Delta Uniguard on Jet Saw
by Bruce Lowekamp
Illustration
Before and After Photos

I've tried to practice good safety techniques in the year since I finally got a real tablesaw, but found the limitations of the factory splitter/guard frustrating. Although I never thought it was too difficult to install or remove, it did take a couple of minutes. More importantly, though, was the inability to use the guard with a dado head. Nothing has scared me more than having that huge whirling pile of metal spinning without anything to protect me if the wood slips. Also, LOML told me that she won't complain about my hobby until I cut a finger off, and then the whole shop gets sold.

So after a year, I decided that it was time to get serious about getting proper safety devices installed on my Jet cabinet saw. It was a tough decision to make because I had never seen any of these safety devices in person-despite having two serious hardware stores and a Woodcraft available in Richmond. However, the article in FWW December 2001 seemed to do a pretty good job covering the various aftermarket blade guards and listed the three generally available splitters. Unfortunately for owners of a non-Delta saw, the only option officially available for us is the Biesemeyer splitter. This looks like a good option, but is fairly expensive. I understand that this splitter can't be used with a thin-kerf blade, although this wasn't an issue for me with a 3HP saw.

Based on the FWW article and what I've read on the Pond over the years, I decided to go with the Delta Uniguard. I really like the split-basket design, since this allows the left half of the guard to be fully down even when making very thin cuts that require the right half of the basket (or all of any other guard) to be lifted above the fence. Additionally, this guard includes the Uniguard splitter. Although it officially only supports Delta saws, a number of posts on the Pond indicated that it either fits without changes, or fits with minor bends in the splitter.

The summary of this review is that I am really happy with the Uniguard. The guard and splitter installed without a problem on my Jet cabinet saw. Although I have written this review with Jet owners in mind, only the part discussing attaching the splitter bracket is specific to those saws. The parts discussing the overarm guard itself are applicable to any saw with a rear angle bracket for the fence system. Here is a before and after picture of my saw:

Unpacking the Uniguard

Illustration This is the first piece of Delta equipment I have brought into my shop. I began getting interested in real woodworking in the time period when Delta was merging its supply-chain with Porter-Cable, moving more of its manufacturing offshore, and having serious quality control problems with its jointers. (However, I have a number of Porter-Cable tools, so I'm not entirely consistent.) Nevertheless, I decided that when it came to an overarm blade guard and splitter combination, Delta had the best design, best cost, and it was time to give Delta a chance in my shop. My initial impression was excellent. The guard was shipped via UPS and arrived in perfect condition in a box with very thick double-layered cardboard on one side, and a wooden back, end pieces, and supports in the middle of the box. Every piece was carefully wrapped in plastic and bubblewrap. The splitter is in a small box inside the main crate, seen on the left.

To assemble the Uniguard, you will need both metric and SAE allen wrenches (this may depend on the bolts that attach the splitter bracket to the trunnion), in addition to a normal assortment of screwdrivers and wrenches. In addition, I used a small hand sledge, abused a large drill bit, and used a sawzall and 4.5 inch angle grinder.

