For many years, I restored Karmann Ghias as a side hobby. I sold my last Ghia about four years ago for the same reasons I bought a SawStop table saw.
While I love the simplicity, beauty and build quality of a 1960s Karmann Ghia, I also appreciate anti-lock brakes, traction control, over-the-shoulder seat belts and (in theory) the airbags in a modern car. I’m willing to trade away some soul for safety.
I’ve now spent more than two-and-a-half years with a SawStop cabinet saw in my shop. I haven’t set off any blade-braking cartridges – either accidentally or on purpose. But I have pushed the 3 hp machine to its limits, plus I have the unusual perspective of someone who has worked on everything from an Altendorf down to the Ryobi jobsite saw that wounded Carlos Osario.
Bottom line: I like the SawStop a lot, but I think it could be better.
Most people buy the saw for its safety features, so let’s start there. If you are leery of the saw because you have to swap cartridges, get over that. It’s not even the slightest bit tricky; after a few months you will do it mindlessly, like brushing your teeth.
I love the riving knife and the easy way it locks in place. It hasn’t bent or gotten in the way once. For me and my work, this is the most important safety feature because it prevents your work from pinching the back of the sawblade.
The blade cover is OK. Its anti-kickback pawls give me fits because they can get in the way when you install the guard. Because of their length, you have to raise the blade quite high before you can sneak the saw’s throat plate in place. Or you have to lock the pawls up into the blade cover. And sometimes they come loose. I want to remove or shorten the pawls, but I swore to myself I’d keep the blade cover unmodified.
Trunnions and Guts
My only disappointment with the SawStop is in the overall feel of the machine. When I bought this machine, I replaced a 1990s-era American-made Unisaw. And I have spent thousands of hours on a Powermatic 66 that was made in McMinnville, Tenn. Those are my baselines for cabinet saws.
The SawStop works and feels like a really well-made Taiwanese cabinet saw, such as a Jet, a high-end Grizzly or a General International. Overall, I’d say the SawStop controls move just fine, but they don’t have the heavy-iron feel of a Powermatic 66. If you’ve used only Taiwanese saws, you’ll be thrilled with the SawStop. If you come from heavy-metal roots, you’ll feel something is missing.
For the most part, the SawStop has kept its settings from August 2013 when I installed it in my shop. The table is still aligned perfectly (just checked it) with the blade. The fence (I have the cheap one) still works great. On lesser saws, the vibrations shake nuts loose and things go wonky. Not so on this machine.
The only downtime I’ve experienced with this saw has been when the blade-tilt mechanism failed. When returning the blade to 90° a stop collar came loose inside the machine and the tilt mechanism hung there like a broken arm.
I dug out the parts from the dust in the cabinet, cleaned them off and replaced them. Took 30 minutes.
The only other time the saw went down on me was when the switch decided not to cooperate. I suspect some dust got in there and wreaked havoc – that’s what dust does best. Blowing compressed air into the switch cleared things up and I haven’t had a problem since.
Speaking of dust, I have to give this saw the highest marks for its dust collection. The only saws I’ve seen with better dust collection cost more than a sports car. So congrats to SawStop for solving this long-time problem on cabinet saws.
In the End
I’m difficult to please when it comes to machinery. Most home woodworkers will find the SawStop to be an incredible machine that will give them a lifetime of pleasure.
I wish it could be more. Perhaps a Powermatic 66 with the safety technology of the SawStop. Powermatic perfected – I’ll say it again, perfected – the 10” cabinet saw with the Tennessee-made 66. That high-water mark has yet to be met or eclipsed in my opinion.
I’d be happy to pay more for this mythical saw. Double the price and I won’t blink. I know enough about the modern machinery market to know this is a pipe dream. But I think someone should say it.
For those of you in the market for a table saw, I still think the SawStop is the only machine to consider. We’re not lizards; fingers don’t grow back.
— Christopher Schwarz
Notes: I’ve disabled comments for this post because I don’t want to drag this blog into the Table Saw Holy Wars. I purchased this saw at full retail, as I do every tool in my shop. We don’t take free or discounted anything here at Lost Art Press. Also, I have yet to try the Bosch Reaxx, but I’m not going to buy a jobsite saw.