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Review: Table Saw Shootout

Review: Table Saw Shootout

If you've shopped around, you know there's a variety of saws available in a wide range of prices. In this review we'll focus on saws that fall in the mid-price category, commonly called the "contractor's saw." The combination of quality features and affordable price make these saws a perfect choice for the home shop.

Craftsman 22839
If all it took was a good fence to make a great table saw, the new Craftsman model 22839 would win this test. To say this fence surprised me would be an understatement.

When I got the saw, I was suspicious the fence rails were missing, because there was only one shipping box. It turns out that the rails are each two pieces. That sent up the red flags. But the pieces aligned fine. The fence that rides those rails is about as resistant to racking as any I’ve used — even very expensive models. Plus, it locks down tight.

But a good fence doesn’t do it all. When tilting the blade, the 45° and 90° stops seemed mushy. I soon realized the stops were fine. The problem is that the saw’s metal housing is so thin, that the sides flex as you crank the adjustment wheel against either stop. A reinforcing plate behind the wheel mount does little to help.

And I don’t understand why this saw comes with a steel blade. Craftsman needs to wake up and spend the few extra dollars for carbide. I’d also like to see more than 24" rip capacity.

Price: $500
Motor: 1 ½ - hp (13 amp) 110v
Blade: 64-tooth steel-tipped
Blade Tilt: Left
Warranty: 1 year
Web Site: Sears Craftsman

Virtues: A surprisingly easy-to-move, accurate, and rack-free fence; good miter gauge.
Vices: Open-housing motor; no carbide-tipped blade; thin metal housing.
Verdict: The fence is fantastic, but the saw does have a few shortcomings. Fix those, and this saw would rank much higher.

Delta 36-650
In a tightly-bunched field, Delta’s new 36-650 brings home our Editor’s Choice award by delivering the best performance overall. It didn’t run away with any category, but offered that extra margin in a few areas that pushed it over the top.

An example of this is the new fence. It’s a no-frills model, similar to the Jet. But this one locks easily, and is very adjustable for rack and toe-out. One quirk with this fence is that the measurement indicator is on the left side. I usually rip with the fence to the right of the blade, which means that a workpiece covers up the indicator. That makes it tough to fine tune a cut.

I do like the power switch mounted out on the front rail. You lift up a guard to access the “on” switch, but just push on the guard with your hand or thigh to shut the saw down. The 36-650 also ran quietly, and cut smoothly in every type and thickness of stock I tried. Delta does produce this saw overseas, which helps make the price one of the best in the test group.

The blade guard is this saw’s biggest disappointment. It’s flimsy, and the guard can’t be flipped it up out of the way, which is a real hassle when setting the blade height. Overall, though, the 36-650 offers the best combination of performance, features, and price in this test.

Price: $500
Motor: 1 ½ - hp (15 amp) 110/220v
Blade: 36-tooth carbide-tipped
Blade Tilt: Right
Warranty: 2 years
Web Site:Delta Woodworking

Virtues: Competitive price; fence moves and locks easily; quiet; well-balanced.
Vices: No leg levelers; flimsy blade guard that won’t stay up; cheap miter gauge.
Verdict: The 36-650 offers rock-solid performance, but please Delta, give it a better blade guard.

Check the charts on the next two pages, and you can see that the Jet measured up in almost every category. Just a couple complaints slipped this saw into second place.

Most notable is the fence. It moves easily, and is plenty beefy. But the locking mechanism isn’t very positive. That may be due to a very short locking handle that doesn’t offer much leverage. The short length also puts your thumb close to the lever’s mounting hole, where it can get pinched.

The fence isn’t bad, it’s just getting a bit long in the tooth, and newer designs have gotten better. I also couldn’t get the fence’s measurement indicator to align with the scale on the rail. Apparently the scale was located in the wrong spot. To fix the problem, I had to cut a notch in the indicator before mounting it to the fence.

The 45° and 90° blade stops are also located under the table. That’s not a big deal other than during the initial setup.

Back on the positive side, the JWTS-10JF does have good things to offer. The fit and finish is great, and the table surface is honed flat. I also like this saw’s low stance. It helps you get leverage over the workpiece.

The Jet’s cutting performance is also first rate. There’s plenty of power, and the cut edges are smooth. In the end, the Jet landed into second place by a slim margin.

Price: $525
Motor: 1 ½ - hp (18 amp) 110/220vv
Blade: 28-tooth carbide-tipped
Blade Tilt: Right
Warranty: 2 year
Web Site: Jet Tools

Virtues: Great fit and finish; convenient height; smooth adjustments; powerful.
Vices: Open legs won’t accept pads or levelers; fence lock isn’t positive.
Verdict: The JWTS-10JF has been a top contender in this category for years. It just needs freshened up to stay in that spot.

Right out of the box, the Ridgid impressed me with labels identifying every box and bag of parts. It’s a small touch, but a thoughtful one.

