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Fix this machine… interwebs… and aren’t rules meant to be broken?

7 Apr

Not a couple days after posting on how to buy used tools I went out and purchased a used scroll saw.

And didn’t I go and break some of my own rules because I was too excited about the price being lower than anything I’d seen. It was a 20″ Dewalt scroll saw.

This is the exact model. Picture it more “used” though.

I did my research first, that went fine. I found out that Dewalt was what I wanted from reading reviews, and 20″ was sufficient for me. I saw that retail would be too costly, and opted for used. I was super excited  when I saw that one had turned up on my local classifieds website. No other dewalts had turned up. And it was a great price; $175 when it sells for around $500 retail. I couldn’t find much info on assessing scroll saws, so  I went in with the general idea of checking that it worked, the motor was fine, and that the cut line wasn’t misshapen by a blade that was off alignment.

Normally I go to see a potential tool with the assumption that it might be in bad shape and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. This time I was TOO excited. I didn’t insist on testing the tool, I was content with watching the owner do a test cut in front of me. I inspected the cut and thought, well the motor works, the cut is good, what else do I need to make a decision?! So I bought it. A direct quote from my blog post…” I also ALWAYS insist on testing the item. If the person doesn’t want me to touch it, or limits my time assessing it-that’s a red flag.”

I got home and plugged it in- excited to play around. When I turned up the speed above number 5 I started to hear a distinct clacking sound. I was upset. I thought ” oh &%#$ I’ve been had!”. I proceeded to get upset at myself for not following my own rules. Then I started to face the music and opened up the scroll saw to get down to fixing the problem. When I opened it up it wasn’t obvious what the problem was and how to solve it. No loose or errant parts.

So I turned to the internet as I often do in such times and I found the answer within 4 minutes! So I thought I would share it as it might help others!

Apparently this knocking, clacking or clicking is common on dewalt scroll saws and the solution takes 10minutes to implement. This is the link to the forum that had a posting on the topic, and this  is the link that ultimately has the answer. He also posted a parts diagram list here.

Turns out that if you remove the front assembly you gain access to the rods that propel the blade up and down like a sewing machine. The top rod simply is too short and is knocking into the housing on the up swing. To lengthen the rod you give it one full counter clockwise turn, replace the assembly and you’re done! The article says that you repeat the counter clockwise turn until it does work, but just the one turn worked for me.

Funny enough, I probably wouldn’t have bought the machine if I’d followed my usual ways and tested it myself and heard the clacking. I also would have missed out on a perfectly healthy machine at a good price as it turned out to be a simple fix. Sometimes things just work out! EXCEPT I missed an excellent bargaining point to bring the price down further.

Lesson to all you out there shopping for used tools– testing a machine/tool yourself, and taking your time assessing it no matter how excited you are really keeps you from getting the wool pulled over your eyes. People will try to trick you!

Buying used tools… how to come away smiling

31 Mar

Since I was asked recently about buying tools second hand, here’s some info on how I get some great deals.

First things first

When I see the need for purchasing a tool, I do research. I look up the brands that are popular, the stores that are closest, and check the retail prices. Then I choose the quality range that I want to target, most times I don’t go absolute best quality, but mid-range, or bottom mid-range. From there I decide whether buying the tool new is the best option. In most cases if the tool is $150 and under I feel better getting it brand new with a warranty / guarantee than buying used. That is if I plan on using the tool often enough. If it’s a one off project then I might consider buying used for tools that go for $150 and under. Sometimes I also veto buying used because I want that particular machine to have a predictably long and accurate life. Buying used can be risky after all in terms of how much life is left in the tool (for power tools anyway).

Pricing it right…

Once I’ve decided that I want to buy used I figure out the MOST current and available price for the tool brand new (retail value). Once I have this number, I halve it. The tool should go for half of the retail value when buying used, unless it’s a tool that has a high resale value or is almost new. I confirm the “used” price by hitting the classified ad websites and looking up that specific tool and/or similar items. I average out my findings to get my final estimated value of the tool.

But which one do I choose…

Much like choosing a car, brands and year models play a large role in weeding out the good from the bad. Since I have a subscription to a woodworking website, I search for a review on the different brands of the tool and go from there. Another way to source this info is to ask “tool people” in your network which brands are reliable. My FAVOURITE way to choose between brands though, and I do this to validate info I may already have, is to search the web for customer reviews on retail websites. If there are enough customer reviews, and you can see patterns in them, then you know the reviews are reliable. For instance if several people are voicing complaints about a faulty part on the tool, then you know the product isn’t prime. But if the pattern is that most people couldn’t be happier, then bingo!

