In my early years as a carpenter, table saws were a luxury on
many job sites. Back then, saws were expensive, had cast-iron
tops, and weighed upwards of 225 pounds. There was simply no
such thing as a lightweight professional-grade portable. But
that changed in the mid-'80s when Makita introduced its model
2708 8 1/4-inch table saw. It was light, powerful, and at about
twice the price of a circular saw, very affordable. The next
big change took place in the late '90s when DeWalt introduced
its model DW744. Like full-size cast-iron contractor saws, this
tool had a 10-inch blade and the ability to make a 24-inch rip.
But unlike those machines, the DW744 was compact and light
enough to be carried by one person. In addition, that saw had a
very sophisticated fence mechanism.
In the last few years, a number of manufacturers have
introduced portable table saws with 10-inch blades and the rip
capacity of full-size contractor models. For this article, I
tested 10-inch saws from Bosch, Craftsman, DeWalt, Hitachi,
Makita, Porter-Cable, and Ridgid.
How much power you need depends on the kind of work you do.
For example, most of these saws can make 24-inch rips, which is
what you need to cut sheet goods such as plywood. Every one of
these saws has more than enough power to cut 3/4-inch plywood
The saws showed up while I was building a deck, so I put them
through a sterner test, ripping pressure-treated framing
lumber. None of the saws had any trouble ripping 1 1/2-inch
stock, so to get a better sense of their power, I resawed some
dry hemlock 2x4s. Normally, you'd cut halfway in from each
side, but I did this with the blades all the way up. It was not
a scientific test, but the results were consistent with how the
saws felt cutting thinner material. Makita's model had the
easiest time resawing 2x4s and was the only saw with enough
depth of cut to make it all the way through in a single pass.
The Bosch, Craftsman, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable felt about the
same, a little less powerful than the Makita. The DeWalt and
Ridgid had the most trouble ripping 3 1/2-inch material with
the blade all the way up. That said, every one of these saws
had the power to perform standard carpentry tasks.
The saws all have direct-drive universal motors. And they all
draw 15 amps, except for the DeWalt, which draws 13 amps. The
Makita, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable saws are equipped with
automatic brakes. This safety feature is especially useful if
you set the fence by measuring off the blade.
In the old days, rip capacity was related to the size of the
table. The broader the table, the wider the rip. But table size
became less important in the late '90s when DeWalt introduced a
saw with telescoping rails. Except for the Hitachi and the
Makita, all of the saws I tested have telescoping rails and can
make rips over 24 inches wide. The saws with fixed rails make
narrower cuts. The maximum rip on the Hitachi is 15 inches to
the right and 16 inches to the left. The Makita can rip 12 1/4
inches to the right.
On most saws, you lock the rails into position by activating a
lever below the table. Ridgid's lever is accessed from above.
The Bosch, Craftsman, and Ridgid saws have split tables, so a
6-inch section of table extends outward with the rails. The
extended section supports the right edge of the stock during
wide rips. DeWalt and Porter-Cable use single-piece tops.
DeWalt relies on a narrow pivoting shelf to support thin stock
during wide rips. Porter-Cable uses a support that clips to the
side of the fence.
DeWalt uses a pivot-mounted shelf to
support thin stock that extends beyond the right edge of the
table. Other manufacturers split the table or add a clip-on
DeWalt's rails are connected to a slick rack-and-pinion
mechanism that you can move by hand or by turning a
fine-adjustment knob. The other telescoping rails are moved
entirely by hand. The rails on the Bosch and Porter-Cable saws
slide easily. The rails on the Craftsman and Ridgid are harder
to push in and out.
A good scale increases productivity by allowing you to set
rips without a tape. The graduations should be easy to read,
and the pointer or indicator line should be thin and close to
Porter-Cable puts a magnifier over the
indicator on its scale. The fence can be recalibrated by
loosening the screws and moving the indicator.
The scales on the Bosch, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable saws are
particularly easy to read. The Craftsman, Hitachi, and Ridgid
scales are a step down, mostly because the scale or the pointer
is harder to read. The scale on the Makita is okay for rough
rips, but if you want accuracy, it's easier to set the fence
with a tape.
The rear scale on Bosch's saw is
especially easy to read because the graduations vary in length
and the indicator is right down on the numbers.
Ideally, the rip scale would be as accurate for bevels as it
is for 90-degree cuts. But on some saws (see the specs for
individual tools), tilting the arbor shifts the cutting line to
the left. If that happens, you'll have to make test cuts,
because the scale won't work for beveled rips.
A cast-iron-top table saw is fine if you always work in the
same place. But a carpenter may work on multiple sites or need
to set up at different locations on the same job, so it's a big
plus if a saw is easy to move and store. Most of these machines
weigh around 60 pounds, about the same as a 12-inch sliding
miter saw. At 44 pounds, Makita's saw is exceptionally light
and easy to carry. The Craftsman and Ridgid saws come on
wheeled, bolt-on stands. The wheels make it easier to move the
saws, which is good because the stands add a lot of
Size matters, too. The
bigger the footprint, the harder it is to store and transport a
saw. The Makita has a smaller footprint than the other models.
