Reviews


I've recently been buying some woodworking machinery. Reviews by other users would have been welcome, but I couldn't find any. Maybe you'll find these useful.

Table saw
Axminster BTS10P table saw
Bandsaw
Axminster BS350 bandsaw

Bandsaw Roller Guide Upgrade

Thicknesser
Axminster CT330 thickness planer
Jointer
Axminster CT150 jointer-planer

Table Saw>

Axminster BTS10PP

2000

Axminster BTS10P table saw Axminster

There are a great many small table saws on the UK market. Most are made from the same easily recognisable kit of parts, with similar pricetags. In their usual manner, Axminster have taken the same basic parts as the other makers, but put them together with rather more care over the details than most other makers.

The motor is one downside of these saws, for they all (except for one model by Record) use a "universal" motor with brushes, rather than an induction motor. Brush motors are common in hand-held tools, but are seen as a little lightweight for fixed machinery. In practice, the main difference is the huge crash and bang on starting. It's less bad when running, but this is a noisy saw !

The case is moulded plastic. Despite appearances and many adverse comments, this is a good material for a small saw. It's strong, robust against damage and well damped against vibration. It's more rigid and less noisy than the thin steel sheet cases used on most of the competition.

The top is made of large aluminium extrusions. It's lightweight and could be easily damaged in a careless workshop, but it's flat and works well. I prefer it to the other tabletops available in this price range; either thin pressed steel or a small cast aluminium top. The saw package also includes an extra pair of extension wings. These wings are stable enough to support a large sheet of plywood, but (particularly when extended) they're rather too flexible to support a wide cross-cut sled.

Tablesaw guard

There is a good splitter and transparent guard mounted above the blade. Splitters are a vital safety feature on any table saw used for ripping, but most of those currently on sale range from the inadequate to the downright dangerous. The guard is one of the best I've used. It's convenient, requires no adjustment and moves easily out of the way when sawing.

In common with typical European practice, this saw is only designed for ripping and crosscutting through the full thickness of the wood. American saws are commonly used for rebating and grooving, where Europeans would use a shaper or router instead. As a result, the splitter (a vertical fin behind the blade is permanently fitted.

The fence is average, or better than average for this price range. It's solid, easily adjusted, and has a reasonably solid sliding adjuster. An additional clamp bolt at the far end aids rigidity, without moving the fence when the clamp is done up. It's no Biesemeyer, but then we're talking about a cheap table saw, not a Unisaw.

Good Points

Guard
One of the best saw guards I've used. It's where you need it, and not getting in the way where you don't.
Price

Bad Points

Noise !
It's incredibly loud when starting - but I wear ear defenders anyway.
Splitter isn't easily removable
There's a lot of debate as to whether American tablesaw practices (sawing partway through without a splitter) are safe. My own view is that they are, provided that the splitter is replaced immediately afterwards. Safety requires an easily removed and replaced splitter, not one that's either irremovably fixed, or is so awkward to remove that teh temoptation is to leave it off.
Blade changing is difficult
Blade changing isn't itself hard, but it's done from beneath the table. This requires unbolting the saw base from the stand and turning it over.
No dado sets
Like other European saws, the saw arbor is too short to take a stacked dado set.

Bandsaw

Axminster BS350

2002

Axminster BS	350 bandsaw Axminster

This is a 14" wheel diameter bandsaw, in the "European" style (although built in Taiwan) with a welded steel frame, rather than the more usual cast-iron frame more popular in the USA. The advantage of a steel frame over cast iron is in allowing higher belt tension for a lighter frame. I haven't yet managed to construct a tension gauge, but it's capable of tensioning a 5/8" blade well enough for deep resawing.

Upper wheel and tensioner

Upper wheel

Lower wheel, motor drive and wheel cleaning brush

Lower wheel

Guides
Close up of the upper blade guide

Upper guides

The guides are simple, but effective. They're the same top and bottom; a large ball race as a thrust bearing and two square blocks for lateral guidance. A set of Cool Blocks are included, generally thought to be the best rigid guide blocks available. Adjustment is simple and straightforward; Allen screws on everything. None of them are screw-adjustable, it's all a matter of slacken-slide-tighten. Reaching the screw for the lower bearing is awkward - you'll need a long ball-ended Allen key. A lever adjustment is supplied for the upper bearing, but I replaced this with another Allen screw. I can't see why quick adjustment here, without the rest of the guides, is particularly useful.

