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Tool Review: Miter Gauges and Sleds

Why spend your hard-earned cash on a miter gauge when one comes free with every tablesaw? Because today's aftermarket crosscut accessories add increased reliability and accuracy -- in some cases, down to 1/10°.

Ask any woodworker to tell you the most disappointing thing about a new tablesaw (after the blade), and he'll probably tell you the miter gauge. That's because the fenceless, three-stop gauges that come with most saws pale next to today's aftermarket models that help you cut perfect miters time after time with no trial-and-error testing. With upgrade gauges -- and sleds that excel at cutting panels -- costing from $60 to $360, how do you know which one to buy? To find out, we thoroughly tested 10 aftermarket miter gauges and four crosscut sleds. Here's what we learned.


First call: Gauge or sled?

As prices of aftermarket miter gauges approach those of sleds, we asked ourselves: "Which type performs best?" Here's how the two styles compare:


  • Thickness capacity. With a miter gauge, the workpiece rides on the tablesaw top, giving you the full capacity of the 10" blade -- usually about 3-1/2". The 3/4" thickness typical of a sled lessens that capacity. Advantage: miter gauges.
  • Panel size. What you lose in thickness capacity with a sled, you more than gain back in width capacity. Miter gauges limit you to workpieces about 13" wide; the expansive surface of a sled more than doubles that capacity on most models. Advantage: sleds.
  • Workpiece movement. Because your workpiece rides on the sled, you encounter no friction between the workpiece and tabletop, which can steer or mar a large piece. Advantage: sleds.
  • Cut quality. Most sleds come oversize, and you rip off the excess during setup. That provides a zero-clearance edge for cleaner cuts; but then you can't make bevel cuts using the sled. Toss-up.
  • Storage. Sleds often are heavy, and their size makes them more difficult to store than miter gauges. Advantage: miter gauges.

The three Rs of miter scales and stops
  • Reliability. After assembling and calibrating each gauge and sled, we tested the accuracy of scales and preset angle stops using a digital angle gauge. To cross-check the 45° settings, we also cut four-sided mitered frames in wide MDF to check the fit of the joints -- a fraction-degree of error here becomes obvious when multiplied across the eight 45° cuts. In all cases, the readings on the miter scales agreed with the digital gauge, and the 45° cuts yielded well-fitted joints. Except for one model that has no stops, all of the miter gauges and sleds have stops at common miter angles, such as 45°, 30°, and 22-1/2°. Some have many more. The stop systems consist of various mechanisms: rack-and-pawl, pin, or ball detents, all of which proved reliable in our testing.
  • Repeatability. On nearly all of the miter gauges and sleds, you're free to set any miter angle you want. But how precisely can you return to it? One displays the miter angle on digital readout accurate to .1°, another provides positive miter stops every 1/2° throughout its range and adds a vernier scale to achieve that same .1° precision. But you don't need hundreds of stops or a digital display to get reliable repeatability. Widely spaced increments can make it easy to eyeball fractional degrees.
  • Range. Although your saw's factory-supplied gauge likely maxes miters at 45° clockwise and counterclockwise, 50° is more the norm for these gauges and sleds. That gives you room to counter an out-of-square corner. Sleds fall short here with some requiring a bit of disassembly to hit the opposite 45° range.

Here's where we sit on the fences

Each gauge and sled comes with an extruded aluminum fence, except for one model, where it's optional. All of the fences proved straight and true in our tests. We found three styles of length stops on the tested gauges and sleds:


  • Sliding block. This simple block rides in a slot on the fence face.
  • Flip stop. These pivoting stops manually rotate up and out of the way for making that first cleanup cut to square the end of a board; then flip back down against the fence for the final cut.
  • Bypass stop. These function like a flip stop, but nudging a workpiece against the curved stop lifts it out of the way so you don't have to.

Top Miter Gauges: Incra 1000SE and JessEm MiterRExcel
Top Miter Sled: Dubby Single Left


Learn the results of our testing of the Delta 36-946, Incra V27 and 1000SE, JDS AccuMiter, JessEm MiteRExcel, Kreg KMS7102, Osborne EB-3, ProMiter 100, Rockler Sure-Loc 21670, and Woodhaven 4996K miter gauges, and the Delta 36-205, Dubby Single Left, Jointech Smartmiter JSM-48, and Woodhaven 4954 miter sleds in the October 2007 issue of WOOD magazine, or download the review.


 

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