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 here, I would first like to talk about product reviews. I am by no means a “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, 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 (excuse the pun). And who wouldn’t want a little more accuracy.
The system was pretty straight forward and the instructions 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. In my case I just used 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. Now for initial setup, I am not very picky. I actually use my fingers to determine whether the fence is parallel with the miter slot (surprisingly accurate, by the way). I would position the fence and tighten the screws. Then I would release the fence, push it all the way to the right and then back to the miter slot. When I would clamp it down, the alignment would be slightly off. I proceeded to go through what felt like a trial and error-style setup procedure for another hour. And when it was all said and done, I was still not confident the fence was locking into exactly the same position every time. Several week’s later, I felt the same way.
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″. Pretty cool. 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. Despite the extra security, I really never felt confident that the fence was locking down perfectly parallel to the blade every time. It actually reminded me of the lack of confidence I used to have in my first Craftsman tablesaw fence. I remember having to make sure the fence was completely snug against the rail before clamping down, otherwise it would be skewed. Now the Incra wasn’t quite THAT bad, but the fact remained that I was still experience this lack of trust. On my Powermatic system, I can have the fence tweaked in one direction or the other, and when the clamp comes down that sucker pops into place whether it likes it or not. As a result I have complete confidence in the alignment of the Powermatic fence. Unfortunately, after several weeks with the Incra I was never able to build up that confidence.
To be honest, I was willing to live with these “issues”, or at least deal with them for a little while longer. But then came my first big project with the new system. I had to make a simple cabinet out of 3/4″ Baltic Birch. I thought it would be a great test of the new fence. And it actually revealed to me what, at least in my shop, proved to be the Achilles Heel of the entire system: limited rip capacity. The widest rip it could handle was 29″. 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 the deal breaker. Now I know you can shift the fence rails and readjust everything for the wider cut, but that’s just too much darn work for me. So I spent another day removing the Incra, and replacing it with my old Powermatic. And I have to tell you, it was like taking off a pair of uncomfortable dress shoes and slipping back into my perfectly worn Adidas sneakers.
I think I have been avoiding this write-up simply because of the overall negative tone. I have read so many positive reviews about this system that I began second-guessing my own experiences. So if you have experiences with the Incra system that differ from mine, please feel free to respond to this post. And 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. To be fair, the Incra system is a huge upgrade from most cheapo fences that come on contractor saws (although these are getting better every year). But if you have a decent t-square fence that is in working order, I don’t think I would recommend the Incra unit as an upgrade. To me, the things I lost were not worth what little I gained. But if you are the type of person who values micro-adjustability on a tablesaw and you don’t mind taking the time to occasionally change the setup for different cuts, you might thing this fence is a worthwhile investment.