Introduction: Custom Vertical Panel Saw
Have you ever needed to...?
Have you ever needed to cut large sheets of plywood, but dread lifting it onto a table saw? How about trying to keep it square along the fence while pushing and balancing the sheet? Don't have a sliding table saw? Wish you had the money to afford a vertical panel saw? I have experienced all of these scenarios, and started searching the internet to see what was available. I came across companies selling wood based kits, as well as home videos using 2x4’s. I stumbled across a new material for my students, called 80/20. I reference it as “tinker toys for big boys”. Extruded aluminum is great to build with. There are a plethora of configurations, but I’ll show the build of a vertical panel saw using 80/20, and custom fabricated aluminum brackets. Is it perfect? No. Do I still need to work on it? Yes. Does it get the job done for under $400? YEP!!!
This video is an overview of the whole process, so that you can see if this is a project that interests to you.
Step 1: What Does It Look Like? (7min or 90sec Explanation)
Step 2: What Are Your Cutting Needs?
To begin, figure out what specific panels you typically cut. For example, in our school’s Innovation & Design Lab, I cut 5’x5’ baltic birch ply sheets to make hacker skateboard blanks. In my plans for the vertical panel saw I accommodated the extra width (height of saw) so that I would cut everything I need. The downside is that there is a little more flex in the system than I would like. However, if I went with 10/20 instead of 10/10 extrusion, I would probably minimize the flex. Once you have figured out the product that you are cutting, designing is the next step.
Step 3: Materials: (Costs May Vary)
80/20 extruded aluminum (10/10 size for this project)
-$23/8’stick locally ($100)
80/20 #6725 nylon linear bearings (10/10)
-38/each (about $170 w/shipping)
2”x1/8” aluminum angle
Scrap aluminum plate (10mm thick, ⅜”)
T-slot nuts and screws
¼”-20 bolts & locking nuts (various lengths)
Rubber feet (¼”-20 common size)
Step 4: Tools:
Miter saw with negative pitch blade (non-Ferrous)
CNC milling machine (check out your local Maker-Space)
Drill press & bits
Fusion 360 or Solidworks
Step 5: Build Your Saw Sled.
My first suggestion is to have the circular saw that you are going to use, in hand (Makita, DeWalt, Skilsaw, corded, cordless, 7 ¼”, 6 ½’, whatever it might be). I made the mistake of building the saw platform without it, and made it too small. The side of the motor casing didn't fit between the rails when fully lowered (deepest cut). You could incorporate a quick release system if you need to remove the saw often. However, my Skilsaw is dedicated to the panel saw, so I bolted it on directly. I would also suggest upgrading to a saw with a brake. It takes a several seconds for the blade to stop spinning at the end of a cut, rather than a couple of seconds.
Custom build your 2" aluminum angle frame around your saw base. In order to clear the 10/10 rail, you will need to use a hacksaw to custom cut the fitting for the linear bearing (1st image). Align your rails/bearing and mark the holes for drilling (1/4"). In order to keep the two cross rails parallel, I used 1/2"x 1/8" aluminum bars stock for the length of the sole plate of the saw (see 2nd picture). I made the frame to fit tight around the saw. I even had to cut the back end of the 2" angle so that the saw could be lowered all the way. Next time I won't be for pick, and leave a little extra room so that I do not have to waste time cutting, fitting, cutting, & fitting.
Step 6: CAD & CAM (Fusion 360)
Before you can assemble the Vertical Panel Saw, you must create in a CAD software program, the brackets. I chose to use Fusion 360 as that is what our middle school students use for class. You will need to determine the size of bracket that you need, based upon thickness, size, type of 90 degree attachment, whether or not you want alignment slots on the back side, and any other considerations or needs that you might have. If you need help with basic CAD programming, there are thousands of Youtube videos to watch. Although, asking the right question for your needs minimizes your wasted search time.
If you do not have access to a Maker Space (CNC machine), 1/2" baltic birch cut out with a jigsaw and drill press will work too. It too is rigid and works nicely in a pinch.
Step 7: Square It Up
Once you have the frame built, saw mounted and ready to cut wood, get a scrape piece of plywood that need to be cut. One trick that I found helpful was using a square sheet of wood first (check for a great 90 degree corner that runs over a couple of feet in both directions). When placed on the bottom support rail, use the back, upright rail to visually square up the frame. This will minimize the number of cuts necessary to find the perfect alignment.
I also use spring clamps on both lower frames to hold the material in place. I'm sure there are other options for clamping, I just haven't found them yet.
And finally, enjoy your building. This is a great tool for small shop spaces. Since I do not have a sliding compound miter saw, this works well. I have build a few "wedges" that allow for repeat angled cuts.
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