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KenS

Small Table Saws for Plastic

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KenS

Does anyone have experience with using small table saws for cutting sheet styrene?  I've been using the "scribe and snap" method up to now for anything too large for my Chopper II, but that has some problems with accuracy and it's a lot of work when cutting thick styrene that isn't just a single straight line that can be snapped after a few scribing passes. I don't need a jig saw, but something that can cut a long, straight, line accurately, with a second long cut meeting it at an angle in the middle of the stock. A table saw seems like the answer.

 

All of which has me thinking that a saw like this Micro Mark MicroLux would be a good investment. The price is a bit off-putting, however.

 

They also make a less expensive one, and maybe for my purposes it would be sufficient.  But one thing I learned a long time ago is that buying cheap tools is a false economy, and if you're likely to need the better one, you might as well start with it.

 

But that's part of the question: does the more expensive one actually do anything all that useful?  Plastic seems to be something of an afterthought with the cheaper one, and I'm concerned that it's going to melt as much as cut due to the speed of the blade.  One big advantage of the more expensive model is the variable speed.

 

The Micro Mark page notes that it's similar to the Proxxon FKS/E, which costs even more. I've read elsewhere that Micro Mark's MicroLux is actually made be Proxxon, although it may be that both are made by the same company in China; I've seen that in other small power tools.

 

I haven't been able to turn up much on these saws, and most of it seems to be from people working in wood (ship modellers, etc). So if anyone has personal experience, or even knows of someone else's experience, I'd be interested in hearing it.  I'll likely buy something in the next week, as I need this for my project-party project.

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rpierce000

I have not used any mini saws to cut plastic, but I have used my large table saw to do so.

 

I will tell you that there is a major problem with melting, especially with foams. This clogs the blade quickly and is VERY hard to remove. If the blades are anywhere near as expensive as the saw, you should take this into consideration.

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inobu

Did a little research myself a few years back( I looked at the same units) and found a few thing you might add to your consideration.

 

Because the table is smaller the quality requirements actually increase drastically which increases the cost. Getting a cheaper unit will actually cost you more in the long run base on you trying to correct the manufactures cost savings effort. There are other factors that will cause you strife. The vibration of the motor, the precision of the table, fence and so forth.

 

The smaller the unit the tighter the tolerance. The table has to be machined with strict tolerance in order for it to cut your miniature pieces. A few thousands is a few feet in N Scale and you will see all the flaws in your cuts.

There is a difference in cutting small pieces and cutting scale pieces the machines you posted cuts small not scale.

 

Going cheaper will just get you in trouble.

 

If you want a table this is your best bet. http://www.byrnesmodelmachines.com/tablesaw.html its $450 but it will cut the way you need it to.

 

Here an article on it http://www.byrnesmodelmachines.com/pdf/flyrcmagazine2008.pdf

 

 

In an effort to find a cheaper alternative this came up as a possibility.

Which may be a little different from your chopper

 

pb-simplexstudio-LOG700-S_250w.jpg

 

The way I saw it you could make a few passes to cut through.

 

 

After it was all said and done I opted not to get any of them could not justify the cost to use ratio for the table saw and the 700-s was $200 but now its down to $140.

 

Inobu

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cteno4

Ken,

 

I have the cheaper micromark table saw. got it for like $80 on one of their sales a couple of years back. its a pretty limited little saw for just doing 90degree cuttoff and ripping, but nice enough for doing that small ripping and larger cross cutting. i have sawn 040 well on it with the fine blade. you just get a big of a bead of plastic fur along the edge that cleans off well with your finger and a swipe with fine sand paper. on 020 it can be a bit jumpy and chip a little on the edge as the blade hole in the table top is pretty big. putting a new piece of thicker plastic over the table top and rising the blade through it would probably get rid of this, but can be a pain with the fence. i find i can cut 020 well with the matte knife and a good, heavy straight edge.

 

you definitely want to use the fine 107 tooth blade for plastics. the lager 80 tooth blade works great on wood, but can easily put little chips in styrene.

 

the fence on it is pretty whimpy and short. so far i have not tried to do a lot really long stuff on it, works ok for little things like less than 1' long. you could mount a longer fence onto it pretty easily. for bigger stuff i usually use the big table saw and i just cut the plastic on top of a piece of scrap plywood to back the plastic with a fine ply blade and it cuts well w/o melting. ive also cut up foam core well on the little micro mark well.

