My Experience with Laguna Tools, Inc. and Canadian Woodworker Ltd.

This article is about my experience with Laguna Tools, Inc. and Canadian Woodworker Ltd.

I did not receive anything in exchange for writing this article and nobody but my friend and editor Mike knew that I was writing this article.

California-based Laguna Tools has been a hot-button topic in woodworking forums for as long as I can remember.  Along with rave reviews of their bandsaws, there have also been many comments about poor customer service.  Like many, I was impressed with their saws.  However, the virtually non-existent customer service that I kept reading about was enough to discourage me from considering buying one of their saws.

About two years ago when I began looking at sliding table saws, I requested an information package on Laguna’s saws.  I received some literature and a video to review.  A few days later, I got a call from Don at Laguna Tools asking if I had any questions.  I asked him about the horror stories I’d read of Laguna’s customer service.  He admitted that at one point they had some staffing problems but assured me it was in the past.  I found that reassuring, but wasn’t sure if I could believe him.  In the end, I bought my sliding table saw from Grizzly Industrial Inc.

Fast forward to November 26, 2010 – the grand opening of the new location of Canadian Woodworker in Surrey, BC.  A new woodworking tool store opening within an hour of my house?  I had to go.

Inside the store I walked up and down the aisles of machinery checking out the great selection of high-end machinery not found in most other local stores.  I recognized co-owner Cole Moore and wandered over to introduce myself (we are both active on the Canadian Woodworking forum).  I asked Cole about Laguna’s customer service.  He admitted that getting parts from Laguna can sometimes take a while but promised to take care of any issues I might have.

I went back to look at the Laguna bandsaws and got talking to Benjamin Helshoj (or Benny as his peers call him) whom I had met at the Cloverdale Woodworking Show the month before.  I asked him how the Laguna saws compared to other brands such as Grizzly.  He commented on how lightly constructed the Grizzly saws are when compared to his.  (I later looked it up and found that the Grizzly 19″ saw [G0514X] weighed 383 pounds, a mere three pounds more than Laguna’s 14″ saw [LT14-SUV].)  I got Benjamin’s business card and we continued to talk along with Kevin Guest, whom I knew from his days at Clermont’s Ultimate Tool Supply Inc.  Later, I left the store empty-handed but with much to ponder.

Fast forward five months when I had some serious milling and resawing to do.  My little 14″, 1HP bandsaw simply was not up to the task so I decided that it was time to upgrade.  After much research and deliberation I decided on the Laguna LT16-3000.  (I will post a review of the saw later.)

Monday morning I picked up the saw and transported it home.  With the help of my friend, Mike, we carefully unloaded the saw into my garage; moving it down to the shop would have to wait for a dry day.  We unpacked the saw and cleaned off most of the cosmoline.  That’s when I noticed that one of the trunnion supports appeared only partially machined.  I called Kevin at Canadian Woodworker and described the problem.  I took this picture and e-mailed it to him.  Shortly after, I got an e-mail back from Kevin confirming that he’d received my e-mail and was “forwarding [it] to Laguna and calling to see recommendations”.  About ten minutes later, Kevin called me and told me that Benny was upset that it had made it past quality control and the service tech thought that it was just powder coating that could be removed with 400-grit emery paper.  I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have to do this on a $2000 machine”.

Despite my misgivings, I took some 400-grit emery paper to the trunnion support.  It was clearly not just powder coating and indeed only partially machined.  I called Canadian Woodworker and ended up talking to Doug, the manager, as Kevin was on the road for a couple of days.  Fortunately, Kevin had briefed Doug on my situation so I didn’t need to explain what I was seeing.  Doug agreed to let me swap out my trunnion with the one from the display model.

The next day, I drove out to Canadian Woodworker and swapped the trunnion support.  I noticed that although the trunnion support from the display model was much better, there was still about 10% that wasn’t machined.  I pointed this out to Doug before I left and asked him to order another for me.  Then I returned to my shop and installed the parts on my saw as I guessed the replacement trunnion support would take at least a week or two to arrive.

Wanting to get to work, I installed the carbide-tipped Laguna Resaw King blade that I’d bought with the saw.  I set it on the tires and tensioned and tracked the blade.  Then I noticed this: the blade barely cleared a metal flange next to the dust chute.  And I mean barely.  You could not slip a piece of note paper between the blade and chute.  While it did clear, I worried that the slightest vibration would send my $250 blade into the steel.  Not good.

