Review By Dean Bielanowski  Betterley Website - http://www.betterleytools.com


Betterley TRU-CUT Insert System
 
Review
By Dean Bielanowski

If you are a regular visitor to the many woodworking forums and newsgroups available online, you will probably often see questions raised by newer woodworkers about zero-clearance inserts for table saws. "How do I make them?" or "Where can I buy one for xxxxx model saw". The question is raised at least a few times per month on many forums. It is true that making inserts is certainly the most economical way of producing these inserts, and you can use offcuts or scrap pieces to do this, however, it appears that not all our readers like making them, have time to make them, or don't have the tools needed to make them easily, so we decided we might try and review some commercially available systems over the next few months.

The first product we managed to get our hands on is the Betterley Tru-Cut system. So let's take a closer look...

What is a Zero Clearance Insert?
Firstly, the basics... Your new table saw probably came with a standard blade insert with a wide cutout to allow your saw blade to cut at all angles (0-45 degrees) with adequate clearance. These are commonly called standard saw inserts. The problem with standard inserts is that you have quite a large gap around your saw blade that can be up to 1 inch wide! Why is this bad? Firstly, your workpiece is not being supported at the point where the saw blade is cutting. Because the teeth cut in a downward motion at the front of your blade and there is no support immediately next to the blade on the underside of your workpiece, you can get chipping and splintering as a result of the cut. How much depends a lot on how sharp your blade is and the type of material you are cutting. It is most evident with composite materials like melamine and chipboard than it is with hardwoods. Secondly, that large gap around the blade is just waiting to eat up small offcuts or small trimmings you make as a result of a cut. If the gap is large, pieces can become jammed in the clearance area and can be launched back out if the saw blade grabs them or wedge the blade and cause damage to your saw or components. Two situations that are not very desirable (there are more but I wont ramble on forever).

A zero clearance insert is a solid insert for the table saw with a kerf cut into it by the blade. For a standard 0 degree ZCI, you place and level your insert and clamp it down before raising the saw blade up through the insert. This cuts a clearance for the saw blade only, and the rest of the insert provides the necessary support for your workpiece right up next to the blade on both sides, and front and back too if you like. It also does away with that large, nasty gap in your standard metal insert. The downside is that you need to make a new insert for each angle you have your blade set to, i.e. one for square cuts (0 degrees) another for 45 degree cuts and so on. It's a small price to pay for the great benefits ZCIs offer. Another advantage is that it aids in dust collection by pushing more dust below the blade to your extraction system. If you need to cut veneers or thin material for inlay or parquetry work, you must have a zero clearance insert to achieve good and safe results.

The Tru-Cut System
Let it be known now that the Tru-Cut system may not fit all saws. In fact, you have to buy the right insert for your model saw. According to the manufacturer, the Tru-Cut system is available for the following table saw models:

Tru-Cut Model #

Saw Description (fits this model saw)

DR-110 Delta Right-Tilt Unisaw, Contractor's Saw
DL-112 Delta Left-Tilt Unisaw
PL-212 Powermatic 66
JR-310 Jet 10" Right Tilt Cabinet Saw (XACTA), Contractor's Saw
JL-312 Jet 10" Left Tilt Cabinet Saw (XACTA)
JS-314 Jet 10" Super Saw
WL-412 DeWalt DW746
CL-512 Craftsman, Ridgid (3 3/4" x 14")

The Tru-Cut system comprises two components. The metal aluminum insert itself, and the replaceable phenolic kerf inserts. The red aluminum insert is very solid and quite heavy. It is very well machined to provide a flat top surface and relieved to accept the blue phenolic kerf inserts. A number of tapped screw holes are also machined to allow the user to level the insert with the saw table, level the phenolic inserts with the aluminum insert face and secure the phenolic to the aluminum insert itself. Set up occurs in that same order. A bunch of leveling screws are included to allow you to level every component of the insert to ensure a flush surface on which your wood will run over. It takes about 10 minutes to set your main leveling screws and phenolic insert leveling screws, and in most cases, this is a one off adjustment. The leveling screws have a bit of red thread sealing tape around them that ensures a tight fit and reduced chance of movement once they are inserted and adjusted.

The blue phenolic inserts - the replaceable component of the system - have six countersunk holes for securing it to the insert. To swap the insert for a new or different one, just release the screws, switch inserts and secure back down. No need to make entirely separate zero clearance inserts for each cutting task, although, admittedly, it does takes longer to change out a phenolic insert as opposed to a whole shop-made insert for a particular task. The underside of the inserts have a relief cut in them that will allow you to make the initial kerf cut without the need to use a smaller blade for clearance, or perform other procedures to make the initial kerf clearance before you can set the ZCI insert down flat and flush with your table (see photo). This is very handy and saves a lot of time when making the initial cut through the insert. You will still need to clamp the whole insert down to the table when making this initial cut however, the design simply takes out a few steps to get started, and these steps can be time consuming, so there are benefits to the system in that department.

