that if I hadn't purchased it when I did, I'd have been dead," Schulte says.
Using the saw
Schulte's shop produces a millwork package and fixtures for a chain of restaurants. As part of the process, he cuts, sizes and bevels approximately 100 sheets of plywood a year. He also rips material for dimensional lumber, and cuts out the parts for cabinets. Materials cut include laminate panels, microboards, solid cherry and solid surface.
Maintenance has proven to be an important part of using the saw, and he makes a point of keeping the guide rails clean. He says he's had nothing go wrong with it, and in four years has only had to replace one drive belt.
Schulte chose the Casolin saw because he says it has features similar to more expensive saws. "I like the way it guides right on the rollers and rides on top," Schulte says. "The weight rests down. In a lot of other saws the rollers are on the side."
The saw is almost constantly in use throughout the day, according to Schulte.
Schulte uses a 12-inch blade in alternate top tooth bevel configuration. He says he uses it to cut everything, from solid surface to veneered plywoods and melamine board. "I probably change my blades more often than most. I love a sharp blade and I don't like to see them get too dull," Schulte says.
Depending on his workload, Schulte says there is a newly sharpened blade on the saw every two to three months.
"I've used one blade, literally. I like the fact that the material slides past it, and the finished material slides without scratching across the top of a table like a traditional saw," Schulte says. "I straight-line rip with it, I do everything. I screwed a wooden top to it so that I could position materials on angles to cut it out. I find the possibilities are endless compared to a regular standard table saw."
The saw has a scoring blade, so Schulte says he hasn't had many problems with chipping on any of the materials.
He uses a number of small fixtures for cutting angle blocks and smaller pieces that he fastens to the table. He drills a hole in it and screws the fixture to the sliding table, then slides it through the saw.
"I think a sliding table saw is so well-fitted for a cabinet shop that I don't see how you could go wrong with one," Schulte says.
Vertical panel saw
The right size
Norm Franzle has been in business for 24 years and works in a 1,500-square-foot shop with two employees. The shop focuses on custom frameless and face-frame cabinets.
Franzle had a similar, though opposite experience to Schulte he started with an entry-level sliding table saw and had such a bad experience with it that he got rid of it.
"I purchased an entry-level sliding table saw. It was the first year for that saw for that company, and like a lot of things in their infancy, they had a lot of problems with it. It was one thing after another," Franzle says.
Because of Franzle's problems with the sliding table saw, combined with the small size of his shop, he began to look at getting a vertical panel saw. The owners of a local saw sharpening shop kept talking to Franzle about Striebig vertical panel saws. As a result, he bought a Striebig Optisaw vertical panel saw from Colonial Saw.
"I've been completely happy with the saw. It's one of those things where not too many times in your life do you buy anything that's a pretty big purchase and you're completely satisfied," Franzle says.
According to Franzle, the saw speeds up production tremendously, and improves the shop's accuracy and quality. "We work with a lot of melamine and veneer products and you just can't get nice cuts any other way that I know of," Franzle says. "You can't do it on a table saw, that's for sure. If you're doing it on a sliding table saw, you're still doing a lot more lifting and shuffling of the material."
Franzle asserts that the quality level of a machine is important. He's had the saw adjusted only once since he purchased it, and he has nothing but high praise for the installer. "The guy was just amazing," Franzle says. "That has a big part to do with it the setup and the quality of the technician."
Franzle already had the appropriate electrical power needed in his shop, and since the saw has a vacuum built in, no additional preparations were necessary. The saw was installed up against a side wall of the shop. "I've never seen someone with a shop my size that has one," Franzle says. "This could be the saw for a huge shop. People with shops the size of mine just drool over the thing. It's very impressive. The capacity for cutting is outrageous. You can cut three sheets at the same time."
First-time customers and contractors often come to Franzle's shop to check out his operation. When they see the saw and his other equipment, Franzle says they leave both impressed and confident in Franzle's ability, which he sees as a huge selling point.
One thing Franzle says many people do not realize is how many things can be done with a vertical panel saw. "You can use it for straight-edging lumber," Franzle says. "You can use the center shelf on the saw, put a piece of lumber on there on its edge, then put a lumber blade in it, and you can rip it and make it perfectly straight in 30 seconds."
Franzle recalls when he once made a 14-foot mantle. The wood a piece of 8/4 oak was the right size but very crooked. He put it on the shelf, ripped it and it came out perfectly.
Tips and tricks
Franzle also uses the saw for cutting lumber to length, almost like a chop saw. Once lumber is ripped, he puts it on the saw's center shelf, sets the stop, butts it up and cuts it off. The results are "perfect," he says.
The saw doesn't have a scoring attachment, but Franzle says he doesn't feel it's really necessary. "You do have to have a good blade selection," Franzle says. "I have two or three of four different types of blades. So we're constantly switching blades around." Franzle stores his blades in a metal case fitted with dowel rods at the end of the saw. He stores material in a rack parallel to the saw so it can be moved over and cut quickly.
For melamine, Franzle uses hollow-ground blades, and always keeps one or two sharp and ready to go. He uses a triple-chip blade for particleboard, an alternating top bevel blade for plywood and veneer, and a lumber blade for ripping and straight-edging lumber. "I spend a lot of money on blades and sharpening, but it's worth it," Franzle says.
Keeping blades clean is another priority in the shop, as pitch can build up quickly on the blades. Franzle uses oven cleaner for cleaning blades.
"I think it's important for people to realize that these saws can be used by small shops," Franzle says. "They don't have to just be for large shops."
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