I started making snowboards in my parents' basement as a high school student in 1987. The centerpiece of that shop was a contractor table saw and a Biesemeyer fence. Today, I manufacture custom snowboards and skis in a 5,000-square-foot facility. A full-sized cabinet saw and a Biesemeyer-style fence are still key components in the production of every board. On a busy day of wood core production, we rip more than 2,000 lineal feet of lumber on our saw to dimension it prior to lamination, but this year I did it all while testing and comparing eight hybrid table saws.
Hybrid saws are a relatively new class of table saw introduced by DeWalt with its DW746 in 1999. Because of the vagueness of the term "hybrid," they are also referred to as light-duty cabinet saws. Basically in between a contractor's open stand saw and a shop-grade cabinet saw with all but the DeWalt using a fully enclosed cabinet. The hybridization is usually assumed to be the smaller contractor motor paired with a cabinet stand and internal motor mount; but more accurately, the true distinction is based on the trunnion design. Hybrid saws use contractor saw trunnion assemblies, which are built lighter and typically hang mounted from the bottom of the table versus the beefier cabinet saw trunnion assemblies, which are supported by the top of the cabinet itself. It's true that all of the motors have moved inboard, but the Craftsman and Steel City designs are the only to use cabinet support with a contractor-style trunnion in this new class of saw, making them the only true candidates to be called light-duty cabinet saws. While interpretations of the class may vary between manufacturers, the price points on the machines we tested ran a tight range from $700 to $1,200 with most between $900 and $1,000. This is a 10-inch-blade saw that might be taken to a jobsite and set up for an extended time or used in a smaller woodworking shop.
I tested the Craftsman 22124, Delta Machinery 36-717, DeWalt DW746X, General International 50-220CM1, Grizzly G0478, Hitachi C10LA, Jet JWSS-10CSPF, and Steel City Tool Works 35601.
The first things I looked at included how easy it was to put together, the overall fit and finish of the machine, and the features and accessories that came with it. Next I looked at how precisely the machine was put together, and I tested blade and fence parallelism relative to the miter slots and the ease of adjusting the fence into an acceptable calibration parallel with the blade. Finally, I tested the power of each machine in a ripping speed competition while paying close attention to dust collection performance.
Out of the Box
Assembly. Though time consuming, assembling the machines was an excellent way to get a good idea of what I really liked about each one. It took anywhere from one hour and 45 minutes to four hours to put these saws together.
The Craftsman took the longest to put together at about four hours; the relatively light cabinet stand needed to be squared up to get the trunnion into proper adjustment. The Craftsman's basic construction was virtually identical to the Steel City saw, which, along with the Delta, DeWalt, General, and Grizzly saws, took around two and a half hours to assemble. The Jet saw had the second-longest assembly time at just over three hours while the Hitachi went together the fastest in one hour and 45 minutes.
The time it takes to assemble may be important to you if you plan to move the saw to different sites and don't wish to leave the saw in one piece while moving it. The DeWalt was unique because it could be completely assembled and disassembled with three included tools, thus adding to its practical portability.
Fitting all the components together on some machines required extra work that wasn't included in the manuals. The Craftsman had holes in the table that didn't line up accurately with the fence rails. Delta's blade guard and splitter interfered with the throat plate. I had to take a mini grinder to the splitter to get them both on the machine. On the Jet, I had to grind an extension wing in order to fit it over the arbor pulley guard.
Features and Accessories. No saw came with a mobile base, but we outfitted them to make testing easier. Included accessories varied dramatically from machine to machine. The DeWalt saw came with a full-kerf 30-tooth blade. The General and the Jet came with storage hooks for the fence and miter gauge. The Jet also included a handy miter gauge extension fence and a push stick. The Delta included hooks to store the fence and miter gauge. The Steel City came with a full-kerf 40-tooth blade and provided storage for the fence that doubles as storage for the miter gauge.
The Craftsman has an impressive list of included add-ons: a tool-free collapsible outfeed table, storage for both fence and miter gauge, a hold-down clamp for the miter gauge, a miter gauge extension fence, and a thin-kerf 40-tooth blade. The Hitachi came with a 40-tooth thin-kerf blade and has fence and miter gauge storage hooks. The saw has a nice blade-locking mechanism requiring only one wrench for blade mounting and removal. This machine has a unique design placing both the tilt and height adjustment cranks on the front of the machine. Unfortunately, the crank handles are a bit too small, making adjustments jerky and cumbersome. The Hitachi is the only machine sporting a blade tilt indicator/window in the tabletop. This feature eliminates the need to bend down or kneel in the dust when adjusting tilt angle. It also has a fixed outfeed table.
The Grizzly came with no accessories, not even a power cord end, but scored high with the basics: heavy, stable castings for the table, massive handwheels, and a substantial cabinet. The Craftsman and Delta machines came with original Biesemeyer fences while four others had clones. The Steel City and Jet machines' tubular steel T-fences were nearly identical to the Biesemeyer in operation and control while Grizzly's was the smoothest-gliding fence of all, incorporating an adjustable foot that slides along–actually making use of– the back rail, making movement effortless. The General came with a similar fence, but it locks in place by lifting the locking handle rather than pushing it down. While I had no problems with this locking mechanism, it seemed more likely to be accidentally unlocked than the standard push down mechanisms. Also, fence operation is impaired by the round-head screws General uses to mount the fence rail, which cause the fence to bump into the screw heads and jam when slid.
The DeWalt fence rides on a front circular steel tube and the Hitachi uses extruded aluminum for its fence rails. Hitachi's fence is the only one that locks on the front and back rails.
Precision. I was highly impressed with the precision of each machine as it came out of the box. I used a reference plate that goes in place of the saw blade and a dial indicator that runs down the miter slot to measure and calibrate blade and fence parallelism with respect to the tables' miter slots. The Steel City saw had the least amount of blade misalignment at less than .001 inch. All the others measured between .001 inch and .005 inch. The fence on the Hitachi came parallel to its miter slots within .003 inch right out of the box. All the others were very easily brought within .005 inch of parallel over the 27-inch dimension.