10 Tips to Choosing the Best Panel Saw for You
All panel saws seem the same, so how do you know which one to purchase? Since the devil is in the details, we came up with 10 tips to help you choose the best panel saw for your needs!
1. Does it use an “Off the Shelf” saw, or is it a proprietary saw?
- If you’re looking at a panel saw that uses a proprietary manufacturer’s saw, plan on long downtimes when you have a saw problem. Being proprietary, you will have to buy it from the manufacturer and wait for it to ship. Our saws use a standard Makita 5007F or a Makita Hypoid that you can buy at the local store.
2. When your blade needs replacing, how easy is it to find your saw blade size?
- Does the saw use a standard 7.25″ saw blade, or is it a non-standard size used in a proprietary saw? Big name stores carry almost two dozen different 7.25” blades. If you choose a proprietary saw using an 8″ job site table saw blade, be prepared to special order it and pay a higher price.
3. Consider the bearing mechanism.
- The bearing mechanism should be designed to make the carriage move smoothly and with no play. Saw Trax uses sealed steel bearings, which provide friction-free movement. Our competitors use a U-bolt with black rings as bearings. With these, when the play is taken out, the carriage becomes harder to move.
4. Material support
- Material support is an important consideration, especially if you’ll be cutting full size sheets. A Saw Trax full size machine uses 18 material rollers, as well as a center step for support, vs. 14 rollers of other panel saws. Keep this in mind when comparing brands.
5. Square Cut Alignment
- For square cuts, guide tube alignment with the material rollers and roller alignment is critical. Saw Trax has a patented “set it and forget it” alignment system called Accu-Square, which ensures square cuts for the life of the panel saw. The rollers are not adjustable so there is only one adjustment for squaring vs. 13 on other panel saws. Make sure to keep this in mind as you compare panel saw systems.
6. How easy is it to replace key components?
- Unfortunately, as hardy as panel saws can be, they are subject to damage in transit, or in store, or in your own shop (can’t tell you the number of times we’ve heard of rampaging forklifts killing saws … Yikes!).
At Saw Trax, we know “accidents happen” and so on our saws, two key components are bolted onto the frame: the guide tubes and the fences. Both can be changed out in minutes.
When welded components like the material fence or guide tube become damaged, you will need to replace the entire saw. Also, the heat from welding often distorts the material and can leave unseen faults that will affect the structural integrity of the metal, but it is a less expensive way to manufacture.
Because structural integrity is so important, bridges and buildings are riveted/bolted, never welded.
7. Take your function and materials into consideration!
- There are many different materials people use, from OSB to plywood, from acrylic to PVC, from hardwood to solid surface, and more. If you will be using several different materials, you want a machine that is flexible for your needs. Saw Trax uses a quick release carriage (change it in 8 seconds!) that allows for different tool inserts to be used. Different cutting tools are available, such as a router insert that accepts many standard routers, a pivoting knife insert for dry wall or foam materials, a glass cutter or a rolling shear. These options are not available in competitors’ standard machines. Some Saw Trax customers buy a second saw instead of changing saw blades for different materials (aluminum and acrylic) or a steel cutting saw turning the panel saw into a steel sheer.
8. How long does the machine take to set up?
- It varies among brands, so take time to compare. Saw Trax provides many components factory-attached like a stand, wheels or optional mid fence, which means you’re nearly ready to go as soon as the machine arrives. You’ll be cutting in no time.
9. Flexibility of feed
- For some operations, it is faster having your measuring system on both sides of the cut when cutting pieces from a full sheet. This is why Saw Trax provides one vertical and two horizontal measuring tapes.
10. Dust Collection
- With so many different materials, such as cement board, and the chemicals in some substrates, air-borne particulates become an important concern. At Saw Trax, we have the dust brush surrounding the saw blade under the insert with a 2.5″ hose attached to the dust bonnet, which can be attached to a standard Shop Vac for extraction of the suspended particulate. Our design also keeps the hose away from the saw, which sounds obvious, but not everybody does it!