Gazette Archive 9/19/99
The TS-Aligner - A Tool Review
In early July I was honored to receive Ed Bennett's TS-Aligner so I could put it through its paces, in order to review it and determine its usefulness in the wood shop environment. Upon opening the box it became immediately clear to me this wasn't going to be an easy evaluation process. Indeed, it was quite apparent that this tool was going to require a lot of time, in different situations and involve not a little inventiveness, so perhaps other ways of using it would be discovered that its inventor hadn't thought of.
Well, that would be a pretty tall order because Mr. Bennett has seemingly thought of everything already, however I'm not through with it yet. For purposes of a timely review I consigned myself to use it in situations which were already defined in the brochure and had little time for outside experiments. As I said, I'm not through with it yet.
If you're unaware of what the TS-Aligner is, it can easily be explained thusly; try to imagine just one tool in your shop which would allow you to set-up and align virtually every machine tool, jig or milling process or check the accuracy of each at any time afterward. Now, stop imagining, it's the TS-Aligner!
Fit & Finish
As an option, you can get the TS-Aligner in a high-impact, plastic carrying case, which I recommend because the individual components are nestled in their own compartment of cushioned, foam lining that prevents them from coming into contact with each other.
This is obviously important concerning the nature of the tool. Allowing a precision instrument to bang about in a high-impact carrying case or, for that matter, a cardboard box, would be counter-productive. It was the little things like this, the attention to detail and the overall presentation of the TS-Aligner, that made me envious.
After picking up the basic frame I noticed that the bulk of the material used was aircraft quality aluminum anodized black with the rest being made of stainless steel. And to finish it off, a professionally printed label is applied, making everything come together with a tool which is fully functional. All too often a potentially good tool idea will suffer from shoddy workmanship. The fact that less than good materials are used to produce it makes that product, in my eyes, somewhat worthless despite how marvelous the tool concept is. And while I've seen quite a few in each of the sub-standard, standard and above standard categories, I've rarely seen any that would garner a higher classification. In my opinion, if there were an ultra-high standard category, the TS-Aligner would reside there.
"Alright already," you say, "Enough with the accolades, what does it do?" Well, let's take a look...
The stylus, when fastened onto the dial indicator's plunger by means of a tiny Allen screw, affords you greater flexibility when using the TS-Aligner in various alignment capacities. For instance, by changing the position of the dial indicator into a vertical position, the stylus will assist you in adjusting your jointer's knives so they are all in perfect alignment with one another. This degree of accuracy may seem somewhat obsessive, however it's important when you use the jointer for rabbeting when one knife is set wider than the others.
Further, with the dial indicator in this position you can also ensure that your out feed table is level with the cutting arc of the knives and that each knife is sitting at the same height. In the jointer's case, all of these important adjustments can be accomplished with just a single tool. In other situations like drilling depths or slotting, you can remove the stylus and simply use the dial indicator with only its plunger where these accurate measurements may be necessary.
The TS-Aligner amazed me when I discovered just how much my equipment was out of adjustment, despite all my best efforts to ensure otherwise. I mean, in general terms they were adjusted properly and as close as can reasonably be allowed with common measuring devices normally found in one's shop. However, I found that the table on my Powermatic 66 was three-thousandths out of adjustment in relation to the blade and that its Biesemeyer fence was five-thousandths out of adjustment to the table. Is that considered a lot or enough to concern yourself with? Well, with the TS-Aligner I was able to determine that my fence was five-thousandths away from the blade. Had the fence been five-thousandths closer to the blade would I have needed the TS-Aligner to tell me that? Most likely not, because burn marks left by the blade would have been indicative enough. However, I wouldn't have known how much it was out of adjustment or when I actually started to adjust it back to the other direction.
The greatest attribute of the TS-Aligner is the flexibility of being able to adapt to the various machine tools you have in your shop. For instance, under the bottom of the base plate there are different locations to fasten three bearings that are placed in-line with one another but with the center bearing being slightly offset from the other two. All three bearings will ride in the same miter slot but the purpose of offsetting the center bearing is to allow adjustment so that the TS-Aligner fits snugly in different sized miter slots. With this three-point contact there is absolutely no side-to-side play as the TS-Aligner is moved along the length of the miter slot. This means that with only one tool you can adjust your entire armada of equipment, band saw, table saw, shaper or router table, combination belt/disk sander and even tools without miter slots.