I decided to try calling Laguna Tools on their toll-free number.  It was late in the afternoon and I immediately got through to Tim.  He understood my problem and put me on hold to try to figure out a solution.  I patiently waited for several minutes before he came back on the line.  He unnecessarily apologized for leaving me on hold for “so long” and explained that the technical support staff had left for the day and that he had talked it over with Torben (Torben Helshoj is the president of Laguna Tools).  Ultimately, Tim offered to check with the technical support staff tomorrow morning and call me back then.  I talked with him for another few minutes, asking him some more general bandsaw questions and talking about my experience so far.  He sounded like an experienced bandsaw user, listened to my comments and answered other questions to my satisfaction.

Thursday morning I answered my phone, expecting to hear Tim from Laguna Tools on the other end.  To my surprise, it was Kevin from Canadian Woodworker.  He explained that he and Doug had removed the trunnion support from another saw that appeared well-machined and he wanted to come and swap it out for me.  I was grateful for his offer but told him that I was waiting for a call from Laguna as well and asked him to hold off until I had heard from Tim.

About little later, I received a phone call from Brian at Laguna Tools.  He told me that the solution was to simply file or grind the protruding piece of steel back until there was 1/32″ of clearance.  Apparently, a batch of saws had arrived with that piece protruding too far.  We talked on the phone for a bit longer and he talked me through the issues I was experiencing with the saw and patiently answered all my questions.

After my conversation with Brian, I called Kevin and asked if he could come over to swap out the trunnion support.  He queried if there was anything else that I needed which reminded me of the mis-tapped setscrew hole in the table insert which I’d noticed the day before.  I asked Kevin to bring a replacement.  When he arrived, he helped me remove the table and replace the trunnion support.

I’m glad that I had a local dealer.  Otherwise, I would have had to spend my mornings sitting on the curb waiting for the mailman to arrive with parts and it would have taken longer to get the saw fully operational.  The customer service I received from both Laguna Tools and Canadian Woodworker was prompt, helpful, friendly, and courteous.  I felt like they were there to help me.

Has Laguna listened to customer feedback and put their questionable customer service issues behind them?  I can’t say for sure but I can say that I would buy from Canadian Woodworker again.  However, my shop looks complete and I’m not in the market for any more machinery.  At least for now.

You can read my review of my Laguna LT16-3000 16″ bandsaw HERE.

Review of Laguna’s LT16-3000 Bandsaw

My workshop had only ever seen a 14″ bandsaw but one month ago, I upgraded to an LT16-3000 from Laguna Tools Inc.  While setting up the saw, I ran into a few problems with the Chinese-made saw but once it was operational, it worked as I had expected.  (For the record, I believe that the overall quality of product is determined by quality control, not the country of origin.)  (Fellow blogger Paul-Marcel reviews his new Italian-made LT18 on his blog, Half Inch Shy.)

Overview

The LT16-3000 is a 16″ bandsaw (16″ diameter wheels) that weighs approximately 450lbs.  The weight comes from the heavy, welded steel frame, cast iron wheels and table, and big motor.  The Leeson motor is rated at 3hp and runs on 220V, single-phase power.  Though the motor is rated at 16.5 amps and the label on the bandsaw’s frame states 12.8 amps, the saw peaks at a much higher number during startup due to the weight of the cast iron wheels and tension of the blade.  For that reason, Laguna recommends running it on a 30-amp breaker.  The motor is controlled by a magnetic switch and there is a microswitch on the foot brake.

The 132″ blade (131-1/2″ fits as well) is tensioned by a levered knob on top of the cabinet that is easy to grip.  Inside the top cabinet is a tension gauge.  The gauge is unlabeled and Laguna instead recommends that the blade be tensioned by feel, looking for 3/16″-1/4″ of deflection 6″ from the wheel’s tangent.  Once the blade is properly tensioned, the tension gauge can be marked to reference the blade being used in order to properly reset the tension when changing blades.  A large lever on the back of the saw releases the tension in a controlled manner.  Tracking is adjusted with two knobs on the back of the saw as normal.