Buy local in order to run through your checklist…

I always try to find a guide of “things to look for when buying used” about each tool I purchase. The woodworking subscription I have has been very fruitful in this regard, but message boards can help, your friend network again can help, and general searches on the web. I jot down a small list that fits in the palm of my hand for when I go to see the tool. I ask the hard questions and see if the person selling the item is flippant or giving direct responses.  I also ALWAYS insist on testing the item. If the person doesn’t want me to touch it, or limits my time assessing it-that’s a red flag.

General check list for power tools or stationary machines 

Plug it in, see if it works well- test it with wood you brought

Are all the parts there and in good condition- or will you need to repair or replace some

Are the bearings in good shape, are there any grinding sounds when turned manually

Are there sparks coming out of the motor housing or burning smells

Are the belts in good condition

Is there  runout, slop, or do the settings on the machine not hold well

If there are flat tables on the tool, check to see that they really are flat


This is a tough one. My general way of going about this is to figure out if there is a bargaining point to be had or if the tool is actually in great shape and well within the seller’s asking price. I usually ask why the seller is selling the item, this question is great for haggling- it makes sellers squirm and sometimes the seller will reveal more than they should have, but this is also good for you as you don’t want to buy something with any hidden problems. If there is a key issue that I am truly worried about I ask for a lower price. Or if my budget is tight. Generally if I find the item is well worth the asking price I don’t talk them down because I can’t justify it, and the seller usually knows that they could find someone else in a heart beat to sell to. But you get a feel for how negotiable a price is, sometimes it’s obvious. When I do haggle, I bring up the undesired issue as a bargaining point, and then make an offer. But before hand I go through my checklist, and give myself time to reflect on all of the variables. Strangely this silence from me is intimidating to sellers as they don’t know what I’m thinking. It tends to work in my favour. They want to sell after all, and the sooner the better.  If the seller accepts my offer then I follow through, if they counter offer I usually ask if it’s really their best offer. Sometimes they go lower, sometimes not, usually I accept their counter offer. But I will say; Haggling works best if you truly could walk away from the deal if the price is wrong. 

Once upon a Saw Stop… my Saw Stop review

27 Mar

First… the elephant

I have my reasons for choosing Saw Stop. I respect other’s reasons for not buying Saw Stop, and  I certainly respect those who don’t want governments to dictate whether their saw will have  saw stop technology.

I know how to avoid accidents on table saws, I’ve learnt all of the safe procedures. But the fact remains that table saws scare me. And I know that I am human, and human error is  a real thing. I don’t expect that having air bags in a car guarentees that you will not be seriously injured in a crash, but that they will improve the odds that you will be less badly injured than without. I imagine the Saw Stop is similar, I don’t really expect I’d be lightly grazed if I had a severe kickback and my hand went into the blade, but I hope my injury would be less severe than without the technology. In this respect I understand why goverments would want to interfere, it saves them money in the bigger scheme of things if people are less badly injured on table saws. It’s business for them. But for us woodworkers, it’s personal. We each have our own way of doing things. Ask a woodworker how they would go about something and you’ll likely get a different answer from each. From the tool, to the procedure, it’s all personal.

My Saw Stop 

Okay so now that the elephant in the room has been addressed ( I come in peace)  it’s time to get down to the review!

This is the model I purchased.

It's a 10" Professional Cabinet Saw 1.75hp 110v

It came with an industrial mobile base, and a 30″ premium fence. A blade guard came standard, as did a separate riving knife/ splitter.

Before buying… key points about the Saw Stop

I did research before purchasing, I’d read up on Saw Stop months before finally giving in. I still didn’t realize several details about the saw until I actually had it in my shop though. So here are some of those details.

You CAN cut wet wood and/or aluminum. On bypass mode. It’s simple to do once you memorize how to initiate bypass mode. I cut particle board that had been sitting in snow and I sliced right through wet patches. Bypass mode is deactivated as soon as you turn off the blade after your cut(s). The saw automatically returns to sensing flesh/metal/wet wood. After cutting conductive materials in bypass mode, you must check the blade for remnants of the conductive material. 

You can test materials to see if they are conductive. The system continues to monitor for flesh and other conductive materials in bypass mode. This means you can take test cuts of a dubious material in bypass mode, and if the red light flashes during the cut you will know that the brake would have activated if you had cut this conductive material in normal mode. If the red light doesn’t come on you know you can cut the material without triggering the brake.

You CAN cut green wood with the safety system activated. Saw Stop claims most wet or green woods can be cut without triggering the brake. And in fact the system is supposed to shut itself off  without use of the brake and display an overload code when the wood is too wet/green. BUT do the conductivity test first to make certain. And there is a warning that cutting really wet woods could interfere with detecting flesh.

