An in depth look at low cost vertical panel saw design and how the details really effect the usability. This will touch on applications, mobility, factory alignment, one piece frame, guiding system and blade size.
What makes a great Vertical Panel Saw, a great Vertical Panel Saw?
Panel saws are known for breaking down large sheet goods into usable sizes. They cut all kinds of plywood, plastics and acrylics sheets.
Vertical panel saws have the advantages of saving space and are easier for one man to operate. They are also safer to use since the blade is not exposed to the user. There are large verticals that are stationary where the material never moves during cross or rip cutting. Less Expensive machines move the material for rip cutting like a sideways table saw. These machines are much more plentiful and found in factories and small shop. These will be the topic of this discussion.
There are four manufacturers of these less expensive semi-mobile machines. One makes only compact frames and one makes only full-size frames and two make both the compact and full-size frames. There are several key factors of a great vertical panel saw that makes it a great vertical panel saw. I would like to take a minute and inform you of some finer points of these less expensive panel saw design because as the old saying goes, “The Devil is in the details”.
First panel saws have to be accurate and stay accurate. That sounds obvious but subtle differences in design makes a huge differences in long term accuracy. Nothing like cutting a pallet of sheets and later finding none of the cuts are square or the measurements are off.
Easy to use. Was the panel saw designed to be easy to manufacture or easy to use? How much set up is involved; can you measure from either side; how easy are saw blades to find; how easy are blade changes; can you see a mark line up with the saw blade; is the dust collection effective; can other cutting tools be used on the same frame; can a single guide tube or fence be replaced if damaged; do the material rollers have to be individually aligned, are some of the questions that go into this answer.
Reliability. A panel saw is the workhorse of many shops. If it goes down, many other processes stop. How quickly can you get it going again? What type of saw motor do they use; if the blade throws a tooth, can you buy a replacement blade locally; is the saw motor proprietary; does the saw motor require an oil change; what are the variables in the alignment; are some factors that go into reliability.
There are basically 3 things that contribute greatly to the accuracy of the panel saw. First is the tracking mechanism of the saw on the guide tubes.
Only one panel saw company uses real bearings for the carriage to travel on the guide tubes. These real sealed improves accuracy and makes the pull down of the saw much easier. An antiquated system of U bolts and rings are used by the other panel saw companies. It’s the difference of pulling a load on a wheeled cart vs. a sled cart.
The second, is maintaining a 90 degree cut. This has always been an important issue with any cutting tool. This is especially true with the long stroke of a panel saw. A slight movement in the guide tubes or a misaligned material roller, can throw off a cut. Even though some are aligned at the factory, by the time get bounced around arriving to your shop, the alignment is questionable.
Of the four panel saw companies, only one panel saw company has a patented indexed alignment system for the guide tubes. When squared at the factory, they will never shift out of alignment, even after shipping.
The third is the alignment of the material rollers. Some companies have individually adjusted material rollers that require a 10 ft. straight edge to align the material rollers on the base of the machines.
One panel saw company uses a welded frame that has the material rollers mounted in such a way that their alignment will never shift. This means that you will always get alignment on both sides of the saw and no bumps when rip cutting.
Ease of Use
Design philosophy has made a big difference in a panel saw ease of use. When these are designed to be easier to use, this philosophy is apparent right out of the crate, (if it comes in a crate.)
How much assembly needs to be done to get the machine usable, i.e. attaching options like a stand, or assembling the saw unit and attaching it to the carriage?
One panel saw company of the four has the stand already attached and folds out like a ladder and the saw unit attaches in 10 seconds. (Some panel saws use two pieces of angle iron U-bolted to the frame and don’t use lock-nuts for their stand. One panel saw company uses 10 lock nuts on its stand. Some panel saw companies ship the stand separate and you have to attach it.)
One panel saw company allows you to individually change out a guide tube or material roller fence should it get damaged instead of replacing the entire panel saw. Welding these parts on makes it easier for the manufacturing process but forces the user to buy a new machine should either guide tube or fence get damaged. (This is why you see bollards in front of panel saws in the home center stores. They’ve got tired of buying new machines when a forklift nicked a guide tube.)
One panel saw company has frame wheels for easy mobility of the panel saw, especially the compact models. These are not on the ground when the machine is not in use unlike other machines who’s machines can roll away if pushing too hard from the side when rip cutting.
One panel saw company of the 4 panel saw companies uses 7.25″ standard saw blades while the other three use 8″ job site table saw blades. The difference is you can find 23 different 7.25″ blades at your local home center store and no 8″ saw blades.
One panel saw company allows you to remove the saw insert to makes blade changes easier.
One panel saw company uses measuring tapes and a stop for both sides of the saw you can feed and cut from either direction.
One panel saw company has a built in window to see saw blade alignment with a mark on the cutting material and even has a light to illuminate the blade on the standard saw model.
One panel saw company has a brush that surrounds the blade to contain the saw dust until the dust collection, using a 2″ standard shop vac hose, extracts it.
One panel saw company allows the user to use multiple saws instead of constant saw blade changes or to use other cutting tools like a router, pivoting knife, glass cutter or a rolling shear.
One panel saw company does not need oil changes in their heavy duty saw by using an industry leading hypoid saw motor design.
One panel saw company uses an industry leading Makita saw in its standard and heavy duty saw carriage.
The things that offer the most problems with a panel saw reliability are the saw motor breaking and the alignment system shifting.
One panel saw company uses off the shelf saw motors so you don’t pay a premium for proprietary saw motor replacement.
One panel saw company has a patented indexed guide tube alignment system that is set and forget. (Accu-Square)
One panel saw company has a material rollers system that do not adjust or go out of alignment. (Accu-Fence)
One panel saw company allows you to individually change out a guide tube or material roller fence should it get damaged instead of replacing the entire panel saw. Welding these parts on makes it easier for the manufacturing process but forces the user to buy a new machine should either guide tube or fence get damaged.
The one panel saw we keep talking about in all of these comparisons is the industry leader in panel saw innovation, the Georgia manufacturing company, Saw Trax Mfg. Inc.