The Toolbox: Issue 5

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This article is from Issue 5 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Incra Miter Express

Incra’s new Miter Express is another one of those gotta-have-it, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kinds of products that Incra is famous for inventing. If you own a miter gauge – any miter gauge – you can turn it into a performance-boosting miter sled in just a few seconds by simply mounting it in place on top of the Miter Express. 

Sleds are among the most common shop-made table saw accessories, while miter sleds are specialized versions of ordinary sleds. The Miter Express is a sliding, miter-cutting platform that fully supports and controls your workpiece throughout the cut. Miter gauges – all miter gauges – drag your board across the table, causing loss of support and control. That’s not usually a problem for smaller boards, but the bigger the workpiece, the more you need a sled. 

The Miter Express uses a cleverly engineered “docking port” that lets you instantly drop and lock your miter gauge onto the sliding platform. Once locked in, it stays put until you undock it to switch back to your regular miter gauge (something you may never want to do, once you’ve experienced the many advantages of this sled-based miter-cutting tool). One big advantage is that it literally doubles your miter gauge’s crosscut range to more than 24". Another is the sled’s built-in miter bar that’s adjustable for smooth tracking with zero side play, so even if your miter gauge wiggles around in the miter slot, it becomes rock solid once locked into the Miter Express. 

The Express offers a host of other useful features that you won’t find in other miter sleds. Two embedded T-tracks secure an included hold-down clamp that anchors your board rigidly in place. This really pays off when cutting workpieces that are too small to safely handle on a regular miter gauge. It also provides much-needed holding power when cutting large boards. 

Speaking of enhanced safety, the Miter Express has a locking drop panel that supports your board’s offcut piece, and provides zero-clearance tearout control. Perhaps the best feature of all is that you get all of this for about half the price of most other miter sleds – it retails for around $150 – making it a great value for any shop. For more information, go to 

— Tim Rinehart is contributing editor to Woodcraft Magazine.

Festool RO125 FEQ 

Having relied on a couple of quite usable top-name random orbit sanders over the years, picking up the Festool RO125 FEQ sander was a little like trading in my Honda Civic – which was a perfectly usable car – for a brand new Volvo sports sedan. The Festool does everything the old sander did, but it does all of it better. It also does some things the old sander could never do.

Inside the very rugged Festool “Systainer” case, you’ll find a tool that is quite large for a 5" finish sander. The RO125 looks like a cross between a barrel-grip jigsaw, a right-angle grinder and your average random-orbit sander. It weighs a hefty 4.4 lbs.

Before you can begin using the RO125, you need to connect the detachable (and thus easily replaceable) power cord, which locks in place with a quick twist. There are two bright green switches on the top of the sander. The one closer to the barrel is the power switch; push it down and to the front and it turns the motor on and locks in the on position.

The other switch on the top of the case is where this tool starts to get fun. Move the switch to the left and you have normal random orbit sanding. Move it to the right and the sander is in “Rotex” mode. Rotex is a combination of rotary and eccentric motion which offers very aggressive material removal. The first thing you’ll notice when you begin using the Rotex mode is that the sander requires a firm grip with two hands and careful attention to control. It’s certainly no harder to control than a belt sander, but if you’re expecting the tame qualities of a random-orbit sander, the demands can be surprising. I put a couple of gouges in some of my test pieces before I got the hang of controlling the sander in Rotex mode. 

tHE RO125 sander has a power switch and a sanding mode switch.

My first test project was a window perch for my cats that consisted of a white pine frame with a birch plywood shelf. With 80-grit abrasive in Rotex mode the sander evened the frame with the plywood quite quickly – too quickly, in fact, as I went through the birch veneer before I even knew what was happening. 

As with any tool, be sure to try the RO125 on a test project or two to get to know its capabilities before you take it to any more expensive woods. After a couple of quick repairs, I had the piece rough sanded. I switched to finer paper and the standard mode for finish sanding. In the fine sanding mode, the RO125 is quite smooth and presents no control problems. 

The heft of the tool offers all the pressure you need in normal sanding. Switching abrasive grits is a simple matter of pulling off the hook-and-loop sanding disk and pressing the new one on. It should be noted that the Festool sanding disks are nonstandard, nine-hole disks – eight holes on the circumference and one in the middle.