The saw does a system check when you first power it on and the blade will not start if the system check reveals ANY errors (such as a brake cartridge installed incorrectly). The system is constantly checking itself also. This means rest assured the saw is detecting flesh and all systems are go when the blade  starts. The one exception being bypass mode.

The blade senses flesh even  in standby mode, when the blade is not on. The blade will not start until you remove your hand or any metal object from contacting the blade. I  found this out because I was squaring my blade with a metal square, and I noticed a red light started blinking whenever I touched the blade, and it would blink a beat or two after I’d removed the square from the blade. The blade wouldn’t start until the red blinking ceased.

Do not buy blades that have rust coatings on the teeth. Coatings such as lacquer on the teeth of the blade could prevent the saw stop system from detecting your flesh, or could slow the reaction time. I called customer service and they clarified that it is only the teeth that matter here, blades such as Freud’s that have the red coating on the body of the blade are okay.

The blades you buy must be at least 3/32 wide. This doesn’t prevent you from buying thin kerf blades, as a matter of fact I just bought one, but I made sure that it was 3/32 wide before buying. The force of the brake when it impacts the blade could cause problems with a thinner blade.

Dado stacks require a dedicated dado brake cartridge. This means that when changing between a 10″ blade and a dado stack, you also have to change brake cartridges. It is simple to do, but I have put off getting a dado stack because I’m hung up on the time it must add to blade changes.

The space between the brake and the blade must be between 1/16 and 1/8. If the space is too great the blade will take longer to stop in the case of brake activation. So I imagine that each time you change to a dado set this adjustment must be made (10″ to 8″ = a two inch adjustment).  A correction: the dado brake  cartridge makes up the 2″ difference, so the space between the dado stack and the dado brake will probably not need adjustments *forehead slap* . The adjustment tool has a home on the side of the saw, and there is a spacing tool to make it easy to adjust the gap.  Manually spin the blade by hand before turning the saw on to check that it is not touching the brake. If the blade is too close to the brake and they touch it will trigger the brake.

Dado sets must be 8″. Buying a 6″ dado set is not an option.  Again the brake would be too far from the blade.

Fit, finish… and the overall grade

I have found that the cut quality is very good on this saw. The motor is powerful enough for my needs so far. I find that the overall quality of the saw is excellent, the parts are solid and move smoothly and adjusting them is simple. I even found a user manual to print out for my mobile base very quickly on the saw stop website. I’ve bought products before where finding a user’s manual can be a nightmare. Instructions in the manuals are well illustrated and explained. The easy access to all of my accessories is a treat, and there are many minute details that factor in a woodworker’s needs, not just a woodworker’s safety. But sometimes both. One such example: there are two wrenches for changing the blade, each is bent  away from the blade to give your knuckles plenty of space while turning so that you don’t catch yourself on the blade. Overall grade A-, I’m quite happy with the saw, and have not regretted purchasing it.

The Guard

Easy to use, and it doesn't get in the way.

I really like the blade guard, it installs without a tool, a simple lever is used to lock it in and release it. The clear plastic  is removable and you can lock that in the down position by fitting it into some notches.  I keep it on for making most rips, except those lesser than 1  1/4″ wide. I made a thin push stick, but even this guard can’t allow you the space to rip really thin pieces. To Saw Stop’s credit they include plans in the back of their manual to build an auxiliary fence and push block for cutting thin strips- in order to keep the guard in use. There are also some plans for a push stick and feather board.

These are the notches that the clear plastic guard clips into with a spring mechanism.

The clear guard has three little flaps on either side that conform to the wood as it passes by the blade. I really appreciate this feature when I’m cutting 3″ thick stock because each flap comes back down independently of each other and covers the blade quicker than some other blade guards I’ve seen that are one large piece.

Here I'm demonstrating how the flaps move aside only where the wood contacts them, sometimes only lifting the guard on one side.

If the splitter weren’t enough, there are pawls to keep the wood from kicking back. I always keep them down when making cuts.

The pawls tend to get in the way when installing the throat plate, so I lift them up.

The riving knife

The riving knife is designed well, it tapers to it’ s final thickness, so that whether you have a thin kerf blade or a standard 1/8″ kerf blade, the wood will pass smoothly by the knife. When I was in school I learnt very quickly how annoying a poorly made riving knife could be- I once got stuck half way through a cut because the riving knife was thicker than the blade.

The riving knife is what I use during most cross cuts, I never use the saw without at least the riving knife in place.

