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The Most Important Piece of Equipment in your Shop

3/7/2014 1:01:00 PM
Article by Fred Hueston

I am often asked what is the most important piece of equipment in a shop. Is it the CNC, a line machine, or hand tools. The answer is simple; it’s your saw. Without it you couldn’t move to the next step in the fabrication process. There are many types of saws, ranging from small handsaws to large cnc controlled types. The following article will describe these types and offer you some advice on selecting the best saw for your application.

The first question you must ask before purchasing any saw is how often will you use it. If you’re just starting out, and you only anticipate fabricating one to two kitchens a week, a large bridge saw with all the bells and whistles may be overkill. In addition the saw may not pay for itself. On the other hand, if you’re moving up from a smaller saw and your workload is increasing, a larger bridge saw may be just the ticket to keep you on schedule and allow you to fabricate more kitchens per week.

The next thing you need to do is a payback analysis. In other words, based on the initial cost and set up plus what it will cost to operate, how long before you pay for the saw. If you discover it takes ten years or more, the saw will more than likely be outdated by then.

Finally, before you purchase any saw, ask the manufacturer or distributor for a list of fabricators who have purchased that saw. Call each and everyone and ask them specific questions. Here is what I would ask.

  1. How long have you had the saw?
  2. Have you had any problems with it?
  3. How long does it take to get a service tech out when it breaks down?
  4. Are parts available in the US and how long will it take to get the part needed?
  5. If you had to do it again, would you buy this saw?
  6. What do you like about this saw, or why did you buy it?
  7. What do you dislike about the saw?
  8. What would you change on this saw to make it better?
  9. What saw did you have before this one?
  10. What did you pay for this saw?

Ask as many questions as you like. You will find that fabricators and friendly people enjoy helping other fabricators. You can also post questions relating to saw purchasing on some of the stone fabrication forums or here in our forum at the end of this article.

Next, let’s take a look at the type of saw available

Portable

A portable saw is just that…portable. Remember that if your portable saw requires 220 volts—single phase to operate, that will restrict its portability, and if it requires 220 volts—3 phase, that will restrict its portability even further. A portable saw can be anything from the basic circular saw to a small bridge saw. The most popular portable saws are those that run on a rail or track. You lay the track on the stone, adjust the depth of the blade, and cut the stone. One advantage of the track saw over a regular circular saw is the ease of getting a straight cut, but you must be careful not to scratch the surface of the stone. There are also many features from saw to saw. For example, some portable track saws are self-propelled while others are manual. Some are very heavy,while others are fairly light. Regardless of which saw you use, be sure to take proper safety precautions by wearing your personal protective equipment and use a ground fault circuit interrupter. This is a major concern with saws that have not been manufactured for use with water or on stone. If you start your business using a portable saw, then you can use it as a job site saw when you purchase a permanent shop saw.


Fixed Bridge

A fixed bridge saw is normally less expensive than the other permanent shop saws. The blade of the saw cuts through the same opening in the bed (table). The stone is moved after every cut to prepare for the next cut. Resurfacing the bed is not required as frequently as with the other permanent saws. More accuracy is essential when resurfacing because you cannot even out the whole bed with a grinding blade (grinding wheel).


Gantry

The word Gantry describes a feature of the saw. A gantry saw not only moves forward and reverse, but also side to side. This saves a lot of time when making accurate parallel cuts. In fact, if you calculate the amount of time you can save over a fixed bridge saw, this cost will normally pay for the gantry feature. The gantry saw will usually consume more room than a fixed bridge saw, but less room than the gantry saw with a turntable. The saw bed (table) will require periodic resurfacing, but because of the gantry feature you can use a grinding blade (grinding wheel) to smooth it out and make it perfectly parallel to the bridge and rails.


Turntable

If you can afford the room and the cost, the turntable gantry saw is a great saw to have. Not only can you make fast, accurate parallel cuts, but you can also make fast, accurate (with proper maintenance) perpendicular cuts as well. With a tilting turntable, you can more safely load a fragile marble or limestone slab for cutting. Another advantage of the tilting turntable is that you can reduce the potential for a back injury. The table will need to be resurfaced at least as often as the gantry saw without a turntable. A grinding wheel can be used with this saw also.


CNC Saw

A CNC saw is a bridge saw that can be pre programmed to make cuts. For example you can lay out an entire slab and program the saw to make all the cuts automatically. For a complete description of how the CNC process works see lasts months Stone SHOP article.

Sawjet

The newest saw to enter our business is the sawjet. This saw is basically a bridge saw combined with a water jet. This is a great and rather expensive piece of equipment but has many advantages. The biggest advantage is that all your cuts that can’t be done on a bridge saw can be done. This would include radius, curves, circles, French curves, sink cutouts, and other cuts that would normally be done on a CNC or by hand.

Other Features

Most permanent shop saws feature motorized traverse (forward and backward movement), but there are many other features to consider. Some of the more popular ones include: motorized raise and lower of the blade, motorized tilt for mitering, gantry brakes, miter brakes, remote control unit for operating the traverse and blade height while at the stone (this will normally not operate the cutting feature for safety reasons), laser sight for aligning your next cut, motorized gantry movement, and automatic gantry movement for use when grinding the table or making repetitive cuts. As I mentioned earlier, you should calculate the payback before adding a lot of features.

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