Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hammer B3 winner sliding table saw review

I try to be as objective as possible in this review, try to separate fact from personal opinion, so you can make your own judgment. There isn't much review on this saw yet, so hopefully this will help you decide if this is the saw you want.


I used to own a Sawstop Professional cabinet table saw, and was pretty happy with it. It was solid build, quiet, accurate, customer service was great. There are already a lot articles out there talking about Sawstop saws, I'm not going to waste your time on that, but I do want to point out couple things I wish the saw can do, so you have a better understanding why I want to replace it:
1. The saw only takes 10 inch blade, some times I want to make some creative cuts, and I wish there's some flexibility in the saw that I can use some other sized blade. I've heard you can bypass the motor/break controller by activate the motor relay directly, but that sounds sketchy to me and not very easy to do.
2. No scoring unit option. When you work with Baltic birch ply, and looking for that smooth, tear out free cut, you know what I'm talking about here. There are tricks you can do to prevent tear out, like ZC insert, or do a backward non-through cut first, but be able to do the cut in one go is nice, especially when you try to balance the heavy sheet on the saw and do a nice straight cut is hard enough, let alone do it backwards.

3. Sliding table option is not close enough to the blade. There are about 10 inches gap between the sliding table and the blade. I sometimes do some crazy miter, like this bird house, so be able to clamp it down really close to the blade on a sliding table will be really helpful.

Most of the review compares the Hammer with Sawstop, since those are the two saws I've used, and stripping out the other features, they are actually about the same price point.

Before I picked Hammer B3w sliding table saw, I did a lot of research on sliding table saws. To my surprise, there isn't much information out there about consumer grade European style sliding table saws. The other saws I was looking at are: MiniMax and Laguna. Feature wise, they are almost identical, price wise they are comparable. The reason I picked Hammer are:
- Has most reviews online, although still not enough.
- Most people with the saw seems happy about it.
- Based on this review by Marius Hornberger, the saw seems very attractive.
- It's sub brand of the famous Felder Group, in fact much of the saw was from Felder saw.
- it has a promotion for the saw/shaper combo, and Felder saws are known for it's combination machines.
- Felder group seems to have a solid tech support there in the US.
- I really like the color theme :)

Ordering process

I had couple email back and forth with Hammer back in Aug 2015, not until Jan 2016 did I decided to order the saw. Their order process is different although they have a website with information about the saw, you still need to talk to a sales person to place the order. Their online documentations are not very clear on which one is compatible with which model, sometimes it's even confusing to their own sales person, it took her some time to figure out the right option parts to order.


The wording on the contract is very misleading:

1. About the scoring unit, it says on the contract: "Mechanical scoring unit, scoring blade dia. 80 mm" you'd expect it include the blade, but no, you have to purchase it separately.


2. one of the option about the shaper unit is that you can choose to use a router shaft, so you can use your regular 1/4 or 1/2 router bit with it. The wording on the contract says: "MF spindle system - Moulder spindle with collet chuck coupler" you'd expect it will include that collet and the nut, I mean if you buy a router, would you expect it to come with both 1/4 or 1/3 collet? But Hammer saw doesn't come with even one collet, it's extra purchase. And they don't even point that out to me when I placed the order.

3. There's no saw blade included in the purchase, not even the regular standard combo blade, it's an extra purchase. It's particularly annoying when the blade is a 30mm bore with 2 pins, which is not very common in the US, providing that starter blade will be handy for customers for initial installation and break-in the saw.



The wait

Every Hammer saw unit is build to order, so you get greater flexibility and lower inventory cost. All units are made in Austria and shipped over to the US then freight to customers. I was told it took 90-100 days from order to deliver, but it actually took 4 month about 120 days to get the saw. When I placed the order, the sales person said she will give me monthly update on the build, but she never update me monthly except when the saw arrived at the US port. there are 3-4 times between this 4 month period, I write to her to ask for an update, and every time I asked was because it already passed that 1 month mark, and she always says she was just about to write to me to give an update. After couple times, you start to not trust her anymore. Sure maybe I was too anxious about the progress on the build, but I think you know my feelings, have you checked your door step for 100 times a day waiting for that Amazon package you ordered 1 hour ago? This is a saw of my dream, and I never pressured her to promise anything, but if you said you will update my monthly, stand by it, your customer cares about that.

But it turns out, the wait is not the worst part......








I took delivery of the saw on May 11. The driver was very nice to help me move the saw into my garage, and ask me to open the wrap to check for any scratches before sign the paper work. The saw was crated pretty well. everything was screwed down on the pallet. There's no damage on the packaging.






After the driver left, I opened up the plastic wrap, I noticed there's a big rust on the cast iron table, I later contact Hammer, they said they will send me some de-rust, but they never did. The fence and scale bar was wrapped and put inside the saw cabinet, the vibration from the shipping rub through the wrap and damaged the fence and the scale bar. Hammer did send a replacement fence but refuse to replace the scale bar, they said the scratch was too small. Fine, if it's only for the scale bar I probably would not even bother to contact them, it's these small issues add up make you question the quality of every single piece, and provide a replace part would be a nice way to say sorry and make it up for your customers.


Installation

Coming from Sawstop, I know what good instructions and packaging looks like, but I was not expect Hammer to have a better instruction, in fact the reviews I read online pointed out lact of good instruction is one of the negative point on the saw. The instructions are printed out papers not stapled together. Hammer saws had couple version update over the years, and many different configurations. Many of the instructions are out dated, some are not for this configuration, it's pretty confusing to follow. The hardwares are sealed in plastic bags, not marked, so it take some time to figure out which one is for which step. In short, it's definitely worse packaging/instruction than Sawstop, about the same as Grizzly. Actually not as good as Grizzly, with Grizzly, you at least get only one model/configuration so everything on the graph matches the machine. With Hammer, most of the graph don't match the machine, in most cases it's not a big deal, since the installation is not very difficult. There are however couple places are confusing. When installing the extension table, it's a heavy gauge stamped sheet metal, it suppose to align with the front of the cast iron table, but the hole is too small to allow enough space to align it, so I have to file it a bit bigger.


So, what's not comes with the $7000+ saw?
- no plug, well since there are so many different standards here in the US, I can accept that it doesn't come with a plug.
- no scoring blade, as I mentioned earlier, it's extra.
- no main blade, as I mentioned earlier, it's extra.
- no clamp for the sliding table, I know many Grizzly sliding table saws come with a clamp
- no insert plate for shaper. If you use the spindle as a shaper, it sort of make sense, since most cutter are so big, and you need to clamp it down anyway. But this unit is configured to use router bits, it's impossible to use without a insert plate, the smallest opening ring is about 4 inch in diameter.
- no spindle collet! This is absurd, I think the collet is essential part of the shaper unit, it's like the stabilizer washer on a saw arbor, would you expect buy a table saw without the arbor nut? or washer?


The sliding table

This is the main reason I wanted a sliding table saw. Have the ability to slide and clamp close to the saw blade. Overall I'm pretty happy with the sliding table, the action is very smooth, no play, even under heavy loads. Still I find couple things can be better:

- The sliding table is not level with the cast iron table out of the box. It's about 0.5 mm higher. I think the thought behind it is that when you cross cut, you don't drag it on the table surface. But I found it interferes with the ripping action, because the sliding table is right on the left side of the blade, when you rip stock, it can't be placed flat on the table surface, the sliding table will lift the stock up about 0.5 mm, so your cut is not 90 degree.  Marius Hornberger said it's ok, I can't agree with that, it  renders the ripping inaccurate at all times. So I lowered the sliding table to make it level with the rest of the table.


Adjusting the table is done by lose the 4 threaded rod that supports the sliding table on 4 corners. That means it's pretty hard to adjust only 1 freedom, say if you only want to lower the table, you might also bump it out of position in relation to the saw blade.


The sliding table can be locked in the center position, so it's easier to use ripping or if you just don't want the sliding table to move when you move the saw around. The saw's sliding table is about 7 feet long, when it's locked in the center position, the front of it sticking out  about 2 feet, it's pretty awkward to do ripping. It would be nice if they give you another locking position where the front of the table is level with the cast iron table. You lock/unlock the table by pull and twist the locking knob, sounds pretty fool prove right? Unfortunately, it's not, the locking knob has a spring loaded pin, so when it's lowered/deployed, the cross pin needs to align with the notch on the bracket, so when you table slide into locking position, the pin can move back and lock the table. If you accidentally twisted the knob when it was deployed, and trust me there's not de-tens, so it's very easy to move the knob make the cross pin out of alignment, it will stuck when you move the table into locking position, or even damage the locking pin.



The biggest issue with the sliding table is safety. When the table travels, there's a space between the table top and the base, the gap is big enough to put a finger in, and when you use the sliding table, it's a pretty comfortable place at the back of the table that you can push. I made that stupid mistake when I use the sliding table the first time, and when I pushed the table forward, it clipped my finger nail right off. I paid for my stupidity, I should never put my hand in that gap. But luckily it's just my finger nail, it grow back in couple month. But I think Hammer can do a much better job at warn people this is a dangerous place to put your fingers around, or they could change the design to prevent you from putting your hands there in the first place. Actually I'm not alone, here's another case someone also crushed his finger that way.