According to the Festool literature, the tool actually sends air out through that middle hole to help move the dust to the other eight holes for extraction. I can’t really tell you how much air is pushed out through that middle hole, but I can tell you that hooked up to my central dust collection system, the extraction was very effective. I had almost no visible dust remaining on my cat perch when I was done sanding.

a spindle lock allows sanding pads to be changed quickly and easily.

Next I tested the Rotex mode on the underside of the edge-glued shelf of a red oak fireplace mantel. With 80-grit abrasive, it quickly removed excess glue and flattened the joint. There will be times now that my belt sander stays on the shelf, because the RO125 can handle a lot of the rough sanding normally done with a belt.

The final feature I wanted to test was the tool-less pad change. The mantel has over 20' of concave profile that needed some serious sanding, and I wanted to try the softest pad and some medium abrasive for the initial sanding of this profile. Switching the pad was remarkably easy. There is a spindle lock button on the back of the tool. Push that button, turn the pad until the lock engages, then turn less than a full rotation and the pad comes off. With the lock still engaged, thread the pad on and tighten it by hand in a couple seconds. If you’ve ever changed pads on other sanders, you know this is a significant improvement. 

The Festool RO125 FEQ might be heftier than some other sanders and take a little more work to control at times, but it’s as close to the perfect finish sander as I’ve ever used. It performed every finish sanding task I tried without a fuss and was able to do many tasks I would have previously used other sanders for. The tool feels like it’s built to last a lifetime. It’s a bit expensive at around $325, but in the long run the investment will pay off with many years of quick and effective sanding.

— Dave Eames-Harlan is a freelance writer and woodworker who really loves tools. He lives in Moscow, Idaho.

Wixey WR500 Digital Readout 

The Wixey WR500 electronic digital readout is an extremely easy way to add digital measurement to a bench-top planer. The Wixey readout can easily be attached to Delta models TP300, TP400LS, 22-560 and the 22-580 two-speed surface planers, the DeWalt models DW733, DW734 and the DW735 two-speed surface planer, the Ridgid model TP1300LS, the Craftsman model 21713 and the Ryobi model AP1300. It can also be attached to other 12"-13" bench-top planers with a few minor modifications. The measurements can be given in inches or millimeters with an accuracy of .001 inch or .01 mm.

The unit is affixed to the planer with double-stick tape after it is properly leveled and locked in for your particular planer. Once in place, set your planer’s depth stop at one of the lowest positions (1/4" or 1/2") and lower the cutterhead until it hits the stop. If your planer doesn’t have a preset stop, lower it as far as it will go, which should be 1/8" on most planers. Slide the readout down the steel scale and using the top edge of the plastic readout case as a pointer, align the readout with the proper reference position printed on the steel scale. 

After calibrating the unit, which takes only a minute or two, you can surface your wood to extremely precise dimensions. For example, if you’re in the process of planing wood and after repeated passes you reach the point where you want to remove a precise amount of material on the final pass, follow this procedure: After the next-to-last pass, don’t touch the head or height-adjustment crank yet. Press the ABS/INC button until “INC” appears above the reading and the reading changes to 0.000. Then unlock the headlock and crank down the cutterhead until the display shows the amount of material you want to remove on the last pass. Lock the cutterhead lock and run the last pass. Pressing the ABS/INC button again takes the readout out of the INC mode and places it back in the ABS mode. The reading on the display will be the exact thickness of the board you’ve just planed and your planer’s calibration is maintained.

By the way, even though this unit was designed for planers, I also tried it on two different drum sanders. The unit easily fit the Performax Model 16-32 Plus and the results were just as good as on either planer. The unit also fit on the Delta Model 31-250, but had to be placed on the outfeed side of the sander. The measurement results were just as reliable as those with the Performax.

All in all, the Wixey WR500 electronic readout enables the precise measurement capability lacking on woodworking machines. You can now machine wood to the same precision tolerances that have previously been the domain of milling machines and surface grinders. 

The unit retails for around $59.95.

— Jim Doyle lives in Norfolk, Va.


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