What makes for a standout product for the woodworking industry? Does it represent new breakthrough technology or innovation? Does it solve a longstanding problem? Does it change the way work is done, making it more efficient, faster, or easier? Or is it all of the above?

In taking a look at the hundreds of new products that crossed our desks over the past year, Karl Forth and I considered all of those factors. Owing to the wide range of work that is done in the name of the woodworking industry, not all new products appeal to all segments. Something that is truly transformative for manufacturing cabinets and processing sheet goods in a large plant might have no application for the high-end custom furniture manufacturer working almost entirely in solid wood. By a similar measure, some new hand tool that could have a major impact on installations or in a small shop might not even raise an eyebrow in a large plant.

Taking all those things into consideration, we came up with the following list of outstanding products for 2014. The items are not listed in any particular order of significance. They all stand on their own. Of necessity, the list is subjective. Some of these products were also recognized in the recent Challenger Awards at IWF. Others were tested as part of our monthly “In the Shop” feature. Still others we have seen in action in shops we have visited. Taken in total, we think it is an impressive testament to the innovation in this industry.

Top CNC manufacturing concept: Thermwood Cut Center

Thermwood’s Cut Center changes the entire CNC manufacturing equation. Rather than using software to design parts, converting that information to machine code, and then machining the parts, as is conventionally done, Thermwood’s Cut Center is preprogrammed to make tens of thousands of products.

Using an intuitive touch screen at the machine, the operator tells the machine what to make, selecting from a list including cabinets, closets, furniture, doors, drawers, mouldings and shapes, by using an intuitive touch screen. The operator also enters quantity and specifies details such as frame or frameless construction and one- or two-sided material. The operator sees images of all the products requested on the screen and can adjust a three dimensional image to meet project requirements.

According to Thermwood, little training is needed to operate the system as all step-by-step instructions appear on the touch screen. Not surprisingly, this was a Challenger Award winner. For more information, visit www.thermwood.com.

Top benchtop machine: Kreg Foreman

Pocket hole technology has dramatically improved efficiency of assembly in many woodworking manufacturing operations, but there has long been a gap between small jigs for handheld drilling and big industrial pocket hole machines. Kreg, a leader in pocket hole technology, jumped into that breach with the new Foreman benchtop pocket hole machine released earlier this year. It’s compact but big enough to do what most shops need at a price point that won’t break the bank. It has a system of easy adjustments and a simple workpiece holddown that makes for fast and accurate work.

We tested the Kreg Foreman in “In the Shop” in September. You can see a video review at www.cabinetmakerfdm.com/92586.html. Or you can visit www.kregtool.com.

Top fastener: Raptor nails

Plastic nails? At first blush, the concept doesn’t seem to make sense, but the more you learn and try them out, the more applications you find. Raptor nails are a tough composite product that is installed with a special pneumatic nail gun. One of the most common uses in woodworking is for securing workpieces for CNC manufacturing. Since the nails won’t damage tooling, you don’t have to worry about a potential disaster from an errant tool path.

We tested these nails “In the Shop” in June and purposely ran them through a SawStop saw to see if they would trigger the blade brake, which fires off when it senses anything conductive like flesh or metal. The Raptor nails passed our tests with flying colors and sent us looking for more applications where sacrificial or non-metallic fasteners are called for.

You can see our video review at www.cabinetmakerfdm.com/www.cabinetmakerfdm.com/91555.html. Or you can get more information by visiting www.raptornails.com.

Top finishing tool: Graco Pro Mix PD2K

Another Challenger Award winner, the Graco Pro Mix PD2K finishing system mixes finishing materials closer to the gun so the flush zone is significantly smaller. What that means in practical terms is up to 80 percent reduction in flushing waste over the most efficient traditional proportioning systems. It also means faster color changes and less material to flush so less waste and less downtime. The system makes it possible to manage up to 30 colors and four catalysts with two or four dosing pumps.

You can read more about it at www.graco.com.

Top panel processing tool: Biesse Winstore

Several manufacturers have introduced automated panel loading systems to feed CNC operations in high-production panel processing plants. This year’s standout was Biesse’s Winstore. Biesse says the system can increase production line performance by 25 percent while reducing product delivery time 35 percent and saving labor 30 percent.

You can see the system in action at www.cabinetmakerfdm.com/Biesse_Winstore_at_IWF.html. For more information, visit www.biesseamerica.com.

Top installation tool: Winbag

This tool is so small and simple it could be overlooked, but don’t. It’s a heavy-duty vinyl air bag that can lift 220 pounds and is used for leveling cabinets, windows, doors, furniture, appliances, or just about anything. We review it as part of “In the Shop” in this issue. Or you can visit www.winbagusa.com for more information.

Top shop safety tool: MicroJig Grr-Ripper

Simple safety tools like push sticks don’t get a lot of attention until they are needed or they are forgotten and an injury occurs. The MicroJig Grr-Ripper is the first really innovative new push block in a long time. It has several features that make it different, but the most important is the three friction legs with the center leg being adjustable. What that means is the push block can control not only the workpiece you want to save but also the offcut.

That makes for safer, more controlled cuts with lots less danger of kickback. It’s especially good for repetitive cuts of narrow strips. We reviewed it in the November edition of “In the Shop.” You can see the video review at www.cabinetmakerfdm.com/93034.html. For more information, visit www.microjig.com.

Top edgebanding tool: Stiles-Homag airTec

The Homag Group airTec promises seamless, zero edge edgebanding using compressed super-heated, high-velocity air to activate the adhesive layer. Hot air is propelled through a nozzle as the edgebanding material passes through the magazine, fusing the material to the panel edge. 

The system is designed to work on al laser-suitable edgebanding material and is designed to be more affordable, requiring up to 80 percent less investment.

You can read more about it at www.stilesmachinery.com.

Top CNC router: Holz-Her Evolution

Space seems to always be at a premium in modern shops, so one of the more recent innovations in CNC technology is the vertical CNC machine. This year, Holz-Her’s Evolution vertical machining center won a Challenger Award.

The Evolution can drill and rout on all four sides of a panel without reclamping thanks to a patent-pending vacuum clamping system that accommodates vertical and horizontal drilling, sawing and routing. The unit offers five vertical and six horizontal drill spindles, as well as a grooving saw all standard.

You can see the Holz-Her Evolution in action at www.cabinetmakerfed.com/92257.html. For more information, visit www.weinig.com.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.