Why Not a SawStop?

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Excellent dust collection capabilities, especially when using the blade guard;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. 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
  6. 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:

  1. 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;
  2. Though sheet goods are not my favourite, the scoring blade is a useful accessory.  SawStop does not offer a saw with one;
  3. 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.

    Delta Unifence

    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.

    Reading the Position of a European Fence

  4. 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;
  5. Separate brake cartridges must be purchased for 8″ dado blades.  There is no brake cartridge available for other sized dado blades;
  6. 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 it has 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;
  7. 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;
  8. When theSawStop’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;

    Photo from SawStop Manual

  9. 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
  10. 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 their 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.

38 thoughts on “Why Not a SawStop?

  1. Very good impartial and informative review! SAWSTOP people should read your post so they can further improve their design and features. There’re many good reasons why SAWSTOP may not be suitable for some woodworkers (and you’ve given some of them), but I cringe every time someone says don’t buy it because it’s foreign-made or the owners are a bunch of lawyers. I can’t but wonder if he or she was typing on a keyboard and using a computer made in (fill in the name of the country he or she is a citizen of).

  2. Well written informative article, I enjoyed reading it and chose a Hammer B3 Winner over a SawStop (or any cabinet saw) for the reasons you indicated.

    One small correction is that not all Euro rip fences lack a hair line cursor, my B3 has one.

    Regards, Rod.

  3. Hi Chris,

    First thing, thanks for putting together a good article that points out to prospective sawstop buyers the pros and cons to buying these saws. Personally, I feel that sliding table saws do offer an excellent option to purchasing a sawstop.

    I’d like to point out a few things that I feel are slightly misleading.

    1)Point 3 – The Unifence. Although rare, there have been a few owners that have opted to put the Delta Unifence on their sawstops. I’ve heard of a few more that have put incras on too.

    2)Point 6 – 7 1/4 or other sized blades and molding heads. I can see the appeal of the $3 7 1/4 blade, as they are very inexpensive. Yes, none of these blades/heads work with sawstops. However, the reality is that you can get some really inexpensive 10″ blades at $10-$20.

    3)Point 9 – Knee bump switch/paddle – I actually consider this a good thing, easy access to turning off the saw. I’ve never bumped one by accident, so I don’t consider it an issue. Likewise, the few seconds that it takes to start up the saw again could be spent on resetting the work piece & restarting the cut. I consider starting in mid-cut to be a somewhat sketchy operation.

    A question about footprints – The majority of the sliding tablesaws I’ve seen require more space, would you consider that true? I know that the Grizzly G0700 offers a really small footprint, but it’s cross cut and rip capacities seem limited.

    • Pala,

      Thanks for the constructive comments and as a result, I updated parts of my article.

      When I first got my sliding table saw, I actually had more space in my shop. This is partly because I had to clean up to get the saw in, but also because I no longer needed to keep the floor behind the saw clear to set up outfeed support. The footprint of the cabinet is very close to any other contractor or cabinet saw even thought the sliding table is larger. However, I can slide it out of the way. The outrigger on my saw certainly does take up more room but is also easy to remove. My shop is 10′ wide and the outrigger is almost always on the saw. So while it does take up space, it uses space very efficiently so it doesn’t seem like it does.

      When looking for a new saw, I had looked at the G0700 but decided against it because it has a short sliding table and no outrigger. The G0623X fits perfectly in my shop.

      Chris

  4. Great informative article Chris, I now understand quite a bit more how the sawstop works and compares to other table saws. I will definitely use this info when I am ready to buy my own table saw. Thanks Jaromy

  5. Hi,
    I’m happy to have come across this forum as I have have been wanting to buy a slider at $ome point. As many I have looked at the SawStop, and used one when working at Woodcraft, Chattanooga a couple of years ago. They are well built and no doubt the makers have done their homework in every area you can think of. I contacted them last week and they informed me that they are working on a 12″ sliding table version. I don’t know how soon these will be available. That said I’m sure they won’t be cheap and I have also considered the Grizzly saw like yours. They look great in the catalog and
    so is the price. How long have you had yours and so far how do you like it.
    I would appreciate a review of the machine itself and your experience in purchasing and setting it up if you have time.
    Thanks,
    Dan

  6. Chris, how big does the outrigger arm/table just out to the left of the saw? The manual indicates you need a total of almost 10′ widthwise which probably amounts to about 6′ to the left of the sliding wagon but that’s with the crosscut fence fully extended. I’m trying to figure out if a saw of this class would actually fit in my garage.

