This is a DIY panel saw that I made, I saw a similar design in shop notes magazine, and various places online and decided to build one myself. It is a sliding panel saw, in that the saw sliding along two aluminum rails when cutting vertically, and the saw is stationary, and it is the board that moves when cutting, with the saw held fixed when cutting horizontally. A couple plastic featherboards hold the flush with the saw.
My goals here were twofold. First was to have a way that I could accurately and easily cut down large sheets of plywood, this is quite difficult to do on the table saw without help, especially with something like 3/4″ inch MDF. I can barely lift it much less control it accurately on a table saw. It also allows you to make cross cuts on a full piece of plywood. The only other way I could do this before having a panel saw was with a straight edge and a circular saw. This works ok, but it’s very slow.
The second goal was to have a place to store full sheets of plywood. I do all my work in a two-car garage and space is a premium, there just isn’t a great place to store plywood. I figured I could have the plywood on the back of the panel saw to provide some weight to help keep the panel saw still when I was using it and would double as good storage too.
I designed most of the panel saw in Google Sketchup. The only part I didn’t design with Sketchup was the saw carriage. The shape of the Dewalt DW364 and how to position the hold-downs is not a simple thing to model in software, so I just came up with some basic measurements of the size of the saw to determine how to place the 8020 aluminum rails, then figured how to mount the saw as I went. Here are some screen shots from Sketchup to show the basic dimensions.
diy panel saw:
I didn’t follow these drawings exactly, but the overall dimensions are still correct.
You can download the sketchup files here.
One large compartment is for full sheets of plywood, the smaller one for whatever I can fit.
To start with I spent some time digging through all of the 2×4’s at my local Home Depot, and chose the straightest ones I could find, then I jointed one face, and one edge, then used the planer and table saw to true them up. These would be used to build the frame for the plywood storage area, and for the frame for the cutting surface.
It was key to get the front panel cutting surface to be flat. This is not an easy thing do because it is so large, over 8 feet long and 5 feet high. To get the front supports for the main piece of plywood straight I used the aluminum extrusions that are used to support the saw carriage as a straight edge, and clamping surface. I started with the center pieces and a board or two on each side. Once those were in place I moved extrusions down and attached the remaining supports in a similar manner. I used pocket screws to fasten the 2×4’s to the base, and small brackets made of plywood to attach them at the top.
Once I had the front frame assembled and checked that it was perfectly straight, I added some scraps of 2×4’s as reinforcing.
The top piece was cut with a bevel on the table saw. You can see I’m already storing plywood in the back. That plywood is going to be used to finish building the panel saw.
I added a counterweight system to help move the saw. Its not as smooth as a Holzher panel saw I once used, but it works perfectly well, and diy panel saws don’t cost 10 grand to build. The weights are just some iron dumbell weights. I ended using 15 lbs total, just by experimenting a bit. Even with Teflon bearings, there is still some friction that helps with keeping the saw from dropping to fast.
I didn’t use conduit like was done on the example I saw in shop notes, instead I ended up using two 72″ pieces of 8020 extruded aluminum, these pieces are fairly lightweight, smaller than a 2 x 4, and perfectly straight, all while not being terribly expensive ( about $130 for the extrusions, Teflon bearings, joining strips, and bolts). You can buy all sorts of bearings and what not to slide along the aluminum rails, but they are really quite expensive. I ended up using simple Teflon slide bearings and building a plywood carriage for my circular saw. It was a little tricky to get everything straight, but once done, it works well.
Here you can see the Teflon bearings. The entire saw carriage runs on 16 of these little slide bearings, 4 each on top/bottom, left/right. A small piece of plywood is attached to the larger piece that holds the saw using four bolts. This works really well as it gives a way to adjust the amount of resistance when moving the carriage. Simply loosen or tighten the bolts to adjust the resistance.
As you can see, the carriage is made from 3/4″ birch plywood, with a hole cut to accommodate vertical and horizontal cutting. I made this by removing the saw blade and setting the saw down on the plywood, keeping it roughly close to parallel with one edge of the plywood, then I cut the hole in the wood so the saw would sit flat and I could align the base of the circular saw to the edge of the plywood carriage. Once it was aligned perfectly to one edge I took some small pieces of 1/4″ MDF, and glued them in place to hole the saw perfectly parallel to one edge. I added some nails once the glue had time to dry. I completely surrounded the saw base with these little strips. Next I added the hold downs, just by experimenting with where they would work best. If you look just below the bolt that holds the cable for the counterweight, you’ll see a small scrap of plywood. This little scrap was put there because when raising the saw after making a vertical cut the blade guard on the circular saw would jam the carriage from moving. This little scrap holds the blade guard up off the cutting surface.
Here you can see the saw mounted in the horizontal cutting position.
the DW364 does not come with a way to lock the trigger, but for safety you need an easy way to stop the saw immediately. My solution to this was to use a small velcro strap to hold the trigger down, and large emergency stop button to cut power to the saw. This is a must have.
The cord that goes to the receptacle in my garage is held out of the way by a eye bolt like hanging hook I found at Home Depot.
To lock the saw down tight when making horizontal cuts, I added a star knob. I bought the star knob from Rockler, but found out the bolt that came with it did not quite fit in the size of t-track in the 8020 extrusion. I fixed that issue in about 10 seconds with a bench grinder.
I also added a measuring guide to make measurements easy. The metal is just a cheap aluminum square tube I bought at Home Depot, and added a self-adhesive measuring tape. You just need to get it approximately aligned, fine adjustments are made with the small piece of acrylic plastic. I used a drill and old chisel ( i.e. one I don’t mind damaging) to make the groove for the screws. To make a precise line, I scratched a line using an X-Acto knife and straightedge, colored it with a black sharpie, and then wiped it off with some rubbing alcohol and a rag. This removes all the marker except whats in groove, leaving a very precise, highly visible line.
The 8020 aluminum rails are attached to the base using joining strip that is designed to be used with these extrusions. Once the carriage was assembled and final alignments made I used the saw to cut directly into the board that supports the plywood you are cutting. Then I applied adhesive measuring tape to both sides.
This saw has turned out to work great for storage, I ended up adding a few little compartments on the back for scraps and miscellaneous pieces.
In the end I am happy with the results of the panel saw though I don’t use it quite as often as I thought would, I’ve learned that a lot of times if I want to rip a piece of plywood say, 20 inches wide I can use a circular saw to first make one cut through the plywood as straight as I can by hand (which is to say not very straight), then I have two factory edges to work with. This means I’m ripping half a piece of plywood on the table saw half a piece of plywood instead of a whole piece.
If I were to build the project over again, I would only do a couple things differently. When doing a horizontal cut the plywood is too difficult to push. This is because I there is so much surface area with the plywood back and also the edge of the plywood sits on a piece of Masonite, in retrospect I should have used melamine covered particleboard for both. This is readily available at my local home cheapo, and is actually a little cheaper than birch plywood. As for wood storage it works great, I can get a lot of plywood behind the saw, almost to the point that the saw is too heavy to move.