I vividly remember seeing the SawStop "hot dog" demo for the first time at sawstop.com. Substituting a hot dog for a human finger, the video shows what typically happens when the whirling blade of a SawStop table saw touches human skin. Instead of making a deep cut or amputating, the blade merely nicks the surface before stopping with a thunk and dropping beneath the tabletop as the power automatically shuts off.
The unique safety feature works by continuously transmitting a small electrical signal onto the spinning blade and springing an aluminum blade brake within 3 to 5 milliseconds if the signal is interrupted by a good electrical conductor. Once the brake trips, you need to replace the brake cartridge and the blade to return the saw to action. A bypass mode lets you deactivate the blade brake temporarily for cutting conductive materials such as aluminum and wet pressure-treated lumber. A separate brake cartridge is available for use with an 8-inch dado set, and can easily be swapped with the standard cartridge.
The hot-dog video is remarkable, but I initially didn't expect the SawStop to be a premium saw. My carpentry crew does high-end residential trim work, and until three years ago we only used DeWalt portable table saws. When it was time to add another saw, though, I did extensive research and decided that the SawStop wasn't just safer, but promised to be a darn good machine.
Choosing a Model
SawStop offers three base models: the Contractor Saw, the Professional Cabinet Saw, and the Industrial Cabinet Saw. Various upgrades and accessories let you tune each model to the work you do. I bought the Contractor Saw, adding an integrated mobile base along with a Biesemeyer-style T-Glide fence system that boosts the rip capacity to 36 ½ inches. Thanks to plenty of vibration-dampening cast iron and heavy-gauge steel, the rig weighs more than 300 pounds. The mobile base allows us to raise the heavy saw onto two wheels and two casters by stepping on a pedal, and to lower it back to the floor by stepping on the pedal and a release lever.
The 1.75-horsepower motor is pre-wired for 120 volts. To improve the performance when ripping hardwoods, I converted it to 240 volts by following the instructions in the owner's manual. Not including the saw blade, our souped-up saw cost about $2,000.
When setting up the saw, we always bolt a homemade melamine out-feed table to its convenient L-shaped rear rail and hook a Delta dust collector to the 4-inch dust port. This setup needs some space, so on site we often convert the living room or garage into our ripping station.
It normally takes four guys to lift and carry the saw, and it's a bit harder to set up than our DeWalts. But the saw is a pleasure to use because it accommodates long trim and wide panels and is precise, stable, and almost vibration-free. Dust collection is decent with our Delta collector, but the saw still emits a large amount of fine dust. A dust-collection blade guard is available that might be an improvement, but we haven't tried it. Also, it isn't practical to load this heavyweight into our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van at the end of each day and take it home. Instead, we meticulously chain the saw, lock the house, and say a prayer.
Our SawStop safety system has yet to save a finger, but we know it works. One of our carpenters accidentally touched the spinning blade with an aluminum straightedge. Boom! I had to replace the blade and the brake, but the straightedge survived.
Matt Risinger owns Risinger Homes, in Austin, Texas. See his blog at JLConline.com.