 

if you were doing gobs of cutting the nicer microlux/proxon (i think you are right i remember seeing folks saying the microlux was the proxxon when i was looking around for small table saws last year) is a nice machine, but like you same more of an 'investment'.

 

i looked around for other options for small table saws and this was it. there were some cheapo 4" table saws that you can get on ebay, amazon and usually at the tool vendors at train shows for $40-100, but they are pretty cheapo and probably not useful for most modeling stuff. the smallest stuff they look to probably do well on i could do on the big table saws. also finding the right sized fine blades is really tough. there is an interesting little i think it was 5.25" table saw that was being made by a company that usually makes lapidary saws. one guy bought one i was email with last fall but i never heard back on how well it worked. he wanted to make a large amount of strip basswood for ho scale modeling with it.

 

if you want to try and do long cuts at angles to each other to meet up someplace in the center you will need to make yourself a sled for the top of the table saw. this is basically a piece of flat material that sits on the table with a guide running in the table track or on either side of the table saw top. you make it longer than the table saw top so you can get your max cut length on it. then you have to put two cross pieces on either end to hold it all together once you slice the groove down the center for the blade path. one issue with the sled though is the table then reduced your blade height by its thickness and this little guy with the 2" blade does not have a lot of wiggle room!

 

you can then put your piece of styrene on the sled and hold it down (or use some clamps) and slice at any angle.

 

getting blades is really tough. really no options outside of micromark for them. its a 10mm arbor on the micromark saw. thats damn close to the 3/8" arbor on the harbor freight chop saw below, but i have not tried to see if they are interchangeable.

 

for doing stuff to big for the choppit i use the great little chop saw from harbor freight. i have a thread up on it here

 

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=330590184538&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123#ht_500wt_898

 

it works great on cross cutting all forms of strip stock. i cut the larger rectangular evergreen styrene tubing with no problems and it comes out nice and square. again you get the plastic fur, but this all pops off. i want to get a second to try and make a better fence on it to hold small strip stock well. you can get these down to like $18 on sale at harbor freight. ive found blades a few places like ebay for metal cutting discs as well.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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cteno4

Inobu,

 

you are right about the tolerances going up when you go down in too size!

 

i had forgotten about the byrnes table saws, nice, but again the blades are a problem for getting fine ones for plastics...

 

ive tried matte cutters like this on plastics. they work ok, but i have never like the regular {$100-200 range) matte cutters. i tried a number of them over the years and got one on sale for like $50 a few years back and it just doesnt hold the stock well enough to get good cuts. you get the nice perpendicular blade and a track to keep the blade from wandering, but larger hunks of plastic seem to want to squirrel around some. i may be totally spoiled as when i was young at the aquarium we had one of those huge old german professional matte cutters that has a big clamp/press that totally clamps the stock to the base and was so heavy/sturdy that the drag of the matte cutter never moved a thing. it was wonderful. unfortunately these are like $1000-2000! i almost got one for $200 when our local art supply store went out of business and things were soo soo cheap at 80-90% off, but when i went back the next morning to buy it the last one was bought...

 

what i have found works well for up to 040 styrene or doing chipboard or foam core is a really heavy duty cutting bar. these guys aint cheap either. long ago i had some cut for me at a machine shop out of stainless when i was at the aquarium doing architectural models. they are great as they are nice and heavy and if you put a rubber base on them the dont slide at all when you cut. if you get ones with a T cross section you also have great finger protection from a jumping knife (man do i have some good scars on my left thumb from those!) and also a great pickup point to move the edge with. my consolation for not getting the big matte cutter was i got a great one of these cutting edges 48" long for $30 at the sale!

 

using a cutting edge you can easily make some adjustable stops on the table top to keep the cutting edge a set distance from the edge of your stock to keep chopping off strips. just like the dupliate-it machine. ive wanted to make a larger one of these to do just that is not jury rigged (the way i usually do it with some clamps!)

 

http://www.micromark.com/Duplicate-It,9546.html

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KenS

Thanks for the comments.  I'd seen some references to the Byrnes saw on a shipbuilding site, but hadn't tracked it down.  Very nice.  I did find someone who'd used one with plastic (didn't remember to save the link), apparently using a 40-tooth blade.

 

I also found a plastics site that suggested that 80-90 tooth saws could cut plastic on an ordinary table saw without melting if the blade was narrow enough and fed slowly. So I guess the variable speed of the Proxxon/Micro Mark isn't required. Byrnes sells an 80-tooth, 0.020 kerf blade. Jeff, what was the kerf on the 80-tooth blade you said caused chipping?

