Review By Dean Bielanowski  EurekaZone Website - http://www.eurekazone.com


EurekaZone
EZ Smart Guide System
 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

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Who would have ever thought that cutting in a straight line could be so problematic? Yet this very issue still invokes plenty of questions from new woodworkers, and as you can imagine, straight cuts are vital to almost any woodworking project. Needless to say, the advent of electricity has made cutting wood so much easier, yet we still rely on some basic tools and jigs for much of our woodworking when accurate, repeatable results are required. In the absence of a good table saw, or where a cut cannot be made easily on a table saw, the circular saw is perhaps your next best option for making straight cuts.

Today we are going to look at a product that helps make straight and even "finished" cuts. It requires no power of its own, but does require the use of a powered circular saw to do the cutting tasks for you.

The circular saw is a vital tool in the woodshop. It is most commonly used for cutting down large wooden or composite panels into more manageable sizes (e.g. plywood, melamine sheets etc). In the absence of a table saw and large sliding table capable of working with full size 12' x 8' sheets, the circular saw is an invaluable tool. In fact, the manufacturers claim the system is just as good (if not better) than a table saw when it comes to the end results. And of course, it can be used for a myriad of other smaller cuts as needed. Without a straight fence to ride the saw base along to make an accurate cut, the user must possess extreme skill in order to make a good, straight cut using the saw "freehand". When the task dictates a straight cut however, you cannot beat a guide fence. There are many guide fences on the market, and you can even make one from any straight piece of lumber, but some fences offer more features than others. Today we will look at the EurekaZone EZ Smart Guide System.

What is it?
At first glance the EZ Smart system looks similar to other guide fences in that it uses a straight piece of aluminum to guide your saw. However, it is not until you look closer at the various attachments and guide methods that you realize the benefit of the system. I think the best way to explain how the system works is to take you through the setup process, step-by-step, in my own experience.

Ok firstly, you will need a circular saw. While the system can also be adapted for use with routers (with additional accessories) I will confine this review to circular saw use only as that is what the basic kit allows me to do. The first thing to do (after unpacking all the various pieces) is to check what type of saw you have, as this will determine how you mount the saw onto the provided 'Smart Base'. Firstly, the system is designed for use with right hand saws. Left hand saws can be used, but you lose the chance to use the anti-chip inserts, a vital part of the system in my opinion. For more info on "left handed" saws check the FAQ on the manufacturer's website.

If the outer edge of your saw blade is exactly 1.5 inches from the outside point of the saws right base edge (when looking from behind) then you have a saw that will fit easily to the saw base. If it's say 1/32" out, then you are still probably ok. Even if your blade does not measure 1.5" from the edge you can still use the system, it just means an extra step or two in the setup process. I am using my Industrial Pro Series Ryobi saw (7 1/4") with this system, and it does indeed measure 1.5" from blade to edge.

The next step in the process is to decide on whether you wish to have the smart base permanently installed on your saw, or whether you would like to be able to remove it at a later date. I will describe the benefits of keeping it permanently attached to the saw shortly, but there is also a downside to this as well. If you wish to permanently mount the smart base to your saw you can either use the Very High Bond (VHB) tape strips provided, or drill and screw the base to your saw. Obviously the drill and screw method requires you to drill through the base of your saw's plate, so it may not be that enticing to everyone, but this method does allow you to remove it later on if you want to. Using the VHB tape strips is far simpler. They do provide a very solid adhesion to the saw's base which is loosely termed as "permanent", but I'd imagine you could remove this bond if you ultimately needed to, with a bit of elbow grease and some abrasives no less. If you wish to remove the smart base at a later date and be able to easily re-attach it when needed, you will need to use the drill and screw method.

I chose the permanent method using VHB strips to attach to my saw. Because my saw has the correct blade offset from the edge, it aligns to the smart base easily. If your saw has a different offset, you will have to use spacers to correctly position the saw on the smart base. Correct positioning of the saw onto the base is crucial for the whole guide system to work effectively, so you have to get it right first go.

With the smart base ready to go I wiped down the bottom of my saw's base plate with some mineral turps to ensure it was as clean as possible and free of dirt. This ensures a stronger bond to the VHB tape. I first laid out the double-sided VHB tape strips on the base to ensure the arrangement would fit nicely before I permanently applied them. Prior to this I did a "dry-fit" of the saw onto the base to mark the left edge of the saw base so I would know where that was located to place the VHB strips accordingly. I also had to remove the riving knife on my saw so it would plunge all the way through the smart base's blade clearance area, but your mileage may vary.

