There has been a lot of discussion about the Harbor Freight SCMS saws. I recently purchased the HF Model #98194 miter saw thought I would share my experiences with it.
I have desired a sliding compound miter saw for quite a while. But I just couldn’t see spending $500 – $600 for the high end saws. Harbor Freight has lower cost models of sliding miter saws for sale. I looked at the HF models in the store. I could have lived with a 10” model but the 10” model from HF is junk! The 12” model seemed much better built, slide action was a helluva lot smoother and, for a $50 price difference, the extra capacity of the 12” version was welcome.
List price on the 12” sliding miter saw was $199. With a Labor Day special, the price went down to $169. With the ubiquitous 20% HF coupon, the price went down to ~$135. For that price, I couldn’t resist – I bought one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I had been looking at this saw for several months to a year and I thought I knew what I was getting into. Reading reviews and whatever was posted about this saw on the Web led me to believe I was going to have to put in at least a couple of days tuning this saw before it would be usable. I wasn’t wrong.
When I first fired up the saw the gears sounded a little “growly” to me. One web-site suggested that the Chinese were a little parsimonious with the grease in the gearbox attached to the motor. I opened mine up and, sure enough, there wasn’t much grease in there. I packed the box with heavy-duty wheel-bearing grease that I had on the shelf and it quieted down a lot.
While I had the motor dismounted, I noticed a lot of flash on the air holes in the blade shroud for motor cooling. Since this would limit the flow of air to cool the motor, I decided to clean these up to get as much airflow as possible through the motor.
One review (it might even have been on the HF website) mentioned that after using the saw for only a few minutes the screw holding the blade guard vibrated loose and the sawblade destroyed the plastic bladeguard. Now, that big 12” blade is mighty imtimidating – the last thing I wanted was for that blade to be throwing plastic shards at me. Further, when I dismounted the motor, I found one of the 4 screws mounting the motor to be only finger-tight! I used Loctite on the gearbox screws, the motor mounting screws and the blade guard mounting screws.
Now, I am not going to spend much time describing how to setup a miter saw: there are plenty of websites that do that! In fact, I’ll include some links at the end of this chapter that show exactly that. I am more concerned with sharing the specific problems of the HF SCMS saw and what I did to solve them.
Other reviews mention this saw being adjusted perfectly out of the box. Not mine! A trial cut showed that the blade was not perpendicular to the fence or the table. I started with the table adjustments. There are two stops – one for 90 and one for 45. I had a tough time trying to adjust these – the adjustment would get close, then “jump” suddenly. I finally fixed this by dismounting the bolts they used for stops and filing the raised identification letters off the heads of these bolts. Once the heads of the bolts were smooth, I had no trouble dialing the adjustment in perfectly.
I had a helluva time adjusting the blade perpendicular to the fence. I started by locking the slide in the rear-most position, effectively making the saw behave like a fixed miter saw. I adjusted the fence perpendicular to the blade and made a couple of trial cuts on small pieces of wood – it looked good. However, when I released the slide and did a trial cut on a 2X12, the cut was not square! The blade didn’t seem to be tracking the slides. In other words, the blade didn’t seem to be exactly parallel with the slide travel. There are no adjustments on this saw for blade tracking.
At this point, the saw almost went back to Harbor Freight. But I had already spent a day and a half working on this saw. If I returned the saw and traded it for another I would have to repeat all the work I had done so far. I sat down with the assembly drawings in the manual and tried to figure out where any tracking error might come from.
The sliding tubes ride in linear bearings in the casting that swivels for bevel cuts. The head that holds the motor, swivel and blade is attached to the end of these slide tubes with two setscrews. A cap at the back end of the slide tubes keeps the tubes parallel and is also fastened with two setscrews. If one of the slide tubes was not fully inserted into the head before the setscrews were tightened, then the that would cock the head and leave the blade at an angle to the slide travel.
So I loosened all 4 setscrews and applied a bar clamp along the axis of each slide tube. I then retightened the setscrews (again, with Loctite). I also changed the way I set the blade perpendicular to the fence. Rather than just setting it static with the slides at the rear end of travel, I ran the slides through their full range of motion and made sure that the blade was traveling perpendicular to the fence. After I had it adjusted this way, I checked the blade to make sure it was perpendicular to the fence at the far end of slide travel in both directions.
Success! A trial cut on another 2X12 showed that the cut was square!
Altogether it took about 2 calendar days (I couldn’t work on the miter saw exclusively) to tune this saw up to my satisfaction. And I haven’t even touched the laser guide yet! Note that, at this point, I haven’t really used the saw. I bought this saw because I have a project in mind where I need its capabilities. Next weekend, I will see if I can actually use the saw to do real work. I’ll update this blog with the results.
Miter saw tuneup:
Specific HF miter saw tips:
-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"