 

I'm now leaning heavily to the Byrnes, although the price is a factor (repeat to self: it's just one less 15-car train). The precision is amazing, and the optional rip taper jig seems designed for the kinds of cuts I want to make.  I'm still somewhat attracted by the variable-speed of the Proxxon though.

 

The chop saw is nice; I saw your earlier thread on it.  I don't really need that kind of cutting today, but I have some future projects where it could be useful so it's on my "ought to buy one" list.

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KenS

After considerable dithering about, I ordered a Byrnes saw with a variety of blades, shipment is 2-4 weeks (it's going ground so actual delivery could take longer, but an email suggested it would be 10-14 days to receipt).  I'll report back on its performance once I have it and can try it out.

 

BTW, Byrnes says it will work with sheet styrene.  He recommended either the 36-tooth carbide (0.055" kerf) blade or one of the slitting blades (typically 80-tooth in a variety of kerfs, I ordered an 0.020" one and some others). I also bought some zero-clearance inserts to avoid "chatter" (motion of thin material unsupported near the blade).

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cteno4

ken,

 

cant wait to hear how this works out for you! im tempted in the future to think about this option!

 

first i need to replace the big table saw. bearings are starting to go and its going to be pretty expensive to replace them and a really nasty job to replace them! but 15 years on a fairly cheap saw so not bad... love to get my dads big delta out here when they move, but its 220v and i didnt wire that out to the garage so it would be another $1k to pull the 220 out there so not worth it. plust its a monster!

 

jeff

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KenS

I'm still waiting for my saw.  Good things take time. If I keep telling myself that, maybe I'll believe it.  :grin

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KenS

Although it comes "ready to make sawdust" according to the manual, while my saw arrived today I didn't get to cutting anything with it (I was very, very, tempted to just fire it up and have at it, but I decided instead to finish up my measurements and gluing of the support structure for the next segment of my highway, so my first cut will be the slab of plastic that goes atop it; maybe tomorrow night).

 

But I thought I'd share some unboxing photos.

 

It arrived UPS Ground in a heavy cardboard box.  Inside it was packed securely with 2" (5cm) of styrofoam on every side (top and bottom too), and as you can see from the second photo, that's a good thing as it apparently got dropped on its side or something, and dug a good 1/2" into the foam.

 

It's a solid, well-made tool, very heavy and with absolutely no flex.  The "manual" was about six typewritten pages, but it covers the basic precautions and stuff like changing the blade and lubrication.  It came with a carbide blade, and I bought several specialized ones that I think will do better with plastic.  I also picked up a couple of add-on parts (one for cutting angles more generally than the included unit, plus a metric micrometer for making very small strip cuts.

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cteno4

Ken,

 

you have me drooling. really looks like its very nicely machined parts there. not something you see much of anymore. cant wait to hear how it cuts!

 

cheers

 

jeff

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KenS

The saw cuts very well indeed.

 

I'm using what's called a "slitting blade", which is a sawblade designed for thin stock where the blade is the same width as the teeth.  This does mean you can get a bit of "burn" from the edge of the blade contacting the cut material, but is also means the cut is very narrow, which produces the minimum amount of dust.  The blade is the 3" "80 tooth" 0.020" kerf one sold by Byrnes, which turns out to be a Thurston I-291 (which their catalog says is a 110 tooth blade designed for cutting "aluminum, brass and plastic").  I'm using this with a "zero clearance insert" (a light bit of metal you saw through by raising the running sawblade into it, so the slot in it is exactly the width of the blade).

 

I also discovered for myself the advice about never pulling stock backwards after it's cut is very good advice indeed.  This is particular important with a slitting blade as there's no clearance (I got a sheet of plastic shoved hard at me and it's a miracle it didn't end up damaged).  Now I turn the saw off after making each cut before removing the material.

 

The end result is that the saw cuts 2mm (0.080") sheet styrene very well (when fed smoothly; my first couple of cuts were a bit rough until I got the feel of it).  I haven't tried thinner material yet, but I'm not expecting any issues with that.

 

My first cuts were to make a section of the highway I'm building, which required a remarkably complex set of angles.  All in all, I spent several hours making the cuts, but most of that was figuring out how to use the fence and miter to hold the plastic where I wanted it while feeding it though the saw. In the end, I had one bobble where I cut a bit at the wrong angle, but I was able to fix that in a way that won't affect use of the finished piece.  I also had a couple of cuts where the blade overshot where I wanted it to stop; it's very hard to see a blade this small when it's cutting along a black line inked on the material. But since this piece will be underneath other parts, that kind of cosmetic issue doesn't matter.  For a first use, I count this as wildly successful.