The two doors that cover the cabinets are on lift-off hinges, allowing unrestricted access to the guts of the saw.  There are windows in the upper cabinet and door to track the blade or view the tension gauge.  The lower cabinet has a sliding cover at the top right corner.  It is the gray part with two slots in the front.  When extended, it seals the cabinet to increase the effectiveness of the dust collection.

The sliding cover needs to be lowered so that the lower door can clear the knob used to lock the table in place.  The 16″ x 19-1/2″ cast iron table has two T-slots in it (though no mitre gauge is provided).  To assist with tilting the heavy table, it is equipped with a hydraulic strut and rack and pinion adjustment.

Also controlled by a rack and pinion is the upper guide post.  (One thing about my last bandsaw that constantly frustrated me was that every time I adjusted the upper guide post up or down, I also needed to adjust the guide blocks.  That is not necessary with this saw.)  If the guide post isn’t quite inline with the blade, adjustments can be made.

Laguna’s ceramic guide blocks are well-known and have a good reputation.  They provide a lot of support for the blade, preventing it from moving laterally or backwards and twisting.  The new Laguna guides use convenient plastic knobs to lock their position.  It’s a great convenience that most of the adjustments on the saw require no tools; however three extra-long, ball-end hex keys are provided to make the few adjustments that do require tools.  They can be stored in the on-board tool holder.

Setting Up

Setting up the saw was not difficult but it didn’t go as smoothly as it could (should) have.  The most obvious problem was the half-machined trunnion support bracket.  The dealer replaced the part.

A less-obvious problem was that the anodized aluminum throat plate had a set screw in a mis-tapped hole.  Unfortunately, the replacement provided by the dealer was warped and needed to be straightened with my vise.

There was a third problem that could not be easily detected until a blade was installed.  Part of the upper dust chute located just below the table protruded too far and could have easily come in contact with the blade.  I solved that by grinding it down with a rotary tool.

The last problem I had was driving some small machine screws that secure a tool holder to the frame.  The holes had been drilled and tapped before the machine was painted so the threads were filled with paint.  I thought that I could use the machine screws to clean out the paint but ended up stripping the machine screw’s head.  I should have first used a tap to restore the threads in the frame of the bandsaw.

The accessory DriftMaster fence without difficulty.  With the saw fully assembled, the next step was to hook up the dust collection by running 4″ flex hoses from each of the two 4″ diameter dust ports and connecting them with a wye.  One port is located to the right of the saw frame just below the table and the other at the bottom left corner of the lower cabinet.

When hooked up to a dust collector, dust chips are adequately contained.  The upper port is well positioned and a 3/8″-thick piece of plywood run into the blade (while hand-turned) creates a sort of zero-clearance insert to keep the majority of the dust from getting into the lower cabinet.  The bottom port keeps the lower cabinet pretty clean.

My Useage

In the month I’ve had the saw, I transformed a large stack of small logs into lumber.  I’ve been running a 1″ carbide-tipped Resaw King blade and used it to mill green (freshly cut) apple, holly and yew as large as 11″ diameter.  All three are quite dense but green wood does tend cut more easily than dry wood.  I’ve also resawn dry hardwoods as thick as 8″.  Nothing I’ve cut has slowed the saw down.

I press the “ON” button and the saw smoothly powers up, reaching full speed in about two seconds.  Throughout the cut, the saw has plenty of power and cuts predictably straight.  When the saw is shut off it takes about 15 seconds to coast to a stop, due to the inertia of the wheels.  If the foot brake is applied, the blade stops in fewer than three seconds.  At the end of each day, I relieve the blade’s tension with the quick release lever.

Conclusion

This saw is well-designed and sturdily built.  Between the Laguna ceramic blade guides, carbide-tipped resaw blade, easy-to-align DriftMaster fence, steadiness of the machine and smooth power of the 3 hp motor, the cuts are reliably straight and clean.  There isn’t much else that I could ask for from a bandsaw.  With this set-up, the LT16-3000 has the ability to handle any resawing tasks I may have.  Above all, it is easy to use and I know that it won’t let me down.  From now on, my table saw will see much less use.

Read about my experience with my local Laguna dealer, Canadian Woodworker, Ltd. HERE.