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Choosing a Verical Panel Saw or Slider

A question about choosing a panel saw slips into familiar territory: would a slider be better? That all depends, of course; cabinetmakers here share experiences they've had with both. November 23, 2012

How do you break down sheet goods? I use the Festool T55 with the long track. Takes some time, but gets the job done. I'm getting busy and was thinking about investing in a panel saw. Anything I should be aware of? Any recommendations? I'm a two man shop, and I'm looking to speed up my production so I can get a few more jobs in.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
I'm a one-man shop, and my '98 Altendorf F-45, with an Adapta Panel Handler cart to feed it, is my best friend. I went through a number of lesser saws and paid heavily for the lesson. I wasted lots of time and momentum trying to get accurate, repeatable cuts, lost a lot when it was time to sell them to other bargain-hunters, and experienced expensive downtime during the changeovers.

Vertical saws are great if you're only going to break panels into smaller rectangles and have no need for miter or bevel functions. I had one in addition to my slider, but in my small over-filled shop it was more difficult to get a panel onto the machine for cutting than it was worth.

Good luck with whatever you end up with. Buy the best you can possibly afford, and you should get a lifetime of safe, accurate cutting in return.

From contributor D:
Look into a good used CNC.

From contributor J:

Depends on your end product. If you're building frameless, converting big rectangles into smaller rectangles, my vote is for the vertical - easy square edges ready for the edgebander. I gather you're a forward thinker, aka frameless guy, from the Festool choice. If you lean more towards face framed cabinets and enjoy hazard and splinters, a slider may be more to your liking.

From the original questioner:
I only build face frame cabinets. I can't get into the cheap frameless stuff. My clients all like 1" thick beaded frames. Anyone know of problems with vertical panel saws not being square or having tear out?

From contributor J:
I was just checking the slack in the frame guy's chain with that one...

I've run both. I ran a SCMI slider for a while. Hated it from the day I bought it till the day I lost money selling it. I was doing face frame cabinetry at the time. I may be biased because I've taken a trip through a saw with an exposed blade (my own fault).

I switched to frameless and bought a Striebig worth the money, and at the end of the day, I prefer it, especially when I'm processing material at an accelerated pace. Cuts great and the blade is fully enclosed. Dust collection is good. Narrow hardwood strips present challenges but I have a Uni for that. Angles are no problem with dedicated fixtures - I have some made from 8020 for common angles.

But different strokes for different folks, so the saying goes. It's all good. Just comes down to your own preference.

From contributor E:
I prefer the verticals myself for space and material handling. I find it easier to load sheets onto a vertical than a slider. In my small shop I couldn't fit a slider big enough to do full sheets. I used a couple Striebigs years ago and they are a top notch product. Also, with a vertical you would obviously still have your table saw to do any funky cuts or solid woods.

One other thing that should be mentioned. Do not confuse those verticals you see at the big box store with a real saw like a Striebig. I had one of those and it wasn't worth the space it took up. I got rid of it and am now saving up for a Streibig or Holz-her vertical.

From the original questioner:
Anyone know of a good size for a panel saw? I typically work with 4x8 sheet goods. Sometimes maybe a 10 footer. I saw a Holz-Her 1203 vertical panel saw (with scoring) used online. Any thoughts on this? I figure given the new prices of these, I will be looking for a used one... Is that a good idea?

From contributor P:
The 1203 is pretty lightweight. If you can afford it, look around for a used 1265 or 1225. Also factor in the price of having a tech come out to set up the saw once you get it.

From contributor O:
Add Adwood's Elcon to the vertical panel saw list. Very good equipment. I've been using one for 14 some years and it is the best thing I ever did for my back, and speeding up busting up panels for banding or whatever. Small footprint and very safe - anyone can use it. I have holding jigs for any angled cuts but use my Unisaw for the odd bevel cuts. An increased frame length may or may not be of any huge advantage, but increased frame height allows longer vertical head cuts which is the more comfortable cut. There's probably some sweet deals still out there, but if you can, have a pro set it up the first time. It'll help you learn the tricks to keeping it straight and square. If it's placed on a solid foundation, they rarely need tweaking, though.

From contributor L:
Vertical or slider, just figure out your material handling first. I like the vacuum lifts. Much easier on the body.

From the original questioner:
I'm a two man small shop, all custom work. I'm just looking to increase the amount of jobs without adding a third person. I figure breaking down panels can be done by one person instead of two guys lifting a bunch of sheets onto horses and cutting them with the Festool track saw. I almost never cut larger than 4x8. Once in a while a 5x10, but that's maybe once a year. I'm looking to rip and crosscut ply mostly. And I have low ceilings, so some of the vertical saws are too tall, but I really need to save on floor space, so a big flat panel saw isn't ideal.

