Panel Saw Experiences?

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I got sucked into helping build sets for my son's high school show choir. I was truly frightened by what I saw. People with little to no experience were wrestling 4x8 sheets of plywood across a little jobsite table saw to rip strips about 18" wide. Then they'd crosscut the strips they had ripped - no sled or anything - just put the end against the fence and go at it. Only the large size of the panels and the low power of the saw saved them from being hurt by the several kickbacks that occured. But they just stayed at it.
The sets change each year, so this is an annual project. I expect to be involved for four years. Something's got to change. I think the answer is a dedicated panel saw like the ones they use at the borg to cut plywood. Milwaukee makes one that seems to go for about $1,500. Our budget is pretty generous, so I think I could talk them into the investment. Question is, Is this the saw I need? Anyone have experience with Milwaukee's panel saw? It's marketed as a commercial use rig, but it's still about half of the cost of Powermatic's panel saw. Are there others I should consider?
DonkeyHody "Every man is my superior in that I can learn from him." - Thomas Carlyle
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This sounds like a job for Festool.
I recommend one of their circular saws with the appropriate length guide rails. Their large multi-function table would also help.
http://www.festoolusa.com /
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Sat, Dec 22, 2007, 5:14pm (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@bellsouth.net (DonkeyHody) doth query: <snip> Question is, Is this the saw I need? <snip>
The saw that YOU need? Thought is was for the school? They would be paying for it, right?
Probably better to buy the ply at Lowes and have them cut it on their panel saw. If those people are as inept as you claim, it would take a full-time keeper to keep them from hurting someone. That gonna be you? And, if it is you, who's gonna do it after your 4 years? I'd think a circular sa and straightedge would answer the problem better than a panel saw, cheaper, nd probably safer too. Actually, all they'd need is a straight line to follow, and could probably do without the streight edge.
Out of curiosity, you saw them using the saw like that, and just let them proceed?
JOAT My memory is not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory is not as sharp as it used to be.
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On Dec 22, 7:55 pm, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (J T) wrote:

OK, I guess I should have said we, or even they. Right now, I'm the only one pushing the panel saw idea. The show choir would be funding the purchase.

You don't understand. So far, we've been through about 40 sheets of plywood. No way the borg is going to cut all that into the gajillion different sizes of panels we need. Besides, some of the stuff is designed on the fly. We don't even know what all the dimensions are until we build the prototype.

Yes, I "let" them. Though they aren't woodworkers, some of them have been doing this for four years, and I'm the new kid on the block. I wasn't appointed boss of the group, although they are coming to recognize me as sort of a technical expert. I didn't take on the job as the Safety Nazi for the group. I'd rather change the group culture than alienate them by telling them they're stupid. I want to show them a way to do it safely while maintaining the production they have now. And running the sheets across the table saw is undeniably faster than marking and clamping a straightedge for each cut.
This activity has been a paradigm shift for me too. At home in my shop, I work at my own pace and it takes as long as it takes. If it takes me three times as long to make a cut, I don't care as long as it's dead-on accurate. These folks are under a perpetual time crunch. There's always a deadline looming, and the sets have to be ready because the show must go on.
 
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I bought a Safety Speed Cut H-5 panel saw at an auction for $200 some years back. I didn't use it nearly as much as I thought I would, so I sold it on eBay some years later and quadrupled my money. I had it set up so my sheet stock was stored vertically, of course, behind the saw and I could slide out a sheet and slide it onto the saw to make my cuts. It kept handling to a minimum, but it still wasn't the ticket for me.
For your application I'd agree with some of the other replies - the standard straightedge rip guide used with a circular saw. http://wayneofthewoods.com/circular-saw-cutting-guide.html I make the base plywood wide enough so I can use both sides of the rip guide - one side for each side of the circular saw so I can run the saw on either side of the fence. They're cheap, you can make several so several people can be cutting at once if necessary, they take up no room to speak of and they minimize/eliminate splintering if that's any concern.
R
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OK, I guess I should have said we, or even they. Right now, I'm the only one pushing the panel saw idea. The show choir would be funding the purchase.
I know you said their budget was generous, but I think you should be approaching this from a different perspective. Just because a panel saw might be used doesn't mean that accidents can't happen. Careless or inexperienced people on a cheap table saw translates to the same careless or inexperienced people on a panel saw. Give an inexperienced or careless person a chance and they will find a way to hurt themselves every time.
Print out a half dozen graphic tablesaw amputations and take them in with you. Then sit them down and instruct them on proper tablesaw usage. You might suggest upgrading to a better tablesaw, but with the addition of some infeed and outfeed tables (assuming there's enough workspace available), that 'generous' budget might be applied to some other needy area in the theatre.
Apparently, you're the 'technical expert' on site now. Put that status to use and save someone a painful, terrifying injury, not to mention the shock that will go through the rest of the group when it happens. As well, you'd be struggling with the guilt for not doing this instruction the rest of your life. Make the most important contribution to this theatre group that you can.
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If safety is a concern and a generous budget is available, how about a Sawstop?
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I started a similar thread few weeks back but had as much luck getting some useful advice as you so far - just a few replies not really on the subject - of what panel saw to buy? I see that there is a trend here to suggest straight edge and rotary saw approach or track systems like Festool or Eurekazone. I have just bought the Eurekazone system and after spending some $500 for the saw and router attachments I see that the key (as I thought) is the method of holding the 4x8 sheet and consistently making perpendicular cuts. No straight edge or track system will provide that - you need a panel saw - end of story. For my shop the other key feature of the panel saw over the other horizontal approach is the small space that is required to slice the big panel. The vertical placement will save have of my shop floor space.
As far as panel saw manufacturers I see two choices: Milwaukee or Trax. I think that both of them come to the same price of ~$2000 after you include extensions to support 4x8 panels and dust collection. The advantage of Trax is that it has router attachment and is powder coated. -Peter
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pzi wrote:

