Excalibur Scroll Saw EX21

This article of mine was first published late last year in The Australian Wood Review, and so I can now reprint it here on Stu’s Shed (as per a specific arrangement with AWR).

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It is a well-known aphorism that first-impressions count, and both the designers, and manufacturers of the Excalibur EX21 Scroll saw knew this very, very well.

A scroll saw is not something that needs to look like a prop from Star Trek, or  encased in plastic to such a degree it disguises its real form. This scroll saw looks, and feels serious, and it has a price tag to prove it.  The whole unit has a very utilitarian design:  you need a flat working surface, so there’s a large flat surface of plate steel.  A frame and base – more plate steel bolted together.  A rack and pinion system to make angled cuts – even more plate steel.  The machine is solid, and well engineered.

Excalibur

Excalibur

For angled cuts, the EX21 uses the same concept as a increasing number of scroll saws, in that it tilts the blade (and mechanism) over, rather than angling the base.  From an operator’s point of view, this means your workpiece remains on a large horizontal work surface providing ideal access and control, even when performing cuts up to 45 degrees to either side.

Angled Cuts

Angled Cuts

To tilt the assembly over, the EX21 uses not one, but two rack and pinion mechanisms at either end of the tool so the mechanism is smooth and solid.

Rack and Pinion Mechanism

Rack and Pinion Mechanism

Underside Showing Tilt Mechanism Rod

Underside Showing Tilt Mechanism Rod

The motor protrudes out of the side of the tool, and connects directly into the oscillating mechanism, rather than relying on belts to transfer the power from the motor. The motor is also direct current, so it retains full torque throughout the variable speed range of 400 – 1550 strokes / minute.

Protruding Motor

Protruding Motor

Direct Drive

Direct Drive

If you strip a scroll saw down to its fundamental principle, it is to take a fine blade, and oscillate it rapidly up and down, and even here the EX21 is a superior machine.  The drive is transferred to the blade via a twin parallel link drive, so instead of having a long arm top and bottom that oscillates (and due to that length sacrifices a huge amount of the power developed by the motor in getting it to the blade), this has two links – one for the top of the blade, one for the bottom that delivers the power right to the end of the arm before it is converted at that point through a couple of very short arms to produce the oscillating blade.

Upper Blade Arms

Upper Blade Arms

The actual speed of oscillations is the same as other machines, but the difference in developed power is substantial.  For an operator, this means a difference between stalling the machine, or having it to continue cutting even in trying circumstances (such as thick stock (up to 53mm), and/or tight corners) and in difficult timbers.  Also, it is claimed to reduce overall vibration of the machine, and while this is true throughout the majority of the oscillating speeds, vibration became quite noticeable at the highest speed settings.  Having the scroll saw clamped down to a solid bench, or the separately available stand should reduce that considerably.

A obviously common task when using a scroll saw is changing the blade, and particularly feeding the blade into the middle of a pattern for an internal cut.  The blade clamping mechanism and independent tensioning mechanism makes this task a breeze.  The overall blade tension is set by the knob at the back of the machine, and it allows a significant amount of tension to be exerted on the blade, which will optimise its performance, both in quality of the cut, as well as its ability remain on track and cut straight (vertically), without the blade trying to squirm during the cut.  However, there is no need to wind off that tension for a blade change, as the blade clamping mechanism independently releases and reapplies that tension with its “flip tensioner” during a blade change.

Flip Tensioner

Flip Tensioner

The actual clamp itself is also very simple, and importantly, tool-less.  Finally, the top arm lifts well clear of the work (still with the blade attached at the top point), making it very easy to feed into the next hole for another internal cut.

Raised Arm

Raised Arm

The arm can remain in the raised position, but I did find the method to achieve that a little questionable.  It relies simply on a bolt passing through the housing to rub on the arm, and the friction to keep the arm up.  I would have thought a more positive method for locking the arm in the upper position would have been preferable, and sometimes found that resorting to a block of wood provided a more positive (although undesirable) solution.  If the arm is lifted too high, it actually impacts on the threads of another bolt that holds a side-cover on.  Do this too hard (or incorrectly lift the saw by the top arm), and there is a risk of damaging the threads of this access bolt.

