Review By Bill Esposito  Incra Website - http://www.incra.com


Incra TS-III Precision Table Saw Fence System (31")
Review

By Bill Esposito

Admittedly, before being asked to review this fence I had looked at the TS-III often but never seriously considered it. Even though every Incra owner with whom I had communicated loved it, my thoughts were that the fence was too precise and too gimmicky for the average hobbyist...like myself.   Well my impression has certainly changed since the TS-III was installed on my saw.  I don't think my old after-market fence will be re-installed any time soon!

Yes the Incra TS-III is high tech and a design departure from traditional fences but it is also rock solid, accurate, versatile, expandable, and a joy to use.  Couple those attributes with the great customer service reputations of Incra and its distributors like Woodpeckers and you have a complete package which is hard to beat.

If I've piqued your interest, please read on. As usual with my reviews I will strive to supplement the text with pictures depicting all aspects of the installation and use of the product. You can then make an informed purchase decision and not be surprised by anything included in the box. You can click on any picture to enlarge it.

Index:

Before you Buy

Let's get the only bad news out of the way right now. Probably the only drawback to the TS-III is the space it requires. This is not an issue for me but it may be for someone with a very small work area. Even though the right hand rip capacity is 32", because of the innovative design of the TS-III, you will need approximately 65" to the right of your saw's cast table if you want to utilize the full rip capacity of this fence system.
 

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What's in the box:
When you receive your TS-III fence it will arrive in three boxes.  One box contains the 72"-long rails, a second contains the Ultra 2/32, and the third the fence and mount.  They all arrived at the same time and without damage.
 

The picture (left) displays all the parts, hardware and instructions.  Speaking of hardware, I'll say it now and will probably iterate it again further down, Incra does a great job packaging their hardware.
The fence system itself is constructed almost entirely from extruded aluminum. All parts, with the exception of the hardware, are finished in an attractive gold colored anodizing. The fit and finish is excellent and there are no sharp corners or burrs.

As one would expect all pieces of hardware are listed in their excellent instructions but the unexpected surprise is that they individually package the hardware by assembly step.  So while you're reading the instructions you see statements like; "use the 6 10-32 screws from the Ultra mounting hardware kit".  For the most part each hardware pack was consumed before needing to open the next one.
 

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Installation:
While there are more parts than a traditional fence, the installation is fairly easy.

TIP
It's a good idea to skim through the instructions before starting, Yea, I know it's not in our nature but it will make things go easier.
 


The first step is to locate the rail mounting brackets (six are included) and the mounting bracket hardware kit. For my installation only 4 brackets are needed. Using the included hardware, mount the brackets on the front and rear table edge. The instructions call for the brackets to be 1/4" below the top of the table and in the photo (left) you can see that I'm using a rule to measure the distance. This precision is not necessary because in the next step, we will make the final adjustments for your saw so eyeballing it is fine (see tip above about reading ahead). At this time you also loosely fit the rail mounting hardware to each bracket. The hardware pack contains a variety of nuts, bolts and washers so you should be able to find the correct hardware for your particular saw.

 

I use a Biesemeyer after-market splitter therefore my installation did not require a split rear rail. The split rail would be necessary if you have a splitter/guard assembly which mounts out the back of the saw like a Jet Contractors saw. The instructions clearly describe how to cut and mount the rear rail and here is where one would utilize the two extra brackets.

With the brackets installed it's time to mount the rails. Slide the front and rear rail onto the brackets making sure that the side with the T-slot on the bottom faces into the saw. With both rails mounted, temporarily center them on the saw and tighten the hardware.
 

To set the final mounting bracket height, Incra cleverly uses the base clamp as a gauge. You simply clamp the 4 base clamps to the rail at each bracket location and adjust each mounting bracket (as shown at left) until the base clamps are flush with the table top. This method of alignment worked flawlessly and doesn't require you to measure anything which if you're like me is a plus and greatly reduces the chances for error. Once you have tightened up the brackets, you can loosen the rail mounting bolts and move the rails into their final position. Simply move the rails so that they extend 7" out from the edge of the left extension wing and re-tighten the rail mounting bolts.

 

 

Because of the TS-III's design, you can slide the rails to fit your needs. As set up by the instructions you have about a 16" left and a 31" right ripping capacity. You can slide the rails in either direction to gain capacity however if you slide the rails to the right you will lose the use of the Incra scale. You might have to slide the rails to the right on that rare occasion where you need to rip a large piece of sheet goods. In that case you would need to measure the distance from the fence to the blade with a scale and be sure to support the right side rails. Incra sells a larger 51" version of the TS-III as well as legs. Legs are a good idea even on the 31" version.

In preparation for assembling the base mount assembly and the Ultra Jig, locate the Rail Hardware pack, assemble per instructions, and slide the hardware onto the rails.

Since the next phase of the assembly is the most tedious and Incra's instructions for this assembly are quite detailed, I'm just going to show you a few photo's of the assembly.


These photos are of the base clamp as it gets attached to the base panel. There are 4 screws and nuts for each side. The hardware is lose until the assembly is fitted onto the rails, then it's tightened. The end caps are installed after the base clamps.



The Ultra Jig is mounted with six 10-32 screws (this hardware was missing from my kit) and nuts which slide into the T-tracks. Do not tighten this hardware yet. At right is the completed Ultra Jig assembly (Base Mount Assembly) ready to be mounted on the rails.
Mount the Base Mount Assembly on the rails at about 20" from the right miter slot and tighten down the base clamp knobs. Because you left the hardware somewhat loose in the previous steps you can now align the base panel so that it's parallel to the right miter slot and once it's aligned, tighten the base clamp screws.

Once you have the panel parallel to the slot, you move the panel to the right until the edge of the panel is 36" from the right of the blade. This is its final position. Here I'm using a 36" rule to set the position.


 


At this point you will want to tighten down all your knobs as well as the set screws (left). Also move your stop washer (right) snug up against the right side of the base clamp. This will allow you to exactly reposition your base assembly if you have to move it for some other operation.


Ok, we're coming down the home stretch now!


(left) Grab the carriage and insert it into the base and align the fence end up with the right side rail brackets. Then loosely attach the fence (right) to the carriage.



With the fence resting on the supplied cardboard spacers, attach the front and rear glides. The front glide has a knob on it. These glides include an anti lift hook which we will discuss later on.

Final Calibration:

While following the Incra instructions you will see an "Important" note which briefly discusses saw blade/miter slot alignment and the reader is instructed to consult his saw's owners manual for the details of the alignment. Being safety conscious myself I felt a bit uneasy about the TS-III alignment procedure because it makes a few assumptions. The first assumption is that all saws come with an alignment procedure for blade to miter alignments. Because I know that my Jet Contractors saw did not include the instructions, I performed some limited research and found that some Jet and Powermatic saws do not include this procedure in their manual. That same research indicated that almost all responders who had performed a blade/miter alignment had aligned the blade to the LEFT slot. This leads to the second assumption by Incra which is that the miter slots are parallel or that everyone aligns to the RIGHT slot. In a perfect world the reader would have performed the blade/miter slot alignment, the miter slots would be parallel, and exactly following the Incra instructions would result in a perfect setup and that will probably be the case most of the time.

Having said that it is my belief that the rip fence should always be aligned to the blade and even though I followed Incra's instructions, I finished up with a check and a tweak between the blade and the fence.

Move the fence until it lines up with the right miter slot and engage the micro-adjuster by pushing the lever down(left). Use the micro-adjuster and a straight edge to align the fence to the slot. Check both the front and rear of the fence. When you think you have it, lock the carriage and make sure the fence is still aligned. You may have to do this a couple of times to get things perfect.

Once you've set the fence to the slot, double check your alignment by checking a tooth at the front of the saw, then rotate the blade and use that same tooth to check the rear of the saw. Here I'm using a piece of paper as a gauge to check the fit since my son walked off with my feeler gauges.


Once you are comfortable with the alignment, if needed, unlock the fence and use the micro-adjuster to set the fence to just "kiss" the blade and lock the fence. We can now Zero the TS-III.
Simply move the magnetic steel rule until it reads zero under the pointer. We're almost finished.


The last step in the Zeroing process it to align the micro-adjuster cursor to zero by loosening the screws and sliding the plastic cursor until the zero mark lines up with the knob. Next rotate the white micro-adjuster scale until it reads zero under the cursor. In the photo at right the scale needs to be rotated until the "0" aligns under the cursor.

Done!