Close up of the lower blade guide

Lower guides

On a large bandsaw used exclusively for resawing, there are good reasons to favour all-bearing guides. For varied use though, solid blocks like these are probably a more appropriate setup for most users.

Assembly and commissioning is easy. Most is already assembled for you, and the rest goes together in minutes. All the factory adjustments for squareness and tracking seemed well adjusted and were already accurate. I imagine most users will buy the package deal, which includes a firm and solid stand.

Rear view of the bandsaw

Rear view of the bandsaw

The tracking adjustment is on the upper wheel, with a simple clamp. More complex adjustments (already factory made) might need to re-align the bottom wheel, for which there's a simple and accessible set of locknutted Allen screws on the axle.

Table

The table is a big solid piece of cast iron. There's a machined slot for a mitre gauge, and a bolt-on rail to take a rip fence. The rail must be removed to change blades, but that's only a few seconds with 3 thumbscrews.

Although the table itself is quite solid, its attachment is less so. The bandsaw's frame is substantial, but the table isn't fastened to it ! It's fastened instead to the steel case, which is less rigid. Although it's not enough to be a problem, there is noticeable vibration in the table. I might yet weld some stiffening inside the case.

Table tilt mechanism

The table tilt mechanism is fairly typical; no better and no worse than most. It's a little stiff to release it, but it does the job. The trunnion is mounted on the side of the cabinet, not above it, so is a little unbalanced and stiff to operate. Although there are two thumbwheels and a bolt, I found that I needed to take a wrench to slacken the bolt head to allow adjustment.

Close up of the fence

The fence is a neat design and quite useful. The fence itself is an aluminium extrusion that can be flipped over to make a low fence that allows the guides to be lowered even further when working with narrow rips in thin sheet. It's not deliberately adjustable for sawing drift angle, but it's easy enough to shim the mounting screws. The fence rail has a metric scale on it for ripping. Adjusting the indicator makes this into an accurate and useful marker.

The fence also includes a loose clamp for the far end. This is simply useless and best ignored. It clamps well enough, but the bare screw end tends to push sideways on the table when clamping up, forcing the fence out of alignment.

Price

Price is a bargain. It's a competent bandsaw capable of real work, all for around 450 (+VAT) as a package with stand and fences. Even better, I bought my for an on-line special offer price that was considerably lower (but didn't include the mitre fence).

Does it work ?

Very much so. I've cut tight curves with a 1/4" blade, and resawn 6" oak. As the last bandsaw I used drove me wild with its wobbly guides, I was pleased to find decent resawing at this level.

Good Points

Price
 
Layout
It's a well designed and laid out machine. The motor is tucked neatly round the back, as is the dust outlet (compare their JBS160 model). All of the controls are well laid-out and work well.

Bad Points

The table wobbles
Although the frame is a thick box-section, the guards around the wheels are of much thinner (but adequate) steel. This is fine as a guard, not so good to support the table.
It's underpowered.
I'm not sure yet if it's the motor bogging down (which I suspect) or just belt slip, but the saw mechanism is capable of working harder than the motor can drive it.

Would I buy it again ?

I bought this bandsaw on price, even though I knew I'd be needing a bigger and better one eventually. In a year or two, or when I have more workshop space, I'll probably upgrade to something with 18" wheels and a 1,000 pricetag. In the meantime though, I don't think there's another machine in the price range to touch it. It's also likely to retain a useful resale value.

Books

If you're buying a first bandsaw, then there's an excellent book it would pay you well to read:

Bandsaw Handbook, by Mark Duginske

Bandsaw Handbook

Mark Duginske explains pretty much everything about bandsaws. Mechanisms and techniques for both set-up and sawing are covered. Just the chapter on blades alone could justify buying this book. This saw is so well behaved that much of this book isn't likely to be needed immediately (although one day you might need to re-align the tracking) but it will certainly improve your sawing technique.