    Thanks!
    Charlton

  7. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the excellent review. I have been on journey to select a good cabinet table saw and your insights have been very useful. I have a few comments to pass on that may be useful. I have a concern about the Sawstop safety feature. While it is certainly ingenious, I am concerned that the electronics associated with the device will withstand long term vibration, shock, and other environmental exposures and whether it will be reliable over a long period of time (15-20 years). My experience with “consumer” electronics has not been so good. I have a dishwasher that is known to catch fire; a washing machine that stops operating mid-cycle and needs to be rebooted; a TV that will not turn on if there is a slight power loss; A DVR that acts quirky after a few years; a new computer modem that needs to be rebooted about once a week. While the Sawstop has built-in-test electronics to assure proper operation, the additional electronics and software in itself will reduce reliability.
    I think the best safety feature is the easy installation and removal of the blade guard/riving knife. Most users that I have seen don’t even use them because they are too cumbersome to install or remove. The easy installation will probably induce users to actually use it, especially if they want to reduce sawdust disbursal. I think that feature reduces the need for the saw stopping feature.
    And so my journey continues.
    Best Regards,
    Marc

    • Marc,

      One other thought. You said: “While the Sawstop has built-in-test electronics to assure proper operation, the additional electronics and software in itself will reduce reliability.”

      Should the electronics and software fail, it should not allow power to the saw so the saw can’t be started.

      And, yes, the blade guard is one of the best I’ve used and the low-profile riving knife is an accessory I would call a necessity. The change is super quick – I’d say under 10 seconds to change to the low-profile riving knife and a bit longer to go back because of the anti-kickback pawls.

      Chris

      • Hi Chris
        A software (S/W) malfunction could be a failure to detect abnormal conductivity and proceed with a green light or it could detect a failure and fail to initiate the safety device. In this case you would not have a hardware failure and the system would appear to be operating as desired. In a discussion with Sawstop, they stated that the S/W conducts over 100 tests to assure the system is working. My concern is that the more electronic parts involved and the more S/W involved, overall reliability is reduced.
        Perhaps I can clarify my point with this example: Suppose you had an electrical circuit containing 3 parts. The first part receives an input signal from the outside world and outputs a signal to the 2nd part. The 2nd part receives that signal + a second signal and outputs a signal to the 3rd part. The 3rd part receives the signal + a second signal and outputs a signal that turns on a green light. Now consider a circuit that is identical to the 1st circuit, except there is a chain of 100 parts. Over time, the circuit with 100 parts is more likely to fail than the circuit with 3 parts simply because there are more parts available to fail. Nothing is perfect in this world, including electronic parts.
        And by the way, all this is just an intellectual discussion and as of now, I’ll probably go with the Sawstop as opposed to Delta. Also, over the years I have faithfully followed the rule that under no circumstances do I put a finger or hand beyond the insert plate perimeter and I keep a push stick leaning against the fence ready for use. Also, I make sure there are no distractions that could make me lose my focus.

        Best regards,
        Marc

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  9. Pingback: SawStop Table Saw Reviews: See How This One-Of-A-Kind Saw Stop Is Saving Thousands Of Fingers! | The Fun Times Guide to Home Building/ Remodeling

  10. Chris:

    Very informative and helpful analysis both here and your posts about your sliding table saw. I am more of a dilettante weekend warrior type and since my shop time is solitary all things safety are peace of mind for me (not to mention my wife and daughters who fret over me being alone with all those sharp objects) I am still considering a Sawstop. Another reason is that I have a small basement shop without any 220v line so I felt it better to put the money into a quality saw than electrical work and the 1.75 HP version seems to fit my bill. I have been using a Ryobi BT3000 which has a small sliding table and I concur with your comments about its usefulness. Interestingly, Grizzly has a sliding table accessory which it says would fit most table saws with a 27″ deep table (like the Sawstop). Since I am well down the road of compromise and you seem to have a good head for this type of analysis I may as well ask – What do you think?

