I have been woodworking for a while now. For years I used an old 8” craftsman saw. You can see a photo of it under my shop photos.
I put a lot of wood through this saw and it always just worked – sometimes with a lot of effort. The fence system was always painful. I adjusted and fussed and played with it and it was never quite right. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the circular marks where I always clamped the far end of the fence with a C-clamp to keep it from moving. When I bought the saw that mark was already there so I don’t think the fence was much good right out of the factory. It was underpowered with only a 1/2 HP motor. The table was small, limiting the size of what I could cut. I could cut up 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood but it was always a circus involving several friends, auxiliary tables/stands and lots of cussing. I took to buying 2X4 sheets because that was all I felt I could handle safely by myself. The arbor was a non-standard 1/2” and limited my choice of blades. Towards the end, I was using 7 1/4” circular saw blades because that was all that was readily availble in my area. Most of the time I still had to use a bushing to match a 5/8” arbor hole to my 1/2” arbor.
The last straw came early last summer when I was building drawers for my router table (someday I’ll blog about the router table – another case of serendipity). Along with the continual fence fighting that I was now used to, I simply could not get a smooth cut on the 3/4 plywood I was sawing up for drawer fronts! I finally tore the entire saw down to fix it. The bearings were shot. The arbor pulley had worked itself loose and, since it wasn’t keyed to the arbor shaft, had spun somewhat freely and worn a groove in the arbor shaft. So I was faced with replacing the arbor shaft and bearings. Even after I did that I’d still be dealing with all the limitations of the saw that had really begun to feel constraining. Naw, time for a new saw.
Silly me – I assumed that I would be able to go out, plunk down $200 for a new saw and finish up the router table. After a quick trip to Sears, Home Depot and Lowes I returned home, shimmed up the arbor pulley on my old saw as best as I could and finished my router table drawers. Maybe I was just spoiled by working with my old craftsman so many years but everything I saw in the $100-$200 price range just looked, well – CHEAP.
I started researching table saws on the Web. It wasn’t just me; many, many peole were complaining about the general lack of quality. Of the cheap saws ($100-$200), none had ever garnered glowing reviews. They all started with statements like “Considering the amount of money I paid for this saw, it isn’t too bad…” So I started looking at the next step up.
From the contractor saws available, I really liked the RIDGID TS-3650 best: solidly built with a cast iron top, nice fence system and glowing reviews. There were just a couple of downsides. First, the price: $550 retail – by the time I added tax I was looking at $600! There was also the matter of the miter T-slots – even the most glowing reviews mentioned it as a drawback, citing difficulties in using aftermarket miter gauges. Then there were arbor problems (Google is your friend) – even though RIDGID was offering free arbor replacements, the last thing I wanted to do was plunk down $600 for a saw and then start fixing it! Towards the end of my research, there were complaints about quality control on the RIDGID saws (again, Google is your friend); poor fit, mismatched mounting holes and even tables that are warped. This will get nothing but worse as they move manufacturing to China (Google…).
In the course of checking out the TS-3650 I came across an interesting fact: the saw was made by Emerson, the same people who made Sears Craftsman table saws (at least the 10” contractor series) for 30+ years. Tracking down pictures of the RIDGID trunnions and comparing them to the Sears Craftsman trunnions (thank you, owwm.com) showed that there was virtually no difference. Even the ribs on the bottom of the cast iron table top looked identical. Now, keep in mind that was the original manufacturer of the TS-3650 saw. The Internet is abuzz with news that Ryobi will soon be making RIDGID saws. Do we have any bets that quality will remain the same after Ryobi takes over?
So,in the end, I took an entirely different tack. I started haunting Craigslist. I managed to pick up a late 60’s – early 70’s Craftsman table saw for $50 – no stand and rust on the table but the bearings in the arbor and motor were smooth and free of play and it came with two cast extensions. Following tips from the owwm.com site, I stripped the table with single-edged razor blades, removed the last of the rust with phosphoric acid and cleaned and adjusted every part of the saw. I bought a cheap tool stand at HF. It was flimsy, but I reinforced with MDF shelves. I picked up a used RIDGID AC1036 fence from Craigslist. This fence is almost identical to the fence on the RIDGID saw.
You can see a picture under my shop photos.
Total cash outlay:
Table saw: $50
Chemicals, abrasive pads, MDF, misc: $20
So for a total less than 1/3 of what the RIDGID saw would have cost me, I have almost the same saw. It doesn’t have the Herc-U-Lift mobile stand but I intend to build a mobile workstation for the saw. This will add some weight and stability to the saw since the Craftsman version with cheap HF stand is not as heavy as the RIDGID saw. The motor that came with my saw is only 1 HP, not the 1 1/2 HP that comes with the RIDGID saw. If you look hard enough, many of the old Craftsman saws came with 1 1/2 HP motors. I have yet to stall mine so motor replacement is not a priority. Adjustment has supposedly been made much easier on the RIDGID (that is, adjusting the blade parallel to the miter slots); I didn’t find adjusting the Craftsman saw to be all that difficult.
In the end, I love this saw. It cuts clean and smooth, even with the cheap Craftsman combo blade that came with it, and has plenty of power for whatever I have thrown at it over the last year. The RIDGID fence works to a full 36” right of the blade and, with router table doing double duty as an outfeed table, I now feel comfortable cutting up full 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood myself. There’s still more I want to do to it but the saw is definitely usuable now. As I mentioned before, I want to build a mobile workstation for it – mobility is a plus in my small garage shop and I want storage for blades and fixtures right at the saw. At that time, I will also add a magnetic safety switch – the simple rocker switch that Craftsman provided is a joke. Frankly, the one I saw on the TS-3650 I don’t think much of either. I also want to add extension to the table to cover the full 36” extension of the fence – probably MDF with laminate.
If you are in the market for a new table saw, why not check out the used market? There are plenty of these used saws out there, most with very few hours. Your wallet might thank you.
-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"