|Without a doubt, the table saw is definitely the most favoured cutting machine in most woodworker's and fine furniture builder's shops. It can make numerous types of cuts, and with a good blade, can deliver smooth clean cut results. But your simple table saw and fence setup is only good for a select range of cutting tasks. Adding a miter gauge to the mix adds another bag full of cutting abilities to the mix. But even so, there are certain cuts you simply cannot make safely with your basic table saw setup.
Many woodworkers build jigs and sleds to further expand the use of their saw, but if you are like me, and would rather spend your meagre amount of time allowed to you actually making projects than building jigs, a device like Incra's new Miter Express might gauge your interest... Let's see what this 'tool' can do...
So, what is it? As you can see from the images included in this review, it is a cutting 'sled', of sorts. Basically, it allows you to make cuts on your saw you probably couldn't normally make with a simple table saw setup, and it allows you to make these cuts safely. It's other major marketing standpoint is that it claims it can double your miter gauge's crosscut capacity (up to 24"). Well, let's find out exactly how it works, and how easy it is to assemble and use.
You will need a miter gauge to use the Miter Express. It can accept virtually any gauge on the market that conforms to the 3/4" x 3/8" slot standard.
The miter express comes shipped in a relatively small, compact box. Once assembled however, its size is several times larger than in its packed form. Unpacking is quickly achieved as all components are bundled together well, but head straight for the printed instruction manual first to get you started with the unpacking and assembly process.
Assembly will take about 20 minutes, and involves some screw-driving, miter slot fit tuning, a couple of saw cuts, and a little more screw-driving. Just about everything is supplied to assemble the kit, apart from the philips-head screwdriver to secure the screws, but you all should have one of these already!
The kit basically consists of several laminated MDF panels in Incra's stylish deep red/maroon color finish, and rigid metal plates with a gold colored finish. The two colors together at least make the Miter Express look the part. There are several bags of various accessories and fixings to attach later on.
You start with the main utility plate which drops into either the left or right-hand miter slots on your table saw. Which one you use is up to you, but the left slot is recommended for right-tilt saws, and the right miter slot for left-tilt saws. It works equally well with the utility plate in either slot. The various panels are then attached to the main utility plate and panel connector plate with supplied screws. The pre-drilled countersunk holes in the MDF panels lined up perfectly with the tapped holes in the metal plates, which always makes a nice start.
With that part of the assembly taken care of, you can now adjust the fit of the utility plate to your miter gauge slot. Your saw will need standard 3/4" x 3/8" miter slots to use the Miter Express. You can adjust the fit of the plate to your slot at four points along the plate. The system uses a dovetail-type wedge that expands the width of the miter slot plate edges to remove any play in the miter slot. The Miter Express should glide smoothly in the slot but have zero side-to-side play. We were able to easily adjust this to remove zero-play on our test unit. The adjustment system should work equally as well on your table saw too.
Now comes time to make the first cut. Why cut you ask? Simply because the large panel needs to be cut in two pieces, of which one will sit to the left of the blade and one to the right, creating a small gap/channel along the line of the blade. This provides the zero-clearance feature of the product, so your material is supported on the underside of the cut right up against both sides of the blade. This ensures almost zero chip-out and much cleaner cuts from your table saw. So, the first cut slices the large panel in two, and provides the zero-clearance line to the left of the blade (we use a right tilt saw here so the Miter Express is configured for left-slot use). This line will also later help to more easily show the line of cut for aligning material.