Swapping the riving knife out for the blade guard is super easy with the toolless lever.

The throat plate

I find the throat plate finicky to put in place quickly. I’m used to home made throat plates that don’t require much more than dropping it into place. I haven’t gotten used to it yet. I love the set screws easily accessible from the TOP of the insert, saving lots of time when adjusting it flush with the table top.

It has a handle! I often don't quite get it registered in the back and the plate skews because it is split most of the way down the plate. One half of the back will lie flush and the other will get hung up on a screw and be 1/4" above the table. Then I start again.

I’m not sure how home made inserts will stand up to having a slit all the way up them, but I imagine if they are made out of a similar material (some kind of composite plastic) the inserts should do fine.

The fence

I have a 30″ premium fence. It’s the bottom of the line for Saw Stop 1.75hp saw and it’s actually not too bad at all. I wouldn’t mind having something heftier, but otherwise I enjoy the smoothness of it’s glide, it’s adjustable in all the ways you need, and it does the job.  I haven’t found it lacking. On an aesthetic level the silicone handle tends to get really dirty.

The cross-hairs are adjustable.

The miter guage

I like that the miter gauge has two slots for screws instead of two holes where you would attach a sacrificial fence. This saves a lot of time.

I leave screws and washers in the sacrificial fence and attach and detach it from the mitre gauge as needed with a turn or two of the screw driver.

I don’t like using the miter gauge very much though, sometimes the weight of the fence I attach to it is enough to tilt the fence as I push it into the blade and the sacrificial fence will sometimes end up bumping to a stop on the edge of the table. It’s not fun to then begin lifting the gauge as your work piece is half way through the blade.

Dust collection

I have not upgraded to having a dust collection at the blade guard, this would solve a lot of the dust coming out at the operator. I also don’t have a super powerful dust collector, so that may also play a part. One really nice feature about the saw stop is that it has a shroud underneath the blade so that most of the dust that drops below the table falls directly into a dust collection hose. No more giant heap of dust to sift through if/when you drop the nut when changing blades.

I have just barely coated the inside of my table saw with dust. Most of the dust gets neatly sucked away BEFORE it can pile up in the table saw base.

The brake cartridge

When I do get a dado stack, it isn't that hard to swap out the brake cartridges. You simply turn a red lever, pull out the pin, then pull out the cartridge.

It doesn’t take that much time to remove the brake cartridge, but at the same time I haven’t done it many times.  It seems awkward to get a hand that deep into the gullet of your saw (half way below the blade). Also I feel terrified of damaging the cartridge. The manual does say to be careful not to hit it.

The mobile base…

The base that came with my saw lets me roll the saw away from the wall if I need to with just the push of a foot it's up on it's wheels.

A place for everything…

I'm glad to have this storage caddy, it makes my life simpler to have a compact place to put away each accessory and tool that belongs to the saw stop. On the other side of the table saw base there is a hook for the two blade changing wrenches, and a push stick that came with the saw.

Thanks for reading my review! Happy woodworking.

Warding away rust… with a little help from my friends

16 Mar

I mentioned recently that I have a have a table saw cover. It’s not the kind you’d use to cover a car or a barbecue. It’s a large floppy magnet that is sized perfectly to my table saw top.

The incident… and the person who shall remain nameless

I had my table saw for a couple of days when disaster struck. Rust marks appeared on my table saw’s cast iron top. Days earlier I’d had a visitor to my shop that had leaned on my table saw. It was summer, apparently body sweat is all it takes to rust cast iron. It’s funny because my initial reaction to having someone leaning on my saw was to ask them to not do so- but I was thinking more of the alignment of extensions. I’d dismissed rust because I had wiped the area down straight afterwards– with what I don’t recall, maybe just my hand.

A do-over please?

I went out and bought this… thinking that I’d get my table saw top completely clean.

A kit. Rust remover, blade and bit cleaner, and top coat protection for cast iron surfaces.

The rust remover actually left spritz marks  everywhere it touched, then I went back and wiped more of it on so that I’d at least get an even discoloration. I wasn’t very pleased with that particular product in the kit because it was far too corrosive, the other sprays in the kit do a fair job in their respective purposes.

Here is the result. The "rust" may be gone but the forearm prints are still there. And if you squint and turn your head you can kind of make out the dark wipe marks the rust remover made.

Security blanket…

So with the leaning paired with the possibility that the roof of my shop was in very poor condition at the time, I went out and purchased a table saw cover…

Tucking my table saw in always makes me feel satisfied that it's well taken care of and will be in great shape for a long while.

It's made by "Tool clad". Sizes are available for other types of machines as well.

