A Portable Panel Saw





Introduction: A Portable Panel Saw

The small passive solar greenhouses I make requires cutting 4’x8’ and 4’x12’ sheets across the four foot width with accuracy. A panel saw will cut this type of sheet good but they are expensive and large, too large to move easily. The commercial panel saws are 10’ to 12’ foot wide and six feet high and cost more than $1500.

Step 1: Why Make a Portable Panel Saw?

With these limitations, I decided to make a panel saw that could hold 8’ to 12’ sheet goods and cross cut them accurately. A panel saw differs from a table saw because the sheet goods are held and clamped on edge and the saw moves across the sheet. The saw, similar to a skill saw, moves along a fixed track with a counter balance that allows the saw to move smoothly up and down.

The panel saw I made folds up to a five foot by one and a half foot by five inch box and unfolds to form a rigid eleven foot wide panel saw. It takes about ten minutes to assemble the saw and makes accurate four foot cuts across sheet goods square to within 1/32 of an inch.

Step 2: List of Materrials

1 sheet ¾ Baltic birch

½ sheet ½ Baltic birch

½ sheet ¼ Baltic birch

½ inch by 6” steel rod

2 pieces of Aluminum extruded track the “T” slot 1” by 2” by 60”long

6 x 3/8” bolts

1@2” pulley and 1 @ ¾” pulley

1@ 2” EMT 60 inches long

1@ 1 ½ by 20 long steel pipe

12 @ ¼ “ sliders

16” by 16” by ¼” aluminum plate

10/24 x 1 ½ stove bolts

2@ 1” x ¾“x 16” UHMW Polyethylene

Step 3: Making the Saw Base With Guides

The base of the saw is aligned to the ¼“ aluminum base leaving ¾” along both sides of the plate. A ¾” shim places the aluminum base level with the bottom of the guides. Two pieces of ½” x 2” x 16” pieces of Baltic birch are attached to the UHMW Polyethylene guides using flush fitting 10 20 stove bolts. The guides are placed, drilled and secured while installed in the aluminum tracks. This insures a proper fit to the guides. The orientation and installation of the aluminum tracks establishes the square cut. .

Step 4: Layout of Wood and Aluminum Tracks

The base of ¾” Baltic birch is cut to the width of the saw base plus the width of two of the aluminum tracks. This makes the base 13” by 60” base. A 9” by 22” by ¾” base is screwed and glued perpendicular to the base extending 4 ¼” from the base bottom. This forms the legs for the base and the base to which the folding arms are secured. A 4¼” by 22” is glued and screwed onto this at the bottom of base. This forms a shelf the stops the arms from spreading beyond level. Two 13” by 4 ¼” by ¾” and one 13” by 4 ¼” by ¼” are glued into a block. This forms the support for the aluminum tracks leaving a space a little more than 1 ½” for sheet goods. A similar block is formed for the top of the base.

Step 5: Folding Arms

The arms that support the sheets of material when extended but are design to swing up parallel to the base when in the portable mode. The right and left are made form a sandwich of Baltic birch. The base of the arm is made from a 4” by 60” by ¾” piece. On to this, two pieces of 1 ½” by 55” by ¾” and one piece of 1 ½” by 55” by ¼” are glued then trimmed in place. Then a piece of 4” by 48” by ¼” is glued on the front surface and the face to the arm that keeps the sheet good in place.

Step 6: Bracing for Arms

The arms need additional support to ensure they are level and perpendicular to the saw path. This is done by using ½” sheet bracing. These sheets are supported to be flush with the edge of the base and are held in place by “T” nuts and threaded slides. The sheet bracing then supports a 3” by 40” by ½” that attaches to the fold out arm. The sheeting brace keeps the system rigid.

Step 7: Bracing the Main Rack

The main base is supported by a tripod with a hinged 2” EMT pipe that also seconds as the saw counter balance column. The top of tripod is hinged on a ½” steel rod held in place by a sandwich block of plywood. The tripod is supported by two 2” by ½” by 30” plywood sections supported on the main base so they can fold against the base. When folded down, the secure to two bolts attached to the base of the EMT pipe.

