|Review by Dave||posted 06-23-2012 06:17 PM||10410 views||6 times favorited||40 comments|
- SawStop 3HP 10-inch Cabinet Saw with 36" T-Glide Fence
- Brand: SawStop | Category: Tablesaws
Like a lot of woodworkers, buying a cabinet saw was a big commitment for me. It wasn’t just a big financial decision; I also wanted to be sure I was going to have enough time between kids, a career, and other stuff that I’d feel like I really got my money’s worth out of it. My Ridgid contractor’s saw was doing a nice job for me already. But I like to make cabinets and, at the end of the day, it’s just not convenient to break down a 4×8 sheet of plywood with a contractor’s saw, no matter how well it cuts smaller stock.
Needless to say this was a big-deal purchase. I spent a lot of time reading reviews, looking through the comments on this site, and talking to sales folks. I waffled a lot.
Three saws made my short list: Delta, Powermatic, and SawStop. I was impressed by just about every aspect of Delta’s Unisaw. Powermatic also made very high-quality machinery even though its design seemed a bit dated. But, in the end, I decided on the SawStop 3HP Professional Cabinet Saw when I bought last summer. I outfitted it with the Industrial Mobile Base and the 36-inch T-Glide Fence.
This isn’t a review of those other saws but if you’re reading this I’m sure you’re at least thinking about them too so here’s a quick list of the things that tipped the scales for me:
- Mobility – My shop is in the garage along with our cars, bikes, kids’ stuff, and all the normal garage clutter. Tools get moved around A LOT. The mobility of Saw Stop’s industrial mobile base is superior to almost any other solution I’ve seen (I upgraded, it’s not standard issue on the Professional Cabinet Saw). It seems like it was truly designed to be used daily – not just “every now & then.” Delta’s solution wasn’t bad either. Powermatic’s was clunky if you’re a frequent tool mover.
- Dust collection – Delta and SawStop both did a very nice job here. SawStop’s above-table solution got a slight edge with me but it wouldn’t have been the deal breaker if everything else had stacked up…
- Ease of use – Since I’m a hobbyist and my shop time comes in small 1-2 hour chunks, spending a lot of time setting up cuts, changing blades, etc., is a big deal. I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of SawStop’s design. Riving knives, zero clearance inserts, etc. come on and off quickly and blade changes are fast & convenient. The other two saws seemed like blade changes would be much slower if I consistently used the blade guards.
One last point: Craftsmanship, durability, power, and accuracy are more important than any of these things. But, all three of these saws knocked the ball out of the park on those measures – so it was the smaller stuff that broke my 3-way tie.
The Ownership Experience
Now, I’ve used my SawStop for almost a year on a variety of projects and the excitement of owning a nice cabinet saw has worn off (well, at least enough that I stopped carry pictures of it in my wallet next to the kids’). I’ve also had enough time to experience its true strengths, so here’s a summary:
Overall Design: 5 stars – SawStop’s designers did a lot of thinking about this saw gets used. Everything is where my hands expect it to be and, after I’d used it for a few weeks, I could use the controls without looking or thinking. That’s good for productivity and safety. I don’t want to have to spend time (or my limited supply of concentration) fumbling around for something like the off switch at a critical time.
Power: 5 stars – I have 220V power and, although I considered everything from 1.75HP to 5HP, the experts at Woodcraft recommended 3HP for me as a hobbyist. They were dead right. My experience after a year of using it is that 3HP is all the power I’ll ever need. I can rip 8/4 hard maple fast enough that the limit is my comfort level, not the saw’s motor (and that’s with a combination blade, not a rip blade!). Anything thicker than that, I’ll likely use my bandsaw. I haven’t tried cove cutting yet – and that’s a tough test for a saw – but from what I’ve experienced this saw wouldn’t even flinch.
Quality of Parts and Precision of Assembly: 5 stars – This saw is a manufacturing masterpiece and it was built to last. Fit and finish is excellent right down to the packaging. When you turn it on, it hums quietly with no vibration. The loudest noise – if your dust collection is off – is the high-pitched turbulence making the blade sing as its teeth move through the zero-clearance insert.
Assembly instructions were very clear and, although they don’t recommend it, I was able to easily put this saw together alone. If you do that, though, make sure you use saw horses to support the heavy pieces, take your time, and be smart about using leverage and good form for the frequent heavy lifting.
Ability to Adjust and Align: 4.5 stars – About the only thing you can’t adjust on this saw is its color. Blade alignment, fence alignment, riving knife position & height, and more. The manual devotes an entire chapter (22 pages!) to adjustments. But, after giving it 5 stars for the flexibility of its adjustments I do have to take off a half a point for this: Some of the less common adjustments on this saw seem like they’d be very tedious. The common ones are all pretty straightforward. The most common are downright easy. But, if you ever decide to re-align the blade tilt axis (which adjusts so that cut measurements on the fence don’t get thrown off as the blade tilts), I wish you all the best. You have more patience than I probably ever will.
Good news, though. All the alignments were spot-on when I put the saw together. I also like knowing I have so much flexibility if I need it. Some saws don’t even give the option of doing these adjustments – and if they’re ever out of whack you WILL be glad you can fix it – so I can’t fault SawStop much for their design decisions here.
SawStop 40 Tooth Combination Blade: 4 stars – Go buy a Forrest Woodworker II blade. It just SINGS with this saw. The standard issue SawStop combination blade is no slouch – it was certainly usable and did just fine on most cuts. I could even cut plywood without tear-out if I did a skim cut first. But, upgrading to a high-end blade made a fantastic saw even better.
