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Incra Ultra-Lite Review

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Neil

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The Incra Ultra-Lite is a 'positioning system' which allows adjustment of a fence on a router table/tablesaw/drillpress to accuracies of a few thousandths of an inch. It is the smallest system in the Incra range, but still has 12 1/2" of travel, more than enough for most tasks at the router table. Incra sell it as a joint-making jig, but it is so much more than this - it gives you fast, repeatable accuracy for all fence-based router table work, and once you have one you'll wonder how you managed without it. Apologies to those who already understand how it works, and to those who don't - I hope after reading this that you'll have more of an understanding, not less!

In the box

The Ultra-Lite model available in the UK is the full kit – the Ultra-Lite itself, fence, right-angle fixture, stop positioner, two templates and a few extra bits. All the major bits are shown below, except that I have swapped the black imperial racks for the optional ($6) metric ones which come in an ‘attractive’ green colour:



How it works

The main part of the system is in two parts – the clamp which must be fixed to the router table via a ¾” piece of ply, and the carriage. The key to the Incra system is the use of toothed racks on each of these parts – the teeth interlock when the clamp is in the upright position, locking the carriage solid. When the clamp is disengaged, the carriage can slide in and out freely.

Here we have the clamp (and racks) engaged:



and disengaged:



You’ll also notice that there is a piece of clear plastic with a black cursor line scribed on it, and some scales fitted into tracks on the carriage. The scales can be moved up and down the tracks, but are a sufficiently tight fit to stay put when you want them to.

Back to the racks. The teeth are spaced at intervals of 1/32” or 1mm depending on your choice of rack. With the teeth engaged and the carriage locked, you can ‘zero’ the scale by sliding it until the cursor lines up with a convenient measurement. Say that you want to move the fence by 20mm – you disengage the clamp, slide the carriage approximately to your 20mm offset on the scale, then engage the clamp. This is the clever bit – as the teeth come together, they force the carriage to move exactly to your measurement, as they can only interlock in exact 1mm intervals. I’ve tried to photograph this – not very successfully :oops:, but I think it is just about clear enough to demonstrate what is happening. The top rack is attached to the clamp section, the bottom rack to the carriage.

Here are the racks before engaging – you can see that the alignment is slightly out:



As the racks come together, the teeth hit each other and force the carriage to move – from right to left in this case:



Now the racks are interlocked, and the carriage has been forced to move to a measurement of a full number of mm:



So that is your basic system for moving the carriage – it is very fast and accurate. When doing jointmaking, this is the only system you need to use to move the carriage after the initial setup. The only precursor to this is that for box joints, you must use metric cutters with metric racks, or imperial cutters with imperial racks.

The Incra templates are basically scales with the divisions only at the places you need them for that particular joint – for example, the 3/8” box joint template which comes with the Ultra-Lite has divisions 3/8” apart. The instructions have a better description of the templates if you are more interested in them than I am! If you swap to metric racks, you will have to make your own templates - not exactly rocket science for box joints, but a bit more tricky for dovetails. PM me if you're having problems :wink:

Microadjustment

The Incra also has a system for microadjustment:



It is an analogue system and as such is infinitely variable, but the divisions you can see on the black adjustment knob correspond to a carriage movement of 1/512”, or as near as makes no difference, 0.05mm for metricians. If this is far too large an interval of movement for you :p, you’ll have to get an Ultra instead which has the divisions scribed for 1/1024” intervals!

The microadjustment is used for initial setup before jointmaking – basically centring the bit on the work. It is fantastic for getting close tolerances on things such as sliding dovetails, full-extension drawer runners such as those used by Chris here etc.

The other bits...