Step 8: Counterbalance for Skill Saw

The saw needs to be counter balanced so that it moves up and down freely. A pulley is set into the block at the top on the main base so that a cable may be passed over the pulley and attached to the counter weight that is housed within the 2” EMT tripod pipe. The counter weight holds a smaller pulley so the cable attaches to the top of the EMT pipe, passes through the counter weight pulley and back to the top, over the upper pulley then attaches to the saw. The counter weight needs to be twice the weight of the saw because of the pulley arrangement.

Step 9: Setting Up the Portable Panel Saw

The panel saw is set up by first setting the tripod in place. Fold down the two arms Next, the sheet braces are fastened to the “T” nuts on both sides using the threaded sliders. Then the brace is folded down to secure to the arm. This makes the arms rigid and holds then in line with each other and perpendicular to the saw track. Setting up the portable panel saw takes about ten minutes.

Step 10: Using the Portable Panel Saw

Once the saw is set up, slide the sheets to be cut along the arms trough so that the saw cut will be at the marked place. Clamp the sheets to the saw main base so tat it does not move while being cut. For repeated cuts, place a clamp at the appropriate distance from the saw cut and slide the sheets into the trough up to the clamp. The panel saw will cut up to 1 ½” of sheet goods accurately at one time. This is a real asset to our greenhouse business.

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32 Discussions

has anybody come up with a way to rotate the saw so the work piece can be rip cut along the long dimension? As this is laid out, it appears to need three support legs and a way to rotate the saw. Probably needs more stabilizing beyond three support legs to slide the panel into the saw for the 96 inch cut.

The T slot track is available at orangealuminum.com in 72 inch lengths for $ 11.95 each. Part number 0A7150 T Track 72 inches long

Us 877-464-2181

1 reply

Hi David:

To cut perfectly straight along the long axis of plywood, obtain a nice, inflexible piece of aluminum bar tubing, one inch by two inches with one eighth inch walls ten feet long.

(And this could actually be any of several items. You might use the
factory edge of a piece of three quarter ply about six inches wide, or a
one by one iron bar, etc.Something ridgid, but not so thick as to obstruct the saw motor.)

Then on your work bench, place a waste protective piece of ply, on that place a two by four, and against that place a quarter inch or half inch piece of waste a foot long about as wide as your saw. Adjust the saw to only pierce the foot long upper piece of waste. Placing the upper waste against the two by, then place the saw against the two by on the upper waste, cut a piece about a foot long. The lower waste protects the bench from getting scored.

Now take the foot long piece, and cut it into two six inch long pieces. They will be exactly the distance wide as the saw foot edge to cutting edge of blade.

Make a small mark on the piece you want to cut at each end. (There is no need to mark along the entire eight feet.) Place one of the spacers against each mark, on the project piece side of the mark, parallel to the desired cut.

Place the aluminum bar, (the fence), against the spacer. Now carefully placing fence snug against the spacer, and spacer perfectly on the mark, C clamp the fence to the project at each end such that the C clamps do not interfere with saw motor. Remove the spacers, set them aside, (having used a Sharpie to mark them clearly to "Save" as "Saw Spacers"), Adjust saw to now cut through the project piece. Properly support the project piece with two bys that cross the cut, onto saw horses. Place saw against fence and cut. (The saw blade edge, and thusly the cut, should now be perfectly on the waste side of the mark.

I carry a pair of spacers in my truck all the time, figuring most sites will likely have something for a fence on hand. The aluminum bar is at the shop, ready to place in the truck if the cutting is planned.

Nice job

Do you have any plans that you could post, maybe a pdf file?

That would work well. You would not need the tripod structure but it is quite heavy so you would need a counterbalance for the whole unit and another counterbalance for the saw.

Love the idea! I think I might try to adapt this to my workshop and mount it to the wall/ceiling so that I can pull it down when needed :)

Great Stuff

Been wanting something like this for a long time so thank you . Well done


1 year ago

I've been thinking about one of these for a while now. Your design is compact / transportable, apparently easy to make and more precise than what the guys at stores end up doing as they rush through the cuts.

