Porter-Cable - 14-inch 2-speed bandsaw (Rating: 4)

Disclaimer: this is my first band saw. Indeed, the first time I have USED any band saw. So I don't have much of a basis for comparison.

However, after two weeks with this saw I think I can give a pretty good 'new-user' perspective.

I really struggled with the star rating. This seems to be a fundamentally good saw, and I don't necessarily regret it. However, the last two weeks have seen a lot of frustrations that I was not expecting from the fancy Porter-Cable name on the front. User experience - 2 stars, saw design - 5 stars.

BACKGROUND/BUYING PROCESS:

I've been wanting a band saw for a while. I want to cut small parts, do a little scrolling, maybe try this fancy technique I've read about band-sawing dovetails!

I started out looking at 9-inch models. I came to the conclusion that I would regret it. I started realizing all the pluses to having some re-saw capacity and a bigger motor. I kept moving up size classes until I came to 14" band saws, which is at the absolute limit of my budget.

I spent a few months trawling Craigslist, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't for me. Either I don't know how to work Craigslist, or I have different notions of 'value'. My general rule of thumb is - if I buy a used tool and account for needed parts, gas, and assorted annoyance, I have to get a substantial discount over new. I don't want to forgo a warranty, return policy and brand-new construction for a 20% discount.

The only deals I saw were on very large and expensive industrial saws well out of my price range (or ability to fit in my garage). I saw serious fixer-uppers that may or many not be within my ability to fix.

New, I narrowed my choices down to the 14" offerings from Harbor Fright, Ridgid, Sears and Porter-Cable. I eliminated the HF one on the basis of reviews and the broken floor model that alarmed me.

The P-C won out based on the following:

- 1.5 HP motor (could be bogus, but WAY more than anyone else is advertising)
- Larger table (16"x16")
- Proven Delta rip-off design
- Available 6" riser block
- Frame-mounted motor
- Cabinet stand for my cramped garage
- Guide blocks. I decided I'd rather have guide blocks than bearings, and have the manufacturer put that money into the saw's fundamentals.
- Attractive paint scheme that does not resemble one of my son's Fisher-Price toys.

THE GOOD:

- Powerful and smooth. The motor is exactly what I hoped for. Out of the box, the immediate sensation was smooth effortless power. Compared to my many cheap tools, it's beautiful. I haven't done heavy re-sawing, but it's never hesitated or slowed down so far. I did cut some 4" stock without a hitch. Really liking the motor.

It can also be wired for 240V, which is nice. Someday, someday…

- Low vibration. I haven't done anything to the wheels or mucked with alignment. With the exception of stand vibrations (more later) the saw has been more than acceptable to me. It's clear that my own skills will the be limiting factor on cuts, not the tool.

- Bigger table. A couple extra inches in each dimension is much appreciated.

- Seems accurate. The upper blade guide does not appear to wobble when going up or down. The table etc seems to square up fine within my ability to measure. I can't find anything that's off enough to be detected by my measuring.

- Porter-Cable customer service. I had the unfortunately necessity of having to call customer service. I was impressed. I had to call twice, and both times I had zero wait time. I went straight to the same lady who appears to be in the US. I cannot recall the last time I called a big company and immediately got through to a live human.

She also took care of my problem with minimal fuss, answered a couple of my questions, and sent me a replacement part that shipped out within 3 days. No 3rd degree or argument, just took my mailing address and saws serial number and shipped me what I needed.

- Nice stand design. The stand comes with pre-fabbed brackets inside to add your own shelves. This sort of little thing is a godsend to me! The little cabinet stand holds everything I currently have for my saw - featherboards, push stick, miter, extra blades, spare guide blocks, etc etc. In my garage, every bit of storage counts.

- Available riser block. Porter Cable sells a riser block kit for $80 plus shipping. The ability to "upgrade" for better re-sawing is a big plus to me.

THE BAD:

- Broken in-box (see pic). The tension adjustment knob came broken! In the excitement of getting my new saw, I didn't noticed this until it was all together. Then I realized - waitaminute! There's supposed to be a KNOB HERE. THEN I noticed the chunks of pulverized plastic rattling around the bottom of the box.

The problem is that P-C has inadequately packaged the saw. Most of the saw and it's parts are nicely sheathed in a foam sarcophagus with heavy-duty cardboard reinforcements. However, the tension adjustment knob comes pre-assembled into the frame and STICKS OUT of the foam. There's nothing but a thin cardboard wall between it and the brutal world.

Mine came in about 12 different chunks. I was able to super-glue it into working order. But it put me in a sour mood. I hate when things come busted, especially expensive things.

I called P-C to get a replacement part, on the principle of the thing. Their great customer service (see above!) made me happy again.

- Paint flaw (see pic). The next thing I noticed was a small paint flaw on the upper wheel door. It's about the size and shape of a finger - looks like someone touched it when wet. A minor issue, but added to my dissatisfaction.

- Dust collection. Now, it's possible that the poor dust collection I'm experiencing is due to my dust collector. My dust collector is a crappy H-F model I got for $50, and it kinda sucks. Or rather, doesn't suck. So, the teensy slit they use for a dust collection outlet might work better with more suction.

