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Safety Speed H4 Panel Saws Set the Stage for Scenery Construction

stage built using panel saw

Safety Speed Manufacturing vertical saws are the new backstage sensation of the Fairfax County Public Schools’  (FCPS) high school theater program. The Washington, DC-area school division is in the process of installing Safety Speed H4 vertical saws to enhance set construction at each of its 25 high schools.

Ken Wilson, safety specialist for FCPS, credited Tara Taylor, theatre and dance education specialist, for spearheading the saw project. “A couple of years ago Tara, who we call the den mother of our theatre program, sought my advice for improving scenery construction. Each of the high schools does two or three major productions per year. They require things like backdrops and platforms to stand on.” 

Students have long been involved with designing, painting and assembling set designs, but were very limited in cutting plywood and other materials used to construct the sets.

“We’ve never allowed a student to use a hand-held circular saw because of safety concerns,” Wilson said. “That meant the teachers had to cut the plywood or find another teacher, parent, older sibling of other adult to do it.”

Wilson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre lighting design, suggested that the schools consider purchasing vertical saws. The final choice quickly centered around Safety Speed Manufacturing.

“The fact that the circular saw is essentially held within a sled that only travels up and down makes it extremely safe,” Wilson said. “I suggested that anyone who needed to see what one looks like in the flesh stop by their nearest Home Depot. Everyone quickly said, ‘Yeah this looks pretty good.’”

Wilson said Taylor originally looked at models in Safety Speeds C range of saws. “I told her I thought we should go with the full width models so that we can not only cut rigid 4 x 8 sheets of plywood but also thinner materials like lauan that require the support of a full frame to prevent the panel from curling.”

The Safety Speed H4, an economical, full-sized vertical panel saw, ultimately won out. With a 3-1/4-hp, 15-amp industrial duty saw motor, the H4 can cut within 1/32 inch accuracy on a wide variety of materials up to 1-3/4 inch thick.

Safe and Space Saving
While safety was the top concern, saving space also was critical to choosing the H4 saws.

“I’ve looked at table saws and while some have special safety features available, there are still potential kick back issues,” Wilson said. “You also need a lot of area to run a full sheet of plywood flat. None of our facilities has that kind of space. The vertical saw was the answer, though some of our installations were down to the inch to get them to fit in the space we have.

The school’s maintenance department is finalizing the installation of 22 of the saws; the remaining three saws will be delayed due to planned renovations. “We’re securing the saws to walls so that won’t get pushed around,” Wilson said. He added that electricians were contracted to outfit each of the saws with a disconnect switch and create a dedicated circuit for each saw.

Wilson led an in-service day to train teachers how to use the H4. They in turn will train a few students chosen at each school how to operate the saw. “Students will only be able to use the saw if a teacher is there to supervise,” Wilson said.

Wilson gave the Safety Speed H4 vertical saw two thumbs up.

“The Safety Speed H4 is a good saw, it’s a safe saw and one that will hold up to extended use,” Wilson said. “The saw’s ability to do repeat cuts and for students to be able to do the cutting is huge. We can knock out work so much quicker. This is definitely going to take the quality of our carpentry up.”

Article written by Rich Christianson. 

Rich Christianson is the principal of Richson Media, a Chicago-based communications firm focused on the industrial woodworking sector. Rich is the former long-time editorial director and associate publisher of Woodworking Network

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