Aftermarket Table Saw Fences
compiled by Loren Hutchinson

The following are responses to various questions asking for help in choosing an aftermarket table saw fence. These are opinions from several members of the forum and do not represent any results from comparison testing. Each person's statements are preceeded by their name in italics.

Jim Delaney -

The Biesemeyer 'Home Shop' fence is probably the best aftermarket fence available for the Sears saw. It will make a remarkable difference in the saw's capabilities. Cost is a bit over $200. I had a Vega fence for a while, and never used the micro-adjust feature. A friend had one, and found that in order for his micro-adjust to work well, he had to tighten the fence so much that it dimpled the front rail. (I think this was HIS problem, not the fence's, though. Bill was pretty 'ham-handed.') One feature I particularly liked about the Vega was its rear lock. It can be used with downward-pressing finger boards, etc, and the Biesemeyer, Unifence, etc., can't - at least not readily. In spite of this, I bought the Biesemeyer, and prefer it overall. I sold the Vega to Tom Meadows, and as far as I know, he's still using it on one of his saws. The Biesemeyer's simplicity and rigidity make it the best fence available, IMO. The mechanism has only two moving parts. There's nothing to wear appreciably, or go out of adjustment. I've only readjusted mine once in about ten years! Another plus is that the fence is instantly removeable from the saw for cross-cutting, and requires no adjustments or fiddling with when I put it back on.

Wilson Cunningham -

I would try the VEGA fence. I had a reliant copy that I retrofitted to a bench type tablesaw (a lot of making of parts from band metal) This fence consistently locked up true for four years. [The] saw died, but the fence stills lives.

Don Brillhart -

I second the Vega. I bought the large utility model thru Trend Lines, put it on my Craftsman 10 inch saw and have been very happy with it. Build your own extension table and support leg(s) and you will be sawing pretty. A Powermatic it ain't but it serves me fine.

Michael Raugh -

After stewing for several weeks on the subject of an aftermarket fence for my saw (Delta Contractor's 34-444), I visited Skarie, Inc. in Baltimore today to look at them in person. Learned several interesting things that didn't come out in the thread last month or in the magazine reviews I read.

For instance, the 'optional' table board and support legs offered with the Unifence and Biesemeyer are actually necessary. Both of these fence systems need the table board to support the fence itself (or in the Unifence's case, the casting that the fence attaches to). Both require support legs at over 30 inch length to prevent the table from buckling under the weight of the fence and workpiece.

Legs are also highly recommended on a contractor's type saw so that the combined weight of fence, rails, table, and workpiece do not cause the saw to tip over -- something I hadn't thought about before. Seems the open-frame contractor saws do weigh a lot less than the enclosed cabinet saws do (as my 4-year-old would say, 'Duh!').

As to the difference between a Unifence and a Precision Saw Guide, the answer seems to be about 33 percent. The Unifence Jr. is exactly the same as a Unifence, but about 2/3 the size and price. Accuracy and strength are pretty much the same (per Skarie, backed up by a Wood magazine piece comparing many fences). The main problem with the Jr. is that you need the same table board (albeit a touch thinner) and support legs as with the bigger Unifence and when you add that stuff in it is no longer such a great bargain. The guy I talked to only recommends the Jr. to people looking for a good value upgrade from the JetLock and can live with the 29-inch model, which doesn't need the legs.

Similar things were true of the Biesemeyer commercial vs. home shop versions. Again, the HS is about 2/3 the size with correspondingly thinner rails. Same issues hold true regarding the need for table board and legs, although the Skarie guy said the Biesemeyer commercial could go up to 40 inch without support legs, but it's not wise with a contractor's saw because of the danger of tipping.

Skarie also carries the Vega system, which he showed me after we had spent some time discussing the above. For those who haven't seen it, the Vega looks similar to the Biesemeyer but with a tubular front rail and a square rear rail. The big difference is that unlike Biesemeyer, the Vega fence is completely supported by its two rails and requires no tableboard. The rails are sturdy enough that they need no support legs either, although Skarie recommended using them anyway to avoid tipping over the saw. The other major difference is that the Vega has a microadjust feature, which the Unifence and Biesemeyer models lack. (I use the fine adjust on my Jetlock fence frequently; it surprised me that the Unifence doesn't have one).

