Shopping for a Panel Saw

Advice on how to get your money's worth for a panel saw, and thoughts on choosing a slider or a track-guided circular saw instead. May 28, 2010

I need some advise and input about vertical panel saws. I've got about $3000 to spend and I want to make the correct decision. First here's some info:

- This isn't my primary source of income.
- This is a one man show.
- I also have a table saw to supplement for ripping.
- I will use this saw for building garage/storage cabinets, closet organizers and a kitchen now and then.
- I've look at used sliders and almost bought one but no matter how I measured it, I couldn't make it fit in my shop.
- A CNC is just a dream at this point.

For new saws I've been looking at the Safety Speed Cut and the Saw Trax. Does anyone have any information from users about these saws? The bearing setup looks more robust on the Saw Trax but I've only seen pictured online. No dealers close by. Should I be looking at other brands? I know the European saws are way out of my range for new but what about used? Will the two saws above cut accurately enough for what I want? Should I be looking at the Festool plunge cut saw and track with the cross cutting table as a temporary solution? Any insight would be great.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
Go for the Festool and skip the VP saw until you can buy a big boy. I just bought a Streibig Compact Plus in brand new condition (I mean really perfect). New it runs at $32,000. I paid $19,000 out the door and shipped cross country! I love it. Google Reardon's Woodworking Machinery to see the dealer that I bought from. He usually has some good stuff.

From contributor H:
Look around. You can buy a real vertical for that kind of money if youíre diligent and don't mind a bit of travel. I bought a 1988 full size Striebig 6-7 years ago for $2000 - a steal. Just have to be at the right place at the right time. I see a few Holz-Her around in that range, maybe no beauty queens but sufficient for the type work youíre doing and in the price range.

From contributor K:
You could use a panel saw to get your parts close to size and then clean them up on a cabinet saw. I don't think would be able to cut all cabinet parts and build straight off of a small cheap vertical saw though. If space is an issue and you have plenty of time get the track saw. You can make ready to assemble cuts with it, but it will be slow going.

From contributor K:
I bought a Saw Trax for a job and despite what the mfg. tells you these do not provide the accuracy you need for cabinets - fine for signs and siding. If you can't fit a real vertical or horizontal in your shop go with the Festool like setup and do all your rips then buy/make a robust cross cut table for your cross cuts.

From the original questioner:
I wondered about the accuracy of the less expensive verticals. If I were to buy a vertical, I definitely would want to be able to assemble cabinets without worrying about accuracy. It doesn't sound like that's possible with the Saw Trax or the Safety Speed Cut. Guess I'll have to keep looking for a used European version, but until then I'm going to look more at the Festool saw and track. The max I can cut on my TS sled is 24" so this becomes a problem with cabinet backs the most important part! For those of you that have used/seen this set up, will I be able to cross cut accurately enough to build a quality cabinet? Really wish I had more to spend so I'm not messing around with tools not made for the tasks at hand, but a budget is a budget.

From contributor L:
I started with an Excaliber attachment and it served me well. I own a slider now and wouldn't trade it. But, along with the others I would highly recommend against the low end panel saws. You can pick-up an old Holz-Her 1205 or such for as little as $1800 and a good tune up - you would be able to build right off the saw.

From contributor X:
I had the safety speed cut and it worked well and was accurate. We only used it to crosscut our sheet goods. We would rip are pieces on table saw first then use it to cut lengths. Only bad thing it likes to chip melamine. I have upgraded now to a Holz-Her 1208 panelsaw older saw but tuned it up works like a charm. It also has a scoring attachment. This is a smaller saw if you donít have much room bought it for the money you are talking.

From contributor L:
Safety Speed cut is good for plywood. If you want chip free melamine, you need something better. I have the SSC and the Festool, and I still prefer the SSC over the Festool for this reason. I donít have to find enough shop space to lay a full sheet of plywood flat and then lean over it to cut it to size with the panel saw. The SSC panel saw doesnít take up much room, and doesnít take up much room to operate. If you are only cutting sheets once in awhile the Festool is a great way to go. I cut probably 15-20 sheets of ply a month, and I canít imagine going back to having to handle sheet goods flat on a saw or horses.

From the original questioner:
Well I've been doing some searching and I've found a Holz-Her 1203 that is a little out of my budget but close enough to warrant the extra to get a good saw. What can you guys tell me about this model of saw? I've never set eyes on a European vertical. What should I be looking for? Also, I'm sure this is three phase but my shop is only single phase. Any suggestions for a phase converter?

From contributor K:
Go with a rotary converter. You need to make the decision "do I want to wire my shop for 3-phase or just this one machine"? If you want to run just this machine look for a 5hp max starting converter. I installed a whole shop converter from American Rotary and have been very happy with it. Don't let the 3-phase put you off, it's not that big of a deal. If youíre setting this up for the one piece of equipment, the converter can sit on the floor behind the VP and just plug into your 220 outlet. On the converter you can have a switch or remote starter and a 3-phase outlet that the VP would be plugged into or hardwired.

From contributor M:
I've had good results with a JET sliding table accessory. The big one, it'll crosscut 49" and with a good blade and double checking the fence I get great cuts for the price. $700 when I bought it but now the price is more around $1000. Lots of adjustments and install isn't too bad. Only real drawback is youíre instructed to bolt the saw down to keep from tipping from all the added weight on the one side, I have a router table cabinet attached to the other side of my saw so that wasn't necessary. I would also recommend the Rousseau 8400 support to help with large panels. These two accessories have made my 3HP JET table saw able to produce square accurate panels with ease compared the just the saw or making rough cuts first; and I can go back to ripping wood in seconds if needed. If I had the space I would rather use a good vertical saw for panels but between the price and space issues I could never justify the switch. Another step in ease of use would be to get one of the panel carts that rotates from horizontal to vertical (I have the JET) and you can easily load sheets onto it flat, flip it up for storing or moving, and flip the stack back flat to slide them onto the saw. I store stocked sheets vertical and new material flat in a van usually, and the cart keeps from ever having to completely support a sheet by yourself if you don't want to (important with melamine and MDF if you don't have help). I have less than 1000SF and work alone and if I had to do it all again can't think of a better setup for the price and footprint.

From contributor S:
I used to use a Safety Speed Cut model H5, and it was fine for breaking sheets down to a rough size. It was accurate and for the most part cut parts square to within 1/32", but you can't get past the fact that it will chip out the back side of melamine. You need a machine with a scoring blade to eliminate that. As for a phase converter, you'll start at about $1,000 for a new one, and go up from there depending on what size you need. Make sure you get a rotary converter. You can probably pick one up used.

From the original questioner:
Well, I did it. I bought a used Holz Her 1203 and it's headed my way via ABF Freight. One thing that's missing is the manual. I called Holz Her and they kind of laughed at me and said I'll need a tech to come out and set it up. Not sure that's in the budget since I spent more on the saw then I had in the budget.