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Woodworker finds new angle

Inventions help adjust table saws to make precision cuts

WHITE CITY — Woodworking enthusiast Wayne Tarris spent his share of time hunched over his table saw trying to adjust the height or angle of his saw blade.

He knows the frustration of fiddling with adjustments, forever trying to get the blade set just right to cut the perfect joint for a nice piece of furniture.

So the Medford man developed a pair of woodworking products designed to take some of the guesswork and angst out of the equation.

BladeGauge and Angle Perfect hit the market about three months ago, selling primarily through woodworking catalogs. Pacific Rack and Machine, the White City company owned by Tarris and partner Ron Farrar, has patents pending on both.

Both products, which sell for $39.95 each, use lighted displays to show woodworkers when the saw blade is at the desired height or angle. The gauges work on metal table saw tops; when the blade is at the proper angle or height it touches a sensor, completing a simple circuit that lights the display.

There are other gauges on the market. But Tarris says most aren't large enough to get beyond the island around the blade and be accurate.

The BladeGauge allows woodworkers to set blade height in eighth-inch increments up to 2 inches; a new version will have 32nd-of-an-inch settings. The Angle Perfect has both 45-degree and 90-degree angles.

While such precision may seem obsessive, it is important for high-quality projects.

If you want to make a fine piece of furniture, you need to get that accurate, Tarris says.

Tarris moved from the Silicon Valley to the Rogue Valley in 1982 and started a contract electronics manufacturing and assembly business, originally called Beaver Electronics. The company eventually grew to 270 employees before he sold it in 1996. It's now called Millennium Technology Services, or MTS.

After selling the company, Tarris took an interest in woodworking and eventually built a 900-square-foot shop in his back yard. But he found the learning curve for his new hobby to be fairly sharp. He learned through the Siskiyou Woodworking Guild and even paid for some private instruction.

Tarris noticed the popularity of woodworking magazines and shortcut products aimed at amateurs coming to the craft with limited woodworking experience. He saw an opportunity.

The Baby Boomers are coming of age, he says. They are looking for things to do with their hands and, like me, they don't have a lot of skills.

Some things, like adjusting blade heights and angles, just seemed harder than they needed to be. So Tarris started applying his old manufacturing skills to his new hobby.

In addition to the two gauge products, he also developed a sturdy yet affordable workbench that has large metal legs and a solid hardwood top.

Unlike many folks who come up with a good concept, Tarris had an idea of what it takes to develop a product. He knew it would mean big financial risks and a large time commitment, working through everything from manufacturing to packaging and marketing.

So far, he's been pleased. He's sold about 1,000 gauges and gotten the products covered in popular trade magazines and included in a number of well-known woodworking tool catalogs. Pacific Rack and Machine is also selling its product via the Internet at www.bigleg.com or by phone at (877) 220-2699.

Many of the product components are manufactured locally and Tarris and his wife have done much of the assembly. They plan to ramp up manufacturing once they're convinced the market is strong for the products.

Wayne Tarris demonstrates how his table-saw gauge checks the blade angle. Tarris? White City company, Pacific Rack and Machine, makes and markets two blade gauges for woodworkers. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven