I’ve been using the new Skilsaw model SPT70WT-22 table saw for a month or so and overall it fit my expectations of a job site saw built for framing and rough carpentry. It didn’t quite make the cut for finer woodworking uses like glue-line rips and joinery, but Skil’s framing heritage endows this saw with more of an “outside dog” pedigree anyway. With it’s worm drive motor, it’s more at home with its feet planted in the dirt and sawdust of the job site than on a concrete floor.
Skil and Skilsaw
Before I get into the actual review, I wanted to clarify some potential confusion around the Skilsaw vs. Skil brands. Skilsaw is a relatively new sub-brand of Skil, established to differentiate the company’s professional line of tools from its DIY tools. Since being bought by Bosch in 1995, the Skil brand became somewhat confusing to customers. Most of their models were geared for the DIY market with warranties that were invalidated if the tools were put into service for professional or commercial work (which explains their absence from Tools of the Trade tests). Concurrently, Skil made heavy-duty circ saws for pros including their iconic worm drive saws (read our review of one here) and even a few sidewinders that joined their pro ranks in more recent years.
For a long while, the rule of thumb was that the tool lines were designated by color with the lesser models making up the “red tool line” while the heavy-duty tools were gray or black. But as red trade dress snuck into the heavy-duty line with magnesium models, this loosely-held convention was lost.
To remedy the brand’s identity crisis, Skil launched the Skilsaw brand in 2014 and relabeled all their pro line saws (formerly known as heavy duty saws) with the new name and logo. But despite this reorganization, some of Skil’s cheapest sidewinder saws and their red plastic DIY table saws are also emblazoned with “Skilsaw” across the tools, albeit in a different font. This weakens the message of the new branding to be sure, but I was told by a company spokesman that the rebranding is still a work in progress.
Out of the Box
When I first lifted the Skilsaw worm drive table saw I was impressed by its light-weight and easy handling. At 51 pounds and with a table size of 23 1/2 inches wide and a mere 20 inches front to back, this is a compact job site table saw - as small as the “flooring” table saw class, but somewhere in between that and a standard size job site saw. The Skilsaw could undoubtedly be attached to aftermarket stands, but in keeping with the saw’s small and simple demeanor, I tested it on the brand’s optional folding stand (model SPTA70WT-ST).
The unique thing about the Skilsaw is that it’s the first table saw powered by a worm drive motor--the same motor found on the circular saws the brand is famous for. Users unfamiliar with worm drive motors will have to keep in mind that this saw has a gearbox filled with oil that must be checked and changed out at specified intervals. The manual instructs that the oil should be changed after the first ten hours of use, and then every 60 hours thereafter. With no hour meter on the saw, you must estimate these times or just follow the manufacturer’s suggestion to change the oil at least once a year for heavy use. Ordering extra oil with the saw is the sort of thing that’s easy to forget so it would be helpful if the saw came with a bottle for that first ten hour oil change at least. That milestone can come pretty quickly if you use the saw regularly.
Like most woodworking machinery—benchtop or otherwise—table saws require thorough checking and calibrating before use. I had to spend at least an hour tinkering with the Skilsaw before I could let ‘er rip.
Throat plate flat to table? Easy enough to do with the four set screws.
As I made my adjustments, I began to appreciate the open frame design of the saw since it allowed me unfettered access to the working parts of the saw much easier than a saw enclosed with a plastic body. In fact, there’s barely any plastic at all on this saw which is another aspect to admire. The open space afforded by the tubular steel frame was put to good use with storage slots for the saw’s fence, miter gauge, blade wrench, and the blade guard components all secured within the frame.
Fence rails along the aluminum table allow you to set the fence up to 11 inches while tucked in but extend for cuts up to 25 inches wide. A little section of table underneath the fence slides out with it to provide needed support for materials when the rails are extended. Sliding this little section of table out also provides extra support for holding materials flat when crosscutting. At the front of the saw, there is a quick-draw holster for the provided push stick which keeps it within easy reach all the time. I hate to use the word “handy” in a professional power tool review, but there’s just no better word for this well-thought-out feature.
Thanks to a cooperative effort between several manufacturers to increase user safety, portable table saws made since 2009 come with standardized guard components that can be installed or removed without the use of any tools. These include a riving knife/splitter, anti-kickback pawls, and a barrier guard surrounding the blade with separate right and left shields. Besides being designed to be easy to attach, they are also intended to be easy to use so workers will leave them on the saw.
The “-22” version of the saw I tested comes with an upgraded Diablo blade, versus the “-01” model, available from some retailers, that ships with a Skil blade. The 30-tooth Diablo blade is dubbed a “plywood ripping” blade and is not yet available separately from the saw. It’s best described as having four alternate-tooth-bevel teeth followed by one spear-point tooth instead of a raker. On their latest 7 1/4-inch circ saw blades Diablo calls this a “tracking point” tooth.
Once calibrated for accuracy, I put the saw to work. The Skilsaw did a respectable job cutting small, angled-tenon bridle joints, but I felt like I was reaching the limitations of this saw’s finesse with this precision joinery work. Besides, more of a challenge was in order for a saw wearing a Skilsaw nameplate. Cutting sheets of OSB isn’t much of a workout for most table saws, so besides that common job, I ripped over 1/4 mile of 2-by lumber (including 2x8x16s) and spent hours ripping hundreds of linear feet of 4x4s with the saw’s blade fully buried in the wood. Under these conditions, I was impressed by the Skilsaw’s power and stamina. Over the many hours I ran the saw in a day--sometimes over an hour at a time without turning off the machine—I never heard the saw slow or falter or smelled anything “hot” that would have been cause for alarm. The Skilsaw worm drive motor is a great fit for this saw and delivers heavy duty performance as promised.
During testing, I had trouble with the wood getting pinched against the back of the fence, and it began to require so much feed pressure that the saw and stand began tipping. I assumed I had a problem with the fence. But after fiddling with it for quite a while, I figured out that riving knife was misaligned. Since I had spent so much time adjusting the riving knife before putting the saw into service, I didn’t suspect it to be the problem. It turns out that the mounting bolts were still tight, but the mounting plate must have slid over. Also, when I removed the riving knife and checked it with a straightedge, the back edge was slightly bent, but it was easy to straighten and realign the whole asembly. This minor setback taught me one more thing to look for in a pinch (literally) but didn’t lower my confidence in the Skilsaw. After all, I was working the heck out of the thing with some pretty big pieces of wood.
On a similar note, and more of an observation than a concrete test result; I’m bothered by the amount of play found in the trunnion mounting assembly behind the blade. This came to my attention when I noticed that tugging gently on an attached vac hose really wiggled the angle of the blade and riving knife. And with the leverage of a partially cut board straddling the blade and riving knife, the angle can really be tweaked, whether accidentally or not.
This movement is caused by the way the saw’s bevel angle is adjusted and locked down. The blade pivots by way of curved slots in the trunnion mounts at the front and rear of the saw, but only the front is held in place by the locking lever. The floating rear assembly remains free to move with little force so it seems as though a simple rear lock would be the solution to this undesired movement of the blade. I couldn’t determine what kind of inaccuracy this movement may cause in different types of cuts, but the wiggle is a legitimate gripe that costs the Skilsaw a few points off its finer woodworking side.
Dust collection is an often overlooked, yet important aspect of a portable table saw. Outdoors on the framing site you may be all right with letting the sawdust fly, but a carpenter set up indoors or a guy working in his garage shop will appreciate the ability to rein in the airborne dust. The Skilsaw has a simple port out the back that fits a standard 2 1/4-inch shop vacuum hose. Using a vac is very effective, but for basic sawdust collection with less fuss (and less strain on the extension cord), I directed the waste into a short garbage can set behind the saw. Since the port doesn’t extend past the frame, I had to craft an extension tube out of short scrap of old vac hose. And since the dust blowing action of the saw is actually pretty strong, I draped a piece of cloth over the can to keep the dust from swirling up and out. If I put this saw into regular use, I would run the extension tube through a hole in the side of a full size garbage can with a lid on it sturdy enough to deflect the pieces of wood that fall off the back of the saw.
When the saw’s dust port becomes clogged from fallen cutoff scraps, the entire catch basin below the blade can be removed easily for cleaning by removing a little thumb screw. If you are “facing” lumber and creating a lot of thin rip scraps, you may want to leave the catch basin off so the pieces can fall through to the ground rather than being trapped and eventually shredded by the bottom half of the blade.
