I was excited to work with the new Bosch Axial Glide “folding” miter saw (AGS), especially since I’m still enjoying a prosperous relationship with its older brother—the 5412. With an innovative articulating arm straight out of a transformers movie, the neato factor of this unit alone has stirred more interest in carpentry circles than Obama-Care has in rest homes.
Since ThisIsCarpentry is an on-line publication, I’m making the assumption that anyone reading this review is internet savvy—most of you have probably checked out the specifications for this saw already; hopefully you’ve also watched the cool video on the Bosch site. So I’m focusing this review on the real world issues we, as carpenters, face on the job. If you want technical jargon, read Popular Mechanics. In this story, I’m going to take a developmental approach and measure progress by comparing this saw—and its “improvements”—to its predecessor, which just so happens to be my workhorse miter saw.
I’ve used the new AGS on three different projects, providing a variety of experiences to test the saw in both my shop and on the jobsite. We did some heavy cutting building a redwood pergola; we performed some fine finish work on a fireplace mantel; and we chewed up more than a couple board-feet of Sapele for an entry door unit. I can tell you right away, this saw is a big step up from my old slider.
Out of the box
One thing I’d like to note before I get into the meat of this discussion is that—for the first time—I got a saw out of the box that was dead nuts (perfectly calibrated). Ironically, I’ve used two different saws for this review, and both tools came out of the box cutting perfectly square, plumb, and precise, which is critical if you’re a carpenter like me—on the clock all the time. Not many professionals replace a saw just because a new one came out. Most of us replace a saw because something happened to our last one, usually right in the middle of a job; which means we’re buying a new saw to get back on schedule. That’s when it’s really nice to open up a fresh can of cut-straight without having to spend a bunch of time dialing it in.
Having the latest and greatest may seem frivolous to some, but toting around a bunch of pounded tools gives customers the impression you don’t invest in your business. The value of the subconscious impression is often underestimated. Contractors can either reinforce their customers’ confidence, or get them thinking otherwise. When a client watches us roll out our tool setups, we set the tone for their job. We go out of our way to be sure our tools communicate the message we want our customers to hear: we pay attention to our industry; we keep up with technology in our profession. This saw definitely communicates that message.
Visually, the AGS features a design that screams state-of-the-art, and that design offers some great benefits. First benefit: saving space. The AGS saves a foot of space behind the saw. The absence of sliding rails allows you to push this monster right up against a wall. Finally, a big boy saw that doesn’t gobble up half a room for setup. The AGS is also the smoothest sliding mechanism I’ve ever worked with. Actually, it’s too smooth! Thankfully there is a resistance adjustment that allows you to dial a little friction in, otherwise there’s no resistance and the saw feels foreign! It floats there; you don’t feel confident that it’s going to stay where you put it. And while sawdust does have an impact on the axial arm, it has no effect on the smoothness of the glide.
Beyond the value of the “wow” factor, this saw has the ability to get the job done—this beast handles framing and finish. With a 15 amp motor, the AGS cuts through 3X12 wet rough redwood without a hitch. Much like my earlier model, this 12-in. saw gives you the capacity to cut up to 3 1/2-in. thick material 11 1/2 in. deep, which means you can cut headers with it. You can cut boards on the straight up to 14 in. wide and base up to 5 1/4 in. tall. But there is a catch: tall material—like baseboard, can only be cut on the left side of the saw.
Anything over 4-1/2 inches tall extending off to the right will get caught up on the belt housing beneath the motor, which prevents the blade from reaching bottom. Bummer for those who like to cut base standing against the fence.
|I also maxed out clearance cutting full dimension 2×12 at 45 degrees on the flat—and for the same reason: the belt casting on the right saw of the saw limits the cutting capacity.|
Festool has gone and thrown down the healthier-woodworking gauntlet, making dust collection a hot topic these days. Most manufactures are making an effort to improve dust collection on their tools, and Bosch is a frontrunner. This saw claims 90% collection. For my review, I thought I’d to try to validate the manufacturer’s claim. Huh? Yes, I devised a not-very-scientific but accurate testing method. Bear with me, and I’ll share with you a glimpse of my inner mind at work.