You got my votes.

Thanks for the comment. I would like to see your alternative to the track system. I had considered the rollers but rejected it because of a number of technical difficulties. I like the idea of folding up. I need to put mine in the truck and go to different job sites hence the design and size. The arm support works well and fits within the same bag I made to transport the saw.

1 reply

The track systems a good, sturdy and light weight way to go. Unfortunately, pretty expensive here in Oz. I reckon I could get hold of some steel C channel and it could work similarly and probably wouldn't increase the weight too much - and depending on price. That's where the T track profile works well, keeping it's rigidity over long lengths and not flexing too much.

As for folding, I'm sure you could get those top supports to fold up and tuck away inside the unit. Might have to make them a little less wide and maybe make the main unit a little wider to accommodate. I think if they were only 1200mm long, it wouldn't make much difference as you really only need the support more-so where you're cutting. I'm sure a 2.4m span would be enough for even 3.6m sheets. But hey, you build the unit for your purpose and it fits your purpose. Which is what it's all about!

I did have a question though. It wasn't really clear how you did your counter weight system. Any chance of a picture with that system disassembled (or maybe a sketch)? Couldn't quite picture how you did it. I seen the counter weight slides in the support post, there's a wire attached to the saw over a pulley to the weight. How does that second pulley work?

Thanks for the ideas. Like most T-track and the like, hard to locate in Australia. That's OK, the actual design has given me an idea of doing it another way before I build my panel saw. A much easier design than some I've seen with rollers on round tube (more traditional panel saw designs). I like the idea of it being portable (I was going to have mine swing down from the ceiling in the shed and store it between the rafters). I might look at another way of doing those side supports so they're even more portable and fold up together. I'm a bit over struggling to cut 8x4' sheets on the table saw! (even though I have a little extra room in the shed now.

One improvement I can see is adding an adjustment for the alignment of the saw blade. I can't imagine that anyone would get the saw blade 100% square with the frame. Otherwise you'll be tearing out the edge of panels (be a problem with Malemine). You could just have a pivot on one edge and an adjustment on the opposite edge.

As David R asked if you could rotate the saw base. I've seen a few designs where the base is clamped in and you just pull it out, rotate it and clamp it back in. I've also seen one using a large Lazy Susan bearing with the saw blade cutting in between the inner ring of the bearing. Although to cut sheets horizontally I reckon you'd need some rollers on the base supports. You could make them easy with some dowel and plastic plumbing pipe over them for the rollers. Can easily replace them if they wear.

+1 for the power cord to go over the top.

2 replies

You can get T-track and carbatec and timbecon in Australia or if you want more variety you could try looking at the profiles http:maytec.com.au/profile although it is a bit more expensive.

Thanks for the info. The local aluminium suppliers around Canberra are a bit scarce with these sorts of profiles and Carbitec pulled up stumps a couple of years ago here (even when they were here, you had to wait as they didn't carry a lot other than router bits and a few tools). And these companies only seem to do 1220mm length (maybe they do longer if requested). But, always handy to order online if I get stuck. I night use it to replace what I have on the table saw currently.

This is great! You have dealt with many of the problems of having a panel saw. At my former home, I had to drive a long way or cut it freehand. Wish I could have had this panel saw then. .

sixty inch T slot track seems to be harder to locate. The big woodworking tool places all seem to have forty eight inch pieces but not sixty inch.

Orange Aluminum of Orange California will cut it at sixty inches.

Has anybody else found a source for sixty inch T track ?

1 reply

Try the folks that install solar panels. THat is where I got mine.

Where to purchase that aluminum extrusion? and what style is that called?


1 year ago

Nice instructable!

Another method to do this is to build a jig that uses the factory edge of a sheet of plywood as a guide. You would lay foam (or a bunch of 2x4 segments) on the floor under the piece you want to cut. It can be used for 4' crosscuts or almost 8' rips. This is an example of how to make the jig I'm talking about.


Where to purchase that aluminum extrusion?