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Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 7-10-2010
When band saws actually come with a factory fence those systems often leave woodworkers under whelmed by their price-cutting design and reduced features. The search for an aftermarket fence gets even more difficult if simple installation onto your band saw is important to you. The unique design of the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) means that it could be exactly what many of us have been looking for. As with everything else that I have reviewed from Carter the MAGFENCE™ is very well designed and fabricated from quality materials. Plus, using the MAGFENCE™ does not require ANY modification of your band saw.
The Carter MAGFENCE(tm) is made from a high-quality aluminum extrusion that is both straight and rigid. The Carter MAGFENCE(tm) featured in this review measures 16" long but a 19-1/2"-long version is also available. Both versions are 4"-tall and 1-1/2"-wide. The fence body is anodized and the ends are sealed with plastic caps.
Both tall faces of the MAGFENCE™ fence have three T-shaped slots that are designed specifically for upcoming MAGFENCE™ accessories. I spoke to Carter and there are several MAGFENCE™ add-ons in the works but no specific release dates were available at this writing. (7-8-2010) The Carter Circle Jig (see my review here) is currently available and comes with an adaptor for mounting it on the MAGFENCE™ when it is installed as a table extension.
I know it will be tempting to mount shop-made jigs and fixtures such as featherboards on the MAGFENCE™ but anything that applies pressure will work against the magnetic force. The MAGFENCE™ has a substantial amount of magnetic force but counteracting any portion of it is asking for trouble. As with any tool, using it in ways other than recommended by the manufacturer could be dangerous.
The key feature of the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) is a row of six, 1"-diameter rare earth magnets along the bottom surface that generate what I found to be a surprising amount of holding power. Rare earth magnets are known for exceptional holding power first and economical cost farther down the list. Though expensive, Carter's design criteria called for lots of magnetic grip so they chose rare earth magnets. Then Carter went a step further by adding a focusing cup to each magnet that increases the overall dead lift power of the magnets to a total of approximately 250-LBS! It is clear that Carter wants the MAGFENCE™ to stay put during use.
The Carter MAGFENCE(tm) needs only a flat table that is made from magnetic material like the cast iron and steel woodworkers are so fond of. Because there is no bolt or screw-type mounting, the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) actually is universal!
The Carter MAGFENCE(tm) can literally be set on a suitable surface and requires no other fastening. This unique mounting method offers some equally unique options. When attached to the edge of a table the MAGFENCE™ can function as an aluminum table extension, instantly expanding your light duty work area where (and when) you need it. It can be installed vertically anywhere on the surface to guide workpieces.
The tremendous holding power of the MAGFENCE™ means that an equal or higher amount of force is required to reposition or remove it. Carter builds in lever-operated cams at each end that when pushed down lift the MAGFENCE™ enough to break the majority of the magnetic grip. That lets you fine tune the alignment on the surface or remove the MAGFENCE™ without having to use a lot of force.
In the Shop
The toughest part of using the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) is learning to place it where you want it. That means learning to use the cam releases to position the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) where you need it. That really is the only learning curve and it is a short one. For me, trying to move the MAGFENCE™ with brute force alone showed me in no uncertain terms how valuable the cam levers truly are!
The holding power of the rare earth magnets intensified by their focusing cups is remarkable and it might take a little while for you to get fully confident in this mysterious grip. Not seeing real live nuts and bolts holding something in place just does not process correctly in some minds. I also wondered about how stable the MAGFENCE™ would be during use but those concerns disappeared the first time it was set on the table and I tried to move it.
I have used the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) on my bandsaw throughout this review and it worked great every time! One of the things you have to overcome is the feeling that you are forgetting something when using it. The Carter MAGFENCE(tm) really is that simple and it really does work that well! We just are not accustomed to that combination of features in one woodworking tools.
Simply put, the MAGFENCE™ is a great idea that has been executed very well. The size of the fence along with its unique mounting system give the MAGFENCE™ lots of uses, many of which you may not realize until you start using it in the shop.
With a street price of $79.99 (6-6-2010) the Carter MAGFENCE™ is a real bargain. Factor in the non-existent installation frustrations along with an ever-increasing list of uses and the deal gets better quickly. If you are looking for a bandsaw fence or can think of instances where something like the Carter MAGFENCE(tm) would have made your life easier, take a good look. The folks at Carter have once again made our life a little better.
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