Before You Shop: 10 Tips For Purchasing A Panel Saw

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!
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Scoop Dolly Shows Off!

Yesterday, we visited Atlanta Specialty Millwork to show them our Scoop Dolly in action. The demonstration went great!

Because there was no dock transition plate, they needed two loaders to hand-carry a door unit into the truck. When the scoop dolly with the dock transition wheels rolled over the gap and into the truck, these guys were sold!

Their current dolly also needed two guys for unloading – to keep the door or window unit from slamming into the wall and breaking.

Not anymore! With our Scoop Dolly, the user can stand on the dolly when unloading. This means that the unit can be let down slowly without slamming into the wall.

Thanks for letting us visit, ASM! We’re happy our Scoop Dolly can make your loaders’ work lives easier, faster, and more productive!

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Bet You Didn’t Know…

Here at Saw Trax, we are always thinking of ways to make your life easier.

Our carts are already super useful and maneuverable, but did you know that they could also be linked together to form a train? This can cut your workload tremendously.

By using E-track slots to attach the dollies to one another, we created a way to move not only multiple items at one time, but also a complete variety of items that would usually require separate and different dollies. Imagine how much time you can save with this method!

Remember … if there’s a way we can help you with your material handling needs, we’re here and we’re ready!

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The Versatile Dolly Max

Recently I bought an assortment of wood to build shelves in my garage.

I had two by fours,  pieces of plywood, one by fours, and two by twos, all tossed into the back of my pickup. When I unloaded my truck, I was able to stack the wood in sections of my Dolly Max.  This made it really easy to roll the wood right to my worktable and pull the right piece out, instead of walking back and forth and rummaging through the pile of stuff.

In the garage I have folding sawhorses that I was able to pull out, throw a sheet of plywood on, and use as a worktable to build the shelves.

What I really liked about this dolly was that I was able to sort the wood instead of rummaging through a stack of random lumber and looking for the right piece.  I was also able to see where the knots were in certain pieces so that I could use those pieces on non-critical support areas.

I’ve used this Dolly Max a number of times for moving items, but it turned out great as a mobile lumber rack!  I was able to take it right up to my chop saw and work table.  Having the wood sorted like this made building the shelves easier and faster.

Every time I use the Dolly Max, it seems I find a new purpose for it!  It is one of the best purchases I have made for my garage and workshop.  I may even take the dolly on my next trip to the lumber store and load it there, so it will already be organized when I get home.

I think the employees there might get a little jealous.  Would that be showing off?  Maybe, but what the heck!

truck full of shelving wood
Dolly Max loaded with shelving wood

Dolly Max worked great to sort out the wood!

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Bring It On…Dolly Max Can Take It!

Dolly Max loaded with custom wood pieces
The Dolly Max hard at work at a specialty wood shop.

This custom, specialty wood shop has a new workhorse!  They just purchased the Dolly Max and put it to work right away.

The Dolly Max is a portable, all-terrain multi-function cart with large 12.25″ foam tires that will never go flat.  So easy to handle and maneuver, one person can move a ton (literally!).

The Dolly Max design was inspired by a shop who liked the Panel Express for sheet goods, but also wanted to carry cabinets with the same cart.

The Dolly Max is perfect as a tear-out dolly for demolition, moving dolly, sheet rock dolly, yard cart, mattress cart, moving dolly, furniture dolly, scaffolding dolly, fence dolly, lumber cart, drywall cart and more!  With 5″ locking casters on front, the Dolly Max easily crosses thresholds, air hoses, yards, and other rough terrain. Easy to transport to the job site!

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You’re Still The One!

Ok, maybe we don’t scratch this gentleman’s itch, but he still wouldn’t switch (apologies to the band Orleans)!

This customer has had one of our panel saws for 20 years now.  He’s so happy with it, that he took the time to come by our booth at SGIA 2018 to let us know!

Our products are truly built to last.  We didn’t know we would be making a family heirloom, but for close to 30 years we’ve been making products you can count on.

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Leverage is the key!

Leverage is the key!

The Scoop Dolly design came about because of our own need to move the vertical panel saws we build.  Just like the one in the video above, these saws can weigh up to 655 pounds and we needed a better way to move and load them.  And when everyone’s busy working, the Scoop Dolly makes it easy for one person to handle the job!

So easy in fact, that you can be a petite woman in heels!

The Scoop Dolly is great for a variety of industries (such as window & door companies and staircase manufacturers) and warehouses; for products from large appliances to large boxed furniture!

If you need to move bulky, large, top-heavy or heavy items, the Scoop Dolly is perfect for you.  In many situations, the Scoop Dolly can take the place of a forklift, as well as reducing lifting injuries and workman’s comp claims.  Check it out here!

 

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Meet Our Latest Dolly!

Let us introduce you to our latest dolly… The Rug Dolly!

