Our table saw review quickly showed that today's portable table saws are light-years ahead of the small-saw offerings from a decade ago. They feature big-capacity cutting, greatly improved safety features and attached stands for easy setup. And saws in the upper price range rival stationary saws in accuracy and quality of cut. We limited our review to saws that included a stand with wheels and ones that could rip at least 24 in. wide.
We spent a lot of time setting up and taking down the saws to see how well the stands worked and how easy it was to install and remove the blade guard and anti-kickback pawls. Then we ran a torturous ripping test with 3-in.-thick slabs of oak. And finally, we used the saws for more conventional tasks like cutting plywood and ripping framing lumber.
Our biggest surprise while running the table saw review tests was in the cutting power and the quality of cut: There wasn't much difference among them. All these saws ripped through 3-in.-thick oak without hesitating. We tried this test with the stock blades that came on the saws. Then we repeated the test using a top-quality blade in each saw.
As you would expect, the most expensive saws made slightly smoother cuts. But the difference was negligible. The only saw that struggled to make smooth cuts in the super-thick oak was the Ryobi. In more common situations, like cutting 3/4-in.-thick material, Ryobi's cut quality was fine. We found the blades included with all the saws to be adequate for most ripping tasks. But if you want cuts smooth enough for glue joints, you'll have to invest in a better blade.
All these saws have 15-amp motors and are capable of ripping boards and plywood, but there are things that set them apart. We discovered that the differences were in the quality and ease of use of features such as stands, blade guards, rip fences and blade controls.
What's the Right Saw for You?
Table saws in this review run the gamut in price and quality. You can buy a table saw for as little as $150, and if you use it just to occasionally rip a board, that may be all the saw you need. If you want a saw that's easy to carry and you don't need to rip sheets of plywood in half, look for a “compact” saw like the DeWalt DW745 (shown) or the Bosch GTS1031. If you have room for a little larger saw that’s slightly less portable but capable of wide rips, consider one of the table saws we review here. And finally, if you want to build cabinets or furniture and have a big enough work area, you can step up to a stationary contractor's saw like the Ridgid R4512 (shown), for about $650.
All these saws have attached, collapsible stands with wheels that allow you to roll them around when they're folded up. A few, like the DeWalt, Rockwell and Ryobi, can't be wheeled around after they're set up. But the biggest difference between stands is in how easy it is to set them up. The Ridgid and Bosch have nearly identical stands that work great and require you to only flip or depress one lever to unlock the stand. These are our favorites. The DeWalt stand is the sturdiest of the bunch and very intuitive. It sets up like a card table with legs that fold out and snap into place. The remaining saws have several different stand systems that aren't quite as easy to set up but that work fine once you get the hang of them.
The miter gauges on these saws range from downright flimsy to cabinet-saw quality. All the saws except the Craftsman and the DeWalt also have T-tracks—a nice feature that captures the miter gauge bar, making it easier to start wider crosscuts. Because the Ryobi and DeWalt saws don’t have a standard miter gauge slot, you can't use accessories that require a 3/4-in. slot.
While the Bosch, DeWalt and Ridgid all have great miter gauges, we prefer the Ridgid because it has holes and slots for mounting a longer fence and other accessories.
We think the single most important feature on any table saw is the rip fence. After all, 90 percent of the cuts you'll make are rips, and making them accurately is crucial. A good fence has many qualities, but the most important one is the ability to lock down securely and parallel to the blade every time.
In addition, a top-quality fence should move smoothly and have a scale that's accurate and easy to read. Our favorite is the DeWalt fence. The rack-and-pinion system keeps the fence parallel to the blade, and the micro-adjusting knob allows easy and precise fence positioning. Runners-up in this category are the Ridgid and Bosch saws. They both have superb fences, with the added advantage of T-slots for attaching accessories like featherboards.
The blade-raising cranks on some saws are easier to turn than on others because of the type of mechanism used and the gear ratio. The difference was slight, though, and the only crank that didn't turn smoothly was the one on the Craftsman saw.
Methods for tilting the blade to cut bevels vary among the saws. The Porter-Cable saw is the only one with a conventional handwheel bevel control mounted on the side of the saw. The crank gives you great control for setting an exact angle. To set the bevel on the Bosch, DeWalt and Rockwell saws, you simply release the bevel-lock lever and tilt the saw to the preferred angle. It's easy to go quickly from a 90-degree to a 45-degree bevel with this method. The Ridgid, Craftsman and Ryobi saws have a rack-and-pinion setup. These saws utilize the front crank for setting the bevel.
The biggest advance in portable table saw features in the past few years is the safety gear. Every one of these saws includes a riving knife that reduces kickback by keeping the board from pinching on the saw blade. They also include removable antikickback pawls with teeth that dig into the board if it is pulled backward.
And finally, they all include a blade guard that can be removed and reinstalled without tools. Because a few sawing operations, such as non-through cuts, require you to remove the blade guard, we like saws that make this task easy. The Bosch, DeWalt and Ridgid saws have well-designed blade guards that are easy to remove and reinstall. The blade guards on all but the Porter-Cable and Craftsman also have a feature that holds the blade guard in the raised position to allow better blade visibility for setting up cuts.
All these saws have fences that extend to at least 24 in. to allow you to rip a 4 x 8-ft. sheet of plywood in half. And they all have a slightly different way of accomplishing this. DeWalt has the most straightforward method. You just push the fence out on its rails and flip over the board support. On the Rockwell saw, you flip out a hinged fence rail. The only drawback to this fence is that it must remain in the extended position for any cut, so it takes up quite a bit of room. The remaining saws require you to release one or two levers and pull out the fence extension.