The Hitachi has the largest footprint if you don't include the
stand. If you include the stand, the Ridgid has the largest
footprint, though you can reduce it by storing the saw on
Whatever saw you get, it's a good idea to buy some kind of
stand, because otherwise you'll have to kneel to use the
machine. Some carpenters use sawhorses, but they're rarely as
portable or as stable as a manufactured stand. Most saws come
with or are available with detachable scissor-action stands
that fold flat for storage.
Ridgid's stand is very stable, and the
wheels make it easy to move around. The downside of the bolt-on
stand is that it adds weight and bulk to the tool.
Makita sells optional bolt-on legs, but they make it harder to
transport the tool because they don't fold. The Bosch, DeWalt,
Hitachi, and Porter-Cable saws are available with
scissor-action stands that are stable and solidly made.
Craftsman's stand has wheels, but they work only when the legs
are folded. The wheels make it easier to move the saw around,
but they're so close together that the saw lacks stability when
you roll it on uneven surfaces. Ridgid's wheels are widely
spaced, so the stand is more stable when rolled. And the wheels
are always on the ground, so you can move the saw without
breaking it down. I like using this stand, but it makes the saw
so large and heavy that it's hard to consider it
When you're pricing saws, be sure to account for the stand.
Some machines come with them, but they're an $80 to $100 option
Height and Bevel Control
Every saw has a crank to raise and lower the blade. There's
nothing unusual about any of them except that the action is
particularly smooth on the Bosch, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable
Most of the saws have quick-action bevel locks that can be
activated with a single 90-degree turn of a lever. Craftsman
and Hitachi use old-fashioned captured-nut mechanisms that
require multiple turns. Ridgid uses a quick-action cam.
All but two of the saws (Bosch and DeWalt) include a
rack-and-pinion mechanism to adjust the tilt of the blade. The
rack is on the housing, and the pinion is on the handwheel.
These gizmos make it somewhat easier to fine-adjust bevels, but
I wouldn't go out of my way to get one.
The lever-activated arbor lock on the
Bosch saw makes it easy to change blades. Craftsman's saw is
equipped with a similar mechanism.
Most saws have a variety of small added features. They might
include onboard storage for blades, wrenches, and miter gauges
or a cord wrap or a better guard. None of these items is that
important, but they do make saws more convenient to use.
Cord wrap. This feature is a
no-brainer. Of course there should be a way to safely store the
cord when you transport the machine. No one wants to trash the
cord or trip on it when carrying the saw. The Hitachi, Bosch,
and Ridgid tools have manual wraps, and the Craftsman has a
spring-loaded reel. I like the mechanism on the Craftsman
because it automatically retracts the cord, but I have some
doubts about how long that will last under daily use. Bosch has
the best traditional wrap because it's big and the plug ties
off by clipping on to the cord.
Manufacturers continue to add features,
such as the cord wrap on this Ridgid saw. Bosch, Craftsman, and
Hitachi also provide places to store the cord.
Guard. More carpenters would
use guards if they were better designed. I don't mind using one
if for no other reason than I'm less likely to catch a face
full of chips. The problem is you can't cut dados or rabbets
without removing the guard. Most manufacturers make no effort
to make guards easy to remove and, more important, easy to
reinstall. That task frequently requires the use of tools and
the manipulation of small, easy-to-lose parts. No wonder it's
rare for carpenters to actually use the things.
But two of these saws come with guards that are easy to remove
and reinstall. Ridgid's guard attaches to the back of the saw
with a small, permanently connected handwheel. Porter-Cable's
guard installs by clicking it into a slot behind the blade. To
remove, just pull the lock spring and lift.
For a basic no-frills saw, look no further than the Makita
2703. Its fence is clunky and its rip capacity is small, but it
has a powerful motor and a simple, solid design that should
withstand years of hard use.
If you want to make 24-inch rips, consider a Bosch or
Porter-Cable machine. The Bosch is powerful and extremely quiet
for a table saw. The Porter-Cable is equally powerful and has a
solid, accurate fence.
Most carpenters have a general sense of which
tools are louder than others, but the introduction
of inexpensive decibel (dB) meters has made
quantification possible. I used a digital meter to
measure the noise output of these saws. There are
many ways to measure sound, so the numbers I came
up with are less important than the relative
rankings of the machines. Even so, Porter-Cable
lists a dB rating in its specs, and it's the same
as the number I got.
The meter confirmed what I already believed: that
some saws are louder than others and that they're
loudest when you first turn them on. I tested the
tools in the center of a 20x20-foot garage. The
meter was on a tripod 24 inches above the table,
pretty much where your head is when you're ripping.
I measured the maximum sound output at startup and
It helps to put the numbers into perspective.
Sound intensity is measured in decibels and is a
measure of fluctuations in air pressure caused by
sound waves. The dB scale is logarithmic, which
means that an increase of 10 dB represents a
tenfold increase in sound intensity. Increase a
noise by 3 dB, and you've doubled its intensity.
Human physiology is such that we perceive a tenfold
increase in intensity as a mere tripling of
loudness. The important point is that aside from
being more annoying, a tool that puts out 100 dB is
significantly more likely to damage your hearing
than one that puts out 90 dB.
Normal conversation is usually between 45 and 60
dB. A car horn is over 90 dB, loud enough to cause
hearing damage; 110 dB is considered deafening, the
equivalent of standing next to a cannon; 130 dB is
loud enough to cause immediate hearing
of Table Saws