 

The whole process including taking some pictures for this review, adapting my existing extension tables, and running out to the hardware store for the missing screws took an afternoon. The assembly was straight forward and at no time were the instructions inadequate or difficult to use.

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Features and Use:

  • .001" repeatability and accuracy assured by Incremental Racks

    Why would a woodworker be attracted to the Incra TS-III? It has to be its accuracy and precision. Incra utilizes patented saw tooth racks which are manufactured in precise 1/32" increments. What does this mean to us? It means that if your project's dimensions are measured in 1/32" increments or larger then the TS-III will allow you to easily set the position of the fence and easily return to that position with .001" accuracy. If you need to be more precise than 1/32" you can use the Micro Adjuster which has a scale with .001" increments.
    Here you can see a close up of the Ultra base in the micro-adjustment position with the racks engaged. Click on the picture at left to enlarge it and get a feeling for just how fine these racks are.

    When adjusting the position of the fence you align the cursor with your desired mark on the 32" precision scale. If you are not dead on (less than 1/64" off) the racks will align to the mark when you pull the clamp.

    The racks are attached down the far side of the carriage and secured by screws. They are made from plastic and carry a lifetime warranty from Incra. In the included instruction sheets, which are excellent if I haven't already mentioned it, are directions for alignment of the racks in case you ever have to replace one. According to Incra this is a very rare occurrence.
     
  • Micro-Adjustment Lead Screw

    This feature allows you to accurately and repeatably move the fence by rotating the adjuster. It has a scale which has graduations that represent a .001" movement of the fence. This feature is not to be confused with the micro adjusters on some other after market fences which are really designed to eliminate the "bumping" of the fence to set its position. There is no "bumping" of the TS-III. Chris Taylor of Incra set me straight on its function. When I first used it I was trying to use it just like the adjuster on my Vega fence and I couldn't figure out how Incra could make their claims of repeatability when I was moving the adjuster (and therefore the rack alignment) all over the place. The correct usage is that during normal fence operation the woodworker will only use the micro-adjuster to "Zero" the fence during calibration and usually not use it again unless you need to get more precise than 1/32". In that case you have to return the adjuster back to zero when you're finished.

     
  • Engraved Stainless Steel Scale

    The included 32" stainless steel scale is your primary reference for setting the position of the fence. It has to be accurate because the racks are accurate and if it wasn't your measurements would appear to be off. The TS-III's accuracy comes from the racks and not the scale. I performed an experiment where I set the scale for "0" and them moved the fence so that I could see how close it was at the 32" mark. I purposely aligned the cursor a little off when I pulled the clamp to tighten it down. The racks pulled the fence so that it locked dead on 32".
    As I mentioned earlier the TS-III is capable of having up to five scales installed at the same time. It comes with the four scales pictured here, a 16", 32" and an auto-centering scale in plastic as well as the stainless steel 32" rule which is the primary scale. I currently have the plastic 32" scale offset by 3/4" which is the thickness of the spacer fence I use for dados.

     
  • Three point clamping for a rock solid fence


    The Incra TS-III can be secured by up to three clamps. The first clamp which is the one used all the time is right behind the cursor. Setting this clamp locks and squares up the fence. For light duty ripping this is all that is needed. The second clamp is located on the front end of the fence and clamps the fence to the front rail. The third clamp is similar to the front clamp albeit it requires the hex tool to engage. It provides not only extra rigidity for those times when you are cutting large, heavy sheet goods but also becomes and anti-lift clamp to enable you to safely utilize feather boards and anti kickback rollers, etc.

    In this reviewer's opinion all of the high end table saw fences remain aligned parallel to the saw blade once initially calibrated under normal board ripping use. What causes them to get out of alignment is being bumped and pushed on by large, heavy sheet goods or being whacked at the far end by a long board as it's lifted onto the saw. Where I believe the TS-III has the advantage is in it's "T" design which moves the fulcrum to the middle of it's length as opposed to the very beginning of it's length. This coupled with the front rail lock (#2 in the photo) will provide for a solid mount which should not easily get knocked out of alignment.

     
  • T-slotted Aluminum Fence

    Since this is a review about a table saw fence I thought I had better show a few pictures of the actual fence. Its dimensions are roughly 36" long by 1 3/4" wide by 2 3/8" tall. As you can see in the photos there is a 1/4" T-slot along the face, two in the top, and two on the back side. The fence face on the TS-III is just as it was extruded but the new TS-IIIa has a machined flat face. I see nothing wrong with the extruded face.