Buy this book from Amazon UK

Bandsaw Roller Guide Upgrade

Roller Guide upgrade for the Axminster BS350

2003

Originally posted to rec.woodworking

For years the Axminster 350 was sold with Cool Blocks and a thrust bearing, they have recently released a set of upgrade bearing guides for it.

The guides appeared to be of reasonable quality. They're almost identical top and bottom; three sealed bearings share the same fore-and-aft axis, mounted on a small die casting. The side guides are on eccentric spindles for adjustment, locked by a clamp Allen bolt. Fore-and-aft adjustment is done by a sliding die-casting within the main housing, independently for the side bearings and the thrust bearing. Adjustment can use a micro-adjust threaded nut at the rear, locked by a small winged screw.

Installation

Fitting the guides is a chore. They're not designed for this machine, and this machine wasn't designed for bearing guides. The top guide fits with only a little filing to stretch one of the mounting holes for the blade guard. The bottom guide is more troublesome. It's not unreasonable (and how my saw is currently set up) to only fit the upper guide.

The bottom guide has number of problems. The machine wasn't designed to take bearings here, and there just isn't space to do it.

The bearing casting is held down by only one bolt. This gives no angular location and the bearing has to be manually aligned. No big problem with solid blocks, but essential for bearings.

The micro-adjust feature is attractive, but unusable on the bottom guide. It's best removed before installing the bottom guide (easy and reversible - just use an Allen to unscrew the stud). The problem is that there's inadequate space for it, and it forces the bearings to be positioned too far forward relative to the wheels. Although this is acceptable for a wide blade, it makes a narrow blade, such as 1/4", extremely difficult to set up, as you need to have it tracking right on the front of the tyre.

Adjusting the guides, especially the bottom, requires a long 4mm Allen key with a ball end. The original block guides benefited from this, but now it's an essential. The thumbscrew clamps are poorly made and the screws work loose through vibration. As they're basically inaccessible on the bottom guide anyway, throw them away and replace with Allens.

The side bearings are quite easily adjusted, but there is a tendency for them to tighten up when the clamp screw is tightened.

The fore and aft adjustment is badly made and inaccurate. There is so much slop between the two mazak castings that any notion of "micro adjust" is farcical. This adjutment must be made with the clamp screw almost tight, otherwise there is too much sidways movement

Overall, I'm unimpressed by these guides and their poor build quality. Adjustment of their many axes is so inter-dependent that the process becomes slow and blade changing becomes something to be avoided.

The biggest problem with the guides (and why I no longer use the bottom guide) is the effect they have on tracking narrow blades. With the old block guides, the blade installation process was to open the guides, throw the blade on, let it track normally on the centre of the tyre and then adjust the guides to suit. I never needed to re-adjust tracking, going from wide to narrow blades.

With these bearing guides, every blade must be re-tracked to place it into the limited adjustment range of the bearings. As supplied (with the lower micro-adjusts in place) it is not possible to track a 1/4" blade. Even when supposedly adjusted, there is a tendency for creep and for blades to shift around. This is because they're generally rubbing on the lower thrust bearing, even when unloaded, because it doesn't have enough adjustment range to take up the correct position. Blades can also find themselves tracking with their teeth between the side bearings, removing their set and destroying the blade in seconds!

Another irritating habit is the blade jumping off the lower thrust bearing and running alongside it instead (which then usually causes it to move backwards between the side rollers and destroy the teeth). This is caused by obvious bad adjustment of the lower guide, but the space is so limited that it's simply impossible to adjust the lower guide correctly at all.

In use

With the guides in service, resawing with a wide blade improved. The blade tension adjustment on this saw is unimpressive (poor spring, no tension indicator) so that although the frame can support considerable force and the wheels can track a 3/4" blade, its real capacity is only 5/8" maximum. Resaw performance is marginally better than a cast-iron 14" Delta, but generally disappointing.