From contributor D:
If you're worried about handling material several times to process it and have low ceilings, I still would look into CNC. I process a sheet in about 15 minutes complete. Shelf pins, dados and cut out, plus you can do a lot more with these machines than rip and cross cut panels.

From contributor E:

Striebigs are considered the top of the heap, and the prices, even used, reflect that. Plus they're really big. Even the compact series are not really that compact. Striebigs are the only saws I've used personally, but because of their size and cost I've been looking at the Holz-Her 1265 and it seems like a nicely made machine. The 1203 does look pretty light, so not sure I'd go there if I could find something better.

There are several others that come up occasionally that I can't say anything about one way or another except that they may be worth a look. Elcon, as mentioned, and Putsch Meniconi are two that come to mind.

I can't give you any advice about CNCs either?Maybe someday? I don't often hear much negative about going that direction, though.

From contributor U:
I purchased a compact almost ten years ago. You will be amazed how fast you can cut up a whole kitchen. I cut two sheets at a time. I have 9ft ceilings where it is, but you would need at least 8ft to install the sliding beam on the machine. I use the Festool for the few compound angle cuts that I do. Get a used one. Also, it will cut a 5x10 sheet.

From contributor J:
The ability to process multiple sheets at a time is an often obscured attribute of the vertical over the slider. I routinely rip two or more sheets at a time on my Standard. Shelves are always cut as pairs, two at a time. Wouldn't attempt that on a slider of any brand or quality.

My Striebig is over 24 years old, requiring nothing more than fresh blades, a belt (only noticeable when stack cutting), and worn through dust collection hose. The Striebigs are way overbuilt, and superbly engineered.

From contributor T:
I have owned two vertical panel saws and extensively used one other the over the last 20 years. The first one was a pan cut (Putsch-Meniconi). This saw was reasonably well made but not great. It had a 10" blade that in my opinion is too small to constantly cut double sided melamine without chipping, even with hollow faced blades. Sure, you can get a good cut, but only for so long. I think the geometry of a 300mm or 12 inch main blade works better. At least it seemed to with the guys that had Striebigs. The machine also had a fixed grid and you needed to constantly shim the sheet up as to not cut into the grid. I eventually made a moving grid for that machine along with a stronger intermediate shelf patterned after the Striebig design. I was constantly battling with proper hollow face blade sharpening since the machine did not have a proper scoring system.

The next machine I used for a number of years working for another shop was a Holz-Her 1203. That machine was even worse than the Pancut in that it only had a 220 mm blade, not even the 250 mm that was on the Pancut. The beam was also too light and did not have a good reference to keep the blade aligned going up and down. The one redeeming feature this machine had was its rotary scoring blade, even though it was a real pain to keep adjusted. I would not recommend this machine to anyone as they would probably not have the best of luck with it even as an entry level panel saw. I did, however, finally install a moving grid on this machine along with a heavier duty shelf system.

The saw I have now is a Striebig compact that still only has a 250mm main blade, but it does have a scoring saw to make up for it so we do not need to use hollow face blades; regular triple chip blades work just fine. This machine is still not perfect, but way better engineered than the other two, and cuts accurately year after year with no adjustment. I wish it had the more solid shelf system of the older model Striebigs.

I have always owned a sliding table saw to use for bevels and mitering, since it is way easier than using the vertical saw for this purpose.

Contributor J, I too cut 2 or 3 sheets thick regularly on the vertical saw, but I was wondering why you cannot stack cut on a slider. I seem to recall people doing it all the time?

From contributor J:
You can stack cut on a slider, but it seems more dangerous, to me anyway. I'd rather remove parts sitting on a mid fence with the blade at the bottom of the carriage and mostly enclosed by the guard (even with the blade fully plunged) than reach over the sliding beam and behind a spinning blade raised enough to go through 2-3 sheets.

From contributor O:
Although I know guys that swear by their sliders, they seem terribly clumsy to me. Besides the huge footprint, it's a hike around the things, so two guys often work them. Loading them off a forklift solves most of the awkward load issue, but that just adds immensely to the footprint required.

From the original questioner:
Thanks all - this is helpful. Does anyone know of a Safety Speed ES-5 vertical panel saw, or a Holz-Her 1265-S vertical panel saw with scoring? These would fit the height restriction I have.

I can't afford a CNC due to cost and footprint. My shop comes with no monthly rental cost, but the size is limited.

From contributor K:

I checked out that SSC at a tradeshow a while back. Looked decent, but I've never used one, so I couldn't say offhand how well it works. Think someone is selling a relatively new 1265 SuperCut here on WOODWEB. Not a Striebig, but also not as expensive.

From contributor B:
Had a recent ('03) 1265-S. It was a nice saw, easily adjusted, and pretty accurate. Due to the layout of my shop, the hang up came in loading sheets - crosscut gauge is on the left, so the machine really wanted to be fed right-to-left, which didn't work well in my configuration.

