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Contractor Saw or Cabinet Saw! What to buy?

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Forum topic by RetiredCoastie posted 01-28-2011 07:39 PM 6222 views 0 times favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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RetiredCoastie

999 posts in 2647 days


01-28-2011 07:39 PM

Since I’ve been visiting LumberJocks I’ve read many opinions regarding the purchase of a table saw when asked by new wood workers. First let me say in no way am I finding fault or critisizing anyones opinion. Many craftsmen buy different tools for different reasons be it cost, the tools reputation or it’s capability or ones limitation for space. I can only speak for my own experience when I first started woodworking. The advantages of a cabinet saw come from it’s construction mainly it’s weight from the castiron top which dampens out vibration lending a smoother cut. The saws stability and it’s ease of adjustment for squareing the miter slot and fence to the blade by adjusting the top to the blade rather than adjusting the arbor to the top to achive squarnes. Also dust extraction I believe is a little more efficiant due to it’s closed cabinet construction. In most shops I would have to say the table saw is the foundation tool of the shop. So when people seek advise as to what type of saw to buy I would have to say for the heart of your shop if you can afford it go with the cabinet saw. It will be an investment that should last a lifetime as long as it’s of quality construction and well maintained. Keep your eye out for a good used one with a mobile base. I wished I would have bought one sooner.

-- www.thepatriotwoodworker.com Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops


38 replies so far

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knotscott

7214 posts in 2840 days


#1 posted 01-28-2011 08:13 PM

I went from a small Delta 36-600 compact saw with legs that was just about capable of wwing projects, to a GI 50-185 2hp contractor saw with a General “Biese” T-fence and equipped it with excellent blades, PALS, and a link belt…it was plenty capable but still suffered from the disadvantages that all outboard motor contractor saws. Then I upgraded to a heavier and improved 1-3/4hp Cman 22124 hybrid with an inboard motor and Biese Commercial fence that was very capable and was a pleasure to use…DC was good, alignment was a snap, and it’d cut anything I needed with relative ease given a the right blade for the job. The next step was to a 3hp Shop Fox W1677 that was heavier and more capable yet and is effortless to use…it loafs thru anything without a wiggle or a whimper, and is less sensitive to blade choice….I’ve equipped it with a BORK riving knife and blade guard. This last saw was a “want” vs a “need”, but the right deal came along and I really do enjoy having the cabinet saw.

I think you’ve outlined the advantages of a cabinet saw very well…the weight, robustness, ease of adjustment, and improved dust collection are all advantages over lighter, lesser saws. Sometimes I wished I’d started with a full blown cabinet saw, but I sure learned a lot about the differences in saws along the way…partly because I bought and parted out, or restored and sold several old saws to pay for each of the upgrades.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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teejk

1215 posts in 2149 days


#2 posted 01-28-2011 08:21 PM

I have had a Delta contractor’s saw for years (money and space were issues at the time). It was a “platinum” edition that has cast iron table extensions. I opted for the Unifence over the Beis (I had my choice) because I thought it was more flexible for clamping featherboards etc.

I have NO complaints on this saw at all. It still cuts true and square (if not adjustments are possible on the fence although I can truthfully say I’ve never needed to make any). I rarely use the miter guage, opting instead for the 12” miter saw where possible or for bigger stuff I use a cut-off sled. Biggest drawback I can see is ability to manage dust.

If money is an issue, don’t rule out a good contractor saw with a good fence. Older single phase Unisaws are hard to find.

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teejk

1215 posts in 2149 days


#3 posted 01-28-2011 08:25 PM

ok…somehow this posted as a duplicate and I can’t seem to delete the second one. sorry!

I have had a Delta contractor’s saw for years (money and space were issues at the time). It was a “platinum” edition that has cast iron table extensions. I opted for the Unifence over the Beis (I had my choice) because I thought it was more flexible for clamping featherboards etc.

I have NO complaints on this saw at all. It still cuts true and square (if not adjustments are possible on the fence although I can truthfully say I’ve never needed to make any). I rarely use the miter guage, opting instead for the 12” miter saw where possible or for bigger stuff I use a cut-off sled. Biggest drawback I can see is ability to manage dust.

If money is an issue, don’t rule out a good contractor saw with a good fence. Older single phase Unisaws are hard to find.

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Cosmicsniper

2202 posts in 2623 days


#4 posted 01-28-2011 08:56 PM

Good summarization, but the main “advantage” of cabinet saws – you decide if its an advantage or not – is that they have larger, more powerful motors. “Contractor” saws originated from the need for the worker to take the saw to the jobsite…which means easily accessible 110v current. For this reason, you are limited on the amount of horsepower available…which is why you have to be careful about claims of higher HP (sustained) in 110v saws (or any other tool for that matter).