Raised Arm Restraining Bolt

Raised Arm Restraining Bolt

The work-holddown seems to have been a bit of an afterthought – not that it is incorrectly positioned, but it has not had the same amount of precision engineering treatment that the rest of the saw has benefited from.  Also too, the very standard concept of the air pump produces very little airflow (no worse than other scroll saws), but again I would have liked to have seen a better solution.  A light source may have also been a sensible inclusion, particularly if it was on a flexible arm utilising fibre optics, or modern LED light sources so it can be positioned where required.  At least there is no laser!

Blower & Holddown

Blower & Holddown

The bottom line: This is a well engineered tool, and really sets the standards for scroll saws.  It is a very expensive bit of kit, but if you are serious about using a scroll saw, this is a serious, uncompromising machine.

Australian Wood Review

The latest issue has just hit the streets, and as always has lots of interesting content. Including a full-page review by yours truely of the Excalibur EX21 Scrollsaw.  For obvious reasons, I can’t reprint the article here – if you want to see it, you have to buy the magazine!  However, any feedback on it (or the previous review of the Pro Drill-press table) is welcome.

issue_61

Not been having much luck recently with the short courses at Holmesglen – I don’t have any visibility of the overall performance of courses at the moment, whether overall attendance is dropping, or if just hobby pursuits are having a bit of a downturn in the current economic crisis, but my recent introductory Triton woodworking course, and shed course have both been cancelled for lack of numbers (hard to run a course with 0 attendees), and the same has happened for this weekend’s toy making course.

Bit of a shame really – was looking forward to that, and have done quite a lot of preparation work for it.  Have a number of tools just waiting in the wings to be taken along for people on the course to get to play with (including thicknessers, bandsaws etc), so I guess they can all be moved back into deep storage again – there isn’t another one now until Feb 21, so there is no point having the extra workshop space taken up with them for another 3 months.

The Rejuvenating Properties of The Shed

Did I ever need yesterday (and a whole heap more required, but I’ll take what I can get!)

Took a day off work yesterday because I really needed a bit of time out to recharge the batteries.  Not to sleep (although with a 20 month-old, sleep is a thing of the past!), but just to ground myself – my blood/sawdust ratio was obviously getting periously low!

And I had (and have) so many things to play around with.  I could take a week and not break the back of everything that could be done, but even a day out there sure helps.

There will be a few item-specific posts about the individual activities, but overall the day went such:

Unloaded the new tools down to the workshop. New tools? GMC are being very supportive of my activites which is very cool, and so there are some new tools to review, and use both in my workshop, and at courses I run etc, such as the upcoming toy course.  (Still looking for bookings for it (through Holmesglen), but there are going to be lots of ‘toys’ to play with, while making toys to play with!!)

So I had a Triton 3 in 1 to get down there, and boy, is that thing a monster.  Not physically large (still a reasonable size), but it feels like it has been carved from a solid lump of steel.  61kgs to be exact.

I also had to (sadly) pack up the Excalibur EX21 Scroll Saw that I have been reviewing for the next edition of the Australian Wood Review magazine.

Once there was a little space, I also had a small GMC benchtop drill press to assemble, the GMC 18V AllNailer to unplack and charge, a CMT Dado set (on loan from Carbatec), and I think that was about it.

Not sure about the AllNailer as yet – the first few nails I’ve driven, some have easily gone full-depth, but others don’t seem to have been able to penetrate to much more than 20-30mm of remaining nail.

I tried cutting a wheel with the 1/3HP GMC drill press (I’m hoping the Triton one will become available soon), and although I managed a 50mm one (in pine), it sure struggled.  The stalling was one thing – that’s just a fact of life that I was pushing it a bit hard, but each time that I did (and I did stall it often), I had to wait 30 seconds for the coil’s thermal cutoff to reset.  I’m guessing what was happening was – each time the motor stalled, the coils in the motor would get hot (immediately), and that there is a thermal switch in there that was tripping.  However, it is a VERY sensitive switch, so even a brief stall was too much for it, and the saw wouldn’t turn on again until the coils cooled.  Interestingly, the first side of the wheel went easily, and it was the second side that was problematic.

Once play time had ended, I went to work on a few prototype parts for a child’s table and chair, including trying out the Mortise Pal for making loose tenon joints using the router (rather than something like the Festool Domino (which looks great, but is miles out of my budget)).

So that’s a bit of an overview of the day.  I’ll go into more detail of the individual events later.

At least I feel a little refreshed.  More needed!!

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