Next the discussion turned to mobility. Delta makes an extension for the 34-444's mobile base to handle the legs for the 50-inch Unifence, costs about $80. The same part should also work with another system as long as the legs come down in about the same place. Without that base extension or something similar, the table board and legs pretty much kills the mobility of the saw. Trying to move the saw with the existing base risks bending the fence rails and/or throwing off the alignment as the 50-inch table rises off the floor.

I went into the store already decided to buy either the Unifence or the Unifence Jr, depending on what the discussion turned up. What I actually bought, though, was the Vega 50-inch utility model. I'm still a little surprised at that myself. What sold me on the Vega was:

  1. Price. Okay, I know it shouldn't be top priority, but I got the Vega system for $260 (and spent $40 more for their neat stock pusher that rides the top of the fence). I'd have spent the same on the smaller Unifence, but then had to shell out another $200 or so for the table board, support legs, and mobile base extension. The real Unifence starts at $360 plus the necessary add-ons.
  2. Less complexity. With no support legs to deal with, no tableboard to mess with right away, I can put this on and use it immediately as long as I'm careful not to tip it over.
  3. In the end, the microadjust and the nice, square shape of the fence seemed more useful in my normal working habits than the sliding, rearrangeable aluminum Unifence. (And Vega does make a laminate guide that attaches to this fence.)

The compromises I'm making are relatively minor. According to Wood mag's testing figures, the Vega does not stay quite as parallel as the Unifence over its range, but the difference is no more than 0.003 inch either way -- I can live with that, I think. I am also going to have to be very careful not to overbalance and tip the saw over, since I didn't buy support legs. At first I think I'll just throw together a temporary 'dead man' type support with a pair of 2x4's to keep me from hurting the saw. Ultimately, I have a mental picture of a wide base cabinet on wheels to replace the saw stand, with a dust chute in the back and storage for my blades and saw accessories. Then I can add a nice, laminate-covered table board and let the base cabinet support its weight.

That reputation [of the Besemeyer fence] is why when I started this project, I was looking almost exclusively at Biesemeyer. Then the more I saw of the slick design of the Unifence, the more I liked it. The Vega I ultimately bought has the best features of the Biesemeyer (nice regular shape, easy lift-off removal) plus the microadjust and it saved me some bucks. I have yet to cut anything with it so I can't speak to its accuracy other than the WOOD comparison I looked at, which showed Vega and Biesemeyer within 0.002 of each other in paralellism across range and deflection.

W.D. Stumper -

I bought the commercial model mid-sized Vega fence for my 15 year old Jet 10 inch Unisaw copy. I am very pleased with it. I also bought the Delta sliding/rolling table for the same saw and the combination of the Vega fence and Delta rolling/sliding table makes a precision machine out of this saw. When I installed the rolling/sliding table, I anticipated making major changes to the Vega fence, but it wasn't necessary. All I had to do was replace the tape measure on top of the round front rail--no cutting or pasting required. I also bought the stock pusher and the hold-down. I've had an kick-back incident with the stock pusher, but I think it was probably as much my poor judgement as it was the design of the stock pusher itself. I agree with you that the micro adjust feature is very handy--I use it a lot, and am surprised that it is not featured on some of the other after-market fences. The micro-adjustment feature and the claim that the fence could be installed in 30 minutes were what sold me on the Vega. Incidently, it took me only 20 minutes to install the Vega fence! I should also add that by installing the Delta sliding/rolling table, I had to move the Vega fence slightly to the right increasing the rip capacity to the right by about 8 to 10 inches with a corresponding loss on the left. On the very rare occasion when I need to rip on the left side of the blade, I use a home-made fence--it hasn't been a problem.

H.C. Sakman -

Biesemeyer's simple accuracy made me buy it. No fiddling, no head scratching, it just delivers the results as it's promised with minimum (actually NO) problems. It does what it's supposed to do perfectly.

Darrell Fluman -

I have had a Unifence since they first became available, about 10 years ago. I have never had a reason to regret the choice. Very reliable, accurate, easily adjusted, very versatile. The low fence option, veneer-laminate cutoff ability, forward/rearward sliding adjustability are all difficult or impossible to duplicate on the Beisemeyer fence. If I was using the fence everyday in a commercial setting I might opt for the Biesemeyer, but I don't. I am happy with the choice I made. You would be happy with the Unifence too.

Don Bennett -

[I have the] Unifence on my Unisaw with a 52 inch table and I love it. I have had it about a year, and have had absolutely no problem with it. It is very accurate and has stayed true. Some people may think the Beisemeyer is a better fence; if it is, it's one heck of a fence.