Cabinet saws have 220v power, which can provide power to higher HP motors.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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live4ever

983 posts in 2474 days


#5 posted 01-28-2011 09:06 PM

One common misconception of newbies to tablesaws (well, at least I hope it’s common because I had it!) is that cabinet saws are for making cabinets, not that they are so-named for the saw’s enclosure. I don’t know why I thought this, but I immediately leapt to the next logical conclusion – “Well I don’t plan on being a cabinetmaker so I guess I don’t need a cabinet saw!”

Another misconception I had was that a cabinet saw has a larger footprint than a contractor saw, which for many space-constrained hobbyists is a huge issue. It can certainly seem this way as cabinet saws are often sold with [usually optional] larger extension tables for breaking down sheet goods. However, the footprint of a cabinet saw with two extension wings and a standard extension table and a contractor saw with the same are roughly equivalent, with the cabinet saw probably being a little smaller because of no motor hanging out the back.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

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knotscott

7214 posts in 2840 days


#6 posted 01-28-2011 10:06 PM

Charlie – Why get so worked up if others don’t share your opinion? Sometimes there are valid arguments from more than one perspective….listening to other views is one way that we learn and grow. We’re here to learn, share, and have fun, right? No worries!

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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Cosmicsniper

2202 posts in 2623 days


#7 posted 01-28-2011 10:45 PM

In defense of Charlie, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. A good contractor saw is a very capable tool and is more than most people ever need. I think there’s a real problem with saying, “Everybody should have a cabinet saw if they are in this hobby/business for the long-haul.”

My father has an Emerson-built Craftsman saw that I used for many years. While I didn’t care for the fence, the saw itself if just fine…and it would probably meet 95% of my needs if it had a better fence.

Had I not found my Unisaw for within my budget, I would have purchased a contractor saw myself, fitted with my choice of accessories.

In my other hobby, astrophotography, there are telescope designs that are pretty much required for a given level of work. But in woodworking, that’s just not the case.

Where budget and need cross, that’s where people should be recommending a particular saw…not because cabinet saws just do everything “better” and its the fashionable thing to do.

That said, I love the advantages of my Unisaw…the weight/stability/vibration-free performance, ease of aligning, dust collection capabiilies (though not fully utilized yet), and abundant power are real pluses for me…but I could certainly have lived with a contractor’s saw.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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SnowyRiver

51452 posts in 2945 days


#8 posted 01-28-2011 10:56 PM

I think if you compare the size of a good contractor saw to a cabinet saw there would be very little difference in the table size. Many cabinet saws have the extended tables making them look big, but the main table isnt that much bigger on a cabinet saw. You can always put a mobile base on it if you have to move it. Its surprising how easy the heavy saws move when on a mobile base. I am one of those guys that only wants to buy something once, so I tend to buy the best I can afford thinking I wont have to buy it again. I had a contractor saw, but wanted something that was heavy and didnt move or vibrate and that led me to my PM66. It’s a 1988 model, but I bought it used and it runs like a champ. If cost is a factor, as I always say, keep an eye on Ebay and Craigs List…there are lots of good saws that show up on there all the time for half the cost of a new one.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

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Knothead62

2581 posts in 2425 days


#9 posted 01-28-2011 10:57 PM

I have a cheapo contractor saw. My next request from Santa is a cabinet saw. If you have the room and the $$$$$, get the cabinet saw. Much more versatile, IMHO.

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teejk

1215 posts in 2149 days


#10 posted 01-29-2011 12:23 AM

I’ll only add that when I bought my Delta contractor saw 10 years ago, there was about $700 price difference (and I think it has gotten bigger). Cast iron table/extensions were the same at the time and I don’t think there was any noticable difference in the “guts”, both very well machined and true to this day.

Contractor saw is fine for a non-pro shop. Dust collection is a chore on the contractor but I’m working on it.

Ignored in the thread so far is the fence system. That is the KEY to this discussion in my opinion. When I was buying, the Unisaw and my contractor saw both utilized the same Unifence system which I continue to be amazed about. Set it at 1/2”, you WILL have 1/2” and it takes seconds, no squaring to the blade or fiddling with back/front lock-downs that typically give up half way through a cut. Delta also owns Bies and I had my choice. I understand that the Bies is equal or better in quality but I have no complaints with the Unifence.

As for mobile base, I bought it when I had little room and needed to move it. Moving is bad (right side table is only particle board attached to the saw with hardware) so if one has a spot to park it and leave it, save the $$$ and buy a nice stacked dado set or a tenon jig.

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teejk

1215 posts in 2149 days


#11 posted 01-29-2011 12:33 AM

Charlie

sorry you spent so much time on the design…but I think it is as simple as enclosing the stand with canvas (Velcro would work) or tin, then sticking some PVC fittings into the new housing to attach to the DC. I keep putting that project off but I think I’ll get 80-90% of the dust that way for a few $$ invested.

