When we bought our 230-volt Mafell Erika 70 E Pull-Push Saw with optional extension and sliding crosscut tables a decade ago, it cost almost $2,000. The current Erika 70 Ec adds power, comes with a 120- or 230-volt motor, and costs about twice that with the same accessories. For the top-notch finish work we do, though, we would still pony up for it. The saw is equally at home in our shop and on the jobsite (it hooks to a vacuum, and the legs fold up, so it can sit on a table). You usually find quality and durability like this only in a production cabinet shop.
Powering an 8 7/8-inch Mafell blade, the Erika can rip like a table saw and crosscut like a sliding compound-miter saw, though we typically reserve it for crosscutting. With the base model, you crosscut by locking down the fence where you want it, holding the material against it, and pulling a knob up front to draw the blade through the material. It's unconventional, but it produces exceptionally clean crosscuts up to 13 3/8 inches long. However, we usually use the optional sliding table (see slideshow) for crosscutting. It smoothly feeds the material through the blade and expands the crosscutting capacity to an impressive 35 5/8 inches, which is great for trimming panels, cabinet doors, and other wide materials.The Erika comes with a riving knife and a blade guard, but we rarely use the guard because it would interfere with most of our cutting operations. Also, when crosscutting, our saw never binds or kicks back, and it's easy to keep fingers away from the blade. With the guard removed, we get incomparable visibility, which helps when nibbling trim for a perfect fit. We also can stand large drawers on the sliding table and easily trim a hair off the length or width of the face.
The scale on the front rail is metric, but two marks precisely reference both sides of the blade. That allows us to align our cut marks with the appropriate reference mark and push through. Compound cuts are quick and easy; just rotate the fence to the desired angle and crank over the blade.
We still use sliding compound-miter saws, but at least three of them have died since we bought the Erika, and the Erika is still as good as new. On site, our carpenters routinely rough-chop the trim using our sliders and then use the Erika for the final cuts. That's a pretty strong testimonial.
William Dillon is a project manager, co-owner, and member of the Management Committee withSouth Mountain Co., an employee-owned design/build firm on Martha's Vineyard, Mass.