Some highlights of this biennial extravaganza.
by Ellis Walentine
The 2004 International Woodworking Fair, largest trade show of its kind in North America, is now but a fond memory for the 30,000 or so attendees and thousands of exhibitors. This year's show was the second largest in the event's history, with 1,372 companies exhibiting their wares over a total of 832,813 square feet in the show's three giant show halls.
IWF, which is held every other year in Atlanta's huge Georgia World Congress Center, is where everyone who is anyone in the woodworking industry, from the tiniest upstart to multi-billion-dollar international corporations, converges to show off their latest and greatest products and encourage customers to open their checkbooks. According to Jim Wulfekuhle, marketing director for IWF, this year's show is widely regarded as the best ever. Exhibitors said they had never had so many qualified leads nor booked so many orders, presumably indicating a level of optimism for the economic prospects of 2005 and beyond.
This year, because of a tight schedule and some unwelcome back trouble, I didn't get to see everything and everyone I wanted to see, but I did get to talk to some of the major innovators in our segment of the industry. Following is a brief report on new items that caught my eye. At the end of this article are testimonials by other WC visitors who attended IWF. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the items they spotted, but if you would like to learn more, you can visit IWF's Exhibitor List and click through to individual companies' websites from there.
Some Notable New Products
The big buzz items at this year's IWF were the new SawStop tablesaws. SawStop has been in the news a lot since last year, when they unveiled their revolutionary mechanism that senses when the blade starts to contact skin and instantly stops the blade cold and retracts it into the cabinet. They had originally hoped that other manufacturers would jump to embrace -- and license -- the new technology, but then they ran afoul of public and industry sentiment when they called for legislation to force new tablesaws to include the device.
This year, the company trotted out their own entries in the tablesaw category: a 10" cabinet saw with a 3 HP motor ($2199 special show price), and a contractor's saw with a 1 1/2 HP motor ($699 special show price). Both saws are equipped with the patented SawStop® Safety System, but the news doesn't end there. Also included are a European-style riving knife that raises and lowers with the blade, a solid blade guard, a zero-clearance throat plate, and a dust-shroud around the blade cavity that greatly improves dust collection efficiency. A quick-change clamping mechanism inside the throat of the saw makes it a snap to change the riving knife and blade guard. The stock fences didn't impress me much, but a variety of Biesemeyer-type fences are also available as upcharges, as well as cast iron wings for the contractor's saw. Replacement SawStop safety cartridges for blades and dado heads are available for $59 and $69 respectively.
SawStop totally redesigned the interior of these saws as well, with radically different trunnion and support systems to enhance adjustability and precision while allowing room for the brake mechanism and dust collection components. Also noticeably absent are V-belts. Instead, there is a dual poly-V belt setup. My hunch is that this system works fine, but I'll reserve judgement.
The combination of excellent fit and finish, innovative mechanical design and a complete slate of safety features definitely sets these saws apart from the rest of the field, although I would like to put them through their paces in a real shop situation before I form any final opinions. Reportedly, SawStop is taking plenty of orders, which didn't surprise me, considering the competitive pricing. The new saws should be ready to ship by the end of the year or early 2005.
Cordless Drivers & Drills
Bosch's new line of "Impactor" fastening drivers is available in 9.6 v. ($179), 12 v. ($199) and 14.4v.($239) models. These lightweight and compact drivers allegedly deliver twice the torque of other drill drivers. They sure are sporty looking.
Festo's TDK CE series, available in 12 v. ($395) and 15.6v ($375) models, is another of these new ultra-compact drills. It features dual speed ranges, interchangeable chucks (including a quick change hex driver chuck and a right-angle chuck) and 42 torque settings.
DeWalt's latest entry in this red-hot category, is their new model DC011 Worksite Radio Charger, which features a one-hour charger for all DeWalt 7.2 to 18 v batteries. It has an AM-FM radio and an auxiliary port for your CD or tape player.
Bosch has gone several steps further with their new Power BoxTM jobsite radio. Not only does it act as a charger for all Bosch batteries from 12 v to 24 v, it also has four on-board GFCI outlets to power conventional tools. And, in addition to its AM-FM digital radio, the PowerBoxTMhas a built-in, anti-skip CD player with four preset EQ settings.