On the edge of one side of the aluminum insert are two small spring-loaded ball plungers. When the aluminum insert is in your table saw, these ball plungers are pushed in slightly and help keep the insert firm in place, reduce insert vibration when the saw is in use, and prevent lateral movement of the insert which can result in oversized kerf cuts through your phenolic plate. Its a great design and I only wished my standard inserts had the same feature instead of the crummy rubber spacer I battled with for a long time! No such problem now.
The solid aluminum also ensures the insert will not warp, bend or twist under load and remains flat with the table. Sometimes hardwood inserts can bow and twist over time. This is one problem the metal insert plates are able to avoid.

In Use
So with the inserts all set up, the initial kerf cut made, the Tru-cut insert system is ready to go. I have made inserts for standard 0 degree cuts (square cuts), 45 degree cuts and some for the dado set at the most common thicknesses - 1/4" for drawers, and 3/4" for shelf dados etc.

If you have not used a ZCI before, the results you see will be quite noticeable. You can expect less chipping and splintering on the underside of the cut as the wood is supported right up against the blade. We cut ply, chipboard and melamine with very little noticeable chipout on the underside using a standard 40 tooth combination blade.

There is no chance of small offcuts or slithers of wood falling down next to the blade, and reduced chance of wood twisting, bending, or hitting the back edge of the insert, as is sometimes possible with standard large gap inserts. If you use the GRR-Ripper table saw accessory or regularly rip thin strips of wood on the table saw, a zero clearance insert is a must have item. It will improve safety and quality of cut.

There is a relief milled in the back end of the aluminum plate to accept your standard saw guard fitting that comes with your saw. I have left the guard out of the photos supplied here for clarity only, but the guard did fit fine. You could also fit the MJ Splitter by Microjig if you only plan to raise the blade a small way above the table, but you cannot use a 10" blade at full height and accommodate the splitter because of the relief cut in the rear of the plate leaves no where to secure your MJ splitter down. Other drop-in splitters may also work if they secure by the same mechanism and have the same clearance as the standard splitter/guard that shipped with your saw.

You can remove the ZCI from the saw by using the milled finger hole at the left front edge of the insert. Lifting it straight up allows it to be removed relatively easy. Getting the insert back in takes a little longer as it is a relatively tight fit, but it will be secure in the slot.

Conclusion
Replacement phenolic inserts come in packs of two and retail for around $17.99 per pack. The Tru-Cut insert itself retails for around US$79.99 and comes with 1 phenolic insert to get you going. Realistically, you will want to buy the Tru-Cut insert and at least one pack of replaceable phenolic inserts to get started (this gives you three phenolic inserts to start with). This will cost you just under US$98 (prices as at 5/5/05) which is a bit of an outlay for a table saw insert. There is no doubt you could make your own much cheaper, but as mentioned above, some people don't wish to make their own for many reasons, so the Tru-Cut system may be an option for them.

So, if you are prepared to invest the money in the system, you will get quite a solid product. It will be easier to make various inserts to use for your table saw, but switching them will take longer than dropping in a full size shop-made insert. You can buy full size phenolic inserts for various model saws at about US$15-$20 each, so I guess in the long run, you are only paying half as much per phenolic insert when used with the Betterley Tru-Cut system, so if you choose to buy your ZCIs instead of making them, there are dollars to be saved over time with the Tru-Cut system, especially as a single ZCI eventually gets chewed up a little and needs replacing over time.

The Betterley Tru-Cut Insert System is quite a good product if you own one of the table saw models that the inserts are made for. And I guess, that if you have read this far into the review, you may be the type of person that doesn't like to make their own inserts anyway, so the Tru-Cut system is worth weighing up against other ZCI solutions available on the market.

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Tru-Cut System Photos
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Solid aluminum insert that remains in the saw at all times.


Fit and finish of the aluminum insert is excellent. Has a nice red color too!


One of the spring-loaded ball plungers in the side of the insert - helps keep in place and reduce vibration.


Replaceable phenolic insert has six countersunk screw positions to secure to the aluminum base insert.


A relief cut in the bottom of the phenolic insert means you can lay it flat to make the through cut with no blade changing or other tedious tasks.


Four levelling screws ensure you can sit the ZCI flush with your saw table.


Clamping the ZCI down to make the initial clearance cut through the phenolic insert.


With the insert now cut, we have support on the underside right up to the edge of the blade! This is what a ZCI is all about!


Ripping some MDF with clean results using the ZCI - saw guard removed for clarity.


Cutting a dado for a drawer back using the dado insert I made with the miter gauge providing support (not shown)


The results of chipboard cut showing good clean cut with no noticeable chipout or splintering etc.

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