When you remove the bearings, then other machine tools can be added to the list because whether or not the bearings are attached, there are always three Teflon "feet" which are fastened to the base plate so it can sit on any surface. Just like the three-legged stool, this three-point contact will ensure that absolutely no wobbling will be present to affect the accuracy of the TS-Aligner.
By removing the bearings the TS-Aligner will be capable of use in other areas such as determining arbor run out on your drill press. When I performed this check (see above) on my drill press I found that I had eight-thousandths of arbor run out. I experimented further by removing the chuck, repositioned the TS-Aligner and found that my arbor was fine - it was this extreme versatility that proved my chuck was the culprit. Could I have proved this with other means? Sure, but other measuring devices I've seen require complicated set-up procedures and none of them are as easily adaptable as the TS-Aligner.
Earlier I mentioned using it to adjust your jointer's knives and out feed table with the stylus pointing downward but I have yet to describe how it works. Since the bearings were removed to check the drill press, why don't we take it on over to the jointer to see if our fence is accurately set in the 90 degree position.
Determining accurate tool equipment adjustment on the jointer is just like everything else, you first bring the base plate of the TS-Aligner close up to the item being measured so the stylus makes slight contact with and at the extreme bottom of the fence. At that point the dial indicator's hand will move somewhat, then we rotate the outer ring so that you zero the dial with the arrow. This is your base point measurement. Now, by loosening a locking screw we're able to move the mounting block (remember, the mounting block holds the rod that holds the dial indicator) slowly up so that the stylus is able to "feel" the surface of the fence. Any movement of the arrow indicates that the fence is not set at a perfect 90 degree alignment. By adjusting the fence a little and then repeating this measurement process, the fence will be exactly set to 90 degree in just a few moments. That's all there is to it, the TS-Aligner is simple in practice but complex in itself.
Perhaps with a little inventiveness and ingenuity, you will find other uses for the TS-Aligner, but its inventor has already thought of one that really impressed me. How many times have you picked up your try-square and thought, "I wonder how square my square really is and if I use another square to check it". You see where I'm going here? Yep, you can even use the TS-Aligner to settle that long-term enigma.
By placing your square on your table saw and the TS-Aligner in the slot, you can easily check to see how much your square is out of adjustment. Now that, in and of itself, is a class act!
Bits n Pieces
As with anything else, there are optional accessories available to make your investment in a TS-Aligner much more useful; there are 5 sizes of precision machine squares, a micro-tangent angle set, a radial arm saw attachment and, as I already mentioned, a custom storage case. With the exception of the storage case, the only other accessory I received to review was a part of the micro-tangent angle set; a 45 degree angle block. Folks, this little baby is so well-machined that it even feels good in your hands; I imagine the others are also.
Follow-up concern of Mr. Bennett and his TS-Aligner is clearly evident on the last page of the instruction booklet where he says, "If you need assistance with these or any other problems you are experiencing, please call us. We will work with you to resolve the problem in a timely manner." Then he goes on to give his toll-free number. Reading this returned a breath of fresh air to me in the knowledge that there are still people out there who not only support their products after the sale, but are concerned enough say, "Normally someone should be available to help you during normal business hours. If nobody is available, please leave your name and phone number so that we can call you back." With business ethics like this, is it any wonder that the TS-Aligner is such a fine shop tool? Mr. Bennett should be proud of himself, his product and his family for allowing the time and sacrifices that were obviously required to bring the TS-Aligner to the present reality.
Now, the two questions I've asked myself all through the testing and the writing of this review are, "If I saw it sitting on a shelf, would I buy it?" and the other question is, "If after witnessing it actually being used, would I buy it?" Unfortunately this tool is not one that is as understood as say, the biscuit jointer...you plug it in, make a slot, taa-dah, that's it. So, the answers to my questions are possibly and definitely, respectively.
I wish to thank Chuck Ring and Jim Mattson of the WWA for providing the venue of this article and especially Ed Bennett for allowing me the opportunity to participate in the testing and reviewing of the TS-Aligner.
Sources of Supply
Edward J. Bennett, Co.