Portability is also a key feature of a compact job site table saw. The Skilsaw has a padded handle built into the side of the saw frame to provide for one handed carrying. It’s designed to be held with the tabletop side resting against your body, but if you have all the gear installed this requires you to first remove and stow the anti-kickback pawls, barrier guard, and fence, and then set the riving knife/splitter to a lower position and then crank the blade all the way down. That’s a lot of work just to carry the saw so I prefer to leave everything attached and carry it facing the other way with the sawdust port at my side. Doing this bumps the miter slide out of its storage slot, so I would slide it into one of its T-slots and lock the fence against it to hold it for transport.
I found that with care I could lift the saw and stand together by the tabletop to move them while assembled. But if I kicked a leg while walking, the clips holding to the stand to the saw would sometimes unlatch. It made me wish for four clips on the stand instead of only two.
At the end of my testing, I reexamined some key features to see how they fared. The fence maintained its 1/32 inch of measured variance parallel to the blade, but the arbor runout doubled from my initial measurement made before the saw was broken in. It now showed 1/32 inch of play across the diameter of the blade. The blade was still flat yet it showed uneven wear on the plate—a telltale sign of runout. The blade did take a few good hits from crosscut scraps that fell through the throat plate, but that minor trauma is certainly nothing out of the ordinary in the daily life of a table saw.
One odd thing I didn’t notice until the end of the test was a notable side-to-side wiggle of the blade when I cranked it up and down. The blade angled left and right on its way up which meant that depending on the height of the blade, it may end up at a slightly different angle than its intended 90 degrees. The blade also moves laterally to the right when the crank tops out. I cleaned the packed sawdust out of the beveled gears and threads of the raising mechanism to see if that would help, but the eccentric motions remained. I can’t pinpoint a bent shaft, loose bushing, or anything else in particular to blame--there just seems to be a general looseness to the motor mount adjustments. Though not fatal flaws, these quirks cost the saw a few more points from its finer woodworking side.
I liked the upgrade Diablo D1030 blade that came with the saw. As an all-around table saw blade, I believe it’s designed to be a faster cutter than a standard 40 tooth general purpose table saw blade—like a framing blade for a table saw. When I was performing thick rip cuts, I installed a 24 tooth Diablo ripping blade for a while and after cutting with both blades, it seemed like the 30 tooth blade ripped a bit faster while leaving identical scratch marks along the cut sides of the lumber.
I accidentally cut through three framing nails during my testing, and like you’d expect from a table saw blade, the Diablo 30 tooth blade suffered some chipped teeth. Table saw blades are typically made out of harder carbide than circ saw blades which keeps them sharp longer, but robs them of toughness needed to handle such impacts. The lesson here: steer clear of all nails and staples on a table saw. While you’re checking the board ends for staples, look out for tiny embedded rocks too before ripping. If you are likely to hit fasteners or if you must cut something cruddy (like boards splashed with concrete or mud), don’t forget that a 10-inch table saw will also fit a cheaper 7 1/4-inch circ saw blade. In the case of this Skilsaw, you can still cut 2 3/16 inches deep using this trick.
As a conclusion about the advanced guard components, I think I turned out to be the typical user. I started out with everything in place, and it all worked fine. But as soon as I had to make rip cuts less than 1/2 inch wide, or make non through-cuts like tenon shoulders, or rip rough-cut cedar 4-bys where the blade didn’t always clear the height of the wood, I would stow the pawls and barrier guard and quickly become used to working without them.
The riving knife/splitter is quite the opposite however. I’ve had a portable saw with a riving knife for years and I really appreciate its usefulness in stabilizing the wood being cut by keeping it straight in line with the blade. This keeps the wood from tilting into the blade’s teeth or from twisting in the cut and binding the blade so I feel like it adds a considerable measure of control and safety to my cutting tasks. With the Skilsaw, I spent most of the test with the device locked in the riving knife position (flush with the top of the blade) so I was ready for any type of cutting without making any extra adjustments. But I vow to put the other gadgets back on the next time I use it and try to get used to all of them.
The Skilsaw SPT70WT-22 offers powerful performance in a compact table saw.
I wouldn’t say it’s just a framer’s saw, but rough carpentry is where its true strengths lie. You can rev it up and feed 4x4s through it all day without any problems as long it remains in good adjustment. A trim carpenter or woodworker might be put off by the play in the arbor, motor raising assembly, or rear trunnion connection—all of which could create more of an obstacle for setting up and achieving the finest work.
Photos courtesy of Skilsaw