Miter gauges are pretty basic creatures. All the tested gauges worked well, though the SawStop, Delta, and Powermatic offer a slightly nicer fit and finish on theirs and each has nice stops at 45 and 90 degrees. Laguna's gauge is the best-built in the lot, and it boasts a larger-than-average aluminum fence. If you often alternate between the left and right miter grooves when cross-cutting, this long fence will need to be adjusted each time you change sides, which is a drawback for how I work.
SawStop's switch is large and easy to activate; it's easy to de-activate with a bump of the knee.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
For years most table saw manufacturers were content to ignore dust collection or at best just let the dust pile up in the saw cabinet somewhere near a 4-inch dust port. Those dark days may be behind us. On most of the tested saws, the cabinet floor slopes down to meet the dust port. This is an improvement, to be sure, but Laguna and SawStop go one step further: Both have a shroud that surrounds the blade with an integrated hose. When connected toa dust collector, most of the dust is sucked away. If you use the blade guard that comes with the Laguna, you can attach a smaller hose to an incorporated fitting that catches the dust coming off the blade, resulting in virtually dust-free cutting–a great boon when ripping miles of lumber or materials like MDO. Having used this system I don't think I would settle for less.
Options & Upgrades
Each saw's arbor accepted up to at least a 3/4-inch dado blade, and Grizzly and SawStop included extra inserts with an opening large enough for dado work, which is convenient.
SawStop and Laguna both provide a working riving knife and blade guard that I really liked.
Laguna's tool also is more easily upgradable than the others–with upgrades including a sliding table and a scoring unit that are not simply add-ons but are incorporated into the original design. In fact, the scoring unit comes with a separate motor and switch. I really like this because for more than 15 years I've worked on a basic 10-inch cabinet saw equipped with a sliding table. Of course, shop-built cross-cut sleds that perform the same task as the sliding table are common, but a sliding table is central to the way I work and I'd hate to give mine up.
Laguna's blade guard with vacuum port is terrific. Fine dust is gobbled up at the source; heavier stuff falls away for secondary collection.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
It's not any single detail that makes or breaks any of these table saws. What matters to me is how the parts work together. Location of adjustments and ease of operation, the location of on/off switches, overall quality–and safety–determine how friendly a tool is.
Grizzly and Jet offer basic tools with good access to the cabinet and undercarriages, and nice placement of handwheels and power switches. The Delta and Powermatic saws both sport nicer power switches and very smooth and easy-to-use wheels. Access to the workings is typical.
Laguna and SawStop set the bar a bit higher with their handwheels and switches. SawStop's are very smooth-running and lock down soundly while its large power switch is easy to locate an d use in a jam. The action of Laguna's switch took a few minutes to get used to, but worked fine. The Laguna's large handwheels are nicely located and worked smoothly, too. Access to the cabinet is limited, however, because a cover must be unbolted, but the large throat plate helps here.
For blade changes, Delta, Jet, Powermatic, and SawStop provide two wrenches: one that fits on the saw arbor to lock it in place and one the fits on the arbor nut. The Grizzly also has a flat spot on the arbor, but it doesn't include a wrench. Laguna provides a locking rod that slides through a hole in the tabletop and then into a hole in the saw arbor. Both systems lock things in place nicely while the blade is changed. Thanks guys!
Guards & Safety Features
Despite what you're probably expecting, there's something positive to say about guards–I was blown away by the Laguna's and the SawStop's riving knives and blade guards. They work, they can be adjusted, and it takes just moments to remove them for cuts where they might get in the way, like a tenon. All table saws should have guards like these.
In addition to the blade guard and an easy-to-use off switch, SawStop incorporates a unique safety system–if something you don't want to cut, say your fingertip, comes in contact with the spinning blade, a brake is applied. Within a few milliseconds the blade stops and disappears below the table. Wow. How well does this system work? Some things you take on faith, but the demonstrations I have seen of the system are impressive.
I could make a living on any of these machines, and with just a few modifications each of these saws could be set up to suit the way I work in my shop. The Grizzly and Jet machines are both fine tools. Between the two, I'd choose the Jet because of its fence. Delta and Powermatic are both a step up, and I like the Powermatic because of its nicer fence and a heavier undercarriage.
SawStop and Laguna are the two saws that piqued my interest the most. Both were very well built and I am totally sold on the idea of a working riving knife and easily removable blade guard. SawStop's additional safety feature is just short of amazing–a real plus for an already excellent saw. But when push comes to shove, I'd go with the Laguna because of its built-in upgradability and the option of easily adding that sliding table I like so much. Old habits die hard.
–Bill Thomas is a veteran woodworker, wooden boat builder, and writer from South Berwick, Maine, and is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.
A lot can go wrong when a 3-hp motor gets together with a 10-inch saw blade. It's an inherently dangerous combination. Good work habits and a well-tuned saw go a long way toward tilting the odds in your favor, though. A few other things can help, as well:
- The opening in the table that the blade passes through should be as small as possible and the wood being cut should be well-supported.
- Dust needs to be controlled and the workspace around the saw should be kept clean.
- Keep your body off-line from the blade. Make sure that if anyone else is in the shop that they don't walk or work behind the blade, either.
- Always adjust the blade to the proper working height; usually just above the work surface.