The next step was to remove the protective paper covering one side of each VHB strip and apply the strip to the smart base in the correct position. Nothing too hard here, just provide firm pressure to ensure a good bond. With all the strips in place, you can then proceed to remove the backing paper from the top side of each strip (which will mate with the underside of your circular saw base). Now it is time to position and mount the saw. Because my saw has the standard offset, the top right corner of the baseplate locates in the top right corner of the smart base, and the right edge fits snugly up to the right edge of the smart base, which is slightly recessed for easier alignment. Supplied with the kit is some brown paper which you place over the VHB strips before you position your saw. The idea is to position the front right corner and front edge of the saws plate with the accompanying position on the smart base. You tilt the saw up so only the front edge and corner are touching the smart base. The brown paper sits underneath and is used to prohibit the saw from sticking to the VHB tape strips until you have it accurately positioned. Once the front is positioned you slide the brown paper out and slowly lower the saw onto the base and strips, pivoting it about the front edge you carefully referenced seconds earlier. I actually found the brown paper stuck a little to the strips and was tricky to remove with one hand, so perhaps get a second person to help pull it out while you have a firm grip on the saw itself. I managed to lower the base down in perfect alignment with the front edge, front right hand corner, and right edge, and pushed the base down firmly onto the tape to make the bond. Hold it down firmly for about 15-20 seconds to ensure a strong bond.

This is actually the hardest part of the installation, in my opinion at least! Once this is done, you are pretty much ready to go.

Attachments...
With the smart base installed you are just one step away from realizing the first advantage of the system, and this is a zero-clearance cut using a circular saw! Sure, you can do this by just attaching a piece of MDF, wood or plywood to any circular saw base and plunging the blade, but the smart base is designed to also ride along the smart guide, among other things. So, with the base attached, you can then attach AC-1 Anti-Chip Insert. Remember how I mentioned there is an advantage to keeping the smart base attached to your saw permanently? Well, this is it. The AC-1 Anti-Chip insert simply slides and clicks into the bottom of the smart base (no tools needed). It is basically a piece of hard plastic. Following the included instructions, you insert the AC-1 and set your saw on a piece of scrap wood, and starting with the blade raised, slowly plunge your saw down into the wood, and hence, into the AC-1 insert. This creates a zero-clearance cut in your insert so that when you use your circular saw without the guide system, it gives you zero-clearance, anti-chip and anti-splintering capability on both sides of the blade. This is great for any type of cut and produces a finish any circular saw owner would find impressive.

This is certainly a good thing to have on a circular saw. However, you may also recall I mentioned a downside to keeping the base permanently attached. This downside is that you lose a little blade cutting depth, and that loss measures just under 3/8". This may only cause a problem if you regular cut to full depth, but that's an issue for you to decide on individually. The AC-1 inserts are easily replaceable should you need to add a new one down the track, and reasonably priced at US$3.50 per insert.

The other insert available for the smart base is the AC-2 Anti-Chip insert. This one looks a little different, and is specifically designed to be used when you are using the smart base on the EZ Smart saw guide itself. The AC-2 provides chip protection on the right side of the blade only. The left side of the blade is protected by the saw guide itself... How so? If you take a look at the first picture in the right column, you can see the grey AC-2 insert. When they are installed in the smart base, they are actually sit up the the other way so that the raised part actually projects down toward the material you are cutting on. It actually almost rest on your material being and on the right side of the blade (you also trim this insert in setup as well). It provides material support right next to the blade, as well as serving a second function of providing a support on the right side of the smart base when it is used on the guide and sitting up off your project. This helps to balance the smart base and reduce any chance of the base tilting to the right side and causing a rough and inaccurate cut. The insert looks so basic, but is very well thought out in terms of its task in the whole EZ Smart system.

The MB-1 Saw Guide
The 'heart' of the EZ Smart Guide system is the MB-1 guide. It comes in both 50" and 40" lengths, the 40" being used specifically for door trimming. Because the 50" guides can be joined together, you can make a continuous and straight saw guide of any length you like! A 100" guide (2 x 50" guides joined together) gives you enough capacity to work with standard 96" x 48" plywood or composite material sheet goods. EurekaZone sell kits up to 200" long if needed, but the system is modular and adaptable to accommodate a variety of needs (or budgets), so you could buy the 100" version now and add extra length to it later on if need be.