Perhaps most impressive is the aluminum roll cage, which protects the radio from falls and abuse. We actually threw the radio ten feet onto a concrete floor, and it bounced harmlessly, and worked fine afterward.
Miter Saw Stands
With the popularity of miter saws at an all-time high, several manufacturers are offering lightweight and versatile saw stands that provide a base for the saw and outboard support for workpieces.
Here are two new models from Bosch and DeWalt.
Festool OF2000E Router
Long known and respected in Europe for their routers, Festool has finally introduced a heavy-duty plunge router to the American market. This smooth operator is rated at 16.7 amps on 115-v current (I'm still not sure how they got away with that) and has variable speeds from 12,000 to 22,000 RPM. It comes with 1/2" and 8mm collets, dust hood, edge guide and template adapter ring for $450.
Besides its excellent ergonomics, one of this router's most striking features is it's soft start circuitry, which ramps up so smoothly that the router barely moves.
New from Veritas®
Veritas® is a perennial innovator of gadgets and gear for the shop, and why should this year be an exception?
DIY Router Table Components
Building on the success of their classic all-steel router table, Veritas® now offers a Chinese menu of new components that you can retrofit to your existing router table or use to build one from scratch. At center stage is a 12-in.-dia. steel table insert, with a clever leveling system and Lee Valley's twist-cam plastic inserts. The levelers have rare-earth magnets that hold the insert rock-solidly. In fact, you need to use a screwdriver to lever the plate out once you've installed it.
New T-slot adapters and cam clamps are also now available for Veritas®'s versatile aluminum fence.
Encouraged by the success of their Medium Shoulder Plane, Veritas® has now added a Large Shoulder Plane and a Bullnose Shoulder Plane to the product mix. The secret of all these planes is the hole through the middle, which allows you to grip the plane firmly with a finger rather than squeeze it as you would a conventional shoulder plane. The medium and large models have adjustable knobs on top of their lever caps that you nest in the web of your hand for efficient pushing and even more control.
Accurate and affordable straighteddges are hard to find, but now Veritas® offers you two of them -- one of extruded aluminum ($19.50) and one of steel ($36.50). Both are 24-in. long. Veritas® claims that the aluminum model is accurate to within .003" over its length and the steel model to within .001".
Normally, I don't get too excited by pedestrian products like roller stands, but Lee Valley's humbly-named "Ultimate Roller Stand" certainly seems to live up to its promise. It has a built-in ramp to guide sagging outfeeds up onto the inverted casters that form the rollers. And, in an innovative twist, the ramp can be raised to support thin or narrow stock without getting it stuck between the casters. I wouldn't mind having one of these.
Laguna Tools' behemoth Pinnacle C1 lathe isn't new, but it is improved. This 1500-lb. monster features a 24" swing (48" with the bridge section of the bed removed), 52" between centers, a machined steel bed, 4-step quick-change pulley in addition to a variable speed control on its 2-HP 220-v. motor. Stripped down, this lathe costs about $7,000. Tricked out, with the duplicator attachment and assorted other bells and whistles, it'll set you back around $10,000. Expensive, maybe, but this lathe is getting the attention of serious turners, at least the ones who need the extra-large capacity and mass of the Pinnacle.
DeWalt has entered the cordless nailer market this year, with 18-v and 12/14.4-v models, each available in angled or straight magazine configurations. All shoot 16-ga. standard air nails.
Bench Dog Router Tables
Bench Dog, a leading manufacturer of router tables, has added several new models to their line this year, including the portable "Pro Top Contractor" model ($239)and the new "ProMAX" series, with cast iron tops. The ProMAX floor-standing model ($699) has the full complement of Bench Dog features, including miter-gauge slot, multi-featured fence, and base cabinet for storage. The ProMAX Table/Extension ($339)is a 16" x 27" cast iron router table top that bolts into your tablesaw's extension wing or to the left side of the main table. It comes complete with fence and a predrilled router insert plate.