T-Glide Fence System: 4 stars – The production quality of the T-glide fence saw is very good and its design is excellent but a minor glitch made this piece MY saw’s weakest link. I don’t think my experience generalizes to other saws – the fences I’ve seen in the stores don’t have the minor issue I’m about to describe: Specifically, one of my phenolic plywood faces bulged out from over-tightening during assembly at the plant. The manual warns against over-tightening if you adjust the faces yourself for exactly this reason.
I believe this contributes to burned rip cuts even though the fence is aligned as well as I can get it with the miter slot/blade (front and back parallel to with 0.0005”). Here’s why: The biggest high spot (which, by the way, is only 0.008 inches), happens to line up with my blade’s leading edge. So, the two points of contact between my wood and the fence are 1) the rearmost edge of the fence and 2) the bulge at the leading edge of the blade. As the wood moves forward past the bulge its front edge continues to move away from the fence ever-so-slightly, making slight contact a second time with the back edge of the blade. The cut itself is still straight – remember we’re talking thousandths of an inch – but it sometimes contributes to burning in harder woods like maple.
Big deal? No way. I could probably fix it by moving the back of the fence a bit further away from the blade. I haven’t even bothered talking to SawStop about it (and from what I’ve heard they’d replace things in a heartbeat if I did). Was it mildly annoying when I first noticed it after spending that much on a saw? Yep. My old Ridgid’s extruded aluminum fence was within 0.0001 of parallel to the miter slot at every point, so I was spoiled.
The fence itself is a pleasure to use. It’s dead square, perpendicular to the table (both are adjustable), and glides smoothly. The phenolic faces are attached with hex-head machine screws that are easy to access. That makes the faces easy to replace if I ever get around to doing it.
Mobile Base: 6 stars (lol) – As I said, this base is simply fantastic. I’d highly recommend the upgrade and I wish I could put one on every tool I own. Having all 4 wheels “steerable” means that I can easily maneuver my saw into tight places. Having the hydraulic lift means it’s easy to raise and it sets itself down ever-so-gently.
Dust Collection: 5 stars – I really like the dust collection design on this saw. It was everything I expected – and my bar was high.
This saw has a typical under-table dust-shroud that pulls dust off the blade and out a 4” port in the back. The above-table collection is what makes it really shine. It performs “sawdust judo” with the 100MPH dust-filled airflow off the front of the blade – sucking it in the direction it’s already moving and then curving it smoothly up and over the blade to exit at the back of the blade guard. Smart.
To take full advantage of this saw’s dust collection I’d recommend a higher-suction airflow (like a shop-vac) for the over-blade port and a second 4” 800+ CFM duct for the under-table port. Since a typical dust collection impeller is designed to get hit by nails, wood shards, etc., it’s not great at producing suction (mine will only suck 9” H2O vs. 99” for my shopvac). That’s why my ideal solution would be a twin-DC approach.
I have a compromise solution right now that runs two 4” hoses from my Delta 50-760. One connects to the bottom port and the other connects through a reducer to the above-table DC. The total flow area of the 2 lines is almost the same as that of the 5” inlet on my DC – so it uses it to its full advantage.
This compromise does fine as long as the wood I’m cutting is wide enough that the blade guard traps the dust that’s thrown sideways. When I’m sneaking up on a final width, though, things still get dusty. Only one side of the blade guard is contacting the wood and trapping dust like it should. On the other side, the dust sprays out towards the front of the table…taking the path of least resistance. More suction through the blade guard might reduce or eliminate the issue, but it’s got my wheels turning on a better answer…
Blade Brake: 5 stars – This safety feature adds a bit of work to blade changes but after a year of using it I haven’t found it to be a nuisance. After doing a blade change, I do a quick check of the clearance between the brake and the blade (using the included tool which, by the way, holds itself magnetically to the side of the saw when you’re not using it). Changing the gap is quick and easy – and is not always needed.
Installing a dado blade is a little more work because you need to install a different brake. That’s quick and easy. Adjusting the gap – in my case – takes a little longer because my Dado set has a slightly smaller diameter than my combination blade – so it takes a few turns of the clearance bolt every time I put it in before it’s well-aligned.
By the way, I triggered my brake a few weeks ago so I can report on this too. I didn’t use my fingers though. My INCRA miter gauge played that role.
I was doing a 45 degree bevel cut at the end of the day (isn’t that always how these stories go) and, although I adjusted the aluminum back of my miter gauge to be further from the blade, I didn’t TEST the clearance before I made the cut. Well, needless to say, BAM! I blinked, checked my fingers instinctively, then looked. Not even a scratch on the miter gauge. The blade had buried itself nicely into the aluminum brake. To get back to work all I had to do is lower the blade completely to reset the internal mechanism and put in fresh parts. Of course I needed a new brake ($70) but I would have needed a new saw blade (~$100) either way given my boneheaded move. At least I now have a souvenir that’s much cooler than an aluminum miter gauge with a gouge in it so I’m chalking this one up to experience. I’m thankful the safety solution works and extra aware of the fact that mistakes can happen to even paranoid guys like me.
Overall Evaluation: 5 stars
So, all in all, I love this saw. I’d buy it again, I’d outfit it with the same features and I’d defend my decision to give my hard-earned dollars to a company started by a lawyer, lol. I love what the SawStop has done for my productivity, accuracy, confidence, and safety.
-- "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths." - Steven Wright