    • Armando,

      I really like how the aluminum sliding table with T-tracks of my saw travels directly alongside the blade (~1/8″ away). That for me makes it much more useful and I do not see as much usefulness in the bolt-on sliding tables. However, if you are using the sliding table for mostly plywood, you may find the bolt-on sliding table to be all you need.

      Chris

  11. A month ago a careless coworker pushed a cart across the shop that hit my elbow and forced my hand into the table saw. I cut the entire length of my palm but by the grace of god I missed all nerves and tendons. I wish my employer had bought a sawstop before the accident but we have one now. I can’t wait to try it out.

  12. Chris,

    Nice review. I recently bought a Sawstop to replace a DeWalt hybrid saw with a sliding table. Even though the SS is a better built and more powerful saw, I do miss the slider.

    For anyone interested, there is some interesting You-tube video from the Down-to-Earth woodworker showing his build of an outfeed table for his new SS along with commentary as he uses his new SS to make the project. You can find them here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8fbauRQSazNYYA3cBtSj3-SMhRQ3vXF0

    Jim

  13. Hi Chris,

    Excellent series of commentaries on the G0623x. I’ll likely order one in the next few months. I was previously leaning toward the SS Pro, and intending to install the Bench Dog 40-102 ProMax Router Table and Bench Dog 40-150 ProLift in place of the righthand extension table. Is there room and means to install these on the G0623x?

    Thanks,
    John

    • Hi John,

      The Bench Dog site says that it fits “right-tilt cabinet grade table saws that have 27″ deep by 1-1/2″ thick cast iron tables”. The specifications on the Grizzly site list the table as 27″ x 2″. Does that help?

      Chris

    • Hi Fred,

      When I learned that SawStop was working on a sliding table saw several years ago, I was really excited. However, this bolt-on attachment was a huge disappointment for me.

      Chris

      • I can understand that. It does not compare to what Felder and Hammer put out. I still like the safety factor though, and the attachment looks well made.

  14. I’ve had a sawstop cabinet saw for a few years and only realized this weekend that it will not accept my molding blade. By not accept, I mean I can put the blade on perfectly, and get everything setup to create a lot of picture frames, but the saw won’t turn on. It seems that the braking system won’t work with a molding blade. I was under the impression that I could use the bypass option to disable this safety feature, but I was mistaken. I have a tool that has decided what is or isn’t safe for me to do and I can’t override it. Extremely frustrating. I wish I would have bought the Unisaw instead. BTW, I sent and email to their service group, essentially complaining about this and giving them a few suggestions for design mods to solve the problem, but no one found the time to reply to me. Ugh!

  15. Hi Chris,

    First I’d like to say how impressed I am with your reviews and videos, and it’s not just because I’m trying to get on your good side so you might answer my rather long list of questions. However, if my compliments help in that regard…. ; )

    After 30 yrs. of safe woodworking with a tablesaw, I had “the accident”. I’m very fortunate….but I’ll be a while healing. It was a pretty sobering slap upside the head realizing that with all my experience and knowledge, I could do something momentarily unthinking and come so close to having a life changing injury. A Sawstop PCS is on my radar for obvious reasons. The added complexity of the Sawstop concerns me though, and the Grizzly sliding table saw seems like a good option with added convenience and inherently safe design because of its sliding table feature. I’ve also looked at the Hammer K3 winner 48″ X 79″ but really don’t wish to give up/modify my blades, or bare the cost and expense of the Hammer…even at it’s current sale price.
    I own a pre-riving knife made in Canada General T-650. It’s a beautiful saw, extremely well built and consistently accurate. In the fifteen years I have owned it, I have never had to adjust it or realign it beyond initial set up, and very little even then. With a quality blade, kerf marks are non- existent, and with a zero clearance insert, tear out is rarely an issue. I hate to give it up…it’s an old and dearly loved friend….but my accident has given me a new perspective.
    Questions:

    – I don’t know if you are familiar with the General T-650, but given my description, how does the G0623x compare…in both build, cut quality, and accuracy? Does it stay in alignment? Do you ever have issues with play in the sliding table carriage?
    – The General 650 is a left tilt saw. I understand the advantages of a right tilt saw and consistent dado to fence measurements, but I dislike ripping 45 bevels with the long point trapped against the table, especially with narrow stock and the blade angled toward the fence. Obviously rip length is limited on the slider, but for ripping small narrow pieces, both square and beveled, do you find it fairly easy to rip to your required width without a lot of setup using a slider? Does using the rip fence as a guide before clamping your material to the sliding table provide for consistent multiple rips?
    -I’ve never worked with a sliding table saw. The advantages of the sliding table design are obvious, what disadvantages might a sliding table saw have relative to a traditional saw? My woodworking interests go from cabinetry and furniture to smaller craft pieces, so I’m looking for flexibility and the ability to adapt my saw to lots of different situations. Fortunately, I love making jigs!

