Power & Dust Collection
Power. My primary power test involved continuous ripping of 3/4-inch poplar lumber. I ripped 6-foot boards, first checking the feel and then timing how long it took to get through a board, pushing the machine as hard as I could. All machines were tested with identical full-kerf (.126-inch) 24-tooth rip blades, though I retested the two slowest saws with thin-kerf (.094-inch) 24-tooth rip blades to determine what benefit a thinner blade would provide on underpowered saws. Even though every machine is capable of being run on 220 volts, all came wired for 110 and were run at that voltage.
While not the heaviest, the Grizzly had the sturdiest metal components for a very solid feel.
Credit: Photos by Dot For Dot
In my speed test, the Jet and Grizzly were pretty much neck and neck for being the fastest, so I pulled them both out to do a side-by-side comparison, ripping several hundred lineal feet while going back and forth between the two saws. Ultimately, the Grizzly provided the strongest and smoothest feel when cutting.
The DeWalt was the third-fastest saw, though it exhibited some vibration that was likely due to its light weight.
In the middle of the pack for ripping speed were the Craftsman, Steel City, and Delta. The Delta was the fastest and the Craftsman the slowest of these three.
The independent action of the Jet's blade guard made it our favorite design.
Credit: Photos by Dot For Dot
The Hitachi saw was the slowest performer with the full-kerf blade. Whenever I pushed the machine to the max I would trip the thermal overload. When I put a thin-kerf blade on the machine I had no problems with the thermal overload tripping and was able to feed the boards as fast as the fastest saw in the test. The General saw was the second-slowest performer in the speed test. I tripped the thermal overload while testing it with the full-kerf blade. Upon switching to the thin-kerf blade, the machine performed almost as well for speed as the Hitachi with a thin-kerf blade, but I was still able to trip the thermal overload.
Dust Collection. Capabilities varied from saw to saw. The DeWalt is the only saw that does not have an enclosed cabinet. It incorporates a shroud that surrounds the lower portion of the blade. It is also the only saw that doesn't include a 4-inch dust port; unless you have a reducer handy, it can only be connected to a vac. The Hitachi has the most efficiently sealed cabinet, incorporating a sliding cover for the curved slot that the height adjustment crank moves through when adjusting the angle (called a "covered smile" by the manufacturer).
We found that blade height adjustment plays a big role in how efficiently the machines collected dust. Leaving the smallest amount of blade protruding from the top of the board produced the best results. The Craftsman and General saws had the poorest dust collection, leaving a lot of sawdust on the operator and tabletop. The Steel City saw performed only slightly better. The DeWalt, Jet, and Grizzly all performed about the same, leaving a moderate amount of dust on the operator and tabletop. The DeWalt left more sawdust on the floor than the others due to its open bottom. The Delta and Hitachi performed the best in dust collection, but still left some sawdust on the operator and tabletop.
Every saw incorporated a power switch that was easy to locate and shut off with my knee. All but the Grizzly and the Hitachi include the ability to lock-out the switch to keep unwanted users from turning it on. The Grizzly switch was rather annoying to operate. It uses a magnetic switch with an automatic lock in the off position. This left us scratching our heads the first couple times until we got used to its unique two-step operation: unlock the off button with a twist and then push the on button.
The Hitachi alone had both handwheels on the front of the cabinet and a covered "smile."
Credit: Photos by Dot For Dot
Having employees leaves me constantly afraid someone is going to get hurt, particularly on the table saw. Having never owned a saw with a blade guard, I was very curious to see how the different guards matched up.
The blade guard on the Jet was the sturdiest and our favorite. It has independent guards on each side of the blade made of thick Plexiglas and a finger that descends all the way to the table in front of the blade. While the manual fails to explain proper adjustment, it was quite simple. Adjustment of DeWalt's blade guard was the easiest to perform. There was clear access to the nuts on both sides of the splitter, and fine accurate adjustment was a breeze. The Steel City and Craftsman saws have identical blade guards that can be mounted and removed without tools. We feel this is a huge benefit as it makes the accessory more likely to be used. Adjustment was straightforward and easily accomplished. General's blade guard/splitter required a wrench for mounting, and adjustment was easy and fast.
Delta says its blade guard locks in the up position when installing a blade or adjusting the guard, but it did not work, leaving the operator supporting it with his head. Adjustment of the blade guard and splitter was cumbersome, requiring the blade be cranked down to make an adjustment and then cranked back up to check the adjustment. It was necessary to repeat these steps several times to get the guard adjusted properly.
The Hitachi blade guard was cumbersome to attach as it lacks the ability to be latched in the up position, which left the operator supporting it with his forehead when changing blades or adjusting the guard. Adjustment and installation required a wrench and some scraped knuckles. The splitter was very easy to adjust with shims provided with the kit. Our only concern here was that future adjustments might be hindered if the additional shims are lost. The Grizzly blade guard was probably the least user-friendly; it requires a wrench and Allen key for setup, installation, and removal. Reinstalling the guard on this machine requires that you repeat the setup each time, which can be time consuming.
Given my circumstances, the winner was very clear to me. Even with the clumsy switch and the poorly designed blade guard/splitter, the Grizzly provided the most power and smoothest cutting operation. In my production setting, it was the clear workhorse of the entire group. In second place was the Jet. I really liked the excellent blade guard and the nice added storage for the fence and miter gauge. Jet's superb power made it a contender for the top spot, but the Jet's significantly higher price point gave the Grizzly the edge. The DeWalt took third place. It's definitely the most portable and its power makes it a strong performer.
Delta, Steel City, and Craftsman made up the middle of the pack with respectable, average performance. The Hitachi and General saws followed some distance behind, proving to be best suited for lighter-duty work. Expect increased cutting performance from any of these saws if you use thin-kerf blades.
–Sean Martin is a snowboard maker, photographer, and bagpipe player in Watkins, Colo., He owns and operates Donek handcrafted snowboards and skis.
Freud America (blades) 800-334-4107, www.freudtools.com
MasterGage (calibration tools) 888- 893-8300, www.mastergage.com