(If you read this blog this morning, you can find the update just below… next to the BOLD letters that spell “update”)
I learned a long time ago that the most important part of a table saw besides the blade, motor, splitter/riving knife, zero clearance insert, blade guard, out feed table and wings is… the fence. (Don’t hold me to that order of importance.) But most table saws either don’t come with a fence, or don’t come with a good one. To me, that’s like buying a car and finding out the steering wheel isn’t included.
A couple of years ago I bought a nice after market fence. It’s a “T” style, the kind invented by that guy who’s name nobody can spell (Bes…Bessy…Betsy…something). It’s a good ‘ol fence, I can’t complain. But I’m the kind of guy who HAS to try and improve everything. For some reason I always think I can make everything better if I glue something to it or cut something off. Just the other day I put a new MDF door on the refrigerator. My wife wasn’t impressed, especially because the refrigerator was brand new. But I insisted that it was better because I had “customized” it.
Now I have my eyes set on my table saw fence (at least the one that isn’t swollen shut).
When I bought the sucker, I really wanted one of those Incra setups that uses a lead screw to give you dead on, repeatable cuts. But have you ever seen what those things cost?
I looked at one, then I looked at my wallet, then I looked at my round belly, and I opted for Taco Bell and a trip to Rockler where I finagled a good deal on an Xacta Fence. I insisted that he knock $100 off just because I hate when companies change the spelling of a word just to make something sound unique. Where I come from, it’s spelled “exacta”...
Anywho… This fence has worked well for two years now, but at night I still dreamed of a magical land where an Incra positioner would satisfy all of my woodworking needs. To make a long story slightly less long, I came upon two things at my local Woodcraft. Free coffee, and the clearance table. The coffee was good, you should try it some time. But on the table was a glowing box of pure magic. The Pinnacle Positioner, clearanced out for 99 bucks. I rushed back to the shop and did what every woodworker does when faced by a difficult decision. I got Charles Neil’s opinion. Turns out he did a demo of this little beauty a while back, and since his work always looks better than mine, I had to have it. (The Pinnacle Positiner is the Woodcraft labeled Incra Lite)
$99 and another grilled stuffed burrito later, I had it on my bench. Now came the tricky part. It’s actually not designed for the table saw. It’s a router fence system. Think that’s gonna stop me from strapping it to my saw? Heck no! I plan on using the repeatable accuracy of this baby to make my 2-year old fence at least half as good as the Incra setup I originally wanted. So I set to building a little platform for the Positioner that would ride along the fence rail. The idea is to move it to the nearest foot, lock it down, and then use it to adjust the fence. The positioner has an interlocking thread system which automatically adjusts your eyeballed settings to the nearest 1/32”, making exact measurements repeatable. It also has a micro adjust knob for even more accuracy.
Here’s the rub. The positioner has 14” of adjustabillity, thus the need to position it on the rail to the nearest foot. But that little motion compromises your repeatable accuracy. Take an 18” rip for example. I would slide the fence and positioner along the rail to the 24”, where I’d lock down the positioner with a simple cam lever. Then I would slide the fence itself back to the 18” mark using the scale on the positioner. When I flip the lever on the positioner, it will lock that fence in to the nearest 1/32”. Then I can make my cut, maybe make another at 14”, a third at 22”... and then I can come right back to my 18” cut and it will be exactly the same as the first one. Perfect repeatabillity without the standard few thousandths of an inch that comes from human error. BUT- suppose I want to make a 8” cut somewhere in there. Since the positioner only has a foot of movement, I would have to unlock it from the rail, move it to the 12” mark, and use that as my reference point to adjust for my 8” cut. My repeatabillity is spoiled when that positioner is moved, because it has no positive stop along the rail. It’s only as accurate as my eyeballs when moving it from the nearest 1’, 2’, 3’ and so on. That makes it little better than the original fence without the positioner.
The answer, of course, is to make some type of positive stops along the fence rail. But I can see no way of doing it without drilling some holes in the rail itself. Then, what if it doesn’t work as planned? I’ll be forever reminded of my hair-brained idea by a row of holes, spaced every foot along the fence rail.
Stay tuned because this sucker is also going to be adapted for my router table, drill press, band saw, and I might find a way to use it for micro adjustments on that refrigerator door.
UPDATE: I solved my problem and it’s working like a charm. I just bit the bullet and drilled three holes in the front rail of my existing fence system. These three holes provide positive stops at 1’, 2’ and 3’ from the blade. And I also tapped the holes so that the indexing pin on the positioner base also tightens the whole thing in place with a simple twist.
So, to get dead on, repeatable cuts I just slide the whole unit (fence and positioner) over to the nearest foot, tighten the indexing knob, and then use the positioner’s scale to set the fence to the exact measurement. Then you push the levers to lock everything in place and start cutting. If I need to adjust a hair or two, I unlock the fence only, and turn the microadjust knob, relock the fence and go.
I used it to build my box joint machine today (that will be part of this weekend’s show) and already love it. Of course, it adds a few more steps when compared to the simple cam on the original fence. But if I’m in a hurry, I can just leave the positioner unlocked and use my fence like I always did. There’s no need to remove the positioner from the rail.
Here’s a sketchup view of the final result…
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