There are at least three shop made panel saw designs out there, one from Rockler (which I believe was originally published in Woodworkers' Journal) and two from Shop Notes, that if labor is free might be significantly cheaper than the Milwaukee or Trax. I've not used any of them so have no idea how well they work, but might be worth a look. I believe the Rockler and the one from Shop Notes #4 require that one move the panel for horizontal cuts while the one from Shop Notes #88 has a moving carriage.
The Rockler plans and parts kit can be ordered from http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?pageS11&filter=panel%20saw .
http://books.google.com/books?idhxoDkQ2UAUC&pg=PP15&lpg=PP15&dq=shop+built+panel+saw&source=web&ots=Mv9oVp6Bn-&sig=xnxtqXg1_GmPMOItSDtEN0OdnrM#PPT19,M1 has a partial copy of the article in which it was described (at least I _think_ it's the same tool).
The Shopnotes #4 design can be had from http://plansnow.com/dn3087.html and the hardware kit from http://www.woodsmithstore.com/panelsawkit.html
There's a video of the one from Shop Notes 88 in action at http://www.shopnotes.com/issues/088/videos/the-ultimate-shop-built-panel-saw/ but no plans or hardware kit as yet. If you don't have issue 88 you can get it in bound volume 15 from http://www.shopnotes.com/issues/volume-15 /.
--
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--John
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On Wed, 26 Dec 2007 08:18:53 -0500, "J. Clarke"

IIRC, the OP indicated that budget wasn't a problem (wish I were in that position) so a purchased panel saw is probably where he wants to go. But I built the SN#4 panel saw and have been extremely pleased with the results.
It is correct that horizontal cuts require rotating the saw 90 degrees in the carriage and sliding the panel. As a result, I find myself using the straight edge/circular saw technique for cuts longer than 4'. I'll have to take a look at the SN#88 version with an idea toward replacing the SN#4 version.
Tom Veatch Wichita, KS USA
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RE: Subject
SFWIW, have had very good luck with an 18VDC DeWalt unit.
Not having to screw around with a power cord in a panel saw application is a BIG plus IMHO.
YMMV.
BTW, not stuck with DeWalt, but it does a good job.
Lew
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Lew Hodgett said:

Errr... Lew, I think they are talking about a panel saw. Usually a horizontal apparatus / wall mounted thing you straddle a large sheet onto and it has a track guided saw which cuts the panels to size - without requiring the ability required to mark or cut a straight line with a circular saw. Machinery replaces the non-existent skill.
As for me, I'd opt for a straightedge and a circular saw. And if they only cut a few pieces per session, perhaps a cordless one. But I'm a cheapskate.
Greg G.
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"Greg G." wrote:

Oh, you mean that piece of clap-trap you find at the Borg, I stand corrected.
Guess I always associated small circular saws and "panel saw" as one and the same.

I'm with you; however, I become very spoiled.
Not having to screw around with power cords is a very BIG plus for me.
It no longer is a luxury, it's a necessity.
Lew
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On Sat, 22 Dec 2007 18:58:31 -0800, "Lew Hodgett"