The MB-1 guide is constructed from rigid aluminum extrusion. Underneath are two slots for the smart clamps to utilize, which also double as slots for the C-1 connectors that come with your set (to join 2 x 50" segments together, as an example), and on top is a single 3-side squared "ridge rail" running the entire length of the guide. The smart base has two recesses in its base that fit perfectly onto this ridge rail and ride along for accurate cutting, and it is perfectly centered on the extrusion to allow you to use the guide on both sides. On each edge of the guide is a T-channel, well actually, its more like a C-channel that holds the EAC-1 Anti-Chip edge. This edge actually provides the zero-clearance function for the left side of the blade when used in conjunction with the AC-2 insert on the smart base (as explained above).

When you make your first cut along the MB-1 guide, you are also taking a portion of the EAC-1 anti-chip edge off as well. This is why it is important to align the saw properly on the base in the beginning stages, as there is not a lot of room to play with in trimming the EAC-1 on the initial cut. Why does the EAC-1 need to be trimmed? Well, as mentioned, it doubles as the left side anti-chip support edge in use, and also, when trimmed, the trim line shows you exactly where the left side of the blade will cut. This means you can align your guide right up to the proposed cut line on your board, door, plywood sheet, or whatever you are cutting. You can now say goodbye to offset measurements with traditional saw guides!

Offset measuring was one of my pet peeves for a long time, so it's good to be finally rid of that evil! In defense of those who like to make their own jigs or saw guides, you can of course use a sheet of ply and an attached fence and trim the ply to give an accurate cut line, hence avoiding offset measurements, but then you lose the anti-chip capability on the right side of the blade, unless you get creative and do some more saw base or jig building. The EZ Smart System is much easier, particularly if you are not the world's most enthusiastic jig builder, or if you find your shop time is limited and value every minute of it. You can also buy replacement lengths of EAC-1 edging if needed at a later date, and these have somewhat of a compression fit into the C-channel, but are secured underneath by strips of blue tape to prevent them moving in use, however, they will also hold firm without the tape in place.

The only other component to the basic sawing system are the CL-1 clamps. Two were provided and they slide into the clamp channels underneath the guide to secure the guide to your workpiece. They can slide to any location in the channel along the MB-1 guide, so they can be positioned to clamp any length board or sheet. They are covered with a rubber sleeve on the clamping end so you don't mark or scratch your work, and because of the design of the clamp, it would be hard to over-tighten and dent your material. The included clamps can actually clamp a narrow piece 1/4" too. And  If you remove the nut and the spring from the smart clamp you can rotate the clamp 360. That means you can use 2 clamps from the end and two from the side.
They work well and are as easy to use as those on the Veritas Power Tool Guide we have reviewed previously on this site.

Time to Cut...
You should now have a pretty good idea of how this all works. For a straight cut, simply set your base up on the MB-1 guide using the channel closest to the blade on the smart base. This will line your blade up to cut where the EAC-1 edging has been trimmed. Set that mark on both sides of your material to be cut so that it lines up with your intended sawing marks. Clamp the guide to the material using the clamps underneath, grasp your saw that is now sitting on the MB-1 guide, power up and just slide the saw and smart base along the guide for a straight cut. With the AC-2 insert installed, you have anti-chip capabilities on both sides of the blade and well balanced base. This is great for cutting melamine for kitchen cabinet projects without the use of a "special" melamine blade. In fact, EurekaZone simply recommend any good quality 40-tooth blade for use with the EZ Smart system.

So did we really get chip-free and splinter-free results?
Yes! I used the guide to cut some melamine, plywood, regular hardwood and some pine scraps (for testing) and in each case the cut was smooth, straight and virtually chip-free. I would recommend getting that 40-tooth blade though. On my initial tests I used a 24-tooth blade and while the results where still very good with very little noticeable chipping (unless you were really looking for it) I'm sure a 40-tooth blade would give much better results, but the fact remains that the system can deliver good results, even with cheap $15 blades. The EZ Smart guide is good for both rip cuts and cross cuts, and can even be used on other materials such as plexiglass (according to the EurekaZone website). So, given that I have a full kitchen renovation coming up involving the use of plenty of melamine sheets, the EZ Smart system should come in very handy and help speeds things up for cutting down full melamine sheets to exact dimensions, and to a finished state. There is actually no need for a table saw in these types of operations. The EZ Smart and your circular saw will accomplish this task from start to go with no problem.