The saw unit



The saw unit tilts on a hinge rather than a trunnion, to cut cost, I think. So that means the blade will not tile about a slot on the throat plate. Well if you want to save money by using a hinge, at least make the throat plate easy to swap, but it's not. May be I was spoiled by the tool-less, one finger lift/lock throat swap on a Sawstop, to change a throat plate on this saw, you need  to remove 4 screws. The way the insert plate was made was not very friendly to make your own insert. I made couple from phenolic sheet. The tag on the saw to receive screw for the insert plate is pretty small, so not much room to take set screw to level the insert plate. If you think you don't need a ZC insert since you have the scoring unit, then you are wrong, the gap on the factory insert is very big, about 1/4 inch, so when you ripping things with a small off cut piece, it's very easy to get caught between the blade and the insert plate and cause a scary kickback. It happened to me 2 times before I decided to make a ZC insert before I rip anything small.

<riving knife doesn't clear 10 inch blade>

The saw is designed to take both 12 inch and 10 inch blade, but when using 10 inch blade the riving knife doesn't go low enough to clear the saw blade, so you can't do non-through cut with a 10 inch blade with the riving knife in place. I ended up making my own riving knife, this really make me wonder: have they every tried their saw themselves? I think they just take a Felder 12 inch sliding table saw and throw whatever hobbyist wants and sell it. They never care enough to try it out. 

<show awkward of cut large sheet>
There's another great example shows just how much they don't care about their customers. The switch on the saw was on the right side of the cabinet, but the sliding table was on the left side. So when you try to do a cut on a big piece of a plywood (after all, cutting large sheet goods is sliding table all about isn't it?). you have to balance the sheet on the saw, walk around to turn on the switch, and walk back to make the cut, at the end of the cut, you have to walk around the saw to turn it off. Not only does this extremely inconvenient, it's not safe at all. What's more, there's obviously a place on the left side that has an opening for a switch, my guess is one an older design, the switch was on the left side, but for some reason, an later iteration moved the switch to the right side. It's impossible that anyone tried the saw would think: yes, the switch is in right place, walk around the saw to turn it on/off is alright.

<video show electric break>
One thing I like the saw is the electric break. When using a 10 inch blade, after the saw is turned off, it only took a second or two for the blade to stop moving, which is nice. But on a 12 inch blade, even with break, it took the blade about 5 seconds to spinning down, so the feature is necessary for a large blade like that. One annoying thing is that when electric break is engaged, it hums, for about 10 seconds, even after the blade is stopped. It would be nice if they are a sensor to turn the break off after the blade stopped spinning.

 The arbor on the saw unit seems solid and well build, it's all precision grounded. Maybe because this saw has a bigger motor at 4 HP, when the saw was turned on, it has more vibration than a Sawstop, and is much louder with the same blade (thin kerf Freud blade). I'm not sure where the vibration came from, the extra noise I think came from the cabinet that is not as good sealed at the Sawstop. The Sawstop has cast iron on both side of the blade, but the Hammer has a sliding table on one side, which has a much larger opening.

When I watched video on Youtube, Hammer claim it's very easy to get the blade with 30mm bore and two pins. Well I called around, you pretty much need to special order your blade or have it bored. I ended up ordering from Amazon and send it to forrest to get it bored.

The fence 


The fence ride on a precision grounded hardened solid steel bar, which is really nice. The rail is attached to the cast iron table by 2 long 7/16 bolts, there's also one bolt attach to the sheet metal extension wing, but I don't think that will provide much support at all, since the extension wing will deflect if I lean on it. May be it's strong enough, but compare to Sawstop, that has at least 4 screw to secure the angle icon for the rail with no space in between, looks like a stronger design to me.

The real pain with the fence is how to adjust it. on a Sawstop, you only need to adjust the rail so it's level with the table surface, the parallelism of the fence to the blade can be adjusted on the T-slide clamping piece. But on this Hammer saw, you need to adjust rail for both level with the table surface and the parallelism of the fence to the blade, because there's no adjustment on the fence clamping head. To lift the heavy rail and fence into position is hard enough, and to fine adjust it at the same time it not fun at all. It took me a good part of an afternoon to get it dialed in. The good news is once it's adjusted, it seems solid, and very reliable.


The fence is clamped on a round bar, means the fence can lift even when it's clamped down, especially when you slide the fence back for cross cut, since most of the weight is at the back, the head wants to lift.