Performance with narrow blades, or for scroll sawing, was either unchanged or became unusable. These bearing guides are simply incompatible with narrow blades. I don't think that "bearings shouldn't be used with 1/4" blades" as is sometimes said, but these ones shouldn't be. They certainly prevent narrower blades being used (I've used 1/8" before now, with the Cool Blocks)

Recommendations

If you have this bearing guide set, I suggest throwing away the lower guide assembly and just using the top guide with the old lower block-style guide. For narrow blades, refit the block guide to the top too. If you still insist on using the lower bearing guide, then discard the micro-adjust screws and saw about 1/2" off the tail of the adjustment bar. This gives more space for fore-and-aft adjustment and allows something resembling proper adjustment.

Conclusion

Overall, I cannot recommend this bearing guide upgrade for the Axminster 350 bandsaw. It's useful, but extremely troublesome. The cost isn't really worth it, as the quality is too poor and there's also the additional cost of the extra blades it will undoubtedly destroy. From a saw with Cool Blocks that's convenient to use and adjust, it's transformed to a machine that's marginally more useful, but considerable more troublesome.

There's also the question as to whether a 14" machine really needs bearing guides. I don't think so. I'd suggest running set of Cool Blocks (which are cheap, quick and easy to upgrade) and then seeing how you like that. From what little I've seen of Carters, they're considerably better made and less sloppy, which would remove many of the problems I've had. However they still won't deliver a huge benefit to what is still basically a small domestic bandsaw.

Thicknesser

That's a "Thickness Planer" to you Americans.

Axminster CT330

2002

Axminster

What a bargain ! 300 + VAT

Received wisdom is that you can't use a thickness planer as a surfacer. Well I'm doing it - and it works fine too. The difference is that a surfacer guides from the same table with the cutters embedded in it, a thicknesser suspends the cutter above the table, with the wood between them. As a result, a surfacer can re-shape one surface to be more flat, but a thicknesser can only copy the flatness of one surface onto another. As this thicknesser has long tables though, it does a reasonable job at taking cupping out of boards. It can't deal with twist though, but then this is also hard to surface out. If you take a bit of time with a hand plane first, then a twisted board can be thicknessed to be flat (starting with a thick board is a help).

Compared to Axminster's earlier CT344 thicknesser, it's a better machine. The width is up to 13" instead of 12", although both were already a bargain source for a wide planer. Tables are longer too, giving more accurate planing of bowed boards. The big improvement is the cutter lock, which entirely removes snipe. Snipe is caused by either the end of the board moving up against the cutter when not properly supported (the longer tables, and good operator technique help here) or by the cutter itself moving when placed under load. Locking the cutter to its posts seems to prevent this altogether.

Like all thicknessers and large planers, it generates a huge amount of wood chippings. You'll need dust extraction, and preferably a cyclone (thicknessers fill sacks in no time !). I build my own cyclones - details here. The extraction hood is supplied with the thicknesser and connects to a 4" flexible hose. Unfortunately the outfeed table can't be folded up for neat storage with it in place.

Good Points

Finish

It's not a planer, and it won't take the twist out of a board, but it's not a bad start. Finish is acceptable for cabinetry use, not just rough on-site work.

Freedom from snipe, thanks to the cutter lock, is a bonus.

Width
A typical combination planer / thicknesser costs twice what this machine does, and has a width limit of 10". If you're looking for wide planing on a budget, then this is a good machine to look at.
Price
Many thickness planers have appeared at around this price, but this is one of the few that's attractive to the cabinetmaker, not just the carpenter.

Bad Points

Nothing !

Overall, I love this machine. It's more useful than for mere thicknessing, and it's a very well carried out portable thicknesser. If you try to find a combination planer/thicknesser with similar performance then you'll have to pay at least twice as much and still only have 10" width.

Jointer

Axminster CT150

2002

Axminster CT150 jointer-planer Axminster

Another one from Axminster. This is their little 6" jointer-planer. I've only just got it, so more details once I've had a chance to use it properly.

This is yet another retailer's own-brand version of the same basic Taiwanese machine. It's not common in the UK, but nearly every big US tool seller seems to offer a variant of it. It certainly looks respectable; reasonable capacity, extremely solid cast-iron construction and a good price.