The right-angle fixture runs along the router table top on two pieces of semi-sacrificial ply (just in case you run past the bit and contact them :roll: ) and hooks over the top of the fence. There are three nylon screws on the inside:



The outer pair of screws have locking nuts and are used to adjust the tracking of the fixture. The centre screw can be used to lock the fixture in place on the rail – useful when you are trying to clamp your work to it! I must admit, though, that this is something that I would change about the design – it works well enough, but some system like the linear bearings used on the Jessem right-angle fixture would be much nicer. I guess this would bump up the price dramatically… :cry:

The Ultra-Lite model also comes with a simple stop positioner – the Ultra models have a more sophisticated version with fine adjustment:



Here is the setup used when jointmaking – mocked up here using a very unsuitable clamp (I must get a handscrew :oops:)



Once you have an Incra, you’ll want to use it for everything. The existing fence cannot be used with big cutters, however, as the opening in the fence is far too small. You can either buy an add-on Wonderfence from Incra, make some arrangement from MDF and bolt it on to the existing fence, or make your own Wonderfence-style arrangement. to fit in place of the existing fence. This gives me a chance to show off my add-on fence again:



Overall it is a very nice system, but it does have some limitations (the ‘Rat owners’ ears prick up – here comes the ammunition :p ) for dovetailing. Rather than write this up myself, I’m going to steal Chris’ words on the subject from this thread:

Waterhead37":1hd1emqy said:
As I have mentioned in the past, the Incra is best for jointing (dovetails/box joints) smaller dimensioned stock - like boxes. As you go up in size, the Woodrat and Leigh jigs start to become handier in my view. A main reason is that for cutting dovetails and box joints, the tailboard must be held vertically which is hard to do with a long heavy board stood on end on the router table - a lot easier hanging from the clamps in a Woodrat or Leigh. If one were to do this with the Incra, that is a reason to have a big distance from fence to cutter on the router table (dovetailing a wide carcase side for example). As I don't do this, I have not found that distance really necessary and as Tony mentioned elsewhere, I could happily cut 6 inches off my jig without penalty. A big distance could be useful to cut a housing in the ,middle of a shelf perhaps but I usually do that with a hand held router and a clamped on guide. I can and do use the Incra to make the matching male part of the dovetail or sliding tongue, if the piece is not too long - if it is, I will use the Rat.
With this restriction in mind, is it really worth going for one of the bigger Ultra models instead? Well, if you want the Incra templates, they come with 51 instead of 2. Then they have a much nicer microadjustable stop positioner, and an extension bar stop thingy. Pricewise, they are around £230...well, you know which I chose!

If you want a fantastic level of control over your router table, with the added bonus of joint-making abilities for relatively small items such as drawers/boxes, then I think it represents fantastic value at £141 – I wouldn’t be without mine :D

I bought my Ultra-Lite from Tilgear, but Rutlands and WoodworkersWorkshop stock them as well - it could be worth trying the latter first.

Alf, you are amazing - even a short review like this is hard work!!!!
 

Gill

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Neil, at last I understand how the Incra system works and I can see why it's so popular. At £141 it's a great temptation.

Thank you ever so much for such a well written review and clear photographs. The quality shows that you've obviously gone to a lot of trouble.

Gill
 

Alf

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Neil,

Excellent overview of the Incra. Love the rack engaging shots; really shows the nuts and bolts (well teeth, anyway) of how it works. And a gratuitous Festool clamp gloat too! :p Funnily enough I came within an ace of selling my 'Rat for an Incra at one time. I'd forgotten that. :oops:

Cheers, Alf

P.S. I would still have said it was excellent even without the last sentence, honest. :wink:
 

Philly

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Great review, Neil!
You've pretty much nailed how the thing works-but as with all these systems, until you actually use it you never quite "get it". The applications are never ending, and the fence is also suitable for you drill press, band saw, even small work on the table saw (they actually make a larger table saw version with the same high precision).
Personally, I love it reliability. You move the fence, lock it off and thats it. 100% right, with pretty much zero play.
For the money you can't go wrong, especially if you make smaller/finer work. Making carcases and wardrobes is not what this is about-detailed, quality work is where it excels.
Now, if only I could fit the Incra to my Littlerat.............. :roll: :lol:
Cheers
Philly :D
 

Gill

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Hi Philly

I'm a bear of little imagination. How would you use it on a drill press or bandsaw?

Gill
 

Charley

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Neil, great review - thanks :D

Think I might have just found the fence for my new router table :) (when I build it of course :roll: )
 

Aragorn

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Neil, thank you ever so much. :D
This is a really clear review for those of us who are un-initiated, showing how it works and getting a flavour of what it can do. Really appreciate the trouble you've gone to.

I see the wonderfence also incorporates dust extraction - what do you do about this?
... and I was wondering about accomodating larger router bits right from your first photo. Your shop-made solution looks really good, and incorporates a feather board as well, which doesn't appear to be there on the Incra version.
Nice one mate!
 