While I was at Bench Dog's booth, I also happened to notice this elegantly simple "Pro-Cut" portable circular saw guide. At $19.99, this is a jobsite accessory that anyone can afford. You cut it once, by running the left side of your saw's base against the tiny fence. After that, the cut edge of the guide is your gauge for an exact crosscut -- no measuring or offsets to worry about. I'm always amused by simple things that work.
Other Folks Opinions
Some of our messageboard visitors have weighed in with their personal lists of IWF 2004 favorites, so I thought I would add them here, for everyone's edification and convenience...
Looked at the "new" KREG mitre square. They have done an excellent job taking over this product. I think it will be my next mitre. Some really good ideas implemented for doing 45 degree work dealing with the problems of the cut end and getting a good measurement.
Looked at the Trendlines (www.trend-usa.com) diamond sharpening "stones" They had a guy doing some really nice demo and explanation. He showed how simple it is keep router bits sharp with just a few strokes across a diamond credit-card-sized "stone". I think I see their larger stone ($120) in my future.
I really looked at the Grizzly cyclone. It is priced at $795 plus shipping. The cyclone part is really built well. It has 3hp motor with 13" impeller. I do not think I can come anywhere close to this price doing it myself.
In the really strange category, has anyone seen the new P-C saw blade called the Razor? All of the teeth are at different settings.
1. Best in Show- 3M's disposable cup for spray guns, in sizes 1/2 pint to 1 quart and with mixing graduations. Enables suction cups to be used upside down!
2. Chicago Pneumatic random-orbit, air-driven sander. Light as a feather and I couldn't stall it with as hard as I could push.
3. Polyester paint cans. Look just exactly like paint cans but clear and in sizes 1/2 pint to 1 gallon. Wouldn't they be great for stains?
3. Lee Valley shoulder planes and spoke shaves. Nice in the hand.
4. TRG Tool pattern makers files equivalent to Nicholson but at much lower prices. (They also sharpen files.)
5. Several companies' fast-set wood glue. 6-min clamp time and wood failure after only 10-min set.
I've been soaking up a lot of the new products here at IWF in Atlanta this week. And while most of the machines are bigger than my pick-up truck (and cost 10 times as much) there are some very nice and new hand tools on display.
At the Lie-Nielsen booth, Deneb, Joe and the family are showing off a new low-angle block plane. It's the 102 (a fixed-mouth plane) but in ductile iron with a bronze lever cap. I believe the price is $70. I very much like this pattern and the plane looks very nice. It's a great entry-level tool.
Also hiding in the back of the Lie-Nielsen booth was a 1/2" mortise chisel. It's a 750 pattern socket chisel with a hornbeam handle.
And they have one of the new workbenches that are going to begin selling. I could blather on a very long time about the high points, but here are a couple: a quick-release face vise with wooden jaws (the vise has been modified in several interesting ways). The bottom of the tool tray is removable for clamping things to your benchtop. And there's a shoulder vise on the right. I'm told that the beauty of these benches is they can be built to the customer's specifications for height, length and vise placement.
The Lee Valley booth was also filled with goodies (and yes Rob Lee is here). The large shoulder plane was out and they were taking orders. It's 1-1/4" wide, 8-1/4" long and weighs almost four pounds. It has the same style grip at the rear with a movable front wooden knob that has four positions. Very nice. $169.
Also, Lee Valley has long been on a quest to produce reasonably priced straightedges. They're in stock now. The aluminum one is 24", straight to .003" and $19.50. The steel one is 24" straight to .001" (over the entire length) and $36.50.
Tucked in the corner of the Trend booth, the British have produced their own domestically made diamond sharpening stones. These are being made for them by a supplier to Rolls Royce and the massive plates are flat to .0005" corner to corner. Yes, that is half a thou.
The plates are smart in a lot of ways. There are only two grits. A coarse and a fine. And judging from the time I spent with them yesterday, they really understand the diamond medium and hand tool sharpening. I'm going to be testing these for a future issue.
That's it for this report, folks. For a gallery of the contestants in the Student Design Competition at IWF, CLICK HERE.
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