Monday, September 24, 2007

Tool Review: Milescraft SignCrafter

I bought the Milescraft SignCrafter at Keim Lumber and waited until this week to assemble and test it. I immediately discovered that one nut in the end assemblies was missing. This allowed the aluminum bars to flex enough that, no matter how tightly the clamps were set, the bars flexed and allowed letters to drop out of the channels and ruin the work. I called the factory (the most negative comment about this product really relates to the lousy phone system at Milescraft when calling for a replacement part. Better to write them at P O Box 737, 270 N State Street, Hampshire IL 60140).

Once I received the missing part I was able to place letters in the aluminum bars and they stayed rigid throughout the routing process. The instructions are complete enough to assemble the unit and to set up the router. There could have been more instructions or suggestions relating to using the unit and adjusting it to different work needs.

My first project was routing initials onto the end panels of beer carriers. The carriers are only 10" wide while the shortest aluminum bars are 18" long. As the picture above shows, I needed to use filler strips on each side in order to fill in the width difference. I completed a placement jig by installing a filler strip above the unit so that the letters were centered right-left and top-bottom. The picture shows the initials "SS" for routing. You have to use other letters to fill in the space on the aluminum bars. A little bit of forethought and practice are essential.

The number of pieces that come with this kit creates a need for extra storage. You get two sets of large and two sets of small letters and numbers, two bushings, a router bit, a centering tool, bar extensions, four aluminum bars, a router base, and two end units. I moved all the smaller items to a small plastic tool box. The top section houses all the smaller items and the bottom section houses all the letters and numbers. I put in a couple hardboard dividers to help keep the letters and numbers in order. Hopefully, this organization will make it easier to keep track of parts and find the letters I need. I still use the original packing box for the aluminum bars, router base plate, and the two end units.

I have no experience with any similar product so I cannot compare the SignCrafter to any other system. It seems as though the product is well-made and performs simple letter/number routing quite adequately. At a little under $40 it becomes a rather expensive investment for just one project. I hope to find other uses for it.

One hint I found on the web page for this item suggested blackening in the letters to create a starker contrast with the wood. I tried this and liked the results. It added to the clarity of the letters and also covered up the router bit burns in the cherry wood.
A really thorough tool review is available at OnLine Tool It is full of pictures which help in the learning process.

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