Philly

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Sorry Gill
Soon as I posted that I thought "wish I said how" :roll:
The clamp end of the jig gets mounted on a piece of 3/4 ply or whatever. This is then attached to the router table (on mine I have used two bolts that allow me to easily remove and replace it). The base could be mounted on the table of your drill press, or instead of the fence of your band saw. You slide the fence up to the blade, zero the scale and then you can very accurately set the fence, using the scale to set width of cut, etc.
Any clearer? Probably not, so I'll get some photo's! :wink:
Cheers
Philly :D
 

Neil

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Aragorn":1l356z10 said:
I see the wonderfence also incorporates dust extraction - what do you do about this?
I have a tube running from one end to the opening in the middle:


This shot of the insides of the fence shows it better:


It works much better than I expected :D More blurb about it here

Alf":1l356z10 said:
And a gratuitous Festool clamp gloat too!
Surely you didn't miss the twin Festool guide rails - I pulled the router table over to the doorway just so I could get them in the background :p

Cheers everyone,
Neil
 
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Lovely review Neil - and about time too!!! :lol:

I was surprised to see how it differs in from the Ultra 24 in so many areas (clear from your photos). These are an outstanding piece of kit and most definitely one of my best piurchases.
 

Gill

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Hi Philly

I'm really wondering what you could do with one of these on a drill press that you couldn't do at a router table. Also, bandsaws are notorious for their bias and/or tracking errors, so I'm wondering why you would want to use one with something as precise as an Incra.

Gill
 

tim

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Neil,

Many thanks - as others have said - your review has made it very clear. Good pics make such a difference as well.

Tony":27o3u2ni said:
I was surprised to see how it differs in from the Ultra 24 in so many areas (clear from your photos). These are an outstanding piece of kit and most definitely one of my best piurchases.
Okay Tony - your turn now! There is quite a price difference so given your pleasure I would love to know why it would be worth paying the difference.

Cheers

Tim
 

Alf

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Neil":2c1oxxwn said:
Alf":2c1oxxwn said:
And a gratuitous Festool clamp gloat too!
Surely you didn't miss the twin Festool guide rails - I pulled the router table over to the doorway just so I could get them in the background :p
Rats. I did miss them. I'm so used to a certain person's in your face gloats, I've lost the knack of spotting the subtle drive-by. :roll: :lol:

Philly":2c1oxxwn said:
Now, if only I could fit the Incra to my Littlerat..............:roll: :lol:
Someone did just that, IIRC. There was a piccy of it on the Yahoo Woodrat forum - now defunct :evil:

Cheers, Alf
 

dedee

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Neil, great review thanks.

If I ever get the gateleg router table off the drawing board then an incra fence of some sort will be part of the design.


Andy
 

Waka

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Neil

Great review. My Incra Ultralite is on the table but not yet done the final line up and zeroing. Looking forward to having a pay when I get home.

Like the extra fence you have made, certainly beats buying the wonderfence.
 

RogerS

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Neil

How does the fence fit onto the UltraLite? From the photos it looks like a slender joint and so I was wondering whether you could flex the extreme ends of the fence -relative to the UltraLite...and so spoil all that wonderful precision!

I think I remember reading something about this on another site IIRC

Roger
 

Neil

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Roger Sinden":10kxb136 said:
How does the fence fit onto the UltraLite? From the photos it looks like a slender joint and so I was wondering whether you could flex the extreme ends of the fence -relative to the UltraLite...and so spoil all that wonderful precision!
Roger, the fixing is pretty stiff - here is a pic with my alternative fence mounted onto the fixing points:



I don't think you would have to worry about movement when doing precise operations which would generally be on fairly small stock (drawer components etc.) The only time I think you could have any risk of a problem is for something like moulding a 20' length of skirting, which is why I put grooves at the ends of my supplementary fence for the Festool clamps - see pic in reply to Aragorn above.

Cheers,
Neil
 

johnjin

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Neil
Thanks a lot for this review. I have read this with great interest and all the way through I was thinking about the flexing. But Roger asked the question and thanks for the answer which to me took away my last worry about this clever looking piece of equipment.
All I need now is the money.
Thanks again for a great review and very clear pictures

John
 

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