The Ridgid also has a fence with a positive locking mechanism. The fence does tend to rack when slid back and forth. But push the fence head forward against the rails (like the little label says to), and it locks down parallel to the blade.

Another positive that’s hard to ignore is this saw’s lifetime warranty. Few tools can match it.

What cost this saw a lot in our standings is the motor. Most of the other saws use totally-enclosed fan-cooled (TEFC) motors. But this motor is open, so sawdust can easily get into the works. The motor did offer plenty of power, and drove the blade easily through all cuts I made.

Another downside is that the Ridgid offers only 24" rip capacity. The others (except Craftsman) have 30" capacity. And Ridgid doesn’t offer a larger-capacity fence option. Some of these complaints can be worked around, but one that can’t is the lack of a blade height lock. I think any saw really has to have one.

Price: $470
Motor: 1 ½ - hp (13 amp) 110/220vv
Blade: 24-tooth carbide-tipped
Blade Tilt: Left
Warranty: Lifetime
Web Site: RIDGID Tools

Virtues: Low price; lifetime warranty; good fence lock; blade kerf indicator on table.
Vices: Stands tall; open-housing motor; just 24" rip capacity; no blade height lock.
Verdict: With a wider rip capacity and an enclosed, fan-cooled motor, this saw could be a contender.

Dewalt DW746
It’s not a contractor’s saw, but it’s not a cabinet saw either. That’s what anyone — including the folks at DeWalt — will tell you about the DW746. It’s a tough tool to get a handle on.

On the plus side, I love the compactness of this saw. That’s mainly due to the motor that’s mounted underneath instead of hanging out the back like the other saws.

I also like the shroud around the blade that directs dust and chips right into a dust collection port. And the fence leaves you longing for very little. It’s hefty, accurate, and has an adjustable face. The switch is great, too. You can simply bang it with your knee to shut the saw down.

On the downside, the cast table wasn’t very flat, at least on the saw we tested. And the motor — touted as 1/4-hp stronger than the others — bogged down on tough rip cuts.

But the bottom line is price. At $900, it’s just too high. For that money I can set up a regular contractor’s saw with a 52" fence and still buy accessories. I think DeWalt needs to knock a couple hundred off the price to make this saw competitive.

Price: $900
Motor: 1 ¾ - hp (15 amp) 110/220vv
Blade: 30-tooth carbide-tipped
Blade Tilt: Left
Warranty: 2 years
Web Site: Dewalt

Virtues: Under-mounted motor; heavy-duty fence; knee switch; integrated dust pickup.
Vices: Price is too high; saw whined when resawing; cast table not very flat.
Verdict: DeWalt has done a lot of things right on this saw. But the price is too high, almost into cabinet saw range.

Powermatic 64A
The 64A from Powermatic is the latest evolution of a saw that’s been around for quite a few years. And this saw shows how refining a good design can pay off.

The good things here start with the table. It’s flat and finely honed. With the addition of the cast iron wings, the table provides a large work area. Plus, all that iron adds vibration-reducing weight to the saw, helping it run smooth and quiet.

The 64A is the only saw tested that comes with two throat plates (the plate around the blade). One is standard, the other has a wider opening to accept a dado set. Above the throat plate sits the best blade guard of the bunch. It has two halves that move independently. And those sides can be secured up out of the way when necessary.

Secure is also a good word for the fence. It’s based on the Biesemeyer design, and is built tough enough to park a tank on. It does rack a bit when slid back and forth, but locks down solid and parallel to the blade.

On the downside, adjusting the 45° and 90° stops does require reaching under the table, and it’s not an easy task. Also, removing the blade guard takes a little work.

So is this saw worth half again more than the others? Well, yes. Outfit any of them with cast wings and an equivalent fence, and you’ll spend the same money.

Price: $750
Motor: 1 ½ - hp (15 amp) 110/220v
Blade: 40-tooth carbide-tipped
Blade Tilt: Left
Warranty: 1 year
Web Site: Powermatic

Virtues: Cast iron wings; heavy-duty fence; best blade guard in the test; good switch.
Vices: Heavy; fence racks when moving; blade tilt wheel a bit hard to reach.
Verdict: This saw has everything you’d want for the price, including performance. But the lower-priced saws are closing in.

Details That Make a Difference
To the uninitiated, all contractor’s saws look alike — a cast iron table, 10"-dia. blade, open stand, and a midsize (about 11/2-horsepower) motor. But subtle differences (and a few more obvious ones) can affect how well they operate. Here are some other important features you should consider when buying a table saw.

See Our Choice
for Best Saw Blade Guard: Delta’s guard (left) won’t stay up, which is awkward. Powermatic’s (right) flips out of the

Power switch: Rail-mounted switches (left) are the norm. DeWalt’s (right) can be shut off with your knee.

Beveled Table: A square front table edge (left) can catch the miter gauge. A beveled edge (right) helps.

Stop Adjustments: Reaching underneath to set the stops (left) is tougher than up-top adjustments (right).

(c) 2002, August Home Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.

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