The next step is to take the cut piece of the large panel and attach it to a second miter bar provided in the kit. This one is lighter aluminum however, but does the job just fine, and can also be adjusted for zero-play in your miter slot. There are three mounting lines you can use to attach this bar to the large panel, simply to provide flexibility for differences in distances between miter slots and saw blades of various brand machines, and to ensure you can retain the largest panel area possible after trimming. What trimming you say? Well, once the second miter bar is attached, you will likely need to trim that assembly to provide the zero clearance factor on the right side of the blade also. This is simply a process of attaching the panel to the bar, ensuring no play in the miter slot, switching your saw on and running the panel past the blade to trim it for zero clearance. This right side panel (if configured for a right-tilt saw), referred to as the "drop panel", will actually be secured in place in the miter slot later on to provide zero-clearance and workpiece cutoff support. The left side panels of the Miter Express will be the only ones moving during cuts.
Nearing the end of assembly now, the next step is to attach the supplied T-slot retainers to the main utility plate. If your saw does not have a T-bottomed slot, then you obviously cannot attach these. They are not essential to the function of the Miter Express, but they will provide extra stability, particularly at the beginning and end of long crosscuts. If you do have T-slots, use these. I know they can be a pain at times, but on the Miter Express, they make a world of difference and its much safer to use them as they are intended.
The final step in the basic assembly process is to apply the adhesive-backed UHMW strips to the bottom of each left side panel to raise the panels slightly above the table surface and provide less friction to allow smoother sled travel across your table saw's surface.
How is it used and what can it do?
With basic setup complete, we can now lock the drop panel (the panel that will not move) to the miter slot (right slot in our case). Adjustable features allow it to be secured in place in the miter slot. As a point of interest, you can also use the same bar provided with the Miter Express and attach it to other jigs or fixtures if needed. So the components of the Miter Express can also readily support other jigs if required, further enhancing the value of the product.
The Miter Express is designed to be used with any miter gauge that conforms to the 3/4" x 3/8" miter slot standard. The miter gauge will actually be secured to the slot in the top of the utility plate, which is now a sled with the attached panels, and the whole sled moves forward in your saw's miter slot to make cuts. One very notable benefit of this that may not be immediately noticeable, is that you can take your standard (and often very average quality) miter gauge supplied with your saw, secure it to the Miter Express, which is now configured with zero-play, and greatly increase your default gauge's accuracy. We have a number of miter gauges in the shop (default, Kreg Precision miter Gauge, and two Incra gauges - V27 and 1000SE) and all gauges could be readily attached with relative ease, and yes, the default gauge could even be made to work very reliably with the Miter Express. Previous to this, the default miter gauge supplied with the saw was very sloppy in the table saw miter slot and there was no way to adjust it, giving poor results. Now it can be used reliably thanks to the Miter Express. Despite this however, the default gauge lacks a featured fence attachment, so my Kreg and Incra 1000SE gauges (that have good fences with flip stops) are used mostly with the Miter Express in our shop.
Now, by locking the miter gauge into the slot on the Miter Express, you can deduce how repeatable, accurate square and mitered cuts can be made (assuming the protractor gauge on your miter gauge is accurate in its range). But also locking the miter gauge further back in the Miter Express utility plate extends the useable distance of the miter gauge by up to 24 inches. This is actually a very good benefit, as you can now safely and securely hold wider workpieces to cross cut, essentially because your base of support now includes the large Miter Express panels supported by your table saw surface. This is, however, not a lot different to a shop-made crosscut sled for making square cuts. Where the Miter Express exceeds however, is in the ability to be able to use your miter gauge in conjunction with the sled. So, unlike basic shop-made crosscut sleds that might only be able to make square cuts or cuts at fixed angles, the Miter Express can both extend the cutting width and cut at any angle supported by your miter gauge, and changing cutting angles is as quick and easy as it is to change them normally if used only with your table saw - the Miter Express will not inhibit any normal functional features of your miter gauge.
But as you probably hear on the infomercial channels... "But wait, there's more!"
This is, of course, not an infomercial but it does sound similar, not because we are trying to hype up the product, no... all OnlineToolReviews.com product reviews are non-biased... we are simply quite excited by what the Incra can achieve as an upgrade to your basic table saw's functions, particularly if you are not fond of, or don't have time to make your own saw jigs. Ok so what are these other features?
