|Review by ferstler||posted 10-12-2008 05:38 PM||34531 views||0 times favorited||14 comments|
I am reasonably new to woodworking, if one can call getting into it seriously only four years ago as “new.” I will also note that it was four years ago that I retired from a 35-year career at a university library. Once I retired I told my wife that I wanted to get a few tools so that it would be easier to do home-improvement projects. One thing led to another and now I have a workshop full of tools.
My woodworking neophyte status notwithstanding, I am not new to reviewing products, because for many years I reviewed audio components for two different hobby magazines, wrote commentary essays for them, published four books on A/V, and did the technical editing work for the 2005 edition of The Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound. While not a pro-grade woodworker or carpenter by any means, I do have an ability to spot quality in consumer products.
Anyway, my first miter saw, purchased three years ago, was a little Ryobi unit that I paid $99 bucks for at Home Depot. I still have the thing and it works fine for rough-and-tumble projects. I used it (along with a number of other tools, of course) to build a ramp up to a pre-existing deck so that the disabled lady who owned the deck could drive her wheelchair into her back yard. I even know a contractor who owns one, because it is not as likely to be stolen out of his truck as a more upscale unit.
My second miter saw was a 10-inch slider made by GMC that I picked up at Lowe’s for $190. I do not want to bad mouth the item too seriously, but it did have problems. For example, at the notched zero degree point it was off about a degree and a half. Not good for precision work, but I suppose passable for carpentry. It also did not have a motor-brake feature, which was annoying as hell. In any case, I ended up giving the thing to a neighbor, who manages to get good use out of it.
My third miter saw was the one I am reviewing here: a Ridgid, 12-inch model MS1290LZ sliding compound model. (Made in China, the saw might be coated with lead-based paint, so I advise against chewing on any of its parts.) Many of you have probably noticed this saw when you visited Home Depot, because of its large table size and hefty, 70-pound weight. This is a large item and not a miter saw for users who are not serious about crosscutting, cutting angles, and cutting bevels. For some time this saw had Home Depot prices ranging from $595 down to $549. However, one day I dropped by and it was on sale for $499. I could not let that deal pass. At least that is what I told my wife.
My first two miter saws were mounted on a $100 Wolfcraft stand that had folding legs and two almost useless wheels. I ended up removing the top part of that stand and installing it on a shop-built stand made of 2×4s, with four 4-inch caster-style wheels on the leg bottoms. This is a heavy, sturdy, non-folding stand that can easily be rolled out onto the big deck adjacent to my small shop out in the back yard. It is perfect for the big Ridgid unit and handles the weight easily. (I can also shoehorn my small Ryobi folding jobsite saw under the stand for storage.) Ridgid also offers its own stand for the unit (a new version of this stand recently appeared), and it certainly looks adequate. I passed on getting that, opting for my shop-built version instead, because in my small shop I store my folding jobsite saw under the shop-built stand and the Ridgid version would not allow that to be done.
The MS1290LZ itself has some great features, most notably the ability to miter out to 62 degrees on either side. It can also bevel 45 degrees to either side, and the movement of the unit during set ups out to those angles is quite smooth. The bevel and miter scales are easy to read and the unit even has a special guide attached to the miter scale that offers settings for cutting crown moldings.
The upper parts of the fence are adjustable for width, which is a good thing, since the offset, belt-driven motor can still bump those sections on the left side when doing extreme miter or bevel cuts. Fortunately, those fence tops are easy to adjust. The sliding rails holding the saw assembly are plenty stiff and that assembly moves smoothly as one uses them for longer cuts. Speaking of long cuts, the 90-degree crosscutting ability of the unit is 13.5 inches. While not record breaking, this reach is certainly a bit above average for saws of this type.
The unit came with a rotating-style, laser-aim device that screws against the blade. While I am sure that it works OK, I passed on installing it, because it is not something that would work well for me with the daytime outdoor work I usually do. In addition, it only turns on when the blade is spinning, which makes it awkward (and maybe even a bit dangerous) to adjust workpieces for accurate, laser-set-up cuts. I normally just move the blade edge into position just above the workpiece with the saw turned off and determine my cutting point by simple line of sight.
Speaking of the blade, the saw came with a carbide version that cuts decently. However, I replaced it with a Freud Industrial blade specifically designed for miter work, although I keep the Ridgid OEM blade on hand for cutting “chancy” materials.
The unit comes with a remarkably good hold-down clamp. Most competing versions require the user to wind and wind the clamp knob to get it into position. While the Ridgid has a clamp knob, too, it also has a quick-release feature that allows one to get it into position quickly before tightening the binder. This is a really good touch. The unit does not have side-mounted extensions for stabilizing longer boards. The MS1290LZ is so large and heavy that the company probably figured that most users would mount it on a stand that had its own outriggers.
The saw comes with a depth-of-cut adjustment cam mounted on the side, and although I have not used mine, I can see that it is easy to adjust and seems to be built with a reasonable degree of precision. The cam also doubles as the lock-down clamp when transporting the unit via the handle on top of the assembly. Note that with its 70-pound weight this saw is not in the same portability category as my little Ryobi unit, or most other miter saws, either. It is more of a shop miter saw (or deck miter saw in my case) than an easily transportable tool.
Most regular (non-sliding) miter saws manage dust routing fairly well. The location of the feed end of the dust port and the fact that the blade always sits in the same relation to the workpiece and the port allows for good dust routing. Things are different with sliding-type saws, because the dust-port entry has to be able to clear the workpiece when sliding cuts are done. As a consequence, sliders tend to scatter dust wildly during cuts.
I somewhat solved this problem by making some different length, two-inch wide, curve-sided “deflectors” out of thin metal sheeting. These vary in length and I can quickly remove or remove and replace them by means of a drilled hole and wing nut I installed in the bottom of the dust port entry. With the longest deflector installed I can cut 2×4, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10, and 2×12 boards without much dust scatter at all. For thicker boards I simply swap out to a shorter deflector. With thinner boards the long deflector still works pretty good. Of course, all bets are off when doing bevel cutting, and you have to be careful that a deflector that works OK at 90 degrees does not get skinned up when the blade is tilted over for bevelling.
Rather than just have dust spew out of the port in the back (or go into a bag that clogs up almost immediately) I have a 2.5-inch shop-vac hose running from the saw down to a fitting on my shop-built stand. I can connect a small, GMC dust-collector unit to that fitting via a 4-inch hose and it will blow the dust out into the grass-free, wooded lot that surrounds my workshop. (The cheap GMC, while not suitable as a shop-located dust collector, works fine in this context.)
The only other minor problem I encountered with the saw involved the flip-up bevel release lever on the back side. The fitting it snugged down against was not machined all that smooth, so the lever was a bit stiff to move. I partially dismanted the control and, using a file and an oil stone, managed to polish the contact surface to the point where the reassembled lever works very smoothly.
Overall, even though I am a relative newcomer to the hobby, as best I can tell this is a superb miter saw. It is not small enough and light enough to be a tossable, do-all jobsite tool, but for those who want a shop miter saw (or one that can be rolled out onto a deck), it is probably pretty much a state-of-the-art item.