Excalibur Scroll Saw EX21

This article of mine was first published late last year in The Australian Wood Review, and so I can now reprint it here on Stu’s Shed (as per a specific arrangement with AWR).

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It is a well-known aphorism that first-impressions count, and both the designers, and manufacturers of the Excalibur EX21 Scroll saw knew this very, very well.

A scroll saw is not something that needs to look like a prop from Star Trek, or  encased in plastic to such a degree it disguises its real form. This scroll saw looks, and feels serious, and it has a price tag to prove it.  The whole unit has a very utilitarian design:  you need a flat working surface, so there’s a large flat surface of plate steel.  A frame and base – more plate steel bolted together.  A rack and pinion system to make angled cuts – even more plate steel.  The machine is solid, and well engineered.

Excalibur

Excalibur

For angled cuts, the EX21 uses the same concept as a increasing number of scroll saws, in that it tilts the blade (and mechanism) over, rather than angling the base.  From an operator’s point of view, this means your workpiece remains on a large horizontal work surface providing ideal access and control, even when performing cuts up to 45 degrees to either side.

Angled Cuts

Angled Cuts

To tilt the assembly over, the EX21 uses not one, but two rack and pinion mechanisms at either end of the tool so the mechanism is smooth and solid.

Rack and Pinion Mechanism

Rack and Pinion Mechanism

Underside Showing Tilt Mechanism Rod

Underside Showing Tilt Mechanism Rod

The motor protrudes out of the side of the tool, and connects directly into the oscillating mechanism, rather than relying on belts to transfer the power from the motor. The motor is also direct current, so it retains full torque throughout the variable speed range of 400 – 1550 strokes / minute.

Protruding Motor

Protruding Motor

Direct Drive

Direct Drive

If you strip a scroll saw down to its fundamental principle, it is to take a fine blade, and oscillate it rapidly up and down, and even here the EX21 is a superior machine.  The drive is transferred to the blade via a twin parallel link drive, so instead of having a long arm top and bottom that oscillates (and due to that length sacrifices a huge amount of the power developed by the motor in getting it to the blade), this has two links – one for the top of the blade, one for the bottom that delivers the power right to the end of the arm before it is converted at that point through a couple of very short arms to produce the oscillating blade.

Upper Blade Arms

Upper Blade Arms

The actual speed of oscillations is the same as other machines, but the difference in developed power is substantial.  For an operator, this means a difference between stalling the machine, or having it to continue cutting even in trying circumstances (such as thick stock (up to 53mm), and/or tight corners) and in difficult timbers.  Also, it is claimed to reduce overall vibration of the machine, and while this is true throughout the majority of the oscillating speeds, vibration became quite noticeable at the highest speed settings.  Having the scroll saw clamped down to a solid bench, or the separately available stand should reduce that considerably.

A obviously common task when using a scroll saw is changing the blade, and particularly feeding the blade into the middle of a pattern for an internal cut.  The blade clamping mechanism and independent tensioning mechanism makes this task a breeze.  The overall blade tension is set by the knob at the back of the machine, and it allows a significant amount of tension to be exerted on the blade, which will optimise its performance, both in quality of the cut, as well as its ability remain on track and cut straight (vertically), without the blade trying to squirm during the cut.  However, there is no need to wind off that tension for a blade change, as the blade clamping mechanism independently releases and reapplies that tension with its “flip tensioner” during a blade change.

Flip Tensioner

Flip Tensioner

The actual clamp itself is also very simple, and importantly, tool-less.  Finally, the top arm lifts well clear of the work (still with the blade attached at the top point), making it very easy to feed into the next hole for another internal cut.

Raised Arm

Raised Arm

The arm can remain in the raised position, but I did find the method to achieve that a little questionable.  It relies simply on a bolt passing through the housing to rub on the arm, and the friction to keep the arm up.  I would have thought a more positive method for locking the arm in the upper position would have been preferable, and sometimes found that resorting to a block of wood provided a more positive (although undesirable) solution.  If the arm is lifted too high, it actually impacts on the threads of another bolt that holds a side-cover on.  Do this too hard (or incorrectly lift the saw by the top arm), and there is a risk of damaging the threads of this access bolt.

Raised Arm Restraining Bolt

Raised Arm Restraining Bolt

The work-holddown seems to have been a bit of an afterthought – not that it is incorrectly positioned, but it has not had the same amount of precision engineering treatment that the rest of the saw has benefited from.  Also too, the very standard concept of the air pump produces very little airflow (no worse than other scroll saws), but again I would have liked to have seen a better solution.  A light source may have also been a sensible inclusion, particularly if it was on a flexible arm utilising fibre optics, or modern LED light sources so it can be positioned where required.  At least there is no laser!