Also included in your Miter Express kit are two attachments. The first is an outboard fence support. You may notice the the panel connector plate which joins the two outer laminated MDF panels is also a metal t-slot for attaching jigs and fixtures. When you are working with heavy materials or long materials, the fence attached to your miter gauge may develop a small amount of flex, especially at the outboard end if a lot of force by heavy material is placed upon it. Even a small amount of flex can result in errors, and these will be more noticeable is making multi-sided projects (like picture frames or 8,10, 12-sided objects etc). The outboard fence attachment supplied secures to this t-slot in the panel connector plate and the metal right angle butts up behind your gauge's fence to provide backup support, so fence flex is greatly reduced, and perhaps even eliminated. If you have an Incra miter gauge with fence, you can even screws the right angle support to the fence as well for further insurance. The support and T-slot is a well-thought out addition to the range. You can of course utilize this T-slot for shop-made attachments as well if you wish.
The second inclusion is the Incra hold-down clamp. You may already own some of these, or similar clamps, but if not, you will have a very solid clamp to use if you purchase the Miter Express. The hold down clamp is thick and solid and will probably last a lifetime. Naturally, its name tells you what it is used for. It attaches to the inner channel of the utility plate closest (or it can also go in the outer channel/T-slot) to the blade and will secure your material to be cut both down to the sled, and help keep material tight to the gauge's fence. This simple inclusion goes a long way to ensuring your material does not move during a cut. It also means your hands can be positioned further from the blade, offering improved user safety. I notice on many woodwork forums and newsgroups that a particular question often gets asked... "How do I cut wooden wedges safely?" Wooden wedges are often used as door stops, to remove a wobble from a table or even a piece of machinery. Cutting them has always been tricky, and dangerous, especially if you do not own a bandsaw. With the inclusion of the hold down clamp, the zero-clearance provided by the panels, and the Miter Express's ability to cut any angle, cutting small wedges on the table is easy and safe with the Miter Express. In fact, any small cutting task can be undertaken relatively easily with the Miter Express product.
The brief cutting process
I've basically explained all the features of the Miter Express to this point, and you probably already have a good idea of what it is and how it works via the text and photos provided, but just to make sure we don't leave any questions unanswered, here is the basic workflow to making a cut using the Miter Express. This assumes you have the Miter Express setup and ready to go with miter gauge secured to the sled.
The process is quick and simple. Firstly, ensure the width of the workpiece does not exceed the maximum safe cutting width of the Miter Express. The 24" figure quoted is a ballpark figure. It may be slightly less, or perhaps slightly more, depending on the length of your miter gauge's bar. Next set the angle you wish to cut on your miter gauge and lock that angle in. Place the material against the miter gauge fence and line up the cutting mark with the blade. You will have a very good idea where the line of cut is because of the zero-clearance cuts you made earlier. Use the hold down-clamp (if appropriate) or apply pressure down on the material and against the miter gauge fence during the cut, ensuring your hands are not near the blade during any part of the cutting action. Power on the saw, and slide the Miter Express with workpiece secured past the blade to cut.
For mitered angles, you can even move the outside panel forward or back to provide support for the angle. This does involved removing the screws, moving the panel forward/back as necessary and re-securing with the screws again. It takes about 2 minutes to do this, but this is actually the most time-intensive task you will encounter with using the product. Everything else works without fuss or hassle.
That's about all there is to it. The Miter Express is very simple to use, period.
I guess its worth mentioning that the product is designed for cross cutting tasks, and not really designed for ripping tasks. For ripping tasks, particularly if your rip cuts involve thin material or you plan to rip thin pieces, we recommend the GRR-Ripper device for rip cuts on the table saw.
So, Is the Hype True?
The best way to determine if a product is as good as it says it is, is to put it to the test on its own claimed merits. Below (in red) are the claims/features Incra make about their own Miter Express product. Underneath each claim are my notes relating to testing of the product, my opinion, or verification of each claim.
• Doubles Any Miter Gauge's Crosscut Range Up To 24"
Yes... 24" figure is an average figure. Could be more, or slightly less depending on your miter gauge bar length itself. It does greatly improve crosscut range/width with any miter gauge though. One thing to note is that if you set up your gauge for a 24" cross cut, a good portion of the gauge hangs back from the Miter Express. If you do not have the T-slot attachments installed, you need to be careful not to unbalance the gauge out of the slots. When cutting a wide piece in this mode, we found you do need to support the part of the workpiece in contact with the miter express throughout the entire cut to keep things balanced. Also, because the Miter Express raised the miter gauge slightly above its normal position, you may need to be careful when cutting thin materials, and ensure the material does not flex and slide under the miter gauge fence as there is no direct support nearer to the gauge when attached for wide cuts like this. Anything above 3mm thickness doesnt seem to be an issue.
• Safely Handles Both Extra Large And Extra Small Workpieces
True... Well, "extra large" being the maximum crosscut width available on your saw. Very true for the extra small workpiece claim. This method is perhaps one of the safest methods of cross cutting small workpieces, if you haven't yet made your own jigs for these tasks.
• Eliminates All Side Play Between Table Saw's Miter Slot And Any Miter Gauge
• Dual Embedded T-Tracks Secure The Included Incra Hold-down Clamp And Other Mitering Accessories.
• Eliminates ALL Drag Between Workpiece And Table Saw, ESPECIALLY For Extra Large Workpieces
• Superb Crosscut And Mitering Control
Incra are well known for making quality woodworking products and accessories. Their miter gauges are some of the best in the business. It's very evident that a lot of thought has gone into creating the Miter Express product as it addresses many common limitations of the basic table saw setup. The machining of parts was spot on, and after five weeks of testing this product, I am happy to report that the Miter Express is still a regular real estate occupier of my table saw's cast iron top. Kudos to Incra for a neat and innovative solution to some common table saw problems.
Agree. Material is much easier to cut using the Miter Express than just using the miter gauge alone. Seasoned woodworkers with good technique may not have too many problems in this department when using a miter gauge alone, but using the Miter Express does seem to bring good results with less "failure" rate, plus you get that added bonus of extra cutting width capacity.Well, in a sense this is right, because the sled sits in between the workpiece and the table surface, so between the workpiece and table saw surface, there is no drag. There is of course some drag between the bottom of the Miter Express and the saw table, but the UHMW strips help reduce this. So perhaps some clever marketing wording there. We did find less drag/friction when cutting items using the Miter Express but there is certainly not an "elimination" of drag on the whole, because the whole system doesn't float in vacuum space as such!Yes, Very useful for jig makers, or just use the supplied hold-down clamp for added safety.Confirmed. All side play eliminated in our testing, even using three different miter gauges.
Incra Miter Express Photos
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The Miter Express straight from the box. Time for some assembly.
The first step is to secure the panels to the utility plate and panel connector plate.
The utility plate's miter bar that rides in the miter slot of your saw. Note the dovetail expansion adjustments for zero-play fit...
...and these are adjusted above the table at 4 different points.
Making the first cut to trim the large panel to the right of the blade.
Securing the miter bar to the drop panel.
Trimming the drop panel for zero-clearance. We are pretty much done now with installation.
Making our first cut. Note the Incra 1000SE gauge is used here (not included) but the hold-down clamp which is included does a great job keeping the material in place during the cut.
Miters are no problem at all. just make the adjustment on the miter gauge as you would normally. Note the outboard fence support providing extra support for longer fences.
Here's the start of a full 24" crosscut using the Miter Express, this time fitted with the Kreg Precision Miter Gauge. Be sure to provide support up at the front of the workpiece for these cuts.
Even our standard miter gauge that came with the saw fits, and using it with the Miter Express helps improve its usability and accuracy too.