By Bill Thomas
The undisputed king of the woodshop is the 10-inch cabinet saw. Along with a good workbench, a well-tuned and -outfitted cabinet saw with a good blade and a proper out-feed is the beating heart of the shop. As such, choosing which saw to buy is a big decision. A good machine will prove both versatile and reliable dimensioning sheet goods, cross-cutting and ripping lumber, cutting dadoes and joinery such as finger-joints and tenons, and, occasionally, as a dead-true surface for the assembly of chairs and other tricky projects. It should last a lifetime.
Not so long ago the choices for 10-inch, 3-hp table saws were limited to a few tools regarded as industry standards. But the category is growing. I tested six models: the Delta 36-L31X-BC50, Grizzly G1023SL, Jet JTAS-10XL50-1, Laguna TS, Powermatic Model 66, and the SawStop 31230. Prices range from almost $1,000 to $2,800, and while in some cases you get what you pay for, there were a few surprises and several key innovations.
Table saws are pretty simple machines, but if a saw is not dead true or if its fence slips or its blade wanders, the saw is not only useless, it's dangerous. Settings that aren't dependable or true can result, in the best case, with poor work or, in the worst case, with a trip to the emergency room. When evaluating these six saws I looked closely at overall fit and finish, the size and quality of the trunnions, and other critical components. I also tested for power, ease of adjustment and use, table size, and quality of construction. Also very important in my evaluation were fences, dust collection, and maximum cut capacities. I investigated standard equipment and options that might make the saws more versatile as well. Finally, safety was an important criterion throughout the test period.
With shipping weights approaching 900 pounds, the hardest part of assembling these saws is getting them off the truck. Once the saws were in my shop, putting them together was a straightforward installation of the rails and fences that shipped with the machines. Assembly time ranged from less than an hour for the Laguna to more than two hours for the Delta and Powermatic. All the manuals provided enough information for putting the saw together, but when it came time to dial in the saws, adjust stops, and check trueness, SawStop's 96-page treatise contained tons of detailed information on using, adjusting, and maintaining the saw, which was very helpful.
Assembling a table saw is only half the battle, however. Adjustments are the other half, and they must be dialed-in if the tool is going to perform well. Toward this end, I carefully checked each saw for trueness and made final adjustments before I started working. Several things are important to look at here. I was pleased to find all the tables acceptably flat; all were crowned or dished less than .004 inch, which I checked with a certified straightedge and feeler gauges. Each saw also arrived with the positive stops for blade tilt set at an accurate 90 and 45 degrees, and each saw produced dead-accurate cuts throughout the test.
Thankfully, the undercarriages on all the saws were adjusted, too, so the blades were parallel to the miter groove in the tabletop. If this adjustment is off, the saw will not cut true. In most cases it is a bear to make this adjustment, so I was glad I didn't have to fiddle with it.
Fit, Finish, & Quality
Fit and finish in this group were up to snuff. The machines had no rough edges or unfair surfaces. All the castings were great, even underneath, and all the cabinet doors closed easily and latched tightly. Even the paint jobs were good. Laguna's finish was the most basic, but it suited the massive, no-nonsense design of the tool. Powermatic and newcomer SawStop boasted flawless finishes with highly polished tabletops.
All this polish is fine, but the meat of a cabinet saw–the trunnion–lies just under the table, housing the arbor and motor supports. It moves up and down when the blade is raised and lowered, and it swings in an arc when the blade angle is adjusted. If a saw sports a wimpy trunnion, if it is not well-made, then the saw will vibrate excessively and adjustments will be sloppy–both poor qualities for a cabinet saw. Grizzly and Jet certainly had undercarriages that were up to the task; Delta's was a click above these; and Powermatic, Laguna, and SawStop equipped their saws with truly ironclad trunnions.
Each saw tested ships with a 3-hp, 230-volt motor. Each saw also is equipped with a magnetic switch, an important safety consideration because it shuts the saw off in case of a power interruption. For example, if you blow a breaker and forget to switch the saw off before power is restored, the blade doesn't jump to life.
On these saws, power is transferred to the blades either by a single belt or several belts working in tandem. Both systems worked fine; there was no slippage on any saw during the test, even when muscling through hardwoods. The Powermatic, SawStop, and Laguna ran the smoothest and had the most flawless drive systems. I used new, sharp carbide-tipped blades on each saw, and none had trouble ripping eight-quarter mahogany and oak.