Use on Site
The SawGear has been great for the casings, wainscoting, pilasters, and built-ins that make up the bulk of our cutting tasks. But we don't use it for crown, for a couple of reasons: It can't cut crown on the flat, and the 8-foot capacity of the machine we have is too short for long runs of trim. When we need to cut crown or long runs of trim, we pivot the flip stop out of the way and cut to a mark on the piece. We could have gone with the 12-foot model, but even that would be too short for the 16-foot stock we like to use. Also, we like that the 8-foot model – which is just under 10 feet long – fits inside my SUV. With the larger version, we'd have to transport the bar on a roof rack. Plus that model would be harder to set up on cramped job sites.
On our first big project, the SawGear reduced cutting time by about 50 percent and took six man-days off a 40 to 50 man-day job. That was nice, but I was even more impressed with how precisely it sets up cuts. There were only a few miscut pieces on the entire project and those were because we mismeasured walls or entered the wrong dimension.
We noticed that when the tool is plugged in it makes a steady high-pitched sound. This is annoying, but you get used to it, and I always wear hearing protection anyway. I found that you can stop the noise by turning the machine off and then immediately turning it back on. This doesn't seem to affect the calibration, but I usually check just in case.
There is no need to measure or mark the stock. Just key in the dimension (above), and the stop – shown here with a plywood block attached to it (above right) – moves down the bar and stops at the correct position to make the cut (right).
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According to the manufacturer, the SawGear can be used to cut framing. Since we don't frame, I can't offer an opinion on how it would work for that task other than to say it should stand up to framing at least as well as a miter saw does. The bar is sturdy and the power head has a stout metal housing and a protective door.
The Bottom Line
The SawGear is a great tool for the right kind of carpenter. I grew up playing video games and using computers, so the learning curve wasn't a problem. Basic cuts like butts and 45-degree miters are simple enough that my dad (who is kind of old-school) was able to figure them out quickly. However, tasks that require custom programing could be beyond the skill and patience of many carpenters. This machine can't be used for every cut on the job, but that's to be expected. It's enough for me that it increases the speed and accuracy of the majority of the cuts I make. It's especially good for repetitive cuts, like the ones you make when fabricating wainscoting.
Miters require additional information, like the width of the stock and the orientation of the cut. The W key indicates width; the X and Z keys, left and right miters; and the Y key, pieces that are mitered both ends.
Taking full advantage of the SawGear requires a certain amount of mental organization. If you are one of those people who measures and cuts a piece at a time, this tool won't do much for you. But if you work from a cut list and make as many cuts as possible at the same time, the SawGear will allow you to cut faster and more accurately. The greatest gains can be achieved by grouping like tasks together – all the casings, all the baseboard, and so on – because that reduces setup time.
The 8-foot SawGear costs $2,200 and the 12-foot model $2,500. The price covers a power head, a bar, and bench-style mounting brackets; options include a support leg ($149) for the end of the bar and a universal mounting bracket ($199) that fits most commercial saw stands. That's a lot of money for a small company like ours to spend, even for a tool that will pay for itself in labor savings. For that reason this machine isn't at the top of my wish list – but it's on there, and not too far down.
Jesse Wright is a finish carpenter for Architectural Molding in Pleasant Hill, Calif.