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teejk

1215 posts in 2149 days


#12 posted 01-29-2011 12:50 AM

cessna

If by saying “chasing” do you mean keeping it in place? My Delta CS sits in the Delta mobile base and it doesn’t go anywhere unless I hit that foot lever (if that is the solution then I apologize for an earlier comment about being a waste of money).

Now to sheet goods…I cannot handle a 4×8 sheet on my own with the contractor saw. #1 the table isn’t big enough to balance it properly and hold against the fence, #2 when I can do it, I can’t reach the switch! (probably for a good reason for that driven by their legal department or the local EMS team).

Any thoughts on why a Unisaw would differ in that regard? If so I’ll buy one tomorrow.

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knotscott

7214 posts in 2840 days


#13 posted 01-29-2011 01:53 AM

Charlie – If you were happy with your DC mods, and those who added your mods to their saws were happy too, I don’t see it as a waste of time at all….I think you’re taking these TS discussions too personally. Your DC upgrades were a nice mod to the existing design of contractor saws with outboard motors, but it wasn’t as big of a change as moving the motor inside the enclosure, which is the path many manufacturers have taken in recent years. The manufacturing world simply took a different path.

I also don’t see the “BS” you refer to…I just see evolutionary improvements to the table saw designs overall (along with some quality setbacks ..mostly due to price points), and discussions of the options currently available in the marketplace. Saws like my former GI 50-185 and your Delta were very capable of doing good work, but weren’t without some drawbacks, but more importantly, they’re simply not available to consumers in the marketplace, as new updated models are offered in their places. I definitely viewed the acquisition of my 22124 hybrid as an upgrade to my GI saw….it was 42% heavier, had beefier trunnions that were easier to reach and easier to align, had better DC, and a better motor location with a better shorter drive belt….it would have been even better had they chosen a one piece cast arbor carriage/blade shroud instead of the connecting rods, but it was a solid saw as is with no mods.

Saws made in the USA are nearly a thing of the past, and there are literally no new choices available for hobbyists looking to spend $500-$1000. The trend in full size new saws available to amateurs and home hobbyists with standard 120v power has been towards moving the motor inside the enclosure, along with more choices of saws with full enclosures, better stock fence offerings, more solid wing choices, and changes to the trunnion designs….most of which I see as evolutionary upgrades. No doubt, not all changes turn out to be better, but that doesn’t mean all the changes are junk either….some are really logical improvements IMO. These design changes shouldn’t change the enjoyment of your saw, and they certainly don’t signal that your saw (and my former contractor saw) aren’t capable of excellent work, but they do change what’s avialable to a budding hobbyist looking to spend $500-$1000 on a new TS. I rarely see people mentioning that the only good choices are cabinet saws, but as you approach the $1k mark for a new hybrid, it becomes prudent to at least ponder the possibility of looking into a $1200 3hp cabinet saw…especially if 220v is available. Used saws are a viable option for some, but the used market is hit and miss and can’t be relied upon at any given moment. Also, not everyone is comfortable buying used.

In my case, I recognized the advantages of a beefier cabinet saw, had a great opporunity to grab one at a good price, and made the leap. I certainly didn’t need one, and don’t do better work because of it, but I wanted one…sort of like upgrading golf clubs…sometimes it just increases the enjoyment of a hobby.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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RetiredCoastie

999 posts in 2647 days


#14 posted 01-29-2011 11:02 AM

Thanks all for your input, some very good discussion. I posted this in an effort to give those that are contemplating the purchase of a table saw some food for thought. I myself already own a Delta cabinet saw which I purchased about 4 years ago and am very happy with it. In no way did I intend for anyone to be offended or upset and I appologise if you were. I see alot of new woodworkers coming here and asking our opinions on what tools to buy and none more than the tablesaw but I really havent seen much discussion as to the attributes of the cabinet saw, most is geared around the price instead of the pros and cons of a particular style of saw.

-- www.thepatriotwoodworker.com Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

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RetiredCoastie

999 posts in 2647 days


#15 posted 01-29-2011 06:28 PM

Charlie I wasn’t bragging about anything just trying to point out that there are varying things that future wood workers may find useful when deciding on the purchase of a table saw. You presume to know what kind of shop I have when you don’t even know me or what I do in my shop. It may be in my garage but I do make money from time to time but that isn’t the purpose of this discussion. I really don’t understand why your so bitter. I suppose that we should all just forget about bringing back pride in craftsmanship in the US because Charlie says so. How do you know there isn’t a future Ethan Allen visiting our site looking to learn the art of woodworking. As a matter of fact our web site is full of people that take pride in craftsmanship otherwise they wouldn’t post their projects or pose questions and responses in the forums. Pride in Craftsmanship is alive and well and is growing everyday!

-- www.thepatriotwoodworker.com Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

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