Setting up machinery for accurate
cutting has always been an ongoing, and sometimes time consuming and
painful task, but for fine woodwork where accuracy is paramount, it is a
very necessary evil. The woodworker had to have an array of angle setting
tools, including squares, gauges and other sorts of paraphernalia to
attempt to get that machine cutting the perfect angles need for the job.
And then there was the problem of whether your squares and angle measuring
tools themselves were accurate, but that's a whole other story!
Now a new age of low-cost, high
accuracy digital angle gauges are hitting the market, promising fast
machine setups with minimal fuss. We will be looking at several on this
site, but the first unit we tested was the "Tilt Box" by the Beall Tool
The Beall Tilt Box
When I first saw this product advertised, I was quite excited. Setting
up tools, particularly the table saw and miter saw for accurate beveled
cuts is not the easiest and quickest thing in the world to do, and it is
even more difficult when the bevel angle you need is not a common 45
degree. Also, I have also never trusted the hard stop on my table saw
trunnion mechanism to always bring me back to 90 degrees (square to the
table) after moving it from that setting.
The Tilt Box measures 2 3/8" wide, 2
3/8" high and about 1 3/8" deep. It is an all metal body that feels solid
and could probably take a few knocks without causing any damage. But
naturally, a precision device needs to be well looked after, so hopefully
any knocks are purely accidental! The Tilt Box is powered by a standard 9v
battery, so there is no need to deal with specialized batteries or battery
chargers (unless of course you use rechargeable 9v batteries like I do).
But you can always have a spare battery on hand so there is no reason for
any down time when using or needing to use the tool. A groovy little
Philips head screwdriver comes packaged in the box to allow you to access
the battery compartment for battery changes. The front face features a
large LCD display which is easily visible and readable from just about any
angle. There are only two control buttons on the tool, an "ON/OFF" button,
and a "Zero" button, which means it is very easy to use (as all good tools
The Tilt Box is a digital
inclinometer, which through some nice electronic gadgetry included inside,
allows the user to measure an angle relative to true zero degrees, but it
also allows the user to measure angles relative to a "zeroed" reference
surface, which some dial inclinometers cannot do. On each side of the tool
are a set of powerful rare earth magnets which grab onto anything metal (including
your saw blades and machine fences - unless the fences are aluminum)
meaning the unit can sit securely on the blade or fence faces to provide
hands free checking.
The Tilt box is very accurate, and can
decipher angles up to 0.05 degree resolution. This should ensure near
perfect angle/bevel setups on a variety of machines. So let's look at how
the Tilt Box actually works.
Measuring an Angle
Using the Tilt Box is very simple. Let's take a table saw setup for
example. Firstly to check your blade is square to the table at the 0
degree setting, you first place the Tilt Box on the table surface next to
or close to the blade. Hit the "Zero" button and the Tilt Box zeroes
itself, essentially assigning the table a zero degree value. Now you
attach the Tilt Box to the blade (raised up on course) using the magnets
on the side of the Tilt Box. Ensure the box is sitting on the body of the
blade and not resting on any teeth etc. The value on the LCD display will
settle after a second or two to provide an accurate reading of the blades
angle. If it also reads zero degrees, then the blade is square to the
table. The bevel indicator scale on most table saws are not terribly
accurate. I mean, they will get you to close to being square at the zero
setting, but I found my blade was still off about 0.20 of a degree. May
not seem like much, but if you are cutting bevels for an 8 or 12 sided
form, those small inaccuracies add up quick around the entire diameter.
And besides, if you have invested money in decent machines to
undertake more precise cuts with better accuracy and finish, why should
you settle for anything less than perfect?
Ok, so I discovered my saw blade is
not always returning to dead square according to the Tilt Box (even though
my bevel scale says it is) so I made a few adjustments to the stop
mechanism to remedy this for future cuts. Of course, double checking with
the Tilt Box will verify the angle too, and it only takes a second to do.
Now, say you want to set the blade at an odd angle, or even a perfect 22.5
degree common angle. You simply follow the same steps as above and
attach the Tilt Box to the blade body. Now start winding your bevel
adjustment wheel and watch as the Tilt Box numbers change with 0.05
accuracy as the bevel angle grows. When it hits 22.5 degree, stop, lock
the bevel angle setting and you have an instant, and highly accurate 22.5
degree blade setup ready to cut. While using the Tilt Box, you do come to
realize just how fine a tap or nudge of the adjustment wheel can affect
the blade angle, and your setting accuracy. It certainly makes you think
twice before trusting your angle scale on your saw again, that's for sure!