Aside from the cover scratching and dinging really easily, I’m very glad to have it.  It’s better that it get dinged than gouging or scratching my table saw top. And it’s surprisingly useful in other ways…

There are several useful charts on the cover!

And here's another!

There are also guides such as these dove tail ratios. In the center there is a giant protractor.

While I’ll admit I have yet to use the charts or guides, I most certainly will use the other feature…

Because the surface is mainly white, you can use dry erase markers to write measurements or sketch or jot down a note to self.

I roll up the cover and store it in a cardboard tube when not in use. I have yet to find a convenient place to store the tube, so it often is just leaned up against something and will fall over.  Someday I’ll get around to fixing that…

I also have the satisfaction of unveiling my saw.

In addition to the topcoat spray, and the table saw cover, I also keep a dehumidifier running  in the shop.  I have regular water infiltration whenever it rains heavily or there is snow melt.  The water seeps in right under the walls along the floor. I’ll try to take a picture of this unpleasant phenomenon the next time it happens. I tried caulking around the foundation of the shop in the fall, didn’t work. I usually bail water from the shop with a chamois type cloth and a small bucket.

Tool crazy… and I know it

12 Mar

The recent tool purchases…

I’ve started building some tables in the shop recently. I’ve needed to use my router a lot. I decided it wasn’t practical to keep moving the router in and out of the router table, I was losing time setting it up and breaking it down. For the most versatility I chose a router kit with two bases, fixed and plunge.

Porter cable was the brand we used most at woodworking school, it's solid and reliable and familiar, so I favour it.

I bought it "used" off of ebay for $150, but it's actually in mint condition, there's no dust, wear, or scratches ANYWHERE. There's even lubricant from the factory on the motor visible here.

Not a scratch.

I wasn't super keen on the old time-y features of a toggle on off switch and...

... a thumb screw for locking my settings in, and lack of soft-start. But I'd also used exactly this model at school. I knew updated features would be more convenient but that I could do without them for the sake of my budget.

I'll update you on how this kit performs.

At $40 I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get this mobile base for my router table.

Now it's not an awkward affair to re-position my router table when working on longer lengths of wood.

During my current build I was also in dire need of various sized forstner bits. I decided to get this set and upgrade only the most used bits to carbide later on.

Keeping tabs…

So as I tabulate how many tools I’ve acquired in the past 8 months I find I’ve been steadily adding to my collection and at a greater speed than I’d thought I could. This is partially due to my thrifty ways, the fact that I’ve been working to pay for my tool habit, and also due to a supportive spouse. I say that if we invest money in tools, there will be returns on it when I start selling furniture.

An analogy… to take away some of the sting

Of course it’s starting to become a bit tense in the house when mention of another potential tool purchase is made. “Another one?!” I often make the comparison to being a chef that needs to stock a kitchen from scratch. They must get all the large and small appliances, pots, pans, and any and everything else that is needed for a chef to properly do their job. So does a woodworker. I got a bit of a shocked stare when I mentioned that I now have about 1/3 of the tools I will eventually have.

Admitting I have a problem… but am still in denial

There’s a definite high that comes with my tool purchases, and I see that it can be an addiction. I’m often looking at or thinking about tools in my down time.I don’t want to get carried away, but at the same time this is the perfect window of time for me to be indulging in my profession’s trappings.I don’t have many expenses in my life and I haven’t started a family yet.

You can’t go back…

I find that once you’ve known the convenience of having the proper tool for the job, it’s hard to go back to “making do” with several starter tools that’ll get the job done but only with much effort and time. If I was a hobbyist I wouldn’t mind, but since I want to build a business, my time and sweat is worth more.

Being cautious about which tools to buy…

I’ll write a tool wish list, then I prioritize it and then I sit on it for a while. I work in the shop to see what’s the newest thing I find I can’t function well enough without. I often find out that my initial list of tools takes a back seat to what the shop tells me it’s missing. Good examples of this were that I wanted to buy an air filter to hang from the ceiling. I thought- “that’s top priority!” Next on my list was a dado stack and a dado brake cartridge for my table saw. But in reality at the time, my dust collection system plus dust mask were doing the trick, and I had a router table to handle the jobs that a dado stack would do. What I really needed were some parallel clamps, a bench vise, some glue and some sand paper! Those won out.

I recommend to any woodworker purchase tools based on immediate need first, it really does save on unnecessary tool purchases. For example, I want a lathe, but I still haven’t needed it, and can’t justify the loss of space in my shop. I want a spindle sander, but ended up buying a drum sander kit for my drill press to save on space also.At least for now.

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