A Sliding Table Saw in a Small Work Space

Here's another long discussion of the value of sliding table saws, and the practical aspects of fitting one into a small shop footprint. July 29, 2012

I've been working toward upgrading my saw setup. I think I've decided a sliding panel saw is the way to go. I used a Striebig in the past and it seemed like more work to handle the panels. I do have a small shop (about 1,000 square feet), and I've found a few SCM Minimax's at decent prices. It seems like a good idea to be able to rip plywood sheets on the slider, rather than the rip fence?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
Personally I would go with the panel saw. I have used both and I find handling the sheets in the vertical orientation is much easier than the horizontal position.

From contributor U:
Youíre going to get different opinions, but I say go with the slider. Itís a lot more versatile, great for cutting angles, you can cut bevels, straight edge lumber (if needed), square up glued up panels, and use the scoring blade for material that's prone to chipping. I can't imagine not having a slider in a cabinet shop. I would get the largest slider you can make room for.

From contributor H:
Are you building frameless? Face framed? Furniture? Process mostly sheet stock or lumber? The end product would dictate the saw needed. Hands down, I'd have to go with a vertical, especially given the footage you have to work with. Honestly, I could see you having to go outside to cuss a cat to not get hair in your teeth, with the footprint a decent slider would require. You'd be tripping over the beam or carriage all day, and what fun or benefit would that be? Are you sure the current saw is the bottleneck? What advantages will a different saw, slider or vertical, give you?

From contributor U:
After looking at your shop pictures closer, I agree with Contributor H.Your shop is too small for a slider! With a shop that small I would save your money and invest in an addition or bigger shop. More space will give you a lot more productivity than a new saw.

From contributor A:
I have used the various combinations and I think the best for a small shop is a Streibig with a good 5 hp cabinet saw like a Delta, Powermatic, or Sawstop. The slider is a compromise in my mind. However if you do a slider, Altendorf is hard to beat.

At your scale a cabinet saw with a small panel saw like a SawTrax or SafetySpeed and Forrest Hi/AT blades is your best bet. Iíve been there and done that for five years and made plenty of money. You should be able to find plenty of used small panel saws. At the end of the day you can rough cut with a circular saw and finish cut on the tablesaw quickly - finish carpenter style. However, with a real small shop you should also consider having a local shop with a CNC flat pack. Let them carry the overhead and risk of cutting the sheets wrong. I currently outsource with much success.

From the original questioner:
I guess the reason I had settled on the slider is that I figured a slider uses less square feet than a cabinet saw plus a vertical panel saw. You all are right, the location where a slider would need to be is quite awkward with the corner of the office to the left.

The current saw does need to be replaced or supplemented, it's only got a 1.75 HP motor and it truly is a bottleneck to not bog the motor. It does have a 24" homemade slider (visible in the photo) which works great. I might keep it setup for dadoing. I guess with a vertical saw I could use a shorter rip fence on the table saw and save a good deal of space. Behind the camera in that photo is the rollup bay, which would accommodate a short vertical panel saw right next to the plywood rack.

From contributor B:
I have a slider in 1000 sf. and everything's fine - 10' is really nice to have. My CC fence sticks out about 70" to the left of the blade when full retracted, and, if extended at all, won't clear my widebelt if making a full rip, which is rarely a problem. My understanding is that the poster has decided on a sliding saw rather than a vertical, so don't see any reason to reenact the VPS vs. slider controversy.

From contributor L:
I like sliders but your space is really small. Have you considered a Festool guide rail and saw? Itís slow but takes up minimal space.

From contributor B:
I rip panels using the rip fence after making a clean edge cut with the sliding table, so having at least an 8' sliding stroke is critical. The clean edge cut is the key to accuracy down the line. I use the rip fence rather than the sliding table for ripping because it'll be more accurate and more repeatable. Not having to remove the CC fence to make a full length rip is a big deal. I owned two short-stroke sliders before buying my Altendorf and would have difficulty going back.

From contributor Y:
I pretty much cut my sheet stock the same way Contributor B does. I can't imagine living without a slider with the way sheet stock comes today. One of the reasons it is an inch oversize is to enable that clean cut. I would shoe horn in at a least an eight foot slider if I could. Your other alternative is to stay with what you have and wait until you get more room.

From contributor Z:
To the original questioner: Give us some dimensions on your drawing. When you are cutting tall uppers like 42 plus you will need that space to the right of the blade after the thickness of the rip fence and its support. Sometimes you will need 48". It will be tight, but it can be done. If you get a 10'slider it only matters when you are making the rip. You can store it in the back position afterwards.

From contributor J:
I've had my 10' slider in my shop which is 960 square feet for over 20 years. I would not change a thing other than a newer slider with a powered rip fence with computer controls and a stack of brand new saw blades. Buy a full size slider, it won't take up any more room than your current set up, plus when the slider is in the way you just push it back. You still need eight-ten feet in front of the blade and after it no matter what you do.