So in this method you can set your blade angle anywhere within its range
relative tot he table using the Tilt Box.
The same principle is used for most
machine setups too. First you set the Box on the reference surface the
material will be sitting or moving along, zero the Tilt Box, then measure
your cutting blade or other surface. On the Miter saw, you can set the
blade square to the table with high accuracy, or set any bevel required
with remarkable ease.
On the bandsaw, you can set the table
square to the blade or, again, set the table to whatever bevel angle
required. It can be a little trickier on the bandsaw as you have to attach
the tilt box to the blade, and with small blades this can be tricky, or it
just wont work at all. But considering blade flex of band saw blades when
cutting, you only really get an estimate anyway. It's not going to be as
perfect a cut as with a more rigid circular saw blade of course.
An excellent example of machine setup
comes when you use the Tilt Box to set up or fine tune a jointer. I always
believed my jointer fences were dead square. Apparently not! They were
0.15 degrees from square. I thought perhaps the Tilt Box may not be as
accurate as my trusty square here, but I have another digital angle gauge
(to be reviewed on OTR shortly) which gave me the same result. I hadn't
noticed this inaccuracy before on jointed pieces, and to be honest,
woodwork is a little forgiving when it comes to angles in some cases. But
again, why not have them set up perfectly? It can only result in more
accurate work. A few adjustments and now my jointer fences are perfectly
square when I set them back to the 90 degree, or "0" setting.
The tool can also be used on many other woodworking or machines where you
need to set something square, or at an angle to another surface.
Measuring Absolute Angle
It may not be the correct term you might use, but absolute angle in reference to the
Tilt Box is what I call the angle of something in relation to the real
world. Something like checking angle with a spirit level. The Beall Tilt
Box can perform this function too. Just turn on the Tilt Box using the
ON/OFF button and set it on a surface. It will provide an absolute angle
measurement in relation to the Earth. This can be handy for quick, rough
angle measuring, but it is not as accurate measuring over longer spans
than a regular longer spirit level because the box itself only has a very
short footprint lengthwise. Another press of the Zero button then sets the
Box to relative mode for setting machinery. If you want to get it back to
absolute mode, you press the Zero button again, and the cycle continues
between the two modes.
The Tilt Box is factory calibrated, so in most cases, it will be ready
to go straight from the box. In some case that it requires re-calibration
(say if it is knocked around a bit too much, survives a nasty fall etc)
then re-calibration can be done quickly and easily. Instructions are
provided for this to be undertaken, and it simply involves sitting the box
on several of its sides in conjunction with a couple of button presses.
The Tilt Box is very user friendly and is easy to operate. In fact,
there is virtually no learning curve at all. The buttons are relatively
easy to press/engage and the rare earth magnets work very well indeed.
Because the unit is very sensitive to angle changes, and has that fine
0.05 degree resolution, it can be tricky at times to correctly zero the
gauge on flat surfaces, because the pressure exerted on the box as your
hold it to press the "Zero" button can tend to tilt it so slightly that
when you let it go, you end up with a 0.05 or 0.10 degree result, instead
of a true zero. This is no real fault of the Tilt Box itself, and when
used on hard and firm surfaces like a cast iron table saw bench or jointer
bed, it is no problem at all. But you naturally learn the best way to
stabilize the box as you zero it over time, and from there on out,
operating it is terribly simple... in a good sense!
I have achieved good angle cutting
results using the Tilt Box to set up for bevel cutting angles, and all my
cutting machines are tuned for square like they never were before.
These devices are just so handy, and
quite cheap considering the accuracy they deliver and their ability to
quickly and accurately set your gear up for the right results.
The Beall Tilt Box is a definite
must-have item in any woodworkers workshop in my opinion. Once you have
one you will no doubt, like me, swear by it.
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Beall Tilt Box Photos
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The Beall Tilt Box
A set of rare earth magnets on each side allow it to grip securely to
any magnetic metal surface.
Large LCD screen provides clear, visible readouts.
Zeroing the Tilt Box on the
surface next to the blade.
The miter saw is 0.10 degrees out from perfect square. Not too bad I
guess. I slight tweak will have it perfectly square however
Ever tried setting a 33.9 degree bevel angle for crown molding cuts by
eye? Pretty darn hard! The Tilt Box makes it simple.
Ahh.. The jointer fence is now perfectly square to the bed.
Watch a short video clip (200kb) of setting a 22.50 degree angle on the
table saw using the Tilt Box...
You will notice I need to make some very fine blade
tilt adjustments after I over-run the 22.50 degree mark in the video, but
I do hit the mark quite quickly!
Click on Image to Play video file (AVI - DivX)