Blower & Holddown

Blower & Holddown

The bottom line: This is a well engineered tool, and really sets the standards for scroll saws.  It is a very expensive bit of kit, but if you are serious about using a scroll saw, this is a serious, uncompromising machine.

Reverse Engineering

I’ve still been working on the panel clamp review, and a big part of it can really be considered reverse engineering the product to see what really makes it tick, and when comparing different brands, it also provides a level playing field.

When getting to compare different brands, and having started the reverse engineering process, you also learn a great deal about design in general.  Choice of thread types, diameter, pitch, length, material, bar section, handle length, diameter, pin material, diameter, on and on.

It really is interesting to see the decisions made by the engineers when the clamps were originally designed, and in some cases whether an engineer seemed even involved in the process at all!

I always find I’m disappointed with some products – they promise so much, and fail to deliver, and I just see them as a complete waste of the materials used in their construction. The worst examples of that is often when a product has been reverse engineered, quickly and poorly as so many companies have been doing – rather than actually researching the product’s purpose, they take an existing product and make it as cheap as possible, avoiding the cost of actually using engineers to properly research and design a decent product. Others get the majority of the design right, then forget that there is a need for a human operator!

On the other hand, after looking at a wide range of product, you do formulate a definite wish-list of what you’d want to see in a set of clamps for the shed.

My dream- a wall set of good clamps of a range of sizes (and multiple copies of each size), such as you see on the walls of good workshops everywhere (and particularly on TV / WebTV)!

Stu’s Shed & Incra.com

Just because it is cool: an excerpt of my recent review of the Incra V120 has been picked up and can be found at Incra.com

V120 Review

V120 Review

Australian Wood Review

The latest issue has just hit the streets, and as always has lots of interesting content. Including a full-page review by yours truely of the Excalibur EX21 Scrollsaw.  For obvious reasons, I can’t reprint the article here – if you want to see it, you have to buy the magazine!  However, any feedback on it (or the previous review of the Pro Drill-press table) is welcome.

issue_61

Not been having much luck recently with the short courses at Holmesglen – I don’t have any visibility of the overall performance of courses at the moment, whether overall attendance is dropping, or if just hobby pursuits are having a bit of a downturn in the current economic crisis, but my recent introductory Triton woodworking course, and shed course have both been cancelled for lack of numbers (hard to run a course with 0 attendees), and the same has happened for this weekend’s toy making course.

Bit of a shame really – was looking forward to that, and have done quite a lot of preparation work for it.  Have a number of tools just waiting in the wings to be taken along for people on the course to get to play with (including thicknessers, bandsaws etc), so I guess they can all be moved back into deep storage again – there isn’t another one now until Feb 21, so there is no point having the extra workshop space taken up with them for another 3 months.

A Jaw Horse is on its way!

UPDATE: Review and photos of the Jaw Horse in my shed are now available here and here

Was speaking with the manufacturers of the Jaw Horse yesterday, and apparently there is one on the high seas at the moment, floating its way down under so I can review it and put it through its paces!

Given that it is (literally) on the slow boat from China, it will take a couple of weeks or so so arrive in Oz, (and add whatever fudge factor to that), then clear customs, be unpacked etc etc, so some time in the next month.  If at all possible, I would like to aim to have a review of it out before Christmas (yeah – isn’t that scary – only a month of so away already), but there are too many factors that are out of my control to be able to say that with any certainty.

However, it does mean that Stu’s Shed will be able to give it’s independent opinion on the product, and given that I have had (3 or 4) Superjaws in my shed for years now…… (no, I don’t use them up and need another – I actually have about 3 Superjaws out there – awesome tool) Given that the Jaw Horse is fundamentally the same tool, and was designed by the same Australian engineers that came up with it, I have high expectations that the Jaw Horse will be at least their equal.

That Battle of the Jaws I was suggesting for the Melbourne Show next year will actually be a rematch, as the inaugural cage match will happen here :)

Hmm – I’m thinking of a sculpture – each Jaw hanging onto a bit of 4×2, clamped in the jaw of another.  Modern Art :)

UPDATE: Review and photos of the Jaw Horse in my shed are now available here and here

Odd Spot

Was in Bunnings yesterday buying some particle board for the backing of a noticeboard I’ve been asked to make for work (video is in the pipeline), and found the plans for a picnic table, normally priced at $9.95 (because that extra 5c makes all the difference!), but were being dumped for 50c.  Always worth having a quick look at the sales tables – all sorts of strange things in strange juxtapositions when they are thrown together on the tables!