I was also frustrated and annoyed with HolzHer's customer support, which consisted entirely of reciting the phrase "make an appointment to have a tech come out" no matter how elementary the question. As I live in a fairly rural area (big dollars in tech travel expenses) and have good mechanical skills, it's imperative that I be able to adjust and maintain whatever I own, saving my tech budget for the complex diagnoses and repairs that are beyond my skill level. My interaction with HolzHer was before their bankruptcy, and attitudes may have changed, but they didn't leave me with the urge to buy another of their machines.

Without customer support, even the finest machine is expensive scrap metal. Whatever you buy, investigate to the point that you have complete confidence in the company's capabilities to deliver the parts and service you'll doubtless require.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I didn't know they went belly up. Does Striebig make a saw that is under 95" tall? And I guess a big box panel style saw won't cut it (no pun intended)?

From contributor N:
I agree about the CNC, but if you don't have the room, a panel saw is a good way to go. We have a safety speed cut and it works great. There are cams on the bottom rollers to adjust for square. We cut mostly melamine and have some chipping, but I think that is more of a blade issue.

From contributor U:
I had a SSC saw, model 6400 I believe. The salesmen led me to believe it would do what I was looking for. The tolerance was .015. Could never figure out how they came up with that. After years of frustration, got rid of it and got a compact.

I would really look into a CNC machine. It's the only way you are going to make money and be competitive. The newer machines, 4x8, take up less space than you may think.

From contributor T:
My compact Striebig measures 93 1/2" to the highest point, but you need another .75" to 1'' to install the beam over the top. As I see it, the main problem would be that you would not have enough height to even roll 4x8 sheets over to trim the bottom. You would have to flip them instead. I guess, as always, there is a work around, and I am guessing that most do as I do and cut vertically as much as possible from the #1 cut position.

Years ago when I used Cabinetware, it was really a pain because it did not allow you to do a head cut first and that is what I have always tended to do with a vertical saw. We use Cabinetvision now and it is no problem; probably is not with Cabinetware now either.

Most people, as I did, rip and then cross cut their sheet goods, but with a vertical saw it is easier to cross cut the sheets first, then rotate the cut offs since they are easier to handle. I cut up a lot of jobs without even moving my saw head from the #1 cross cut position, accept maybe to load the sheet. That is why, in my opinion, the vertical saw is much easier to use. The finished parts are right in front of you - much less walking about - and I agree they are much safer, but they do still have their dangers.

From contributor Y:
My recommendation would be to arrange with your local representation to see some equipment. It will give you a much better idea of the equipment's size, capacity and quality and other features that are important to you.

From contributor A:
I use both a vertical saw and a Martin sliding saw. I can say for sure that for cutting up panels, the vertical saw is much faster, and much easier on your back, because you only need to lift the panel 12 inches from the floor. The sliding saw is slightly more accurate and is more versatile. My vertical saw is an Ichicawa (Japanese) and is a great tool that I have had for 30 years, and is still going strong. I have never used a CNC machine, so I cannot comment on that.

From contributor R:
We purchased a used Homag 10 ft panel saw about 2 years ago to pre-size panels and save time from cutting them on the CNC. We have also used it to cut various width strips which are then milled into thousands of feet of Ultralight MDF moulding. I do not know how we lived without it. It did require a lot of space for the saw itself as well as space for operating a forklift around it to get pallets of the MDF near enough so the sheets can be placed right onto the saw bed. I am not very familiar with the vertical saws, but if you have space for one of these beam style panel saws, they are very safe and productive.

From contributor T:
Beam saws are great, but a bit of a jump from a T55, don't you think? If he was ready for that kind of investment, monetarily and space-wise, I am sure a lot of us would suggest the jump to CNC instead of the beam saw.

From contributor R:
I am not familiar with the verticals or for that matter the T55. We spent 12,000 on the used Homag plus the power supply - it runs about 4 hours per day and has only needed some minor repairs which I have done myself - it has paid for itself 3 times over.

From contributor X:
We have both Striebig and an Altendorf F45. Generally speaking we use the Striebig for panel stock -easier one man saw for processing flat stock. When we need to do volume, I'll put two guys on it and a very aggressive rip blade and split 3 sheets of 3/4" in half at a time. This does two things: 1/2 rips are easier to handle afterwards, and we address the issue of internal tension, which causes sheet stock to bow on the first cut. This is our third Striebig in 35 years and they prove to be very fast and very accurate. The F45 is in our assembly area and used mostly for specialty work, trimming, etc. Wouldn't want to be without either of them.

CNC is great if you're doing a lot of repetitive volume and don't need the ability to do angled cuts.