The final machine for the workshop

January 28, 2011

In some ways I’m a late adapter. After fifty-five years of woodworking I have finally bought a table saw. For most of that time there wasn’t room – table saws are space hogs. And there was the Sears radial arm saw I bought with my income tax refund after second year of university. My room-mate and I needed shelves and furniture for our apartment, and Dad had a large pile of lumber at the farm.

While most woodworkers shy away from the radial arm saw for ripping, I’m used to setting the anti-kickback mechanism, and can do safe, if not very accurate work, with my old Sears saw.

But the new shop is warm, with properly-seasoned lumber already inside. The radial arm saw is set up in a dark, cold shed. Love of comfort may have been the deciding factor. The tools section of Kijiji Ontario received more and more of my Internet time.

A cabinet saw is basically a high-end table saw. The motor is mounted beneath a massive cast iron table, and a steel cabinet surrounds it. Extension tables and guides protrude out at various angles, the options limited only by the depth of pockets of its owner.

Internet research on cabinet saws kept me quite busy for a week or so. A good saw in Hawkesbury sold before I had learned enough to realize that it was a fine specimen for a great price. Three others disappeared from Kijiji hours after their ads appeared.

I haunted the Internet, looking for a 3 hp Delta Unisaw or comparable General 350. One ad had no photos. The guy didn’t answer my emails. Experience told me that this saw might not have sold due to the lax presentation. More emails. Eventually the owner got back to me. I drove up to Belleville to discover that this model requires a substantial counter attachment to its right side as part of its top. Without the 48 by 27 inch sheet of laminate the saw looked pretty odd with this long aluminum arm pointing accusingly off to the right. Though paint spatters did its appearance no good, the basic components were in solid condition, so ahead I went with the deal.

We overturned the top-heavy machine onto my trailer, tied it on, and I hauled my prize, a Delta 35-457, east on the 401 and up Hwy 15 to Seeley’s Bay without incident.

A rough road is a lot more than a slight inconvenience when you are hauling a heavy and reportedly fragile machine with a hundred-pound motor suspended in space only by a set of expensive cast-iron trunions which were not designed for road shock. I couldn’t get more than forty miles per hour on that dreadful stretch from Seeley’s Bay to Elgin for fear of gutting my new acquisition. That road has got to be fixed.

The trunions survived the final fifteen miles to Young’s Hill, and I dragged the saw off the trailer and into the shop, plugged it in, and it ran beautifully. So I shut it down and cleaned off the road grime.

O.K. I admit it. I was afraid of the thing. All these years with a radial arm saw and I was used to having anti-kickback fingers constantly touching the board when I ripped it. I had never worked without them. And this thing didn’t have any kind of guard, not even mitre gauge, just a fence for ripping. It was a commercial saw, used exclusively for cutting laminates, to judge from its blade and the dust accumulated inside.

So with great trepidation I selected a substantial board (more to hang onto) and ran it through the saw. It ripped beautifully, without any drama at all. I discovered that I could, without ever releasing my grip on it, push a board through half-way from the front, then step around the left side of the saw, reach back and grasp the board at the end of the fence and pull it on through from behind the saw. After the first few cuts, my fears evaporated.

I had glued up a number of boards into 1 by 17 inch blanks for door and drawer panels in a large bedroom cabinet. Ripping these relatively rough boards down to the width my planer needs proved laughably easy, compared to the tricks I had had to play on the radial arm saw for the same job.

Because George Sheffield sold me this white ash already dried, there has been little movement in the material as I sawed it. Nonetheless I was ready for the unguarded blade to pinch at some point. The first time it did it, though, the 3 hp motor just burned its way on through as I held the end of the board. Sometimes there’s no substitute for horsepower.

After a week in a shop now dominated by the Unisaw, I have become a believer. The machine’s no beauty, with coffee stains on the cast iron, paint oversprays and drips all over the cabinet, and my jury-rigged extension table of scraps of plywood supported by a pair of unsanded ash legs. But the thing is solid, smooth, and accurate. What’s not to love?

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One Response to “The final machine for the workshop”

  1. Tony Izatt Says:

    Boy do I ever like to read that admission about table saws. You were just a fraidy cat !

    My radial Arm saw sits where I parked it 10 years ago, brand new, never used, covered in sawdust from my mitre saw which is sitting on the table of the Radial. A $1500 mitre saw table. How bout that eh !!!


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