Picking a panel saw
Panel saws let a shop break down full sheets of material into manageable pieces such as door and case panels and other flat parts such as shelves. There are three format options for panel saws – vertical, horizontal, and add-on. The higher-end panel saws are extremely accurate and deliver properly dimensioned parts all day long. Some of the bargain models are used to get panels close to their finished size so they can be trimmed and squared more accurately on a table saw, or with a router or track saw and a guide.
Vertical saws take up the least amount of floor space and require the least amount of effort to move sheets and parts manually in a small woodshop. They can be attached to a wall, but most are free-standing. Some can be adapted to using a router instead of a portable saw as the cutting tool.
The most familiar horizontal saws are essentially table saws with sliding tables to the left of the blade, and they usually employ a scoring knife. They offer the advantages of a normal table saw, such as the ability to make complex angle cuts, rips and dado applications. For shops with material handling equipment, large horizontal saws can be loaded and unloaded with the boards in the ‘flat’ orientation, which takes up more space but can also take advantage of conveyors and intelligent (robotic) or manually operated vacuum lifts.
Add-ons are most often found in small woodshops, and these are kits that transform a standard cabinet or even a contractor saw into a sliding table saw. They are “mini” panel saws that are sometimes too small to handle a full sheet safely without support tables, but they do a good job of squaring panels because they have a long cross-cut fence and an outboard table that rides alongside the saw’s existing fixed table, often replacing a detachable wing.
Both vertical and horizontal panel saws come in a variety of sizes and price ranges, and some are more automated than others. At this time, safety systems based on sensors are pretty much limited to horizontal saws.
These run a gamut from inexpensive hobbyist machines to state-of-the-art industrial equipment, such as the family of saws offered by Colonial Saw (csaw.com). The Striebig Standard can handle sheet stock up to 14’ x 5’-6”, and features a foot pedal to control lateral movement, a setup for safely working with small parts, and a plunge lever for the 7-1/2-hp motor that drops the blade into the work or elevates it out as needed. Other Streigib models include the Compact, Standard S with split-blade scoring, New Edition 60 that has a built-in panel lifting device, Evolution with electronic controls, and highly automated Control.
Safety Speed Cut (safetyspeed.com) currently offers 11 models, ranging from the C4 (starting at $2,299) to the 7400XL that can cut material up to 2-1/8″ thick. In the middle of the lineup is the EF5, which offers variable speed.
Hendrick (hendrickmanufacturing.com) makes four vertical saws, including two traditional panel saws and pair of beam saws. The smallest saw, the VSS, has a little over 6’ of crosscut and 12’ of rip cut capacity. Next up, the VSA ACM Duo can be switched from cutting to grooving in seconds. The automated SPN1 and SPN2 vertical beam saws have a unique full-length pneumatic pressure beam to clamp stacked panels.
A family of heavy-duty vertical saws from Holz-Her USA (holzherusa.com) includes five models in the Sector line. Model 1260 offers an option between manual and automatic operation, which includes plunge cutting, through cutting and retraction, and return to starting point.
Saw Trax Mfg. (sawtrax.com), based in Georgia, started making panel saw kits 30 years ago and delivered its first fully assembled units in 1996. Today there are eight series that range from a simple track kit where the user builds a frame, through the Basic which comes with everything but the saw. At the other end of the spectrum is the Saw Trax 3000, an industrial machine with a 10” blade.
Powermatic (powermatic.com) makes the 511 Vertical Panel Saw, available with a 1- or 3-hp worm-drive motor. The carriage has stainless-steel rails and aluminum rollers to handle panels up to 5’ tall.
Milwaukee Tool’s (milwaukeetool.com) model 6480-20 can cut 4’ x 8’ panels up to 1-3/4” thick.
This is a bigger market segment than the vertical saws, and it includes many large industrial panel processers that are often fully automated.
IMA Schelling (imaschelling.us) produces a range of cut-to-size panel saws such as the s45, which handles long miter cuts with bevels up to 46 degrees. The company also makes four FH models, including the FH8 with a 45-hp saw motor that can cut through material up to 5-3/4” thick.
Sliding panel saws from Altendorf (altendorfgroup.com) include the F25, F45 and WA 80. This latter has a control panel on the machine frame that lets the operator adjust the height and tilt of the main saw blade at the press of a button.
Maksiwa (maksiwa.com) makes four sliding panel saws, including the BMT.3200.IR Titanium. This machine has a built-in control panel, digital display for the rip fence, a rear extension table, and a dual overhead saw guard with a 4” dust port.
Laguna Tools (lagunatools.com) makes four panel saws with anodized aluminum sliding tables and heavy-duty rip fences. They range from the entry-level P12/5 that clears 5’ of material and has a 12” blade, through the P12/8, P12/10 and P14/10.
Grizzly Industrial (grizzly.com) offers six sliding table saws, at least four of which can easily process full sheets of stock.
Stiles Machinery (stilesmachinery.com) carries a selection of SawTeq panel saws from Homag, along with other top-notch brands such as Ironwood. There are about 18 variations of Homag panel and beam saws, from the compact B-130 to large industrial machines with loading, nesting, labeling and robotics. The B-130 panel saw is about the same price as a well-equipped sliding table saw, while providing a much more automation and processing capabilities.
SCM Group (scmgroup.com) also offers a wide range of panel saws, including three Gabbiani vertical models and approximately 18 horizontal models. SCM also offers an assisted loading option with a suction arm for the safe and speedy movement of laminated and chipboard panels. Some of the Gabbiani models can be paired with Flexstore ELR mobile grippers to create a fully automated cell that can be equipped with a panel pre-loading area and an automatic labelling system. Among the wide selection of panel saws is the entry-level Minimax SC 2C, featuring a 5-1/2’ sliding table.
Felder (felder-group.com) won a 2022 Challengers Award at IWF for its Preventive Contact System (PCS), which detects accident hazards before contact with the saw blade. It’s available as an option with the Format-4 Kappa 550 slider. Felder offers three Format-4, eight Felder brand, and two Hammer sliding panel saw models.
Cantek America (cantekamerica.com) makes six horizontal panel saws from the P30 with its compact footprint to the top-selling D405ANC. It has a programmable rip fence, a 7-1/2-hp main motor, and an eye-level control panel for setting the rip width, blade height, and blade angle.
Baileigh Industrial (baileigh.com) has three sliding panel saws in its lineup, all of which use a 7.5-hp motor. The STS-14120 and 14120-DRO accept 12” or 14” blades and have a 15” x 125” sliding table. The top of the line 16120-CNC has a 300-program memory, four speeds, and accepts blades up to 16”.
Sliding table accessories
Shops can convert an existing cabinet saw, or even a high-quality contractor saw, into a manual panel saw by adding a sliding table accessory.
SawStop (sawstop.com) offers a large version for full sheets, and a smaller crosscut table for trimming panels. Powermatic’s new PMST-48 looks like a hefty, quality product that is designed for the company’s PM2000B and PM3000B saws, but it may be adaptable to other models and brands of saw as the connections are straightforward. The industrial grade Compass ST-1500 sliding table from Harvey Woodworking (harveywoodworking.com) offers lots of bells and whistles.
The 492100 Sliding Table ST from Festool (festoolusa.com) is a small and relatively inexpensive option for the company’s router table and its TKS 80 EBS table saw. And Excaliber sliding tables from General International (generaltoolsusa.com) are available from Woodworker’s Supply (woodworker.com).
This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue.