Woodworking Tool Reviews | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

Shop Tested: Our staff writers review new tools and products on the market that are ideally suited to the woodworker and DIY’er.



Photos by Rich Keller

SawStop JSS-120V60 Jobsite Table Saw
SawStop keeps the jobsite safe

Laguna Revo 12|16 Lathe
Laguna Lathe is turning heads

Auto Jig by Armor Tool
Auto Jig sets the new dowelling standard

SawStop JSS-120V60 Jobsite Table Saw

(Photo by SawStop)

SawStop has produced a job site saw as part of their line up for some time, but recently it got some updates and I was able to check it out first hand. The first feature that anyone would notice about the saw of course is SawStop’s patented safety technology that stops the blade within milliseconds on contact with skin preventing serious injury. The natural question that most people want to know is; is the saw still a good saw outside of the contact detection safety feature, especially given the high price point of the saw? Even if you can’t cut a finger off, you still need to be able to use the saw. SawStop I believe has done an excellent job of constructing the saw outside of the stop mechanism.
The SawStop jobsite saw weighs in at 113 pounds with the cart, which seems like a lot, but it is actually not far off of the current Bosch and DeWalt models at 92 and 90 pounds respectively. The wheeled cart makes the saw easy to move around on site. The table top on the SawStop is a generous 24-1/2” deep. The fence has been revamped with a removable low side to make cutting thin stock safer and easier, giving your hands more room to grip the work piece.  The low fence can easily be removed and reinstalled when needed. The fence slides easily and locks firmly. SawStop uses an easy to push lever on the top of the fence to control the locking and although it doesn’t require much effort to lock and unlock the fence it holds quite well. One difference between SawStop and a lot of other job site saws is the fact that the fence only locks at the front of the saw. Some people don’t like the fact that the rear of the fence can deflect during a cut, however, it should be noted that most stationary saw fences are constructed this way. It is safer to have the fence able to give slightly at the rear if a board is seriously twisting during a cut. This small movement could help prevent a kickback. Hiding under the right side of the saw top is a storage container for the guard, riving knife, wrenches, and an extra blade brake cartridge.

A Low Fence – The SawStop Jobsite saw has a unique low fence that can be added or removed very quickly, making thin rip operations safer.
Hidden Storage – An inboard storage drawer keeps often needed items not only safe, but nearby, reducing the chance that these critical items get lost on a jobsite.
The blade can be raised with one full revolution of the hand wheel at the front, and tilting the blade is accomplished by squeezing the back of the blade raising the hand wheel and sliding it right or left which is fairly easy to do. The angle of tilt can be further fine-tuned with a large knob on the front, right of the saw. The controls are easy and intuitive to use, although I am not head-over-heels in love with the speed of the blade rise/fall. I would like to see it go a little slower so it can be set more accurately when needed for dados, but most of the cuts on this saw will likely be through cuts, so this isn't a big deal.
One thing that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in a review before is the quality of the instruction manual. SawStop actually produces a really good manual with this saw, and they also have several instruction sheets stuck to the saw in key places. The instructions for installing and removing the low fence are on it, and instructions for replacing the brake cartridge are on the onboard toolbox. Right from the moment you open the box, the instructions guide you through unpacking and assembling the saw in a simple and straightforward manner.
The guard on this version of the saw was upgraded to include a vacuum connection point. The saw can be hooked up above and below the table. The dust collection does work decently if you have a sizeable vacuum connected, but I think that most small portable vacuums will struggle to provide enough suction when split to two different collection points to do a really good job.
Overall the saw is easy to set up and use. Outside of the stop mechanism, the saw is well made and quite user friendly which makes it a pleasure to use. If you are in the market for a new jobsite sized saw, I would have a close look at the SawStop.
SawStop JSS-120V60 Jobsite Table Saw
Website: SawStop.com
Tester: Rich Keller

Laguna Revo 12|16 Lathe

Shown with Optional Accessories (Photo by Laguna)

I got a chance recently to take the Laguna Revo 12|16 lathe for a test spin, and it has a number of good features going for it. There are a lot of little details on the machine that make it stand out to me in the category of bench top lathes. Everything about it is beefy. All the castings are nice and thick, and the top of the bed was very wide. This will help the banjo and tailstock lock in place firmly and not slide given the amount of friction on such a wide surface. The finish was not ground, but somewhat textured, and this also increases the grip between the bed and the banjo and tailstock. The tailstock has a holder for a couple of different centers, which is handy. I liked the feel of the banjo and tailstock sliding on the bed, and the smoothness of the locking levers. Placing a live center in the tailstock and a drive in the headstock, I slid the tailstock up to check the alignment between the two centers and I was glad to see that they were perfectly in line on this machine. It's common to see centers not line up on some of the thriftier machines out there.

Precise Alignment – Known for their quality, Laguna didn't disappoint here. Keller placed a live center in the tailstock and a drive in the headstock. Once the two were brought together they aligned perfectly.
The headstock has a tapered nose like Laguna's larger floor model machine, which allows the spindle to stick out quite a bit and give good access to the headstock side of a turning. There are easy to open doors for the belt compartment and a quick release tension lever which makes changing speed ranges quick and easy. I also liked that there was a window on the end of the headstock which allows the operator to see the index position numbers engraved on the pulley inside. The controls for switching the unit on and adjusting speed are located conveniently on the top of the headstock. The buttons and knobs are large, and the speed display is easy to read. The stand has a number of spots to store your lathe chisels close at hand.
Overall, I like the drive system used on the Laguna lathe. They use a fairly wide serpentine belt. Serpentine belts transmit power much more efficiently and smoothly than a conventional V-Belt which also helps the lathe run quieter. The lathe was very quiet running. With a small piece fixed between centers, you could hardly hear the machine when I was not cutting wood. The machine has a fair bit of weight to it, which is very beneficial. I fixed a piece of oak about 3" square and 12" long between centers, and had it off center about 3/4". I was surprised I could run the machine between 750-1000 RPM and there was very little vibration. I rounded out a few pieces like this with a 3/4" roughing gouge and then planed them smooth with a skew chisel. Using moderate cuts, I had no issues with the power of the machine, but I did find that a heavy cut would start to slow the machine a bit. Compared to other machines that are this size, I would say it is more powerful. Even though many bench top lathes are using a 1HP DC motor these days, Laguna uses different electronics for their machine, giving a better torque characteristic and lower speed range. At low speed the lathe still had lots of torque. Most machines start to loose significant amounts of torque in the bottom 25% of the speed range. It's still designed as a bench top machine of course, so it wouldn't be fair to expect it to have the power of a full size machine.

Many Great Options – The Revo lathe is available as just a benchtop machine (shown above, $1099), or with additional accessories like a double arm light ($175), extension kit ($199), wheel kit ($175) and stand ($449).
There are a couple of small points with the lathe that I did not like. The window for the indexing numbers is nice, but the numbers are upside down if you stand in the normal operator position. When first using the machine I also found that the tool rest would pivot when I was working on the outer ends. I did find this problem went away when I tightened the lock handle significantly more, but I was tightening the handle to a point that I would be concerned about breaking it in time. The Laguna banjo uses a large boss with a split, and the lock handle squeezes the split closed rather than the end of the lock handle driving right into the tool rest post like most lathes. Before running the machine, I expected that this system would have a better grip on the tool post as it contracts pressure evenly around the post, but in the end I found that I had to tighten the handle more than I would with other machines where the end of the lock handle simply drives right into the tool post. Neither of these problems is a deal breaker in my opinion. The Revo also has a fairly short distance between centers, at 15-1/2" it is one of the shorter machines out there, but on the positive side it is one of the few bench top lathes that can turn on the outboard end of the headstock, allowing you to turn up to a 16" bowl with the optional outboard tool rest and bed extension. The same bed extension can also be used on the other end of the lathe to increase the distance between centers.
Laguna Revo 12|16 Lathe
MSRP: $1099 (optional accessories extra)
Website: LagunaTools.ca
Tester: Rich Keller

Auto Jig by Armor Tool

Photo by Armor Tool
Pocket hole joinery has been around for a long time, but I'm always interested to see a new idea for a pocket hole jig. Pocket holes can be finicky to set up for different thicknesses of material, and the AutoJig from Armor Tool is a well-constructed jig. The jig feels heavy duty with all the parts being thick and sturdy. The biggest feature of the jig is the fact that it adjusts for different thicknesses of material quickly and easily. By sliding a handle at the front of the jig, the clamping thickness is adjusted along with the height of the drilling guide. There is also a thumb wheel under the clamp handle to control clamping pressure. The jig clamped the material securely and I had no issues with the wood moving while I was drilling. The movement of the slide handle also moves a holder at the side of the jig which holds the drill bit and depth stop collar. This allows the depth stop collar to be set to the right position quickly and easily.
The jig also has a handy chart on the side which tells you what length screw to use for the material thickness the jig is set to. Armor uses a colour coded system to make it easy to select the right length of screw. Based on the thickness of material, the chart tells you what colour screw to use which will be the correct length. For example, 3/4" thick material requires 1-1/4" screws, which are yellow according to the chart. If you happen to be using fasteners from a different company, the chart on the side of the jig does tell you what length to use. One thing I've found over the years with other screws is that sometimes an 1-1/2" screw will get mixed in with 1-1/4" screws, and without being colour coded you won't realize this until the end of the screw is poking out somewhere it shouldn't.

Colour Coded – A simple chart on the side of the jig will keep screw selection simple. This chart also provides a bit of information on which thread type to use.
The drill guide on the AutoJig is adjustable for two different hole center spacing applications. Changing the spacing is easy; just loosen a thumb screw, flip the drill guide around, and re-tighten. The jig also has a vacuum connection point, which will help drill bits last longer and drill quicker by removing sawdust. I found that the included drill bit drilled quickly, though some of the holes were a little fuzzy around the edges. This seems to be a common problem with pocket hole jigs. I never put a pocket hole where it can be seen, so this isn't an issue for me.

Narrow or Wide – By loosening the thumb screw and turning the drill guide around you can quickly and easily change between two different boring widths.
I was impressed by the quality of the jig. It’s well constructed, and the adjustment for the clamp is smooth and easy to operate. Underneath the jig, the mechanism that makes it all work is heavy gauge steel, while the colour coded screw system makes it easy to pick the right fastener. I found the included driver bit wasn't the best quality, but this isn't a deal breaker. As Canadians, I expect most of us already have a handful of #2 square drive bits around the shop. I would recommend the AutoJig if you are in the market for a pocket hole jig.
Auto Jig by Armor Tool
MSRP: $185.39
Website: Armor-Tool.com
Tester: Rich Keller