 

Tomorrow I'm going to see about making some 10mm strips of 0.010" or 0.020" styrene for the sidewalls of my highway.  That should be a good test.

 

Here are a few more photos:

 

Photo 1: my saw blades, top left is the one I'm using, lower right is the standard one that comes with the saw. In the middle is the 1/2" arbor and the spacer ring that turns it into a 20mm arbor (the standard carbide blade is 20mm, the Thurston slitting blades are 1/2").

 

Photo 2: Two accessories, on the left the miter (with optional extension) and on the right the rip taper jig.

 

Photo 3 shows the slitting blade installed with the normal insert next to it, and photo 4 shows the zero clearance insert with the blade protruding through it.

 

Photo 5 shows the saw being set up to make one of my cuts (note the power cord in unplugged and placed where I can see it while I do that, so I don't forget and work near the blade with it plugged in; I'm very careful with power tools)

 

Photos 6 and 7 show the finished piece, with a close up.  Note that this is before I did any filing or sanding to smooth the rough edges.

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inobu

That's nice. I think you will be able to put out some good stuff.

 

Inobu

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cteno4

Ken,

 

wow looks really nice! sounds like the cutting is going to go well. you are right the slitting blade is what you want to do the non burr cut. unfortunately on most of the little saws those are hard or impossible to find. also the zero clearance insert is the big trick as well, i wish i could make one for my little guy. the best i can do is make temporary ones with 040 styrene sheet double stick taped to top of the table up against the fence (the fence wont clear anything under it) so i have to make a different one for each rip. the 2@ fine blade i have only clears the top of the table by about 3/8" max.

 

yes beware of the kick back. try to keep the body away from stock between the blade and fence. ive had a couple of piece of walnut thin slices fly out of my dad's 5hp 220v 12" unisaw (was not using a feather board to prevent kickback-dumb) and embed in the workshop door! that sucker would never bind!

 

i was actually starting to think about creating a larger version of the "duplicate it" (http://www.micromark.com/Duplicate-It,9546.html) utilizing old matter cutter parts for slicing up to 040 styrene strips. only problem is it only works well with wider strips and to make it so that it holds the stock well you end up building something pretty beefie...

 

im jealous!!!

 

cheers

 

jeff

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KenS

Earlier this evening I was making 10mm strips from a sheet of 0.040" (1mm) styrene.  There was a little burring on the edges, but nothing a couple of passes with a file couldn't fix.  And all 12 foot-long strips were consistently 10mm wide (I used the fence, of course).

 

I also ripped a sheet of 0.030" (0.75mm) plastic into two 50mm strips (plus some extra).  If anything, this came out even cleaner than the 040 did.

 

Work on the expressway is picking up.  Heck I might even finish it on time.

 

Dang, I like this saw.

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inobu

It was the way to go......

 

Inobu

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cteno4

  And all 12 foot-long strips were consistently 10mm wide (I used the fence, of course).

 

 

LOL when i first read this i saw 12 foot strip and got a quick picture of you cutting a 12' long piece of 040 plastic sheet on the tiny table saw!

 

it does sound like the way to go. it is tempting, but the big table saw is rattling more and more so i think that one has to be replaced soon. i looked again and bearing set is still like $250 and a lot of work to replace...

 

jeff

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KenS

  And all 12 foot-long strips were consistently 10mm wide (I used the fence, of course).

LOL when i first read this i saw 12 foot strip and got a quick picture of you cutting a 12' long piece of 040 plastic sheet on the tiny table saw!

 

Yeah, it's a really loooong expressway.  :grin

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cteno4

ken,

 

how has the table saw been working out here? any updates?

 

jeff

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KenS

I haven't been doing anything with it since the expressway work went on hold (mainly because I need to re-do a part I messed up and couldn't figure out what I wanted to do).  I need to get back to that, and I'm also planning to use it for some street/sidewalk work.  Too many projects, and way too little time.

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cteno4

cool, just wondered how it was working out for you.

 

i am about to get some 1/8" ply and was going to see about making some a top that are form fitting to the blades so it cuts the thin styrene cleaner with my mini saw. thinking of making a little sled table for it as well for the same thing for cross cuts. the fence and miter are pretty cheesy on my little guy...

 

cheers

 

jeff

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KenS

The zero clearance insert worked very well on my saw.  I didn't try it with the normal slot to see how much play there'd be without it, but I think it would have been considerable on the thinner stock.  I saw no vibration even when cutting very thin styrene with mine.

