Choosing Sliding Table Saws and Panel Saws

Pros discuss the choices in panel saws and sliding table saws, and offer advice on modifying equipment for better performance. November 10, 2006

After reading all the great information in my last post, I would like to ask if anybody out there is using or has used any of these machines: MiniMax S315, Hammer K3Perform, Felder K700S, and Laguna 2700 Pro. I believe this group represents the type of machine I am looking for. I welcome any comment, from customer service experiences to actual experience using any of these machines.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
We have a Felder 700. It is the better saw of the ones you mentioned but we have always suffered from the crosscut fence going out of square. Otherwise it has been a very reliable saw. The alignment issues have been resolved in the new versions with the better, smoother X-Roll sliding table.

The other good thing going for Felder is the Felder Owners Group (FOG) - a group of unusually highly talented and knowledgeable owners and operators of Felders who can assist you with any technical or service issue.

From the original questioner:
To contributor A: How long have you had your saw? I must admit after some research I am leaning toward Felder. I have never used a true slider and just discovered they have the ability to do almost all of the plywood cutting on the sliding table. It is opening up a whole new way of thinking about sheetgood processing. I timed myself in the shop just making a small upper cabinet for myself and I was amazed at the time wasted changing from ripping to crosscutting on my Unisaw. If anyone would like to share your techniques for how you are processing panels on a slider, I would greatly appreciate any information. I was skeptical at first that this level of saw could produce these gains, but now the light seems to be going on.

From contributor B:
How can anyone say that "it has been a great saw but itís always out of square?Ē A great saw is NEVER out of square. The name Laguna-pro is an oxymoron. Ask anyone who has owned a Laguna tool (like me for example). As I mentioned in a previous post, if you can find a good used saw and have another 4k left, get the tiger rip fence. As fast as a slider is in comparison to a Unisaw; a slider with a tiger rip fence is 30-50% faster than that. Add a Digital crosscut for another 1K and you are flying with greater accuracy and less strain on the eyes.

From contributor C:
I saw in your previous thread that several guys mentioned Martin, and that it did not make your list. Re-read the suggestions that the guys made. I am an Altendorf owner, but saw the Martin at the show. Let me tell you, this is one solid machine! I would give Martin a call and see what kind of deal they would make you on the show demo.
Consider it an investment. This is the heartbeat of your shop. It is not uncommon for a good slider manufacturer to guarantee .005" over 10' 5" for 5 years or more. The lesser saws are designed to get you started, but will not hold up over time. So, as you are growing, your cheap saw is wearing out, causing you more headache. And what is this about not staying square? That is what separates the classes. I rarely check for square, because it is not necessary. The carriage (slider) is the main part of the saw. The rest of it is just a motor, arbor, and rip fence. It is the carriage system that makes a saw a great machine.

Just know that you pay for poor quality continually. Wait until you start assembling (after you have machined all your parts) and you find parts are out of square. You will pay for this mistake 3 times - 1) the time that you have just spent making these parts is wasted, 2) you have to pay to remake these parts, and 3) you could have been doing something that is profitable with the time that you spent remaking these parts. So, if you spent 3 hours making parts, you have now been charged 9 hours total. How many times does that take until you have spent thousands of dollars? The bigger your projects are, the more costly your mistakes. It adds up quickly.

I doubt that anyone who owns good, solid equipment ever dreamed that they would spend $25K when $12K looked beyond their grasp. But the reality is that good equipment continues to pay for itself - just wait until you start looking at edgebanders. Do yourself a favor and buy right. Get good equipment that you will not outgrow or regret. If you need to sell it, it will retain its value.

From the original questioner:
I looked at the Martin and it is indeed an impressive machine. My problem is how much do you spend on a slider before you consider going to CNC? Several people have suggested looking used, but I have never had much luck buying used equipment. I am not planning on buying anything until after the first of the year for tax purposes and I like to gather all the information I can before making any decision. I'm not ruling out used but given my lack of experience with this type of equipment I am very cautious about the prospect. Another factor is that I need a single phase on whatever I buy. Three phase power is not an option where my shop is located. It's difficult to choose when one person calls a machine very good and another completely discounts it. But that's just the nature of opinions. I know a lot of people who don't believe you can get accurate cuts on an Excalibur but I do it everyday. I understand the principle of you get what you pay for. I could deliver my cabinets with a Kenworth and a 48' van trailer, but it's a little overkill. I am looking to spend wisely like all of you are on your equipment. If I decide to go the used route could any of you give some names to consider and what price range I should expect for this type of equipment?

