About a year ago, Senior Editor Glen D. Huey wandered over to my desk and asked me if I thought he was being made the victim of a practical joke. In a phone conversation he had been told that Steel City Toolworks was planning on using granite instead of cast iron in some of its machines. At first, I thought that Glen’s leg was being pulled, but I had to think about the advantages of granite. The pluses started to add up (dead flat, won’t rust, heavy enough to absorb a lot of vibration) until it seemed like a good idea.
Fast forward a couple months and there we were in Las Vegas, looking at prototypes of a table saw, band saw and jointer. A few weeks ago, production models arrived in our shop, and last week we found the time to take off the crates and put them to work. During the next few weeks, I’ll be using them to build my new workbench and we’ll have a full review in an upcoming issue.
For today, I’m going to give some first impressions, and invite you to add a comment or send me an e-mail with any specific questions. The idea is, if I miss anything, or if there is a part of any of the machines you want a closer look at, I can run out to the shop and come up with a picture and an answer. The two pictures above are of the 14″ band saw. As you can see, the top is flat and smooth and the rest of the saw is nicely made. The cast iron parts are nice and beefy and where stone meets iron, the connection is made with a threaded insert glued in a hole in the granite. We haven’t used it much, but so far we like what we see.
The beds of the 6″ jointer are cast iron, and the fence is granite. This is a perfect application for the dead-flat granite. Most jointers made in the last 20 or 30 years have terrible fences, twisted and warped and impossible to make square to the bed for the entire length of the fence. We’ve become used to that and set the fence square near the knives and compromise our technique to achieve square edges. This fence is dead on all the way and makes edge jointing easier and more reliable.
On paper, the 10″ table saw is the same as the one we tested in November 2006. The motor horsepower and cutting capacity have stayed the same, but the addition of the granite top and a riving knife have resulted in substantial changes to the trunnion assembly. If anything, it is heavier and smoother operating than the previous version.
This view from above shows the riving knife in place. The top is incredibly flat, and one of the nice surprises about putting this saw together was putting on the left-hand wing. Despite being much heavier than cast iron, it was much easier. The granite extension mounts to the saw with rails that ride in grooves milled in the bottom surface.
It was much simpler to slide the granite onto the rails as opposed to holding a cast iron wing in place while threading in the mounting bolts. Leveling the two surfaces was also far simpler on this saw than on a standard one, in large part because both pieces were really and truly flat.
One of the questions I hear most often asked is about the miter gauge. Actually, there are two common questions. The first is, “Will after-market miter gauge accessories fit?” The answer is yes; the slot in the top is the industry standard 3/4″ wide by 3/8″ deep. On the miter gauge supplied with the saw, the standard washer that rides in the T-slot has been replaced with a flat bar that’s about 2″ long. This is to spread out the force when the miter gauge is all the way back. If you were to push down on the miter gauge from this position, there is a chance that a standard washer could create a chip in the edge of the granite. If it were me, I’d leave the washer off an accessory miter gauge.
The second question regards mounting other accessories, such as magnetic featherboards. Of course, magnets won’t stick to stone, so these devices won’t work.
All in all, this is a nice little saw, and so far I think the granite top is worth the small upcharge. I like working on a flat surface, the top is smooth and offers little resistance, and it does absorb most of the vibration from the motor. And I know that if I set my coffee cup down on it, there won’t be a rust spot to deal with.
I’ll have more to say over the next few weeks, and please send me your questions about these machines.
– Bob Lang