 

Mine are actually made from very thin aluminum, and the blade I'm using is rated to cut that as well as plastic, so cutting the slot just involved raising the running blade into the insert, then lowering it a hair to leave a small gap at each end for cut plastic to go down (the insert is held in place with screws so it won't move).

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cteno4

nother great thing about the zero clearance on the sides with the sled is that small bits you chop off dont tend to fly off or get sucked down next to the blade! really prevalent with light weight plastic!

 

i may just pop for one piece of really high quality 1/8 or 3/32" hobby ply to make a good sled for crosscut and also one for ripping. if i make a sled that moves side to side with a fence glued down to it i can then just clamp it where i want the distance from the fence to the blade and cut a slot. this will work until i have to cut something close to an old slot. guess i could just move the fence as well. the rip fence that comes with it sucks anyway.

 

unfortunately this little saw has no insert and no vertical blade adjustment so trying to cut an insert and get it fit in there would be a task.

 

jeff

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KenS

how has the table saw been working out here? any updates?

 

I've been using the saw this past week, and have a bit more experience with it now.  I used it to trim a sidewalk off a Tomix Gas Station base, and it did the job perfectly.

 

I also used it to cut some sheet styrene, and noticed three issues:

 

1) The rip fence (which isn't really removable without major effort) can't be moved further than ~95mm from the blade, which puts a rather small upper bound on the size of what you can cut off a sheet, unless the sheet is flexible enough to ride up over the fence.

 

2) The rip fence has a gap under it, so it can't be used as a guide for really thin sheet styrene.  I think 0.5mm (0.020") is the lower limit.

 

3) When cutting strips off a long sheet, I seem to have problems keeping the sheet from twisting when I get to the end.  I think the issue here is friction, and waxing the table could fix this, but then I'd have wax on the sheet I'd need to clean off before painting. I may be able to avoid this by just using more care, but for now my 12mm strips have a short bit on one end that taper to 10mm.

 

Still really happy with the saw.  This was soooo much easier than scribe-and-snap.

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cteno4

I've been using the saw this past week, and have a bit more experience with it now.  I used it to trim a sidewalk off a Tomix Gas Station base, and it did the job perfectly.

 

I also used it to cut some sheet styrene, and noticed three issues:

 

1) The rip fence (which isn't really removable without major effort) can't be moved further than ~95mm from the blade, which puts a rather small upper bound on the size of what you can cut off a sheet, unless the sheet is flexible enough to ride up over the fence.

 

bummer the rip fence does not come off easily. you could easily build a larger table top for it and just have a new rip fence on that you could just clamp down for larger rips. this is what i was thinking of doing for my tiny mircomark saw

 

2) The rip fence has a gap under it, so it can't be used as a guide for really thin sheet styrene.  I think 0.5mm (0.020") is the lower limit.

 

arrr i hate that, happens with most fences as they dont expect you to be cutting 020 stock on a saw like that. this happens to me on the big table saw with thin stuff like styrene and veneer. i just clamp a nicely edge milled board to the fence that is snug to the table top

 

3) When cutting strips off a long sheet, I seem to have problems keeping the sheet from twisting when I get to the end.  I think the issue here is friction, and waxing the table could fix this, but then I'd have wax on the sheet I'd need to clean off before painting. I may be able to avoid this by just using more care, but for now my 12mm strips have a short bit on one end that taper to 10mm.

 

this is always an issue with a larger sheet even when you have a large table to keep things well supported and feathers off correctly. if you want to be perfect you just have to waste the last bit of stock that goes through the saw on long rips. you might think of taking their fence off and making your self a larger table top and then mounting a new fence like a good bandsaw fence on it. ive never kept the fence thats come with any of my table saws and always upgrade them. current fence costs as much as my saw did, but its worth it for it to function so well. same goes for miters, i finally found one that is the bomb but cost $110...

 

Still really happy with the saw.  This was soooo much easier than scribe-and-snap.

 

 

good to hear you are having fun and happy with it. i keep looking at them if i get into doing larger high rise buildings where ill need to do a lot of jigged cutting of multiple floors and walls. shop table saw is just too big for this and too close to the fingers on little work like this and the micromark micro table saw is just too small and modifying it to do more i think just wont get there or be worth the time and expense. for now the micromark does all the little things i need and is easy to do a quick modify with a few blocks of wood when i need a few larger cuts.

 

have fun!

 

jeff

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