Detailed Tool Features -I [Download PDF]
Detailed Tool Features - II [Download PDF]
Judging power is a little like evaluating the oxygen in the air you breathe: You can tell when you do not have enough, but otherwise it is hard to know how much is there. To test the saws, I ripped a series of full-depth slices off a treated 2 by 6. Every saw made these cuts, but the Craftsman and Hitachi were right on the borderline of doing it efficiently. The budget Ryobi saw had plenty of power, especially for the price. The Bosch, DeWalt, and Ridgid saws have more than adequate power, but the Makita saw set the power standard. It could even rip a 4 by 4 in one pass. It's amazing how much work these small saws can turn out. For the best of these saws, the power and quality of cut is surprisingly close to the big old contractors' saws we used to haul to the site.
For rips wider than 12 to 16 inches, most saws in our test extend the right side of their table out on sliding fence rails, but I prefer DeWalt's rack and pinion system because of its stability and accuracy. Its tables and measuring scales are fixed; only the fence moves. So except for Ridgid's extending tape measure system, which rolls around from the bottom of the fence rail, every other fence must be lined up with two separate pointers, increasing the chance of error. The Craftsman has long fence rails that lock in different positions to increase its range, but all the moving parts lead to uncertain accuracy. The pointer on the Ridgid suffers from glare, and both Bosch and Makita pointers make it difficult to tell where each fence is set. Except for the Makita, all the saws could be set to support thin materials right up to the fence for all rips. DeWalt's design has a flip-down support mounted to the fence, so it provides support for every cut even with its fixed table top.
I found the Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid fences to be the most reliable. Sawdust builds up in grooves along the top of the fence rails of the Bosch, Craftsman, Hitachi, Ridgid, and Ryobi saws and can cause the fence to jump its track easily or to fail to lock down properly. I really appreciated the shielded fence rails of the DeWalt and Makita.
Bosch has a digital measuring gauge that slides with the fence, so you can ignore the scales on the saw. It is easy to re-zero at any point along the scale to make it easier to move 1/32 or 1/16 inch for a shave cut without using the pointer. But because it re-zeros with the touch of a button, it's hard to trust its calibration with communal use on the jobsite.
No one wants the blame for a reasonably preventable accident. Let's face it, most table saws out there are used without guards because traditional guard designs do not work very well on the job. The plastic shroud usually becomes clouded by sawdust and scratches, so the cut line is obscured, and the thin metal splitter often gets bent and interferes with feeding the workpiece. The guards on each brand-new saw in our test worked well enough for most cuts, but once taken off, most guys won't put them back on. Bolts get lost, guard parts get left in the shop, the tools needed to assemble and align them aren't handy, etc. All of these problems became design parameters of the new industry standard guard system, which will be mandatory for UL approval beginning in 2010.
Bosch and DeWalt got a jump on this requirement, and their new guards really make a difference. I think guys might actually use them. Each saw in the test has a splitter or a riving knife to keep wood from binding against the back side of the blade and causing a dangerous kickback. The Ridgid and Ryobi have splitters in a fixed position high enough to clear their thickest cuts, but as you lower the blade, it moves farther away from the protection of the splitter. I prefer the riving knives of the other saws, which rise and lower with the blade to stay the same close distance from the blade for better kickback protection.
I constantly change the blade height of my table saw throughout the day, so I look for a crank handle that turns freely and is comfortable. The Craftsman crank would have been at home on a full-size saw with its largest diameter and, therefore, highest leverage.
Ridgid [shown] has the only blade-height locking knob to ensure that the blade doesn't drop in use. Ridgid also has a unique thumbwheel on its fence for fine adjustments that works very well. To adjust bevel angles on the Bosch and DeWalt saws, simply release the locking lever and manually pivot the blade to the desired angle. This takes both hands, but it adjusts quickly and has no moving parts to fail. The other saws require rotating either a special knob or the main hand crank for adjusting the bevel. This one-handed operation helps to dial in and hold an exact angle before locking it down, but if the gear teeth are positioned below the crank and are pointing up, they quickly fill with sawdust and can bind up. Hitachi and Ryobi have exposed bottom gears, and Craftsman, Makita, and Ridgid have top gears. Ridgid's design is the best because the teeth are on a large steel plate placed well inside the saw's cabinet.
My definition of portability is one person getting the saw in and out of a truck without damaging either. We tested saws that included stands, and all but the Hitachi have wheels to make it easier to get across a site. All of these wheeled stands can be stored standing up with the saw sideways, hand-truck style.
While set up, the wheels of the Bosch, Craftsman, Makita, and Ridgid saws are on the ground, and this makes it easier to move them out of the way quickly. My favorite stand is the Makita's because I like not having to stand the saw on end to set it up, and it took the least effort to unfold. Another benefit to its straight-up rising action is that it can be set at several different heights. This makes it easier to level it up with a sawhorse for a makeshift outfeed table for heavy sheetgoods or really long boards.
I also like the DeWalt stand because it detaches from the saw with ease, lightening the load and reducing the bulk for loading it into a truck. A few saws weigh more than 120 pounds, so getting them into a four-wheel-drive pickup alone is at the edge of portable.
A cord wrap might not seem important, but for saws you tilt and roll around, you really miss it if it's not there. The only strike against our favorite DeWalt is this missing feature, which left us jamming the cord up the vacuum port. All the saws have vacuum ports connected to a blade shroud for keeping the dust down indoors. The soft-start feature on the Bosch, DeWalt 744, and Ridgid saws kept us from blowing breakers on the job, and the motor brake on the Makita saved us a little time with every cut.