Sliding Table Saw: Manual or Digital?

Cabinetmakers consider how to assess the productivity benefits of a digital or computer-controlled slider. November 15, 2010

We are getting into cabinets. Is it worth the additional $10K for a digital readout/CNC controlled slider versus a manual?

We manufacture solid wood architectural doors with, currently, all manual equipment -jointers, planers, shapers, bandsaws, etc. When we made the switch from a manual planer to a digital readout/self positioning planer, it was all the difference in the world from speed to quality or from a manual shaper to a digital readout electronic controlled, and same for the widebelt. But we have a limited amount of money and are trying to stretch it. I could get a cheap used edgebander instead, or a nice line bore, face frame and pocket screw tub, etc. From a dollar and cents and return-on-time point of view, how much faster per sheet will it go?

We will be doing framed, frameless, and flush framed cabinets. We have enough to get started on a manual slider, line bore, face frame, pocket screw tub and hinge bore press and edgebander. We are considering crossing out the edgebander and using the extra money for an Atlendorf Elmo-4 or similar 2000 or newer SCM or Martin. Either we do what little edgebanding there is by hand, or if a modern job comes along, we take it to a friend's shop and use his until we have enough for an edgebander.

So what would be the better payoff? Assuming after the first edgebanded job, we would be able to afford one, we would have to do one job without? My guys are saying get a manual slider and no edgebander, but they don't have to pay the bills. For what stuff is going for now... I'd enjoy the use for years to come, until the CNC.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Honestly, your questions do not seem to be in line with your experience. If you can't decide these issues on your own based on your current production needs, you don't need faster machines.

The advantage of digital positioning on a planer is nothing compared to what it offers on a panel saw. I do not consider digital positioning on a planer a time saver. If you are doing architectural work, I assume you reposition the thickness once every 300 to 1000 linear feet. Then turning a wheel a few cranks is not an issue.

CNC positioning on a panel saw can increase a single operator's production 20%. If it is linking to your design software (as CNC controllers are meant to). A single operator can approach the speed of a beam saw (assuming there is no panel stacking in the beam saw). But unless you are processing 30 to 50 sheets a day, you will never realize the advantage of a CNC controlled saw.

I can easily process 20 sheets a shift on my manual panel saw. Not easily, but we do it all the time. 20 sheets of material represent a large kitchen or two smaller ones. Are you even making cabinets? Sounds like you aren't now.

If you are running a small shop and processing less than 20 sheets a day, you should consider an entry level CNC. For a little more or the same price as the Elmo, you can get a pretty decent CNC that will nest your work.

From contributor C:
Get a used SCMI manual-350n, used PTP and used edgebander. New Castle or pocket tub. We cut 50-60 sheets on the slider all day every day. No CNC - digital readouts are our next step. But a used beam saw could be had for a lot less than a CNC slider, so that is next. Why don't you look at a slider and retrofit with a Tiger Stop each job?

From contributor C:
You need an edgebander much more than a slider. Perhaps you should look at a vertical panel saw. Your list of tools will really help, but if you plan on fabricating face framed cabinets, you should look at a dedicated panel router or a dedicated method of some sort to dado - it will save major time.

From contributor K:
Our edgebander came first, then a PTP, then a CNC slider. Speed, repeatability, and panel accuracy, in that order.

From contributor S:
Why not just get one good used cabinet saw and make a nice outfeed table? A good fence and sizable well made table and good cut list is way cheaper than other options. Two guys handling sheets with a well dialed in cabinet saw is cheap, precise and quick. Do some face frame cabs and use the profits for edgeband and panel saw to get into frameless. If you do dados, you could just get another cabinet saw and use for dado only.

From contributor J:
I'm a one man shop, and even I know that two guys handling sheets on a cabinet saw is not cheap. I could cut 20+ sheets per day on my manual slider if I needed to. You can get a saw that will do that and more for 4-5K easy these days.

From contributor S:
Is somebody gonna help load the slider and sort?

From contributor M:
One cheap helper is $6 an hour. Six times 40 hours is 240 a week, 1,000 a month. 12,000 a year. Chances are your helper costs closer to $10 an hour. And if you run a legitimate business, there is workman's comp, insurance and unemployment taxes. In the industry, $25,000 a year is considered a minimum calculation for the cost of one employee. I think most of the guys here will peg the cost at closer to 40,000 when all expenses are considered. A slider allows one guy to do the work of two, and it is way more accurate. Having said that, an edgebander is the most important machine to get into the shop.

From contributor P:
Twenty sheets a day for one guy with a slider is a piece of cake - I do it all the time. I use a Panel Handler to feed the saw. Using two guys to run a single saw is a waste of labor and money.

From contributor P:
Personally, I'd get a top-end manual slider, then add the digital goodies when cash flow allows. Then again, I'd be (and was) tempted by that 2000 Elmo 4 at $18k that was in the Machinery Exchange last week. Per previous posts, I'd put my serious money into the edgebander first.

From contributor R:
The digital, automatic sliders are worth every penny if you use a slider daily. A client of mine has an Altendorf Elmo with the power fence/stop and it is a true joy to use. It is capable of repeatability matching that of their CNC, so when they occasionally need to cut a makeup part, they know it will match.

Being able to quickly and accurately switch between settings, then just punch in a number and get a matched cut is a serious time saver. Cross cutting long stock for doors and face frames is a simple matter of following the cut list, and it is simple and easy to cut matching parts from one piece even if they are different lengths.