From contributor G:
I am a little curious why one would go to a slider and spend several thousands of dollars while they could purchase a CNC router and save time and material and not spend a lot more money? I am trying to save up enough money to purchase a CNC and bypass everything else I own. I do not own a slider and was considering purchasing one until I have seen so many positive comments on CNC routers. What is your opinion?

From contributor D:
I wanted to put in another two cents on the issue of CNC equipment. A slider is truly the heartbeat of your shop, without a doubt. Chances are, if you had a CNC router you'd probably have to have a slider at some point anyway, so it's not necessarily a matter of one or the other.

However, you should look into having someone else process parts for a fee on their CNC router. I've been using the Thermwood eCabinets software and having my parts cut by a local Thermwood CNC owner for awhile now, and I've been very happy with the results. Owning your own CNC machine is in no way an equal investment to buying a slider.
The comment about sinking thousands into a slider when you could have a CNC is definitely an uneducated opinion. CNC equipment is a totally different ballgame. It sounds like it would be a good time to investigate software packages though, since the learning curve on software should come long before the learning curve associated with operating a new CNC router.

Don't forget, a CNC router costs about 100k for a good machine, and then you have shipping, installation, integration, learning curve, etc. I just came from the IWF show myself, looking at sliders among other approaches. My best advice is to get the best slider you can afford, since you will need it anyway. Then look into eCabinets software since it's free, and if you hate it, then at least you've had some exposure to 3d cabinet software and you'll know what to look for in a software package if you shop for a different one. But in the meantime, you can have parts processed like I do for about $40 / sheet and just put it all together. If I had to guess, I'd say you probably spend a lot of time with a line boring jig and a hand drill based on what you've said so far, not to mention dadoing or dowelling, or however you process your joinery. Take it all into consideration, and realize that if your business is more in sheet goods than solids, or primarily frameless versus face frame, or mostly custom versus production, then you'll benefit a lot from having parts machined via CNC for a fee. It's worth a look!

From the original questioner:
I have been running eCabinets software for about a year and I love it. It really has given me an edge especially on custom jobs which is what I mostly do. I have been checking into having my plywood machined for me and it is a possibility. I use dadoes, glue, and screws for my cabinets which are 99% face frame because that is what the market in my area prefers. I also do quite a bit of solid surface fabrication. I checked into CNC and found it was not for me at this time. I only mentioned it to illustrate that some of the top end sliders represent a good chunk of a CNC investment. As with most things there is no definitive opinion on what a good saw is. Some believe Grizzly represents a good saw for the price and something like a Martin is most definitely a stellar machine but more than I am able to spend at this time. I have always made everything myself and never outsourced anything. The time for me has come to let go of that thinking and start rethinking my production methods. That is why I started asking questions here. Most of my out of the box thinking has been influenced by you and your experiences and opinions here. While I have not posted often, I find this place to be a treasure chest of information. I got the idea to try eCabinets here and it has gone over great. People have been blown away by the tremendous decision-making ability it gives them before committing to final color choices and so on. In my area we are about 20 years behind the rest of the world. As far as I know the only other place around here with any cabinet software is Lowe's or Home Depot and we all know how lacking that is. Going out and buying a Martin - which is undoubtedly a superior product - instead of Felder or something along those lines is risky. I'm sure some of you have shops in areas that aren't exactly thriving.

From contributor B:
I have been in business building cabinets for 27 years and have always bought the best I could afford. The single phase issue does limit you unless you get a phase converter. I have owned two used Magic sliders from Italy and two Casolins from Italy. Both great machines, although Magic is not made anymore. The Casolin is in the 15K range and has never gone out of square or had any other problems. It has been the workhorse of a 4 man shop for years. I have also seen the Altendorfs and Martins at the shows and they are definitely the Mercedes Benz of saws, but my Casolin slider, Detel 50 spindle borer and pocket hole cutter as well as my hinge boring machine still cost less all together than a Mercedes saw. The warrantee on the slider is 10 years. I don't care which brand you buy, but not everyone can afford a Mercedes.

