Well prepared but nonsense user manuals

Many user manual are badly printed or full of gibberish horridly translated from another language. Mostly you can work out what they meant as the subject matter is simple.

Consider the converse situation. The subject is complex and the manual is well presented and written in grammatically correct English but the content is misleading or incomprehensible.

I recently bought a new saw, a Makita slide compound mitre saw. This is an expensive and sophisticated bit of kit for doing clever and accurate woodworking cuts. The model I bought is well made, well designed, powerful and very capable; it ought to be for $1400.

The saw came with a comprehensive 30 page manual. At first it looked pretty good but then I got into reading it and things took a down turn. This gets very technical so I am going to abstract the problem so you won’t go to sleep before the end.

The problem concerns adjusting the laser indicator. Ideally the laser aligns with the edge of the blade so that you set the work under the laser where you want to cut and that is exactly where the blade cuts.

The instructions for the laser adjustment:

  • Instructions are in two places in the manual and they contradicted each other.
  • Parts were given uninformative names that did not describe their purpose.
  • Safety instructions were garbled, firstly saying to take care as the tool must be plugged in while doing the adjustment and then saying (unnecessarily) to unplug it to perform the first step.
  • There are three adjusting screws that alter the laser position, how (or if) they work together is not explained.
  • One segment of the method goes via Timbuktu, it could be clearer in about one quarter of the words if done properly.

There are many ‘how-to’ videos on the web that are done by people who actually know what they are doing. No luck this time. The only one who specifically mentioned calibrating the laser said the manual was no use and he had to work it out himself but then didn’t say what he worked out!

So I phoned Makita and asked for technical support. There is none. The speaker consulted with somebody but would not let me speak to them. She said ‘read the manual’, I said the manual is the problem. She said speak to the retailer. There is no workshop manual available.

I am aware that under consumer law the retailer is the first point of contact but in this case I thought it unlikely that they would know and understand the setup procedure for each of the thousands of power tools they sell. Even if they did it would not be practical to unbox another saw and set it up so they could walk me through it on the phone. The beast weighs over 50 kg when assembled and the retailer is 2 hours drive away so taking it back to get a lesson is also impractical.

I have now worked it out after hours of frustration. I suspect there are thousands of users out there who didn’t and so are not getting the best out of their saw. There is a school of thought that laser indicators are a waste of time because they are never accurate. This manual contributes to that situation.

How stupid of Makita to not have an expert who speaks English check the manual before it goes to print and to then provide zero redress for that failure. They have succeeded in making a good product look bad.


Since you may or may not have figured out how to set it up how do you know it is a good product? A ‘well made’ product is not necessarily a good one or even fit for purpose. It could be rubbish in operation and they could blame a poor user experience on the lack of proper setup. :roll_eyes:

I have in fact figured it out because it now passes the test that the blade cuts where the laser falls. Before setting out to spend time on a problem it is advisable to determine the criteria for success.

It is very good in operation now that it is set up correctly. My only problem is with the manual, fortunately that is a one off that will not bother me again.

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I always wondered what the quality of our western language(s) manuals are when translated into Asian languages. Perhaps they are getting even?

I cannot say. Are there any fluent users of such languages who could comment?

My thinking is that for translation either way, at least for complex equipment, the final edit needs to be done by somebody who thoroughly understands the product and who is fluent in the target language. Makita clearly did not have such an editor.

I suspect the problem is that when you are selling world wide and the manual has to be in 10-15 languages it is easier to write it once in the native language and hire translators for the rest, than to find that number of translators who actually understand what is going on. The instructions for the laser calibration may have been just fine the original, or confused and contradictory, we will never know