Installing the splitter

Illustration For the first year, I used the original guard on the saw. On the left is a closeup of the mount for the factory guard's bracket. It is adjustable by loosening the two cap screws on the bracket, although I just used shims when I aligned the splitter last.
Illustration Before the bracket can be aligned, it needs to be assembled. This involves pounding the bolt into the bracket (this is where the hand sledge comes in), then assembling the plate, knob, and other parts onto the bolt.
Illustration This picture shows the uniguard bracket (left) next to the Jet bracket (right). Note that the Jet bracket is made of very thin stamped metal, while the Uniguard bracket is much thicker. More importantly, the bolt holes in the Jet bracket have significant lateral adjustment, while the Delta bracket has round holes precisely sized for the bushings included with the mounting hardware. Both brackets have the holes spaced 1.75 inches apart vertically. The uniguard comes with two different sizes of bolts and bushings, one for the Unisaws and one for Delta contractor saws.
Illustration The Unisaw bolts have the same threads as the Jet bolts, and are longer to match the thickness of the Delta bracket. My first attempt to mount the bracket is shown at left, using the Unisaw bushings and bolts. Unfortunately, as this picture shows, the mounting holes in the trunnion aren't aligned properly for this mounting to work. My assumption is that Delta places their mounting holes quite precisely, while Jet relies on the adjustment capabilities of their bracket to align the splitter later. I don't know if I believe one approach is better than the other, since I can see advantages to both. Regardless, this alignment problem is the origin of the problem with installing the Delta splitters on Jet saws.
IllustrationIllustration Although other people have bent curves in their splitter to align it with the blade, I decided I wanted a more adjustable way to mount the splitter. To enlarge the holes I chucked a large drill bit in my drill and reamed out the mounting hole on the Delta bracket until it offered sufficient adjustment range to align the splitter with the blade. I discarded the Delta bushings and used washers under the bolts to cover the enlarged holes. Because I didn't want to enlarge the holes too much, I crept up on right size in small increments. This process took some time, but eventually I made the holes large enough to align the splitter perfectly with the right side of the blade.
Illustration Here is a picture of the splitter installed in the bracket. It takes only a couple of seconds to twist the knob and pull the splitter out or to put it back in. This is an incredible improvement over the factory guard. Below is a picture of the splitter and blade installed.Illustration

Installing the Overarm Blade Guard

The design of the overarm Uniguard Blade Guard is probably the most interesting feature of the package. One of my main motivations for buying the Uniguard was the split basket design of the guard, which allows the left side of the guard to be fully down even if the right side is elevated above the fence (like when cutting a rabbet in a sheet of plywood). The downside to this design is that there is no means of dust collection in the guard. I suspect that by carefully backing the guard you could drill a hole for a dust port, but even then the split between the sides of the guard leaves so much open space that I doubt you could get sufficient flow to collect much dust. Illustration

The major challenge in mounting the guard is attaching the support brackets for the cantilevered arm. The Uniguard's supports are designed to be mounted in between the Delta Unifence's rear support pipe and the saw. Unfortunately, the majority of fences today, including Jet's Xacta and Biesemeyer's T-square fences, use angle iron as the rear rail, rather than pipe. So the challenge most users face is how to connect the brackets to the saw.

I am aware of three solutions to this problem. The first is to purchase Delta's model 78-954 adaptor plate, which is a 1/4" flat steel rear rail for the Biesemeyer fence system that replaces the original angle iron. An obvious alternative to this is to buy a piece of 1/4" flat steel and drill holes in the appropriate spot to make your own rear support. This is the approach that Mark Goodall, tooljunkie, describes on his page about the Uniguard on a Unisaw. It's just as applicable to the Jet saws, except that the holes are in slightly different places. I don't believe that the Delta adaptor plate will work on a Jet fence without having new holes drilled in it, anyway.

The second option, requiring the least modification, is to drill holes in the horizontal portion of the rear rail, and mount the brackets horizontally below the rail. Unfortunately, this leaves the brackets sticking out significantly behind the saw, and somewhat reduces the range and ease of adjustment of the Uniguard, because the support tube is lower and further back than designed. However, it does work.

The third option, and the one I chose to use, is to cut notches in the rear fence rail where the Uniguard brackets go. I chose this option because:

  • I didn't have to buy a new part (and what do you do with a spare 6' long piece of off-white angle iron, anyway?)
  • I didn't even have to remove more than one bolt at a time from the existing rail, thus ensuring that nothing went out of alignment during installation of the Uniguard.
  • Finally, cutting the notches leaves at least some of the horizontal strength of the angle iron intact, compared to eliminating all of the horizontal strength by going with a piece of flat steel.
Illustration
I tried a number of different approaches for attacking my rear rail, but finally settled on using my sawzall and a 4.5" angle grinder. As shown above, the procedure was to draw the lines needed on the rail, then use the sawzall to make the two end cuts. The sawzall was used to clean out most of the metal, and the final jagged edge was ground down flush with the vertical portion of the rail using the angle grinder. Using this equipment, each notch took only about 10 minutes. I plan on getting some touchup paint to repaint some of the exposed steel, but most of it is covered by the bracket
Illustration

Once the notches are cut, you are ready to attach the cantilevered arm to the saw. One minor note, the instructions tell you to attach the brackets to the saw, then slide the tube into the brackets. In my case, there is a wall there that prevented me from doing that, so check your clearance; you may need to slide one or all of the brackets onto the tube before mounting them to the saw.