    If you have a chance to respond, I’d love to hear your impressions.
    Thanks!

    -Bob

    • Hi Bob,

      I’m not very familiar with the General T-650, but I think that I understand the quality to which you refer. Although I have had no issues with the build quality and accuracy of the Grizzly saw, I can say that there are areas where it could certainly be built more robustly. One that comes to mind is the bar for the rip fence, which is an aluminum extrusion. On the Sawstop, this part is a steel rectangular tube, and on the Hammer it is a solid steel round bar.

      Ripping 45 degree bevels underneath the blade is less than ideal, but there are workarounds, too.

      For most cuts, ripping with a sliding table saw is just like with an American style saw (assuming the crosscut fence is not used). Just set the rip fence and make your cut. The sliding table often moves with larger material and if the table reaches the end of its travel, you just keep pushing the stock through anyways. Consistency is not an issue.

      One downside of using a sliding table saw for rip cuts is dealing with narrow cuts. The sliding table should be set up to be slightly higher than the cast iron table to the right of the blade. This means that if I am cutting a 2″ strip in half, it will pass through the blade at a slight angle. Again, there are workarounds to this if it’s a problem.

      Any disadvantage I see with a sliding table saw is outweighed by the advantages. One of the disadvantages is that the sliding table is always there. It does, for me, eliminate the need for any sort of infeed or outfeed support and carts or other tables to stage material being processed.

      Hope this answered a bunch of your questions… let me know if you have more.

      Chris

  16. Hi Chris,

    I decided to purchase the Sawstop PCS because I found a good deal on a used Excalibur sliding table. Not quite as functional as a true slider, but I like the Sawstop safety factor. I’m also creating a dual saw set up, leaving the General T-650 for dados and more complex jig set ups that will be inherently safer by design. Everything is tied together with a 7’x4′ outfeed table for both saws. Creating “Sawzilla” has gotten me back in the woodworking saddle again!

    So….my two bits regarding “Why not a Sawstop?”

    The positive:
    -The safety factor is obviously a huge mark in the plus column. The overall fit and finish is amazing. Assembly instructions are excellent, with a well written and thorough spiral bound manual. All hardware is on a separate color coded blister pack card. Everything works, no filing or re-drilling holes, no frustrated head scratching whatsoever. This should be the standard of quality that all manufacturers should strive for. I had to do some minor alignment adjustments, but they were incredibly easy, and required zero fiddling. Overall the saw appears to be beautifully engineered and well thought out, with adjustment options not available on most saws. Though I didn’t need it, customer service is supposed to be superb.

    The not so positive:
    -Expensive. You definitely pay a premium fo the safety tech. $3000 for a top of the line cabinet saw is not uncommon, but in truth the PCS is sort of a cross between a hybrid saw and a true cabinet saw. I believe the trunnions are cabinet mounted, but compared to the T-650, and most other true cabinet saws, they are no where near as robust. It is designed for 3 hp. max, while most other saws offer 5 hp. and sometimes 7.5 hp. in the same configuration, and are therefore built accordingly. The tables in that price range also tend to be deeper then the Sawstop’s standard 27″. The Sawstop’s cabinet, though perfectly adequate, is not as robust at the base as many other saws in this price range. The plastic motor access housing is surprisingly cheap given the rest of the saw, and does not latch well. Most saws in this price range are substantially heavier. I see the Sawstop as a twenty year saw. The General T-650 could be around for my great grandchildren!

    Thanks again for your input. Your response has reaffirmed that I believe I have made a good decision for my particular needs. My recent accident weighed heavily on that decision. If not for that, the Grizzly G0623x might very well have been my next saw!

    -Bob

  17. Pingback: SawStop Table Saw Reviews: See How This One-Of-A-Kind Saw Stop Is Saving Thousands Of Fingers! - Fun Times Guide

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