After visiting some carpet warehouses, we knew our Safety Dolly could be redesigned for their needs.  By tweaking the post design, the Rug Dolly came to be!

The Rug Dolly is easy to load, store, and maneuver.  For carpet manufacturers, it’s carry height makes loading on multiple roll machines a breeze!  The all-caster design makes long loads extremely maneuverable.  Re-positioning the posts (or laying them down on the base) makes the dolly incredibly space-saving and easy to store.  The fact that it tucks out of way makes it perfect for warehouse clubs, where customer and employee safety is a priority.

Our dollies are absolute workhorses!  Built in the USA out of powder-coated steel, they are strong enough to move up to 1000 lbs, yet easily maneuverable and ergonomic enough for one person to handle.

We are very proud of this new addition to our dolly and panel saw family!

Saw Trax Rug Dolly
Rug Dolly at work at a local Home Depot.
Rug Dolly at a local Home Depot
Rug Dolly at work at a local Home Depot
Saw Trax Rug Dolly
Our dollies store easily! (That’s the manufacturer’s dolly on the left.)
Saw Trax Rug Dolly at work
Handling the load with ease!
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Vertical Panel Saw purchase; 13 things to look for before pulling the trigger.

Panel Saw 2052Since all panel saws “look the same”, how do you know which one to purchase? As the old saying goes, the Devil is in the Details. So we decided to help people understand what makes one better than the other.

1. Does the saw use a standard saw with a standard saw blade or is it a proprietary saw with odd dimensioned saw blades. A replacement of an “off the shelf saw” will be cheaper and faster than ordering a proprietary saw from the Manufacturer. Brand A uses a standard Makita 5007F saw that uses 7.25″ saw blades. Brand B uses a proprietary saw that uses 8″ saw blades. (At Home Depot, we found 23 different kinds of 7.25″ blades and Zero 8″ saw blades.)

2. What is the Bearing mechanism that the carriage uses to travel on the guide tubes? Brand A uses 12 Sealed Steel Bearings while Brand B uses a U bolt with black rings on it and a button glide on the carriage. The bearing makes the carriage move smoothly with no play. With the friction U-bolt ring arrangement, when you take the play out, the carriage becomes harder to move.

3. Material support is an important issue when cutting full size sheets. On the full size machine, Brand A uses 18 material rollers and a center step for support. Brand B uses 14 rollers where 12 of the center rollers need to be kept in alignment because they can move up and down and no center support.

4. Guide Tube alignment with the material rollers is critical for square cuts. All panel saw companies set this at the factory. Brand A but has a patented alignment system that keeps it from going out of square in the future. Brand B has a 3 page alignment process that has you building an alignment tool to begin it and whacking the guide tubes with a dead blow mallet.

5 . Component based system is being able to replace key components should they get damaged. If you look at a Home Depot store, you will see big Bollards near the panel saw. These are here because if the material fence or guide tube is damaged, they will need to replace the entire saw since these components are welded. Brand A has these two key components bolted onto the frame so they can be replaced easily if they become damaged. Brand B has these components welded on so they can’t be replaced and a new machine needs to be ordered.

6. Flexibility of cutting can also be an issue. Brand A uses a quick release carriage that allows for different saw inserts to be used saving time changing blades or different cutting tools to be used like a router, pivoting knife (foam material), glass cutter or a rolling shear for 3 mm ACM. Brand B does not offer this capability in their standard machines.

7. Factory attached components saves you time in set up. Brand A attaches their components like their folding stand, frame wheels and their mid-fence. Brand B has you try to bolt these components on and then align them.

8. Flexibility of feed. For some operations, it is faster to be able to have your measuring system on both sides of the cut when cutting pieces from a full sheet. Brand A offers tapes on both sides while Brand B doesn’t.

9. Will you get a damaged panel saw upon delivery? Nothing is worse than getting your machine and have it damaged so you can’t use it for the big job you purchased it for. Brand A fully crates their machine, even adding a strap so it can be strapped to the sidewall of a truck. Brand B shrink wraps their machine and hopes for the best.

10. Dust collection is more than just a convenience today. With the many different material like cement board and the chemicals in some substrates, particulate in the air becomes an important concern. Brand A has a dust brush surrounding the saw blade under the insert with a 2.5″ hose attached to the dust bonnet for extraction of the suspended particulate. Brand B uses a vinyl tube that has to be constantly adjusted up or down to rest on the different thicknesses of material cut. If you forget to adjust it one time, the material pushes the tube into the saw blade and you no longer have dust collection.

11. Spinning insert and a locking carriage to rip cut is important for fast use. Brand A has two indexing pins and two carriage locks to ensure precision use. Brand B does not.

12. Powder coated components. Powder coating is a baked on enamel that ensures long-term metal protection. Brand A powder-coats their metal parts. Brand B does not.