The scales that indicate the width of cut fall into one of two categories: continuous and separate. Of the seven we're reviewing, DeWalt, Ridgid and Rockwell are continuous. You simply line up the fence with the desired measurement. The other four—Bosch, Craftsman, Ryobi and Porter-Cable—require you to lock the fence in a specific position on fully extended rails, and read the dimension on a separate scale. We prefer the continuous scales and really like the tape measure–type scale on the Ridgid.
Why Should I Spend Nearly Twice as Much for a Saw?
It's not until you get a bunch of saws side by side in the shop that you start to see the difference between a $300 saw and a $500 saw. While the motors are all 15-amp, the more expensive saws have features like soft start to prolong motor and gear life, electronic feedback to maintain blade speed and gearing to maximize torque. If you look under the saws, you'll see that the more expensive saws also have much beefier motor carriages and better-quality blade-adjusting mechanisms.
The DeWalt, Bosch and Ridgid saws have strong stands that are easier to set up, sturdy fences that lock down parallel to the blade every time, and smooth-operating blade controls. If you're a contractor or an avid DIYer who just likes top-quality tools that feel good and last a long time, we think the extra few hundred dollars is a good investment.
All seven saws have some kind of dust control. The Rockwell saw has a completely enclosed motor compartment with a large dust bag that attaches under the saw to catch sawdust. The remaining saws have a shroud around the blade and a 2-1/2-in. port on the back for attaching either a bag or a vacuum cleaner. None were perfect, but at least you can catch most of the sawdust. The Craftsman and Ryobi also include a dust bag that attaches to the vacuum cleaner port.
The next four saws represent a good cross-section of the under-$450 selection. Any one of them would be fine for the weekend warrior who needs a compact saw for occasional use.
The Craftsman table saw is one of the most compact of the bunch when it's folded up. And if you can get it for the sale price of $260, it's also the cheapest. The blade guard and anti-kickback pawls are identical to the Porter-Cable and are the hardest of any of the saws to install. And they are the only two blade guards that don't have a feature to hold them out of the way when you're adjusting the blade or setting up the cut.
The Porter-Cable looks like a beefed-up version of the Craftsman, with the same blade guard and anti-kickback pawls. This is the only saw in our test with a blade-tilting handwheel, which makes it easier to dial in a precise bevel angle. The motor mount and blade controls on this saw are very sturdy, without much play, which translates to a good-quality cut. Extending the fence for a wide rip requires a bit of effort on this saw, since the rails are stiff. All in all, this is a great saw for the price.
Rockwell diverged from the crowd with this offering. For starters, the riving knife, anti-kickback pawls and blade guard are connected and remove as a unit. If you do remove them to make a non-through cut, you have to install the separate riving knife first. It's not difficult, just different. This is the only saw with a right-tilting motor. We prefer left-tilting motors because it's safer to make bevel cuts with the fence on the right side of the blade. There's no port for attaching a vacuum cleaner, but there's a large dust bag that does a good job of collecting sawdust. This saw cuts 3-9/16 in. at 90 degrees, 1/16 in. more than the next closest competitors, allowing you to rip a 4x4 in one pass. And like the Ryobi saw, it has a 30-in.-wide rip capacity.
There's a lot to like about this saw. The stand is easy to set up and very sturdy. We like the smooth-operating table extension and the blade guard's hold-up feature and ease of installation. The only downside we found is that the motor mount is less rigid than those on the other saws we tested. We suspect that's why the cut quality on our torture test was not as good with this saw.
When you get to the $500-and-above price range, you can't really go wrong. The following three saws offer great performance and features.
The Bosch table saw sets a standard for quality, and we highly recommend it. The stand is easy to set up and has the best wheels of the bunch. We give the blade guard on this saw the “easiest to install” award. And the fence locks down perfectly every time.
Like the other saws in this price range, the Bosch has a soft-start motor that's been geared to run a little slower for better torque. It’s the only saw with a built-in arbor lock for easier blade changes. The saw with the stand is 38 in. high, a few inches taller than the other saws. If you're tall, you may prefer this.
This saw/stand combination is the most expensive of the group. But you get some top-end features. The first thing you'll notice is the stand with its splayed legs that have no wheels in the setup position. You can't wheel it around, but man is it sturdy, which is great if you're ripping sheets of plywood or long, heavy boards. Another unique advantage of this stand is that you can easily remove the saw. That makes the saw easy to transport and to use without the stand. But our favorite feature is the patented rack-and-pinion fence that stays perfectly parallel to the blade and is super easy to adjust. If you can afford to spend a little more, we think the DeWalt is hard to beat.
The Ridgid stand is similar to the Bosch stand, but with slightly lower-quality wheels. The fence glides smoothly and locks down securely. The fence is the longest of the group and has T-slots on the sides and top for mounting accessories like featherboards.
The continuous-read, tape measure–type scale is ingenious and easy to read, and Ridgid's lifetime warranty covers it against breakage. The Ridgid saw has the most versatile miter gauge with holes and slots for mounting extensions and accessories. The designers have cleverly fashioned the stand to also serve as a left-side outfeed support for ripping plywood.
4 Editors, 100 Years and 40 Fingers
Who better to check out table saws than four editors with a combined 100-plus years of remodeling, building and cabinetmaking experience? We're glad the saws we're testing have good safety equipment, because so far we've all been lucky to avoid losing fingers, and we want to keep it that way.