Same here. I cut on the floor, on my knees, on 2" blue foam. With a good blade, the thing goes a long time. With two batteries, I can't cut fast enough to fall behind the charger. On the other hand, a very nice surround (infeed / outfeed table), as well as a proper shop-made splitter, could be built to hold the jobsite saw that could make ripping long sheets easy and much safer.
I also like the previously mentioned ideas of watching auctions for a good panel saw cheap!
As far as crosscutting with the fence... That's where Donkey Hody comes in with some OJT! <G>
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I will have to disagree with many of the respondents up to now. If you (or the choir) have the money to do so, I would go ahead and purchase the panel saw. Unfortunately, I don't have experience with either of the ones you mention. IMO, turning several people with questionable safety practices loose with a bunch of handheld circular saws just isn't a good idea. Not that a panel saw is 100% safe, mind you, but I think it's a better choice. Circular saws and straightedge guides are great (I have one) around the shop for a few sheets, but if you're cutting 40 at a time, I really think you're into panel saw territory.
todd
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DH,
I have read the entire thread. I think a panel saw is one of the safest ways to go. I have always wanted one and may take the home made route (Search Rockler.com for "panel saw plan"). I am always happy when I can solve a problem by woodworking!
Montyhp
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Thanks to all for the replies. When I'm in my own shop, and need to cut a full-size sheet of plywood, I lay some 2x4s on the floor, measure 1/4 oversize and clamp a straightedge, cut with a hand-held circular saw, then re-cut to final dimensions on my table saw (which is equipped with outfeed and side extensions). But I'm undeniably anal about woodworking and the extra time required to go through all those steps is of no consequence to me. And I know how to place the 2x4s on the floor to support the sheet without pinching the blade. I see all sorts of opportunities for disaster if we put people who may have never held a circular saw before in that situation. My very next order of business is to build outfeed and side extensions for the group's existing table saw. But it still will be a barely tolerable solution. The extension tables will take up a lot of much needed room and the available horizontal surface will immediately become a catch- all for every tool, screw and coffee cup in the place. I still think a panel saw will be the safest and most productive alternative. Plus, it can live against a wall and won't take up so much space.
I spent most of Friday building a proper stand for their compound miter saw. When I arrived on the scene a few weeks ago, the miter saw was on the floor, and they would stack scraps on the floor to hold up the dangling ends of the board. Now, with 4 feet of table on either side of the saw and a full-length fence, we can clamp a stop to the fence instead of measuring and marking each piece. There are so many opportunities for improvement that it's hard to know where to start.
DonkeyHody "Every man is my superior in that I can learn from him." - Thomas Carlyle
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On Sun, 23 Dec 2007 05:43:31 -0800 (PST), DonkeyHody

Luckily, they have you.
You never know, you may save a serious injury and/or inspire a future woodworker.
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Thanks to all for the replies. When I'm in my own shop, and need to cut a full-size sheet of plywood, I lay some 2x4s on the floor, measure 1/4 oversize and clamp a straightedge, cut with a hand-held circular saw, then re-cut to final dimensions on my table saw (which is equipped with outfeed and side extensions). But I'm undeniably anal about woodworking and the extra time required to go through all those steps is of no consequence to me. And I know how to place the 2x4s on the floor to support the sheet without pinching the blade. I see all sorts of opportunities for disaster if we put people who may have never held a circular saw before in that situation. My very next order of business is to build outfeed and side extensions for the group's existing table saw. But it still will be a barely tolerable solution. The extension tables will take up a lot of much needed room and the available horizontal surface will immediately become a catch- all for every tool, screw and coffee cup in the place. I still think a panel saw will be the safest and most productive alternative. Plus, it can live against a wall and won't take up so much space.
I spent most of Friday building a proper stand for their compound miter saw. When I arrived on the scene a few weeks ago, the miter saw was on the floor, and they would stack scraps on the floor to hold up the dangling ends of the board. Now, with 4 feet of table on either side of the saw and a full-length fence, we can clamp a stop to the fence instead of measuring and marking each piece. There are so many opportunities for improvement that it's hard to know where to start.
DonkeyHody "Every man is my superior in that I can learn from him." - Thomas Carlyle
Boy are they lucky to have you involved! It seems that the key is to get them to understand the potential dangers and low quality results from doing things the wrong way and the rewards from doing things the correct way.
I recently started to help the theater department at the local high school and can't even get them to drill pilot holes for screws. The culture passed down from class to class is strange. The kids seem to develop pride from being able to do something the wrong way even if the right way is easier to achieve and produces much better results.
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Dear Donkey,
(Always wanted to say that)
Kudos to you for your support of youth activities. They all need more folks like you.
Another parallel idea.
I had a class that did some work with Habitat for Humanity, which makes a habit of working with unskilled volunteers for construction.
Their power saw of choice was a miter saw. I was impressed. It's a lot safer than a circular saw or a table saw, and the design practically prevents kick backs.
A panel saw (frame type) could be made too, I think I've seen numerous shop tips about how to do it, and I'm sure would be safer than the present lash up.
Another thought would be to identify the panel saw as a "SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS WEAPON" and allow only properly safety briefed (oops, the mental picture of that isn't what I meant) persons to operate it. Lesser lights could cut the plywood pieces to length, and assemble them.
Merry Christmas
Old Guy

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