Jobsite table saws have changed a lot since I started working for my dad in 1972. Back then, we did almost all the millwork on-site using a huge, 12-inch contractor's saw that might have stayed set up for months. I started my own company in 1981, and as the business grew, table saws shrunk. I took on a partner, and we started building custom homes. At one point, the average house I worked on was 6,000 square feet. Today, those jobs are harder to find, and smaller remodeling projects make up most of our work. We have to take our tools with us at night or at least store them out of the way, so at the end of a hard day, portability is a big deal with these little saws.
During our test of these new jobsite table saws, we completely re-trimmed several houses, built a patio cover, did a small room addition, built several decks, rebuilt a bay window, and completely outfitted a garage with storage cabinets. Every site was different; we set up in living rooms, garages, even in yards, and we really gained an appreciation for the saws that were easiest to set up and move around.
On my jobsites, a table saw's job is ripping, so along with a strong motor, a good fence makes the most difference in a day's work. We always have a sliding miter saw on the job for crosscuts, so miter gauges and sliding tables don't get any use.
While testing these saws, we cut framing lumber, synthetic deck boards, oak and poplar boards, and all kinds of sheet goods from birch plywood to MDF and even some pegboard. It takes a 24 1/2-inch cut to rip a sheet of MDF in half, and that's the widest cut I would ever make with a jobsite table saw. These saws are too light and their tables are too small to safely make a cut wider than that, in my opinion.
Today, safety is more important than ever. One bad accident can cripple an entire company, so I applaud new industry standards on guard systems that manufacturers have endorsed. The new guards work smoothly and stay out of the way for most cuts, but they're easy to remove and replace when necessary. (For more on these new guard systems, click here.)
Although the jobs have changed, the quality of my work can't, so I need a small saw with big performance. Since a jobsite table saw is like a piece of communal property, it must be safe and simple enough for a rookie to use, but still have the accuracy and power my most skilled craftsman demands. For all this and more, the DeWalt DW744 is my top choice.
To me, the single most important part of a saw is the fence, and DeWalt's unique rack and pinion fence system seems completely unaffected by jobsite rigors. It adjusted out to 25 inches with ease, and remained dead-on accurate. I found I could rip all the parts for a cabinet from a cut-list without ever pulling out my tape measure. The fence doesn't operate like those on a contractor saw, but all my carpenters figured it out right away. The blade height and bevel adjustments are straightforward and solid, and the motor has plenty of power.
The DeWalt stand's wide footprint makes it very stable, and its wheels are large enough to negotiate jobsite obstacles. And since the saw disconnects from the stand quickly, loading it into my truck was easy. As for safety, the improved blade guard is about the best a contractor could hope for.
The Bosch and Ridgid came in a very close second and third, respectively. Both saws have good fences, but you must reposition their tops to make wide cuts. The Bosch was the only other brand in the test with the new guard design.
Makita and Hitachi were next; they both worked very well but were not the all-around best performers. And finally, the Ryobi and Craftsman saws seem to offer gadgets instead of pro-oriented features valuable on the job.
Gary Striegler is a custom home builder and writer in Springdale, Ark.