Before I describe this simple procedure, a fair warning: I am a carpenter, not a scientist. The results of my rudimentary yet painstaking test should be viewed with a splinter of Douglas Fir. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of opinions about the validity of my procedure. I welcome all.
|I let the dust settle, tapping on the tent to be sure all remaining dust fell on the workbench. Next, I carefully tilted back the tent and vacuumed up all the dust not collected by the saw—both the dust on the saw, and the dust around it.|
|Hippie teens of the ’60s and ’70s will love this part: I weighed the bags on a hi-tech digital scale. First I weighed an empty bag—it came in at 4.0 oz. Next, I weighed the bag used on the saw, which came up to 12.7 oz.|
Finally, I weighed the bag used to vacuum up the remaining dust—it weighed 6.5 ounces, netting 2.5 ounces of dust not collected. Are you still with me? Good.
I added both amounts of sawdust together to arrive at the total amount of sawdust produced: 11.2 oz. Dividing the 8.7 oz. (dust collected by the saw) by 11.2 oz. (total sawdust produced), provides a pretty good estimate of the AGS’s dust collection effectiveness—about 78%, pretty danged impressive for a do-everything saw. But a little short of 90% claim. Keep in mind, the test wasn’t rigidly scientific (and I’ll need to test my Kapex next!).
It’s important to note that dust collection performance varies depending upon the type of material you’re cutting and the technique you’re using—plunge cutting, “radial arm” cutting, or “reverse radial arm” cutting. These dramatically different criteria must drive engineers nuts! But there’s one thing I found very quickly that could be improved on the new AGS: The flexible dust shroud isn’t quite stiff enough. With my vaccum on hi-power it didn’t take many cuts before the shroud shut its mouth.
|I solved the problem with a slight modification using wire and duct tape (no laughing, please—it works!). I trimmed the tape and the wire flush with the dust shroud. Now it stays open no matter how hard the wind blows.|
Dust Collection Variables
With wide stock the blade must be “plunged” into the material at the beginning of the cut. When plunge cutting, the hook angle of the teeth is incredibly steep and a high-speed stream of sawdust is shot back at an angle that cannot be effectively captured. Once the blade has been dropped through the material—fully plunged to “blade bottom,” the sawdust stream is at an angle, which can be captured effectively. On the other hand, when cutting narrower material, you can start the blade fully plunged and enter the material at an angle that shoots the sawdust directly into the collection shroud—sort of. If you watch the video below, you’ll notice that the dust is also shot straight up and past the dust shroud, which means that even less dust is collected when plunge cutting crown in position. Oh, and if you’re wondering how I shot this video, see the photo to the left of this paragraph.
After watching that video clip, you might have the impression that the dust is coming up and out through a hole in the dust port, but it’s not. The dust is shot straight up past the dustport and strikes a depression in the dust port housing. And I already know what you’re going to ask! So what’s the dust collection effectiveness when cutting crown in position? You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I tested that, too. Using the same testing procedures, I arrived at far less than 78% dust collection while cutting crown in position—less than 60% efficiency. Cutting crown in position is one of the most challenging chores for a dust collection system. However I’m not satisfied with those test results and will soon re-test the Bosch AGS, as well as my 4412 and my Kapex. I believe a “comparison test” is the only way to accurately judge which dust collection system is the most efficient. Look for those test results in a future TiC article.
New miter gauge design
Miter angle capacity is unchanged on the AGS: this saw swings all the way out to 50 degrees left and 60 degrees right. Detents are also unchanged, and are in the same popular locations for all the common crown cuts. But some of the standard features on the older 4412 have been tweaked on the new AGS.
|While my older SCMS has detents cast into the table (above LEFT), the new AGS has a plate mounted beneath the table, similar to the miter angle plates found on top of other miter saws, but this plate is far more robust (above RIGHT).|
New Fence design
The fences are much better on this new saw. They slide smoother as a result of being machined to a higher tolerance, and they are easy to remove. The new cam lock insures you won’t lose a setscrew like I did once on my previous saw. I also appreciate that the sliding fences will lock anywhere along their range. This makes quick work out of finding a good flat spot for a clamp when clamping a stop for repetitive cuts. Bosch saws also come with scales cast into the fences, which is handy: I use those scales for repetitive cuts, or when removing a small amount of material—without having to fumble with a tape measure.
Upfront bevel control
One of the things I like most about the Bosch family of saws is the up front controls. It’s far more convenient to have the adjustment levers in front of the saw rather than having to reach around the back to adjust the bevel. One improvement I noticed on the new AGS is the paddle for the bevel lock, which now has a definite lock: rather than a soft friction lock, the new paddle actually “clicks” as you lock it down. I know—that’s a small detail—but it is an improvement. One thing missing from the new saw is the adjustable handle. If you prefer the pistol grip position, you’re S.O.L.
