Panel Saw - First use impression (long)

Recently, we had a running thread on the wisdom and value of a panel saw in the workshop. I had the opportunity yesterday evening to use one, for the first time, and thought I would share my impressions.
By way of background, I'm an enthusiast, not a woodworking professional. In my early 50's, I've done rough and finish carpentry, masonry and almost every kind of home repair since my early years. (Except major electrical and gas. I hire pros for that stuff.) I took my first shop courses in furniture and cabinetry since junior high school 2 1/2 years ago, and have been completely hooked since.
The adult ed program bought one of these last summer: The Milwaukee Vertical Panel saw, with extensions, as listed at: http://store.yahoo.com/toolsplus/mlw6480-20.html
It is an impressive sight, and seems quite well made. The frame and rack are square tube aluminum. The rollers for the saw frame are large, and enable one person to easily move the whole saw easily. This is a good thing, because our shop, like almost every other one I've seen, is smaller than we would like. We end up having to shuffle equipment to get adequate room to work larger panels. More on this in a moment.
The operation of the equipment is pretty smooth, although there is some stiffness in some of the latching mechanisms, likely because ours has not yet seen a lot of use. The saw sled is well counterbalanced, and stays where you put it, even before locking down to the rails. There are in- place measuring rules, which matched up well with the marks I'd made earlier, with a carpenter's tape.
Last evening's project was to get the carcase cuts made for a pair of upper wall cabinets, such as one would use in a kitchen. These are prototypes for the kitchen re-do on the near horizon, the initial project for an adult ed cabinet-making class (pocket joinery) and intended for storage in the garage-turned-workshop. I had purchased, about 6 weeks ago, a 4x8x3/4" sheet of 'Chinese Birch ply', 13-layer, and factory finished with a water- based poly. Standing in the sheet goods rack, almost everyone who saw it commented on how good this stuff looked. I hope(d) it would be an answer to a problem of space and time, in doing my kitchen cabinets.
I'm tempted to blame the storage in my shop, because this stuff was no longer flat, when I laid it on the panel saw. We've had some warmer than usual weather, and the garage has been almost Texas-like, unusual for Northern California. By the way, this is a HEAVY sheet of wood - as heavy as good quality MDF. It took two people to load it into the pickup, and two to unload it. It also took two people to move it across the saw, to rip cut as the cut list required. This was, I thought, one of the prime reasons for the panel saw - 1 man operation on large sheets. Either that was a misconception on my part, or we were doing something wrong. Wouldn't be the first time for either.
The rip cuts were straight, however, with little, if any, burning, and then, only when we stopped moving the sheet. Using a sharp blade, there was minimal splintering of the (very thin) veneer. The cross cuts were easier, because the stock stayed in one place, and the saw sled moved. The saw had plenty of power for the tasks we gave it.
We haven't figured out dust collection for this tool yet. While we have a large cyclone and 6" ducting), this saw hasn't been connected to the system yet. As such, cleaning up took much longer than setting up and making the cuts. And this plywood yields a fine, powdery dust that doesn't settle right away. I'm ordering a mask this evening.
So, would I use this tool again? Given that I am going to have a kitchen's worth of cabinets to do, and probably 10 or 12 sheets of 3/4" ply to cut, I am ambivalent. Even with no-cash-cost use of this tool, I don't know that it offers enough benefit for me to haul everything down to the school shop. I think that pulling the sheets out of the back of the pickup truck, onto a cutting table set up on sawhorses, and rough cutting with a circular saw and clamped guide makes at least as much sense. From there on to a work cart, and then to the cabinet saw for the finish cuts means less material handling. And more importantly, I don't have to wait for a helper with a strong back.
With larger sheets, more cross-cutting vs rip cutting, more room to manuever stock, more production-type work, I can see where this tool could be useful. But not for me. YMMV.
I will use prefinished birch ply when I do the finish cabinet run, although I will spend more for the better grade next time. I paid maybe $45 for this sheet.
Patriarch
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patriarch wrote: snippage...

snippage...
snippage...
Actually, you can blame the lack of flatness on the fact that it's plywood.
UA100
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Is ApplePly likely to be any better? The prefinished product seems to be a real benefit for me, due to my lack of space for finishing the assembled cabinets, or the cut materials, for that matter.
Patriarch
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"Before" you start the cabinet project... read this article and pay very close attention to his jigs...
http://www.taunton.com/finewoodworking/pages/w00035.asp
Nice write up on a very cool device:
patriarch < wrote:

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Thanks, Pat. I've been using a carpenter's level, clamped to the plywood, and a large framing style circular saw. The saw was/is a reminder of the 'more is much better' mindset from carpentry projects.
The jigs in this article are very clever. Thanks for the link.
Patriarch
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