Speaking of Bunnings, I will be doing another Triton demo evening at the Pakenham Bunnings next Wednesday fwiw.

Was playing around out in the shed just before, in particular finding different ways to use the Lidwig cable hanger after shooting a quick review video earlier today of the various Lidwig clamps.  It is always interesting how one idea leads to the next, and sometimes how a solution comes right out of left field.

To sum up the day, I finished the kid’s table for my 2 year old (just needs Mum to paint it), finished a aluminium-framed notice board for work, and shot 2 (or 3?) videos for Stu’s Shed TV, including the Lidwig Clamp review.  (I notice the Wood Whisperer now has a Wood Whisperer.TV page – wonder where he got that idea from ;) )

So quite a successful day all told. Tomorrow will be interesting as well.  It is the last meeting ever of the Triton Woodworkers Club in Melbourne, so for me, that will be the end of a 6 year relationship.  I bought a few things during the club auction, including the storage cabinet, so that will certainly be put to use improving the storage in the shed.  Kind of nice to have small momentos like that too – gone, but not forgotten.  Always wished I could have gotten one of the bars out of the wardroom of one of the warships I sailed on, before they were sunk as dive sites.  Oh well.  Anyone for a drink 100′ down?  (I really have to dive my old ship one day). Must be late – getting nostalgic.

Episode 38 Carbitool Miter Lock Bit

Episode 38 Miter Lock Bit
(Right-click, and select “Save Link As”) Best video quality is achieved by downloading then playing the mp4 version.

Australian Wood Review Issue 60

Has just hit the shelves….

Australian Wood Review Issue 60

Australian Wood Review Issue 60

I’m making particular mention of it, because it includes my review of the Pro Drillpress Table from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.

So check it out, let me know what you think of the review (so long as it is good ;) )

Back to my previous post….

Coincidentally, (kind of) I just had a courier delivery from GMC of some tools that I am getting to review.  The unlimited rebate planer (GMC) and the new Triton 184mm saw I was keeping an eye out for as they were expected (and I’m very interested in seeing what they are capable of), but the 3rd box wasn’t, and it was the 1500W full width planer.

I can tell you now, that the photo does not do it justice!  The beast is HUGE, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Tim “The Toolman” eat your heart out – this tool is a real man’s tool :)  I’m in love, and I haven’t even plugged it in yet.  (You can imagine – I work in an IT department at a University, and I’m walking around swinging this huge power planer doing my best rendition I can manage of Tim’s gutteral “Tool woof”, with an insane glint in my eye, as if any piece of timber (or anything else for that matter), is in imminent danger of being made a bit flatter, and a lot thinner!)

Got to go – I have some sawdust to make!!

I’m surprised someone hasn’t called Security yet….

My office now has an interesting aroma:  I love the smell of machine oil in the morning – it smells like…..victory.

Interesting tidbits

Got to read the proof of my article / review for Australian Wood Review magazine the other day. Not a big deal, but it’s always nice to get something in print. Is a full page on the Pro Drill Press Table from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.

Finally got to fit the Wixey Digital TableSaw Fence, and the accuracy it allows is awesome! More on that in an article shortly.

I’m in the process of writing some new (interrelated) courses for Holmesglen Tafe. They will be available for the 4th quarter of 2008 (and given the course guide is due out shortly, I don’t have much time to get them written, or at least the blurb for the Short Courses Guide). The courses will be in the workshop, and will be making wooden toys. The courses (at this stage) are going to be based around the age of the recipient child, rather than the skill of the woodworker. So they will be wooden toys for under 3s, for 3-5s and for 5+. They will either be a full Saturday and 1/2 a Sunday, or 3 x 1/2 Saturdays in a row – not sure which as yet. With Christmas approaching, I’m hoping they will get enough of a response to run (need 5 attendees as a minimum).

Got down to Bunnings to check out this weird concept of a handsaw with a laser. Turns out to be a Spear and Jackson saw. Not sure what disturbs me more – the fact that Bunnings are selling them (but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise – they are building a strong reputation for selling cheap tools rather than substance), or the fact that a supposedly reputable company such as Spear and Jackson would even consider it. Cost is $39, so not even in the $7 cheap bracket.

Laser Hand Saw

And finally, am doing a bit behind-the-scenes stuff to get an inaugural meeting of an Incra User Group off the ground. More details shortly. I was going to have it in my shed, but it is looking to be too popular for my limited (space & power) resources, so am looking at one of the local woodworking businesses (one that is closely associated with Professional Woodworkers Supplies, who import Incra, and will be closely supporting the user group).

So I still need to organise some (smallish) function at my shed. Wonder if that will ever actually happen?!

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