First of all, if you are not familiar with SawStop technology you should look into it. Basically, the saw detects when the blade comes in contact with something conductive such as your finger. When that happens, the aluminum brake is rammed into the blade stopping the blade’s rotation, saving your fingers. This video shows how it works and you can find additional information, including the owner’s manuals, on the SawStop website.
This seems like a logical follow-up to my last post about my sliding table saw which cost about the same amount as a SawStop Professional (the Contractor model is less; the Industrial is more). When I decided to replace my under-powered contractor’s saw, the SawStop was the other saw at which I was looking. I use a SawStop Industrial table saw at the Lee Valley Tools Ltd. shop where I work part-time so I have first-hand experience with their machines. They are nicely built and there are many reasons to buy a SawStop:
- Peace of mind. I am the only user of my table saw in my own shop and I trust myself to make smart, safe decisions. I am comfortable with the saw and understand how to use it safely. However, if I had someone else using the saw, regardless of their experience, I would feel badly if they had an accident. For that reason, I am the only one who uses my saw. If I had others using my saw, I would seriously reconsider investing in a SawStop.
In writing this, I do not mean to say that I am immune to accidents. I am not. In a moment where I am not thinking, the SawStop could well be the difference between losing a finger or not;
- Excellent dust collection capabilities, especially when using the blade guard;
- The owner’s manual is very clear and well-written. It is riddled with large, quality pictures. The manual for the SawStop Industrial Cabinet Saw consists of 104 pages and is coil bound. There is a separate manual for the fence system;
- Adjustments. The SawStop Industrial Cabinet Saw allows you to adjust more than the 45- and 90-degree bevel stops. You can also fine-tune the amount of backlash in the adjustments, elevation limit stops, and more. There are 21 pages dedicated to adjustments in the Industrial Cabinet Saw manual;
- Changing between the riving knife (or spreader, as the manual calls it) with blade guard and low profile riving knife (sometimes called a “shark fin”) is quick, easy, and requires no tools; and
- They are well-made. All the machining is fine and you won’t find any cheap plastic components anywhere. I approve of their hand wheels, which are particularly nice!
Ultimately, a number of factors led to my decision to go with the European-style sliding table saw. Here is a list of things that helped me decide:
- The biggest, of course, was the sliding table. When I bought my saw, I commented that if SawStop made a sliding table saw, I would buy it. The sliding table makes wide crosscuts easy and provides ample support for large panels without the need for roller stands;
- Though sheet goods are not my favourite, the scoring blade is a useful accessory. SawStop does not offer a saw with one;
- My previous table saw was equipped with a Unifence which I’d gotten use to after learning on a Biesemeyer fence. The two black knobs on the right side of the body can be loosened, allowing the aluminum fence to be slid forwards or backwards. This is useful for repetitive crosscuts, as a short fence, or to allow long crosscuts without losing the rip fence’s positioning.
Fences on European saws are similar to the Unifence in appearance and operation, but may vary in how its position is read. Rather than the hairline cursors we North Americans are familiar with, some European fences are read directly off the face of the fence. This is not necessarily better – just different. You have to make sure you are sighting directly down the fence for an accurate reading. If you have an auxiliary or sacrificial fence installed, you don’t need to factor in its thickness;
I prefer the type of fence that can be slid forwards and backwards along the body. The SawStop comes with one of two models of two T-fences. Of course, you could always retrofit the SawStop with an aftermarket fence.
- SawStop table saws tilt left. Right-tilting arbors are not available. I prefer a right-tilt saw for the one reason that the arbor flange is on the right side of the blade. This means that when you put a dado stack on the saw, the additional blades are built away from the fence so the fence’s scale remains accurate. The opposite is true for a left-tilt saw;
- Separate brake cartridges must be purchased for 8″ dado blades. There is no brake cartridge available for other sized dado blades;
- With the exception of 8″ dado stacks, blades other than 10″ may not be used. I sometimes find a 7-1/4″ blade from a circular saw really useful because they have a thinner kerf. It’s not often when I need to make a very thin groove, but when I do, a circular saw blade usually does the trick. They are also cheaper so I am not hesitant to cut dirty lumber with them;
- The brake must be checked and set for the proper distance to the blade. All 10″ blades are not the same. Sharpenings can have an effect on the size of the blade so if you have a brand new crosscut blade and a thrice-sharpened rip blade, you may need to adjust the brake when switching blades;
- When the SawStop’s main power switch is turned on, the saw must do self-diagnostics which takes about 5-10 seconds. This switch does not need to be turned off every time the saw is turned off;
- The SawStop’s paddle switch used to start and stop the blade just like on a regular saw is easy to bump into accidentally. I have no issue with that. However, unlike conventional saws, if the SawStop’s switch is bumped off it cannot be turned back on until the blade has come to a stop. I find that to be a nuisance; and
- The SawStop cannot be run without a brake cartridge installed. If you don’t have a spare, you can’t use the saw.
While researching for this article I learned something about the saw that surprised me: in most cases, nails and staples are not large enough to trigger the brake. However, if the nail or staple is grounded (in contact) with a larger conductive body such as a metal miter gauge, table top, or your fingers, the brake will be triggered.
And according to the website, counter to what seems to be the “general knowledge” most wet or green lumber can be cut on the SawStop without overriding the safety feature. The SawStop website states that “if the wood is very green or wet (for example, wet enough to spray a mist when cutting), or if the wood is both wet and pressure treated, then the wood may be sufficiently conductive to trigger the brake.” If you have material this wet, you can either set it aside for a day or so to dry out or set the saw in bypass mode to disable the brake. By the way, you cannot run the saw in bypass mode without a brake installed.
The brake cartridges record information about an accident. If the accident involved contact with skin, send the cartridge back to SawStop and they will send you a new one free of charge. When the brake fires, usually one or two teeth are damaged. The blade can be either repaired by a blade sharpening service or replaced. Your choice will likely be dependant on the cost of the blade.
It’s important to note also that the SawStop brake alone does not make for a safe table saw. Kickback is still a threat, though the included riving knives go a long way to prevent that. As advanced as table saw safety has come, there is still no substitute for training, experience, good judgement and alertness.