So far this is being a disappointment ! The motor starter was dead on arrival and I've not yet been able to use it. It won't stay down when started, and if you do get it to run, it cuts out almost immediately. Axminster have offered a replacement starter, so we shall see how it performs when that arrives.

Additionally, the manual is far too inaccurate. It's for a base model that's so far away from Axminster's offering as to make it useless. The table adjusting handles are different, the description of bolting it to the cabinet is wrong, the motor voltage (not surprisingly) is wrong and most seriously, the manual doesn't provide any description at all of the Euro-style bridge guard. Model variations (and bad English) are always a problem for imported machine tool manuals, but this one really does go beyond the acceptable.

Bridge guard on the jointer

Euro-style bridge guard

The bridge guard over the cutter is of the European style, not the spring-loaded swing guard common in the USA. It guards well, but needs to be adjusted carefully - usually a different adjustment for each different cut.

The guard adjusts in two directions. The black lever raises it up and down, and the silver aluminium extrusion slides sideways. When planing thin stock, the wood goes under the guard. When edge jointing, the guard drops down over the cutter and is moved sideways to allow the wood through. In either case, the guard should be no more than 10mm away from the wood. If you're repeatedly planing then jointing, it's acceptable practice to adjust the guard to fit both ways round, but both gaps should still be 10mm or under.

Fence tilt mechanism

Fence tilt mechanism

The fence's tilt mechanism is a neat piece of design. A single clamping lever controls it. The adjustment itself has two axes; one to tilt the fence and another to slide it vertically downwards. When the fence is released to tilt, it also adjusts automatically height-wise to fit closely against the table.

The tables are adjusted by two large handwheels. Rather than the usual direct-acting leadscrews, these are moved to the face of the machine and operate via a bellcrank mechanism. It looks like a good idea (they're handier to reach, yes?) but I'm not convinced. These handwheels don't need to be adjusted much or frequently. For the outfeed table in particular, the setting is crucial and rarely changed - why risk having an easily knocked handwheel in such an exposed position ? There are two locks on the table adjustment; one locks the handwheel shaft against being knocked (but doesn't stop the table moving slightly under load or vibration), the other locks the table's slide gib.

There's another problem with these front-mounted handwheels. Placing them in front of the table slides means that the locking lever for the slide gibs must now be moved to the rar of the jointer. It works, but it's less accessible.

Rear-mounted gib lock lever

Gib lock lever (arrowed)

Waste extraction is via a simple chute at the end of the cabinet. Unlike the thicknesser, it dumps its shavings in a neat pile on the floor. There's no fitting for a dust extractor hose, although one is available, or you could make your own from a simple 4" pipe fitting and a square flange. Unless you're using it continuosly though, it's quite an easy machine to clean up around, even without extraction.

Shaving dump chute

Shaving dump chute

My new motor starter arrived within a day or two, so full marks to Axminster for good customer support. Fitting it was a simple matter for anyone familiar with motor wiring and the jointer works fine now.

new motor starter (on the right) and the old one

Replacement motor starter (on the right)

Also note the set of bright orange plastic push paddles. These are also from Axminster, and highly recommended. The whirling blades of a jointer are even more attractive to fingers than a table saw blade, so always use the guards and push sticks !

Good Points

Construction
Big, cast-iron and solid. Here's a machine your grandchildren can have confidence in.
Tables
The tables are huge, compared to the size of the machine. You'll have no trouble planing twisty boards flat with this machine.

Bad Points

Starter
The original equipment starter is less than impressive, as regards construction. Certainly mine was unreliable, I can't say if the same fault would affect all of them.
Manual
The manual needs to be re-written to cover the changed design. Particularly, it needs some guidance on how to use the guard correctly.
Adjustments
Factory adjustments (unlike the bandsaw) weren't accurately made. One jointer knife was considerably lower than the others and needed to be re-set before I could get a good surface finish. One knife also had a noticable nick in the edge already, enough to leave a ridge in the finish.
Gib locks
The front-mounted handwheels don't add much, and they make the gib locks awkward. I'd rather have them back in their original position.