     

  • Expandable and Versatile

    Hold on to your wallet because once you've installed and used this fence and visited
    Woodpecker's web page you're gonna want to add some other goodies like extension wings, router fences, joinery packages and more! At right you see the Woodpecker's Router Table Extension Wing (RTEW) and the Incra Wonder Fence which will be the subject of my next review.


    In these two photographs you'll see me working the Micro Adjuster and locking the fence using the primary clamp. It is interesting to note that using the TS-III requires you to focus your attention to the right end of the saw and look at the Ultra Jig assembly when setting up for a cut. With traditional fences we seem to have the blade and fence still within our focus while setting the distance of the fence. It doesn't matter that we can't see that blade to fence relationship while looking at the scale, it's just different and requires a few minutes to get used to.

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    Miscellaneous stuff:

    I mentioned earlier that I had to adapt my existing extension tables to mount with the TS-III. The left side extension table was pretty simple. I utilized the mounting brackets that Incra supplied but you can easily make your own. Simply mount an "L" bracket to the T-track on the front and rear rail and use them to support your table. The rear was a bit more difficult because I had to move the table away from the rear of the saw to provide the clearance required to allow for the base assembly to be positioned anywhere along the length of the rails. To accomplish this I just cut a piece of 1/2" birch plywood and used some leftover hardware to attach the new plywood bracket to the rear rail (left). Then I simply moved the extension table out far enough to provide the clearance needed (right). This brings to light an inconvenience for the woodworker with an outfeed table. Repositioning the TS-III requires access to the rear of the table saw. You may have to use an allen wrench instead of the hex driver (I did) to secure or loosen the set screws. If you don't have an outfeed table yet but plan on making one, you should consider making it free standing so that you can drag it out of the way when repositioning the TS-III.

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    Testing:

    I don't have much to show you in the way of pictures for this part of the review except for the one at left of me ripping a piece of plywood. What I wanted to determine at this point was how well the fence was going to remain in alignment after some use, repositioning and removing and replacing.

    The first thing I did was remove and replace the fence and carriage from the jig a couple of times. Each time I locked it down on zero and checked it's alignment and position to the blade. Everything remained in alignment.

    The next test was to loosen the base clamp knobs and completely remove the assembly including the fence and carriage in one piece and place it down on a bench. I then slid the clamp hardware into position near the stops I had previously installed so that I could use the fence on the left side router wing. After placing the fence assembly back on the rails and getting all the knobs tightened down moved the fence up next to the blade and checked the alignment. It was perfect.

    The last test in this series was to again remove the fence assembly and reposition it back up against the stops where it was originally installed. This time I was not only going to check alignment but I wanted to check and see if the fence was still "zeroed" to the blade. Again alignment was perfect as well as the zero. During all of this I was paying attention to how the carriage was sliding along the rails and I felt no noticeable difference, another indication that everything was remaining in alignment.

    The final test I performed was to use my 36" steel rule and measure the fence alignment to the right miter slot at 15" and 31". Unlike traditional fences the TS-III does not change it reference point for alignment as you reposition it. All other fences rely on the rail position as their reference so if it's bowed of warped it can affect the fence, especially at the far end. As I expected the TS-III's alignment was perfect.

    Ultimately the only way to tell how well the TS-III will hold up is with time and use. It is my belief that as long as you always use the front infeed clamp there should be no reason for the fence to get out of alignment. If you don't use the clamp then you run the risk of whacking it with a piece of wood and either bending something or causing it to move.

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    Conclusion:


    The TS-III is easy to install and performs exactly as advertised. You will quickly fall in love with the positive action of the racks and the ease by which you will be able to set an accurate, repeatable fence position. The fit and finish was outstanding as there was not a single surface scratch on my unit. There are a couple of minor annoyances, the worst of which will be the time you spend looking for the hex driver or acquiring missing hardware (Chris Taylor of Incra assures me that missing hardware is a very rare occurrence).
    As I stated right up front, the downside is the space it requires but if you have the real estate, I don't think you will be disappointed.

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    Copyright 2003, Bill Esposito & OnlineToolReviews.com
    All Rights Reserved.

    No parts of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means
    without the written permission of the author. 

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