Well, I finally took the leap and bought some large scale tools. I have been building radio control model airplanes from balsa and ply for years. Just recently I clued in on the fact that my wife would be happier if I emerged from my workshop with something she would like instead of another P-51 with retractable landing gear. I have become a bit of a nut when it comes to accuracy and repeatability. There are so many spars for a wing you can cut enjoyably without some method of speeding the process up.
As a result of my experience with airplanes, I was dismayed by the lack of accuracy inherent in table saw fences. I pictured myself frustrated and annoyed because I couldnít get the cuts perfect. I must admit, I donít have the talent that so many other woodworkers have and must compensate by measuring, measuring, measuring and measuring again. So, I bought an Incra Table saw fence. (I also looked at and considered the fence by Jointech, which also seemed like a fine product).
The Packaging, Hardware and Setup
Upon opening the boxes I was impressed. The many components are packed tightly and with plenty of protection to avoid damage. The hardware, of which there is an abundance, is broken down into smaller packets and labeled for each step. This may sound like a small detail, but I love when a manufacturer takes the time to do a quality job and breaking down hardware into packages for individual steps makes life so much simpler.
Enough variety is included so that anybody should have the right bolts, etc to setup without the need to supplement. All too often when getting a new tool I find that the assembly is a pain and the hardware used for assembly is not of the greatest quality. There is nothing more frustrating than having a cheap bolt snap when you are tightening it or having a lousy screw strip as if it were made out of butter. Well, with the hardware included by Incra not only was assembly simple, but the quality of the hardware is superb.
The one surprise I did have is that I had to drill two holes into the side of the table to make the rear fence rail fit. The Incra TSII is advertised as being a drill free installation on most saws. So, I was surprised to find that I had to drill into my brand new Delta 10" Contractors saw (36-444 (Series 2000)). I wish that Incra had included a replacement or supplement for the rear attachment of the splitter to the table saw that would have alleviated the need to drill and split the rear rail. But, I was pleased (or should I say appeased) by the clarity of directions for these nerve racking steps. The instructions included specific and easy to follow directions and diagrams for how to accomplish the setup. (Note: now that I have been using the Incra for 6 months and not using the stock guard, I realize that I didnít actually need to drill those wholes. Aargh.)
Also, I sent an email to Woodpecker (from who I purchased the fence) about my angst and got a call back from Mark (the guy who demonstrated the TSII at the show) within 24 hours. He was friendly and helpful. In his defense, he did know of a way to avoid splitting the rear rail, but I sent the email and went home to begin cutting. Had I given him some reasonable amount of time to get back to me (like more than an hour in the early evening) I might have avoided the cutting and drilling all together. Since I had already mounted the fence, there was little reason to go into detail with Mark about how to rig the splitter and blade guard so as to avoid the cutting, but I got the impression that he had some ideas about the matter.
The Plastic Teeth
The plastic component that seems to cause everybody concern are the racks of teeth that mesh to lock the fence in position. After careful examination I saw no flaws and the material seems to be sturdy and very unlikely to break. I havenít used the fence enough to give a real review of the strength of the system, but thus far it seems very strong. Iíve done some leaning on it and have pressed, twisted and pulled on everything to get a feel for its strength and have been satisfied. I am not convinced that metal would really improve the system, but it sure would boost the cost. Additionally, Incra unconditionally guarantees the racks and will replace them free of charge.
Iíve been working the TSII hard for six months. Not cracked teeth or any sign of wear. I am a fairly big guy and tend to knock things around with a bump of my hip rather than gently lifting or moving things. So, if the teeth were going to break, I would think Iíd at least see some sign of wear.
Ease of Use
The fence is easy to use and you donít have to want .001 accuracy every time to benefit from it. But, having the ability to be accurate and to repeat cuts easily is great. The fence glides easily, is very easy to adjust for squareness and locks down easily and tightly.
In sum, I am happy with the Incra and would recommend it to anybody who doesnít mind a slight learning curve. It is costly, but for some (like me) it makes things more enjoyable and accurate. Iíll report back as I use the fence more. I do have the joiner package for the fence and intend to use it with my router table, which is an a extension of the table saw, but havenít gotten around to using it yet.
In the meantime, feel free to email me with questions.
Six Month Update
I am still very happy with the TSII. At times, I screw up a cut because I forget to zero the fence after I am done. I then come back to the saw a day later and make a cut only to realize I micro-adjusted the fence the day before. Clearly human error as the fence is doing what it was designed to do. If only I were as smart as the fence!!
I am preparing to make a piece of furniture for my wife. So, everything needs to be perfect. Accordingly, I thought I should tune up the tools and make sure everything is working as it should before I put blade to wood. Sure enough, the TSII is dead on with the way I set it originally. When I originally set it up, I opted to have the back end of the fence further from the blade by a mere .002. I tend toward the camp that thinks the fence should be perfectly parallel, but that .002 isnít going to affect my woodworking and might just allow the wood to relieve a tiny bit of stress with out a kickback. Anyway, when I checked last night, it remained a perfect .002. Outstanding!
I use the joinery package with a router table that is an extension of my table saw. I like the setup and am very happy with how the Incra performs. When I move to a larger shop though, I think I would prefer a separate router table and will probably go with the Incra Twin Linear. The only down side to this set up is that if you need to go back to the table saw for a minute, you have to undo your setup and lower the router bit so that the TSII can ride over the router table and serve as a table saw fence again. Generally, this is not a problem, but it does bug me on occasion.
A few other nice things about the TSII that are similar to some other fences. The t-slots in the top and face make it simple to add other fences and jigs. Iíve also been using a pushblock that rides in the t-slot on the top of the fence for when I am making narrow cuts. It makes me feel MUCH safer than anything else I have tried. One big advantage over conventional fences, I think, is that it is easy to make very thin cuts and with the thin piece falling to the left of the blade. Generally, I just cut the large piece to an exact and easy to remember size. Letís say 1í wide. I then subtract 3/32 for the blade and simply move the fence the number of 32nds I want the finished piece to be. No double checking measurements with a ruler. Just move and cut. Comes out perfect every time (unless I forgot to zero the fence after micro-adjusting, that is)
I am still very happy with the TSII. Feel free to email me with questions.