From contributor E :
I have had a Felder 700 series saw, with a10' slider, since 2004. Overall I am very satisfied with it and would buy it again. They also offer a multitude of attachments - my favorite one is the EGL, an electronic miter box attachable to the slider. While the Felder manual is worthless, the Felder owners group on yahoo can provide any and all answers. One of the members actually wrote an 'unofficial' manual which is outstanding. In my experience, Felder stands behind their product and will resolve any issues. On the down side, their ordering and fulfillment process could stand improvements, even though I was always informed on any delays upfront. Meanwhile, I bought two more machines from Felder. All in all I give them 2 thumbs up.

From contributor A:
We've had the Felder for 6 years. Any slider is a quantum leap in cutting sheet goods -compared to a cabinet saw - you'll cut more parts more accurately in a safe manner. A vertical panel saw such as a Striebig will cut more square parts more accurately than any slider and will occupy half the footprint of a full size slider and you may want to consider buying a small Striebig and keeping your cabinet saw.

If you're leaning towards buying a slider at the price range you mentioned the Felder is an excellent choice but keep in mind that this tier of sliders are not really professional grade machines. They are not made to run 8 hours a day or take the abuse of hired hands. That is not the case with the legendary Altendorf and Martin saws and you are better off buying a used one of those if you can find an affordable one.

From contributor C:
Why don't you consider a Striebig? Smaller footprint, easier to handle sheets (a slider really is a 2 man saw) and you can stack cut on the vertical as well. The only thing you can't do is cut bevels (an angled rip). I wish I would have gone this route, kept my cabinet saw and gotten a Striebig.

As far as the router issue goes, you are wading into the same waters. Yes, you can get into a CNC router for little money, but again, you get what you pay for. There are features and options that make routers stronger, longer lasting, and more accurate. These come with a price. If the volume is there, then you should consider a router.

From contributor B:
In answer to your question about using the slider, I have several tips:
1. Get an optimization program (Itemizer or Cutlist Pro) and print out cutting diagram for each sheet. This will show rips and crosscuts clearly, as switching back and forth takes time.
2. Use a fork lift or table lift if possible to feed saw by yourself. Or have a sheetgoods storage rack set up behind saw to right of slider table when pulled back for loading.
3. Make a long outfeed table or have a movable one ready to receive long rips. Have an extra table to offload long rips that you can roll back to saw for crosscuts.
4. Rip all the sheets as per each cutting diagram and stack on this portable table, inserting diagram with each set of rips.
5. Start crosscutting and labelling each piece and offload to another movable table for edgebanding. For complicated jobs, I use the labeling feature of my optimization program or just write the part number with a pencil.
6. I use the rip fence set back of the blade all the time except for the last rip where most of the stock is right of blade. That holds true for rip or crosscut functions.
7. ALWAYS USE RIVING KNIFE AND GUARD - especially with prefinished maple ply. This stuff kicks back as it is so slippery.
8. If it feels dangerous, don't do it.
9. All this is faster and easier with a tiger stop rip fence.

From contributor F:
I have 2 CNC routers, a slider and a vertical panel saw. My sliding panel saw is a Paoloni. My panel saw is a Milwaukee. One CNC is an Accu-Router and believe this or not, the other is homemade.

First things first - I would not give $0.50 for a sliding table saw again. My Italian made machine is expensive, precise and hard to use. Itís not an issue of fence square - it is an issue of keeping your stock square against the fence due to the over precise and easy to slide bearing assembly. I would sell the machine with extra blades and scoring blades for 5000.00 right now!

My Milwaukee vertical saw (like the home depot saws) is wonderful. I bought some upgraded linear bearings, like those used on CNC machines. I replaced the tubes for tracks, built some solid extensions, added a scoring blade and upgraded the stock rollers. This is hands down the fastest machine in my 13,000 sq. ft. shop and I have less than $5000.00 in it. I will say that out of the box, it is good enough to get you by until you upgrade it. Actually, I used mine for a year just fine in a production environment before tinkering.

By the time somebody either fights getting the panel on the slider and keeping it against the fence or sets up a sheet on a CNC, I can have several straight rips and crosscuts done 2 sheets at a time by the way. The shear mechanics of the design show more consistent and accurate cuts than any slider out there in comparison to setup and actual cut time. Gravity helps you on a vertical and they are low to the ground. It is perfect for cutting common case parts.