BUT, I don't understand why the port is attached to the lower wheel door. Right off the bat, this caused an annoyance - the weight of my dust collection hose would tug on the door and cause it to sloooowly open while the saw was running. NOT cool.

I took and squeezed the metal tabs for the door's latch until tighter, and that seems to address the dangerous self-opening door. But I don't understand why the port is on the door at all! Why not attach the port to the frame? Then I don't have a hose in the way when I go to open the bottom wheel door.

- Half-tapped screw holes. By FAR my biggest grievance. One thing that attracted me to this saw was that a nice Kreg band saw fence just bolts on. Or WOULD, if P-C knew how to tap a bolt hole.

I was very excited when my new fence arrived. Out of the box, the fence went together, and everything lined up perfectly.

So, I go to screw on the fence. It starts OK. Then, 15 mm into a 30 mm hole, the Taiwanese guy making my table decided, "Eff it. Who needs a tap for the ENTIRE bolt hole?! It's lunch time!!"

I do not have a tap and die set, and I wasn't about to buy one just to install a frigging fence. So, I went slow. I used oil and the provided screws and tried to tap it out - quarter turn the screw, back it out, clean up the metal shavings. Repeat.

After about an hour and half of swearing and frustration, the threads at the end of the bolt were pretty shot. But the fence was on!! Celebration!!

Then I start using the fence, and realized - the track was 1/8" too high. I needed to use the SECOND set of bolt holes - @#$%


Suffice to say - after hours of effort, three sets of bolts, a trip to the hardware store, and lots of offensive language, I've managed to install a fence. This is the sort of aggravation I expect from a tool sold at Harbor Freight. NOT something from "Porter-Cable".

- Assembly Instructions. A minor annoyance, but the assembly instructions may lead you astray. Being naive, I followed them precisely. As I was assembling the stand, I kept thinking, "This seems wrong. Shouldn't I leave the bolts loose and tighten them all at the end? Oh well, if the Smart Instruction Guy says to tighten them as I go I will."

At the end of assembling the stand, the door wouldn't close completely. I ended up disassembling half the thing and redoing it. In case you buy this saw:

Leave all the stand bolts loose till the end. AND, REVERSE the assembly order between the door and the back of the stand. You want to assemble the cabinet bottom and top to the sides. THEN, put the door on. Square everything up so the door closes easily, and, with the back off, tighten things up. THEN open the door and put the back on through the door.

Also, the table trunnion support does not quit match the instructions. It looks like the instructions were written for a different (smaller?) bracket. My guess - originally this saw had a 14" table. Then someone in marketing said, "No! Make it 16 inches! That's two better than Ridgid!!" And then they needed a bigger bracket, and borrowed one from another saw, and never updated the instructions.

As best I can determine, there's an extra bolt hole on the bracket that is unused. The bracket has 3 attachment holes, but the frame only has 2. The instructions show a bracket that is shorter and only has 2 holes. I spent a lot of time scratching my head to make sure I wasn't missing something, and flipping the bracket around trying to be sure. I think I got it right?

- Stand flex. Although smooth in it's cutting, out of the box the saw vibrated more than I loved. I particularly noticed it vibrated a lot on start-up and shutdown.

I also noticed that when I did stuff like vigorously cleaning the table, or if I just bumped the saw, it wobbled on the stand. The top of the stand is just unreinforced sheet metal. The cast-iron frame bolts to it, and that's it. I noticed that if I took and gently pushed on the saw, I could SEE the stand top flexing against the saw frame.

I fixed this by cutting up a piece of 3/4" plywood and making that the top of the stand. I just bolted the saw as before, but with the plywood sandwiched in between the saw and the stand.

WOW. What a difference! The entire saw not only vibrates less, but suddenly feels solid. I was not expecting such a massive difference.

Porter Cable should spend the extra $3.50 to put some sort of folded steel reinforcement under where the saw bolts in to stiffen the stand. Or something. I'm sure they can cook something up.

I love the stand DESIGN. It's attractive and functional in a small space - but now I see why most competitors have a simple steel frame for a stand.

- 5/8" miter T-slot. Is this standard for band saws? I didn't even consider this, but standard 3/4" miter slot accessories do not fit. This narrows my accessory options quite a bit.

- Table insert. How hard is it to make a table insert that sits even approximately flush to the table, and doesn't catch my work piece? Are they selling plastic by the gram these days?

OVERALL:

I love this saw's design. It has everything that's truly important, and the core elements seem solid. The motor is strong, it runs very smoothly straight out of the box.

It has a nice table. It has modern conveniences, like hinged doors and guards and a little brush to keep the bottom roller clean. It fits my small garage. With a Timberwolf blade and Cool Blocks, I've made some fantastic cuts for being a total, utter noob.

So far, I've ripped a few different types of plywood, tried my hand at scrolling, made some featherboards, and cut 4" wide x 1/8" thick slices off a chuck of hardwood. In all these mini-projects, the saw has made smooth and accurate cuts.

I think over time I will come to love this saw, once the initial rocky setup phase is forgotten. But Porter-Cable would do themselves a favor with a little more attention to detail. I think a lot of my complaints could be resolved with very little expense, just sweating the details.