Routing Dadoes with a Vertical Panel Saw

People who have relied on a vertical panel saw for dadoing panels say the idea is problematic at best. February 26, 2007

I have been considering buying a small vertical panel saw, such as the SawTrax 62" x 120" model, and have been wondering how well it would dado. They offer a floating router mounting plate for the saw, which looks pretty easy to switch out with the saw plate. If this worked well, I could give up my second tablesaw that I keep set up with a dado blade, and save a little floor space.

I am just not sure how well this really works out, so I would be very interested in hearing from anyone here who may be doing this. Is the changing over from saw to router quick and accurate? Do you find it a hassle to do so?

Also, I was thinking that with a mid fence installed, it would be nice for squaring up small panels and doors, rather than a sled on the unisaw. Do any panelsaw users here use these saws in that way?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
I have one of their panel saws. I did look into the router attachment once but decided if I were going to do it, I would have two. One set up as a panel saw and one as a dedicated router.

To me even if it is easy to switch the router and the saw back and forth, you still need to overcome the problem of the adhesive tapes they have on them for setting the stop. If you reference the tape from the saw, it will not reference correctly from the router, so you need to figure out how to set that up. Then you also need to look at their mid fence and decide if you are going to dado upper cabinet panels on it. Can you keep the same setting to dado a large pantry panel or do you need a different setup? If there was a good way to set up your stop positions to be quick, easy and accurate I would rather have their floating router table for doing dadoes and just cut panels with the other saw.

From contributor F:
I have a SawTrax and use it just for breaking sheet goods down. My concern with using the router for dados would be keeping the sheets flat and tight to the frame, in order to keep the depth constant. If you could do it easily it might be a viable idea, but I'm not sure if you could keep them flat without using some sort of clamping. I think that would make it far too time consuming.

You'll also have to really fine tune the carriage. Mine seems to have just enough play to keep me from making any precision cuts. Although I think they may be using a better frame on the newer versions.

From contributor J:
I'm not sure if I would go with the SawTrax. I have had one for about two years, and every time I use it I like it a little less. Yes, it can cut perfectly square, but the frame is "twisty" enough that the only way it's going to stay square is to bolt it to the floor (ignore the fact that the thing has wheels on it).

The measuring stops are just adequate at best. It takes an eagle eye to get cuts repeatable within 1/32" or 1mm, and by design it's prone to parallax error.

I can deal with all that, and have. But the main problem with it is the aluminum saw carriage. It is flimsy. The model I have has the rotating saw assembly to go from crosscut to rip, and it has a fair amount of slop in it rotationally (you end up pushing the blade through the wood at a slight angle.)

You can grasp the saw and flex the whole carriage assembly in just about any direction because of the soft aluminum carriage. Pushing it through wood (or wood through it), causes it to flex. It is an inexpensive way to get a vertical panel saw.

From the original questioner:
To contributor J: Thanks for this reply. I was hoping to get a reply like this, as I don’t know anyone who has one of these particular saws. I may have to wait till I can afford a heavier duty saw, and not worry about dadoes on the saw.

From contributor P:
Contributor J's observation about keeping sheet goods flat is a good one. That said, does anyone have a better way of doing dados than using the table saw? Specifically, crosscut dados on cabinet sides for decks/tops/fixed shelves?

From contributor R:
Well, I've never used one, but was looking into it, mostly to break down sheets. As far as "floating" to eliminate the need to keep the panel absolutely flat, SawTrax apparently recognizes the need and their floating router insert does just that. It rides on a plastic "hump" to closely follow the contour of the panel. It looks like a good idea, but I don't know how it works in practice.

From contributor S:
We once used a vertical router to route dadoes for the longest time and it wasn't a very good system. Just cutting a 3/4" dado 1/4" deep caused lots of movement on smaller parts and often would result in having to re-cut parts. Also you can’t re-sharpen tooling because it will be under 3/4" and the dado would be too tight.

What they need it to run (2) 3/8" cutters at whatever distance apart for the desired dado width (3/8" up to 3/4") or for greater widths use (2) 1/2" cutters, both turn in opposite directions so the material doesn't move and you get a clean cut on both sides.