The second fastest machine is my homemade CNC. I use it only for panel cutting on complex shapes and angels. Once again, I have less than 6000.00 in it and if you are handy at all and have some metal working experience they are rather easy to build and easy to get accurate with the right linear sliders. I would build my own again before sinking 50,000 in a factory built one but thatís just me. The only thing is that I wish I could fabricate a tool changer but so far this has proved to be very difficult.

I would recommend that you go to a Milwaukee dealer and find out where you can demo the machine. You can see them on the Grizzly web site or in their catalog although I personally canít recommend buying one from Grizzly. I know some people swear by sliders but I canít stand them after being exposed to something I feel is way better. Look, donít get me wrong. There is a place for sliding table saws Ė just not in my shop ever again.

From the original questioner:
To contributor F: I appreciate the information and would like to know more about your homemade CNC router. I have been collecting a lot of information the last couple of days and was under the impression that the Milwaukee panel saw was not capable of square cuts. I called SawTrax and they told me if I have everything tune up correctly I could expect accuracy of 1/32" to 1/64". To me that is not square. I would like to know how square your cuts are. I do a fair amount of solid surface fabrication so a vertical has some appeal to me but I had just about given up on anything but a Striebig.

From contributor C:
I had a Milwaukee before I bought the Altendorf. It has the same specs - 1/32" over 48". It sounds like JM has kept the frame and saw holder, and replaced the tubes and bearings.
The thing that I did not like was the small frame, even with the extension. I think the Striebig will even take v-cutters.

From contributor F:
That is exactly right. The frame lacked. But out of the box the accuracy was tremendously square Ė well, after aligning the slides for a few hours and securing it to the floor. After that, I would say that the cut was within 1/22nd of an inch over 8í. Not sure what you are building but thatís accurate enough for me. I had to put a sheet metal screw across the floating bridge at the top to keep it square. The factory specs assume that you use this as designed - a portable panel cutting solution - and therefore they donít want to promise more. The stock slider assembly is weak however. I replaced the sliders with Igus DryLin T linear bearings. I used the 30 millimeter system Ė overkill but they stay accurate. I extended the frame with basic aluminum square tube and placed anchors into the floor through the factory wheel holes. I will post a picture later and you will see that my extensions were also mounted to the floor. A blade stabilizer was also added to prevent drift.

There are better systems than Milwaukee but they will start at about 2500.00 vs. 1200.00 and you will still need to upgrade the linear bearing. Over time the plastic bearings and even metal on the horseshoe bearings will wear out, causing flutter, and this simply does not happen with the Igus product.

I would recommend looking into the SawTrax you mentioned just to use the large frame. But like I said, I am confident that if you tune it in, secure the factory slider, mount it to the floor at several points and place a blade stabilizer, you will get very accurate cuts. The only thing about the SawTrax is the motor. Milwaukee uses a very nice 8ľĒ blade that if you trim the base plate a little you can use 8ĹĒ. The larger the blade, often the more accurate the cut Ė a lot of factors play into that statement. The DryLin T is the foundation of my homemade CNC. Basically, I just used the Milwaukee as an example to illustrate that itís been my experience that with a few simple modifications, the vertical solutions are superior.

Now Ė on to the fun stuff, the CNC. I am, as of today, documenting the process I used to fabricate a good working CNC. I am going to post these plans on WOODWEB for no charge. I believe we should support each other in this community and if it was not for the help of others when I transitioned into this industry from the computer industry, I would have never made it.

I am also building another one right now (just ordered more DryLin Linear bearings today) Ė I will photo every step and put some video in there too. I will also get some pictures of my Milwaukee posted here so you can see it moded out. I will post a link to a video of me cutting with it and you can see the results for yourself.

As always, use your judgment. I am just trying to save you the mistakes I made when I started to get more production equipment. I could have saved thousands. I hope you and anyone else can find this information helpful and I only intend for it to be used as a tool for helping make a decision thatís best for yourself by sharing my experiences. I would like to say that we have been lucky with our setup. We have 5 woodworkers and produce about 5 to 6 sets a week. These sets are all RP doors and measured to fit. I hope it doesnít sound like bragging but we are doing pretty well. I only added that to give you a foundation of what I consider to be a production environment and the Milwaukee works great for us here.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the quick response. If I understand what you are saying, it's like everything else. You get out of it what you put into it. I look forward to more of your posts and I may look into that SawTrax a little deeper. By the way I build face frame cabinets, solid surface countertops, and other various products depending on the customers needs.