13. Welded components; When you weld metal, the heating often distorts the material and can have unseen faults that will affect the structural integrity of the metal. That is why buildings and bridges are riveted. Brand B welds these parts because it is cheaper and easier to manufacture that way. Brand A does not because they make a component design so you can replace parts like a fence or a guide tube. (These are the two most replaced parts. At a home center store you will see big bollards in front of the panel saw because they have to replace it for every bump it gets.) With Brand A, component design you can replace a guide tube in 2 minutes and a fence in 4. With Brand B, you are replacing the entire panel saw not just the part. Besides the ease of replacement, you don’t damage or deform the parts by welding them. On their fence of Brand B, each material roller needs to aligned individually to make sure you are getting a square cut because the fence plate is welded to the frame. Brand B has 13 adjusting points to square their panel saw. That is why the home center stores will not guarantee an accurate cut.

By the way, Brand A is from Saw Trax Mfg. Inc.

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Bearing & Squaring

 

What are the major factors you should look for when buying a panel saw.

There are two kinds of panel saws, vertical and horizontal. Each of them have pros and cons.  The biggest difference is the space needed to work with these machines. The vertical saw takes up much less floor space, and is easier to load one sheet at a time.

Without getting into the weeds any further about the types of panel saws, we will discuss the vertical saws for the remainder of this article since they are the most familiar/common and most likely used by small shops and Home Center stores.

A panel saw is just a big guide for a circular saw so it can cut sheet goods at 90 degrees (Cross Cut)  or parallel ( Rip Cut).  There are 2 key elements to doing this;

The first is the tracking mechanism for the saw to move up and down for cross cuts;

The second is the alignment system for the supported material to be cut vertically and horizontally.

By tracking mechanism, we mean what allows the saw to move up and down the guide tubes for the vertical cross cuts.  If there is “play” in this mechanism, the cut will not follow a straight line.

There are two types of bearings used in most panel saws.  The first is a low cost U-bolt with nylon rings around the U.  The rings are squeezed between the guide tubes and the U bolt at the same time.  As these rings try to roll, the carriage moves on the guide tubes. A bottom button glide is used to “Load” (put pressure) on the U-bolt rings.  As you might already see the flaw in this system is friction.  The tighter you get the tolerances to take out the play, the harder it will be to move the carriage causing a trade off of ease of movement and accuracy of the cut.

The Second Bearing system is using a “true bearing” using real sealed bearings.  This is done by high end vertical panel saws typically costing over $25,000 but there is one company making panel saws for a tenth of that figure using actual bearings.  This company, (Saw Trax Mfg. Inc.) makes their panel saws in Kennesaw GA.  They use 3 sealed bearings per carriage corner for a total of 12 sealed bearings per carriage.  This arrangement has two bearings on top to carry the weight and one bearing on the bottom to “Load” the top bearings.  The bottom bearing ensures constant pressure during a cross cut.   By using a true sealed bearing system like this, you get both accuracy and ease of movement during a cut.

The alignment system consists of two elements.  The first is ensuring the guide tubes stay square to the material rollers.  The second is to make sure the material rollers stay aligned with each other.

Different panel saw manufacturers handle this in different ways.  One manufacturer has the outside rollers on hubs that have a centered hole and all the interior rollers on hubs that have off-centered holes.  This off-center allows the interior rollers to be adjusted up or down to align with the outside rollers.  The problem is there are no 10 ft. straight edges that allow the end user to re-adjust the rollers once they go out of alignment.

This same manufacturer has users hit the guide posts with a dead blow mallet to adjust the tubes right or left when the vertical tracking goes out of alignment.  Obviously, this can take a lot of whacking back and forth to get it right.  A secondary issue is if you whack too hard, you can dent a guide tube and render your machine useless.  Our issue with this system is there are 13 adjustments that can throw your machine out of square, the 12 interior rollers and the guide posts shifting.

An innovative approach to the alignment system elements is to not have an indexed adjustment to the rollers and guide tubes.  If all the rollers and hubs are the same, they don’t go out of alignment.  If an adjustment is needed to align the fences, an indexing system is used to incrementally adjust the end of the fence up or down in 1/32″ increments and then locks into place.

A similar indexing system is used for the vertical guide tube posts is patented.  The manufacturer calls it the “Accu-Square“.  Nine holes spaced 8/32 apart are centered in the frame.  Another nine holes spaced 9/32 apart are centered in the bottom guide tube bracket.  Only one hole in the frame and guide tube bracket will line up at any given time and adjustments left or right can be made in 1/32 increments.  Once adjusted, the bracket is locked to the frame using a sheet metal screw keeping the guide tubes from ever shifting in relationship to the frame.  This system is patented and is guaranteed to never go out of square.

When you combine the dependable Makita saw with the sealed bearing and Accu-Square squaring advantages of the Saw Trax Panel Saws, the decision of which panel saw to buy becomes an easy one.

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