Many of you have emailed me about my experiences with the Incra LS32-TS Table Saw Fence System. If you’ve followed the videos in order, you will notice that in Episode 30, I was very excited to have this “high end” fence on my tablesaw. Many of you soon noticed that I was back to my old Powermatic fence shortly thereafter. I certainly do owe everyone an explanation.
Before I go into the details, I would first like to talk about product reviews. I never claim to be a real “reviewer.” I don’t have standardized testing procedures and I really don’t care to. All I can do is tell you how a product worked in my hands. That doesn’t necessarily indicate how it will work in your hands. But I do feel the everyday-man approach can sometimes be much more informative than the formal, over-complicated, and “out of touch with the real world” scenarios we read about in many publications. So please take my comments with a grain of salt. They are, after all, just one man’s experience.
So why did I upgrade the fence in the first place? I was very happy with my Powermatic fence, but I really liked the idea of micro-adjustability and increased accuracy. I wasn’t convinced that I NEEDED it. I just WANTED it. I am sure you can relate. After all, Incra has a reputation for unparalleled precision and accuracy and doesn’t want a little more accuracy.
The system was pretty straight forward and the instructions were clear. The kit came with a excellent DVD as well. Everything was going smoothly until it was time to align the fence with the blade, which I usually align with my miter slot. Alignment of the fence is accomplished by tightening down the 8 screws that hold the positioner in place on the far right side of the saw. When I do the initial setup of a fence, I’m not really picky. I just use my finger to make sure the fence is parallel with the miter slot. Once the fence is roughly aligned, I’ll move to a more accurate system for the final adjustments. I do it this way because that initial setup gives me an opportunity to quickly test the fence’s ability to lock down consistently each and every time. So I will lock the fence near the miter slot, check with my finger, unlock the fence, slide it back and forth, then lock it down again and test with my finger. It’s quick and dirty but it tells me a lot about the behavior of the fence. Much to my surprise, the Incra fence was not locking down consistently. So I decided to continue with the setup and calibration process in hopes that this was either just my imagination or perhaps I had a defective part. After several weeks of use, I still wasn’t confident the fence was locking down perfectly parallel each time.
Yes, I realize this is VERY much unlike the experience others have with this unit and I was just as surprised as you probably are. At this point, I should have called the company to pursue replacement parts, but time is money and I had already invested enough of both. Besides, there were other factors at play that brought me to the conclusion that this wasn’t the right fence for me. Let’s press on.
One of the great features of this system is the micro adjustability. Once you have your fence lined up for a cut, you can raise the cam clamp into the first position, which engages the lead screw. At that point you can use the little click wheel to make adjustments down to 0.002″. How cool is that?! To completely secure the fence for a cut, you pull the cam clamp to the second position and then tighten a small thumb screw at the user end of the fence itself. So locking the fence down for a cut is a two-step process. Now it may just be the fact that I “grew up” on a traditional Beisemeyer style fence but I began to miss the simplicity of a simple lock and go mechanism. It may sound silly to some, but the extra job of tightening a knob for each cut started to become bothersome. Coupled with the fact that I still wasn’t confident in the fence’s ability to lock down parallel to the blade, things weren’t looking good.
I was willing to live with these issues for a while in hopes of either changing my habits or resolving the problems I was experiencing. But there was another issue that cropped up when I began my first project with the fence. It was a simple cabinet out of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood. I thought it would be a great test for the new fence. Forget all this testing, measuring, and over-analyzing, let’s make some real cuts! Unfortunately, this exposed what, at least in my shop, proved to be the Achilles Heel of the entire system: limited rip capacity. The widest rip the 32″ version of the fence could handle was 29″. Clearly I should have gotten the larger unit. Now I could certainly live with that if I had no other option, but apparently I had become so accustomed to having full cabinet saw rip capacity, that this was a deal breaker. And to clarify, you can shift the rails to the right and re-adjust everything for a wider cut, but that’s just too much darn work for me.
All of these compounded factors lead me to the difficult decision of removing the fence from my saw. And I have to tell you, it was like taking off a pair of uncomfortable fancy dress shoes and slipping back into my perfectly worn Adidas sneakers.
Clearly, this just wasn’t the fence for me. Even if we assume the fence alignment was a defective part or a defective user, I found that the system was a bit cumbersome in-use. And while the micro-adjustment options were initially appealing to me, it turned out that my work habits have developed over the years in such a way that I don’t really need micro-adjustability at the table saw to be a happy woodworker. For me, nothing beats the simplicity of a standard fence.
I have been avoiding this write-up simply because of the overall negative tone for what is a highly-rated product from a top-notch company. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t second-guessing my own experiences. After all, I own several other Incra products and I have experienced their quality first-hand. The LS32-TS just didn’t work out for me.
So if you have experiences with the Incra system that differ from mine, please feel free to respond to this post. If you are interested in this fence system, try to find a friend that has one so you can get get some hands on time for yourself and be sure to read through the comments here. I am sure many will chime in with positive experiences that you should consider in your decision. I’m sure others will simply chime in to defend a product they spent their hard-earned money on.
In summary, the Incra system is a huge upgrade from most cheapo fences that come standard on contractor saws. But if you have a decent t-square fence that is in working order and you aren’t hung up on the concept of micro-adjustment at the table saw, I don’t think I would recommend the Incra unit as an upgrade. To me, the inconveniences weren’t worth what little I gained. Your mileage may vary.