Speaking of handles, one of my major complaints about this saw is the lack of carrying handles. As one would expect for a 12-in. SCMS, this tool is a heavyweight: at 65 pounds it’s a mother to lug out of the van and across the jobsite. But unlike my older model (which can be grabbed in several positions, once I fold up the arm on the AGS and lock the saw down for transport), there is no good spot to grab hold of this tank and wrestle it out of the van. A few trips into the wild with this tool have convinced me that it isn’t worth lugging for one-day jobs when something smaller will “handle” the task.
While mentioning what I don’t like about this saw, I’ll move onto the blade guard. I’m having a real hard time adjusting to it. The articulating arm places the blade high—it’s kind of “in your face,” so guard removal (never a good idea) is out of the question. It may just be that the guard could use an adjustment, but, as-shipped, I can’t sight down the blade through the view-window to my mark. I suspect that a minor “owner modification” could solve this problem, but it would require tweeking the saw—which some tool geeks aren’t comfortable doing. But there is room for improvement here. My older saw has a far better window in the guard, which allows me to look through the guard and sight down the blade to locate my measurement mark.
Also, the position of the saw on the arm creates a line-of-sight problem for me. At 6 ft. 1 in., I find myself crouching down to locate my line, and the guard is frequently in the way. Fortunately I’m a lefty, and generally work from the left side of the saw. This is advantageous in this case, as the left side has the best sight line. While I’m complaining I’ll mention the blade….
This is an “out-the-box” tool review. I used the 60-tooth carbide blade supplied with the saw. Although it’s fine for most “general purpose” work (and some carpenters like David Collins will disagree with me), I think a saw of this caliber deserves a top-notch blade. Most snotty prima donna finish guys (like me!) will chuck this fuzz-maker in lieu of something with more teeth.
Also, the occasional on-site dado is not quite so easy with this new articulating arm. Why? Because the arm flexes up and down just a little: I can get a full 1/8 in. of bounce on the blade depth while cutting a dado with this saw. I managed to improve the cut after figuring out that gentle, consistent cutting works, while slamming the saw back and forth with reckless abandon doesn’t work.
A new favorite?
All negatives aside—and seriously, there weren’t many—this saw really shines in the shop! With its reduced depth requirement (this baby sits comfortably on a standard 24-in. deep base cabinet), big cutting capacity (14-in. wide boards!), plus decent dust collection, I love using this saw in my shop. Coupled with Bosch’s legendary build quality, I expect the AGS will be a reliable workhorse for many years.
As you might have guessed, dust collection is a big issue to me. In fact, I modified my old Bosch SCMS and improved the collection capacity significantly. I’m putting together a story on the performance of that modification package, as well as some ideas I’m developing for improving the AGS. So keep your eye on TiC for that article–it will be coming soon.
While I don’t think there is a better saw on the market today for a shop set-up, for a mobile carpenter, this unit is a bit too cumbersome to deal with day in and day out. However, I expect a 10-in. version may come along before too long, and with a few refinements, the AGS design may take over the portable market, too.
Robert “Robby” Myer is 42 years old, married with two children, and calls Pleasant Hill, CA home.
Robby literally grew up in the building industry as the son of the owner of a Northern California chain of lumberyards, Piedmont Lumber. Robby worked for Piedmont for 23 years, heading up the Architectural Millwork Division before a tragic fire destroyed his location and showroom. Ever ambitious, Robby purchased the surviving door shop operation from his father’s company and decided the time was right for him to finally take on the industry himself—folding the door shop operation into his existing architectural millwork design and installation firm, Craftsman Collective Inc. As such, Robby created a custom woodworking operation specializing in building, finishing, and installation of custom doors and millwork.
Robby is currently expanding the new operation to add a 10,000 square foot showroom and retail store focused solely on finish carpentry. This store, set to open in March 2011, promises to be the destination for all things finish carpentry, featuring Festool brand tools, Kolbe windows, Robby’s first line of signature doors, over 400 profiles of molding, and tools and accessories for carpenters, by carpenters.
Robby has built custom homes of his own design, including his personal residence, as well as homes built on speculation. One home graced the cover of Residential Design/Build magazine, and was honored to become the “poster child” for Andersen Windows for the year 2006.
Robby’s installations have graced some of the most magnificent homes in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he has designed architectural details for over 500 homes and showrooms throughout his career.
Robby has been published in numerous magazines, including the Journal of Light Construction, a residential trade magazine. Robby produces internet content, is co-host of a weekly home improvement radio show, and teaches carpentry clinics, with a focus on helping homeowners and contractors develop their talents and keep up with the latest innovations in home improvement.