Apart from that, I really like the European style fence system, you get 2 fence profile, tall and flat, also you can slide the fence back for cross cut. And extruded aluminum is very straight and low friction.

The cast iron table

The cast iron table top is not precision grounded like Sawstop, but flat milled. All 4 sides are rough from the cast, not grounded,  so the edge is not straight, that means the extension table and the cast iron table has a slight gap. When I made my own extension cabinet, I need to trace the edge of the table to make a no-gap fit.


The adjustment for the scoring unit is on the surface of the table, it has 3 big hole/slots. The problem is the slots are right next to the throat plate, when you change the throat, you take out those small screws, guess where they tend to go? right the holes and slots, and it's very difficult to get them out, and not like you can just use another screw, you have to get them out, otherwise they will get stuck on the blade and cause huge damage to the saw.

The shaper unit


The shaper unit was configured to take regular router bits, since I don't have any shaper cutters, and I don't do a lot molding. I figure I use set it up to use regular router bits to start with. If Hammer allow their shaper to take router bit, it should design it properly, give it a small enough insert plate, make it safe to do trim cuts. The smallest opening ring on this unit is about 4 inches diameter, which is way too big for any safe router operation. and it's round, so it's very hard to make your own insert plate, Hammer also don't offer any insert plate that you can buy. I'm not really sure what you expect customer to use it.


The Shaper unit is driven by a separate 4 HP motor. To change speed, you need to change the belt position on the pulley, just like the way you change speed on a drill press, not very fast, but it give you a lot of torque at low speed, which is important for a shaper with big cutter head. The only other complain I have is that the sliding table is about 6 inches away from the shaper spindle, that means if you are cutting a tenon on a 8 inch long piece, you only have 2 inches space to clamp. It would be great if they can move the spindle closer to the sliding table.

The cabinet


The cabinet of the saw is made of stamped sheet metal, pretty much the same as every cabinet saw. Hammer designed their saw cabinet for both saw only, saw/shaper and combination machine, so there're a lot of holes on the cabinet body prepared for other configurations. That means the cabinet is not sealed at all, so the dust collection is an issue. The dust collection at the blade is not bad, similar to Sawstop, but in side the cabinet, because there are so many openings, you constantly get saw dust fall out of the cabinet.




The extension table is also made of stamped metal, it is definitely not as solid as the cast iron extension table on a Sawstop. On Sawstop, I can easily stand on the edge of the extension table and the table top will still remain flat. On the Hammer saw, if I put half of my weight on the edge of the extension table, I will feel the table deflect. That's said, it's not a big deal for me, I always find the factory extension table not use the space efficient enough. So I made a cabinet to fit on the side. I try to squeeze out as much space as I can, and also fitted a router table on it. I figure have two router table setup will be handy at times.






Pretty much everything in my shop is on casters or wheels. This saw is also no exception. I didn't purchase the factory mobile kit, it seems simple enough I can build my own, so I did. The build is pretty simple, and worked great.

The service

Since I experienced many problems with the saw, I contacted their service department many times. The skill level of their service department is a hit or miss. The first two tech support I contacted doesn't seems to know much about the saw very much. The third person did know the saw, and agreed that the switch was in an awkward place, he can provide me with the additional switch to install on the left side, but he warned me that by installing the switch, I'll void the warrantee on the electrical parts. But since the position of the switch is really inconvenient and unsafe to operate, I placed the order to purchase the switch anyway. The switch arrived, but the electric diagram come with the saw does not match what's in the saw, I have one extra NO (normal open) switch on the "ON button" than what's illustrated in the electric diagram. I contacted the tech support again, he said I might have a older version of the saw, but the diagram he had for the old model doesn't match what I have either. He actually can't identify what version of the electric system I have on my saw. Regardless of what version I have, I'll need one additional NO switch to make the switch work, he agreed to send me that switch. That was about a week before the 2016, two week after that phone call, I heard nothing from them, I send them multiple email, no one replied. Finally a sales person replied my email saying the tech support person is at the show, and might now have access to internet. I guess that's how Felder treat their exist customers, to gain more customer is more important than take care of their existing customers. There're multiple times during my contact with Felder, what they promised, they never deliver, they promised to call me back, they never did; they promised to send me rust remover, they never did, they promised to update me monthly, they never did on time.

Will I buy it again?
I guess you know the answer.

I didn't mention any name here to protect them. I understand they are hard working people, I'm really upset about Felder Group, unhappy about their product. But Felder Group, if you want prove or detail of anything I said here, I can show them to you. I keep all the emails and contact.


Tape holder

Emma loves doing crafts, and tape if a tool she use a lot. I always want to make a cute tape holder for her. I prototyped with some ...