Another advantage is that it can be used to safely cut warped boards. If the boards are lacking in width, you will need the special 'smart clamps' to clamp it safely. These can be purchased separately. You can also install the guide on existing frames, walls or constructions (subject to suitable clamping conditions) if you need to widen an area in a wall or make some space in a kitchen or cabinet side. I have not yet tried this but it may come in handy with that kitchen renovation to take out or modify certain existing cabinets. For some reason the original builders of the house I recently purchased built those portions of the internal walls around the installed kitchen! Go figure? Apparently this was common with some builders in the 70's and I'm sure there is a perfectly logical reason why. I'm not a builder so I can't tell you, perhaps you can tell me?

Making 90-degree square cuts isn't the only cut type the system is capable of. You can also make beveled cuts as well, and there is clearance in the smart base to be able to do this. The second (left) recess in the smart base is for making bevel cuts, and this is because it gives that extra offset so the angled blade does not come into contact with the aluminum guide itself. It does take a little practice, because with your circular saw tilted to make a bevel cut, the center of gravity of the tool falls almost outside the smart base edge, causing a bit of a balance issue. The AC-2 does offer some relief, but it took me a couple practice runs to work out to fine-tune the technique for this type of cut. Bevel cutting also takes advantage of the EAC-1 edge and you trim this just as you do for normal cuts to remove the offset measuring task. You could use one side of the guide for straight cuts and the other for bevel cuts, although I rarely do make bevel cuts with the circular saw in my woodworking projects. I'm sure a builder or carpenter on a jobsite would make beveled cuts with this tool more often than I do.

We made cuts in all types of wood and composite sheet material, as well as trimmed a few doors (see photos). The anti-chip inserts really help to reduce chipping in all materials. I expected more chipping on the melamine sheets, but surprisingly there was very little. You do need to look very closely at the cut line to find evidence of chipping, but from a short distance it is barely noticeable.

Perhaps the best feature of the entire system is its portability. You can knock down a full 200" system to fit into just about any vehicle and take it to a jobsite, friends place, or the in-laws to carve up their house... err cut things for them!

My overall impression with the system is positive. The manufacturer has obviously sat down and worked through designs that address the most common issues faced when cutting material with a circular saw. The results have certainly converted me into a believer of the system. The 100" system which I tested retails for US$189.98 and includes all the various accessories and inserts I have mentioned here. The value of this system is not just in the raw materials you pay your money for (16 components and 17 lbs of anodized aluminum), it's in the accuracy, ease of use, and most importantly, the timesaving features this product offers. Replaceable parts and components are also very reasonably priced. I would have expected a higher price tag for these given the system's unique design.

If you regularly have a need to use sheet materials and have them cut to a finished state, have a need to cut straight lines of any length (it can also cut angles just as easily), or are a builder or carpenter, this system is definitely worth a look.

Further information on the product and other accessories not reviewed here that can further expand the functionality of the system can be found at the EurekaZone website - www.eurekazone.com

Available to Order Online through these companies...
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In Australia


www.northwoodtools.com.au

In the USA


EZ Smart Guide System - 100"

EZ Smart Guide Photos
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The AC-1 and AC-2 Anti-chip inserts


The Smart Base


The underside of the guide showing the C-1 connectors for joining two guide segments together.


Here I am measuring the offset from edge of my saw's base plate to the blade. 1.5" means you can set up the EZ Smart system with ease!


Laying out the VHB tape strips in an array that suits my saw.


Instant upgrade! The saw now attached to the smart base, meaning I can now use the anti-chip inserts for virtually any cut!


Here is the AC-1 anti-chip insert in place, and after with the initial cut I now have zero-clearance support on both sides of the blade.


I borrowed this picture from the manufacturer's website as it best shows how the smart base rides along the aluminum guide.


The clamps provided allow you to clamp the guide to your work object quickly and easily.


Trimming an ill-fitting door


And trimming it down its full length as well. A task perfectly suited to the EZ Smart Guide.


No more offset measuring! With the EAC-1 edge trimmed to show the exact cut line, it's just a matter of lining that edge up with your marks, clamping the guide and sawing.


The edge of a melamine sheet cut using the EZ Smart guide and circular saw. No obvious edge chipping visible.

 

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