The smaller arm to which the guard arms are attached slides inside of the large supporting arm, and is secured by a bolt on a large knob mounted on top of the support arm. Once this arm is attached, you are ready to attach the blade guard.

Illustration The guard must first be assembled. The lexan guards are attached to the gray support arms. The two arms are identical, but there is a left and right lexan cover, and each is secured with a different length bolt.
Illustration Once you secure the guards to the arms, you have to slide the arms onto the support tube. This is a fantastic process that would be easier if you had about six hands. First, take two of the metal rings and put a long setscrew in one ring, and a short setscrew in the other. Next, take the right guard (the right one is the one with the horizontal cover of the basket), slide the first ring of the gray arm onto the support tube, followed by the ring with the long setscrew, the ring with the small setscrew, and the other ring of the gray arm. Then put the left arm onto the support tube in the same manner.
Illustration The setscrews on the rings are used to control the position of the gray arms. The long set screws are used to hold the position of the guard when you swing it back to change the blade. The manual shows an angle much further back than what's shown above, but this seemed to me to be far enough back so there wouldn't be a danger of the guard slamming down while the blade is being changed. The position of the two rings together sets the horizontal position of the two arms. The manual suggest a "small distance," but I found that when placed to closely together, the two guards could get hung up on each other, as shown here. I separated the two arms by 1/4", enough to make sure they don't get caught. This leaves a 3/8" space between the left and right lexan pieces, but that's still more than small enough to keep a finger from accidentally reaching inside.

Positioning the Uniguard

Illustration
Illustration


 

The guard is wide enough so that a fully raised and tilted blade fits entirely under the guard (left). The manual suggests aligning the guard this way, however, I felt that the blade being at the extreme right edge of the guard wasn't the safest position for most cuts, so I have set it up with the blade closer to the center (lower left).

Tool tray

Illustration
Illustration
The Uniguard also comes with a nice tool tray that mounts on the support arm. It has a slot on the right that the splitter sits in when it's removed for a non-through cut. The manual recommends putting pushsticks in it, but my sticks are a bit bigger than that. I also don't think it's in a good position to keep a stick in during a cut; I keep mine on top of or beside my fence. But it is nice to keep a tape measure, pencils and papers in. The Uniguard also comes with a mount for the saw's switch, but I don't believe it would be safe to mount the saw's switch above and across the blade from the user. It might be a nice place to put an incandescent light, though.

Summary

IllustrationThe only step that was different for my Jet saw than the provided instructions was mounting the splitter bracket onto the trunnion. Because the bracket is fairly soft (I believe aluminum), it was quite easy to ream it out using the side of a drill bit. I did this gradually to make sure I didn't make the whole larger than necessary, but when finished, I could easily adjust it to be only about 0.01" from the right side of the blade. The instructions Delta provides are pretty good, with the exception of not discussing the modifications needed to mount the system on other saws or fence systems.

Overall, I'm very happy with the guard. It does lack dust collection, but the amount of dust that comes out of the guard isn't my most serious dust concern right now, anyway. The guard moves out of the way very easily when I run wood underneath it. Removing the splitter and lifting the right side of the basket on top of the fence when rabbeting plywood is very easy, and seems much safer than my previous setups. There isn't a way to suspend the guard a fixed distance above the saw top, so when I was cutting a cove on the tablesaw, I had to clamp a piece of wood under the rear of the guard, as well as the fence piece in front of the blade. But these two pieces of wood held the guard at just the right height, so I still had the protection of the guard during the coving operation.

I think that dust collection would make this a better guard, but for the $270 I paid for the combination overarm guard and splitter, it's almost half the cost of the competitors. Even if the prices were the same, I might still chose it because I like the split basket design.



© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
No parts of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means
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