From contributor S:
Keep your table saw no matter what. There are small things you'll want to do that are much easier on a table saw than they are on a slider. I have a 10' slider and two table saws. The table saws see a lot of use. One has a dado blade in it all the time.

From contributor J:
Contributor S is correct, keep the table saw. I don't have room for both so I do small stuff on my slider all the time, but just to walk up to a single phase saw hit a button, make a quick cut or trim and walk away would be a dream come true. With my setup I have to start the Rotary phase convertor first then start the saw. It's like having a big old Harley to run 1 block to the store vs. jumping on a small scooter with an electric starter.

From the original questioner:
I agree, keeping the little saw is a good idea, and when it's not in use it just becomes part of the outfeed table. There are a couple Minimax sc-3's out there, but for cutting panels I think it's go big or go home. I might have to wait for a bigger shop for that. I actually had a line on a nice VPN for a very low price, alas it was being sold by a co-op, the classic co-op drama ensued and they decided not to sell it.

From the original questioner:
I found a very old but fully functional Altendorf at a price I can handle. Any particular questions I should ask about it?

From contributor J:
Very old? Is it made out of wood? The first ones were all wood, frame, and slider (not the motor and blade of course). I tried to find a used one a while back but they are hard to find and the prices for any used ones was very high. From what I hear you should check the guide ways as they can wear out over time, and may need replacement. There great saws. If it's a F90 or that little short one with the tiny motor you might want to pass on those.

From contributor B:
The older (pre '98) Altendorfs have phenolic guide ways that wear, and I believe replacement is very expensive. I'd contact Stiles Machinery, who also seem to know something about these machines. Give them the serial number to learn what you can about the machine's earlier life, and pick their brains about how to ascertain the condition of the ways. Assuming all's good with the condition, I can't see why it wouldn't be an outstanding acquisition for your shop.

From contributor L:
If the saw is from the 70's or maybe early 80's they had a hydraulic raise/tilt that was prone to failure and expensive to fix. I worked in a shop that had one and about every year it failed.

From the original questioner:
I called Stiles and the phenolic guideways on the slider are an issue, especially because they are not replaceable. The only fix, according to the technician, is to replace the sliding table, which of course is a lot of money.

The saw is a 1977 F45 (one year older than me!), so I'd say the odds are good that these guideways are toasted. If it can get me through the next year or so, even with replacement parts it's still not a bad deal on a good machine. I also found someone locally with an Interwood (English label built by Altendorf), at a reasonable price. I'm going to look at it today. It would be good to see the machine in the flesh, and without the cost of freight (and repairs) it's only a little more expensive.

From contributor M:
1,000 square feet is way too small to have a slider. I would recommend getting a Festool track system for breaking down panels and sticking with a good 5 HP cabinet saw for wood working. As for the Phenolic guides, most people buy sliders so they can get perfect chip-free edges on laminates and melamine. If the table rollers, guides or follower wheels have the slightest imperfections in them the cut will show it. Literally a large piece of dust can cause a chip at the cut-line. So do not expect perfect cutting if the table guides are worn.

From contributor J:
Once again a 1000 square foot shop is plenty big enough for a 10' slider. I have one in my shop (960 sf) going on 22 years and I have plenty of room. There is so much you can do with a slider it's amazing. Strait line lumber, rip hickory with ease, strait line your sheet goods before ripping, cut very large panels square, and etc. The support the saw has for sheet goods will save your back and give you an extra ten years of good health. Plus you can stack huge amount of drawer parts on the slider behind you, while your cutting drawer parts. If you make a cabinet too big, you can put it up on the slider and cut off what you need to make it the right size again, just pull any staples or face frame screws. I would say buy one and make your life easier.

From contributor B:
Given your age, I think that your money would be well spent in acquiring a saw that'll get you through more than the next year. The hassle of selling, buying a replacement, uninstalling and bringing in a new machine adds up to a good chunk of change. Take it from a fool - I went through three sliding saws before buying the good one that I should have started with. If the saw isn't perfect, you'll piddle away a lot of time trying to tweak it into accuracy, and the frustration can be overwhelming.

Ten years ago I bought my used Altendorf ('98 F-45 - $8k). It's been an absolutely solid and dependable workhorse, never strays from adjustment, and is a joy to work with. It's needed one drive belt in the decade of service. I could, of course, easily recoup my investment if I decided to sell. Buy the absolute best you can afford. The peace of mind and the joy of working with good machinery will be valuable dividends.

From the original questioner:
After all this I ended up buying a used Holz-Her vertical panel saw that went up for sale nearby. I still would like to have a slider, but the VPS will fit my needs nicely.