Good saw if space is tight or you need portability

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Review by ferstler posted 12-04-2008 09:44 PM 20240 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Good saw if space is tight or you need portability Good saw if space is tight or you need portability Good saw if space is tight or you need portability Click the pictures to enlarge them

I read a review of another Ryobi table saw elsewhere on this site and the owner was not happy with it at all. He basically criticized the small size of the saw and the lack of quality in the fence. Well, we have to remember that saws of that kind are low-priced items, built for use in tight spaces and for owners (or woodworking dabblers) on strict budgets.

The reviewed saw was different from the BTS20 reviewed here, but it is possible that the fences for each unit were the same, or at least similar. What he had may have been a defective sample, because my fence has worked very well, considering its short length – a characteristic that would have to exist, give the short depth of this small saw’s table. It locks tight and after diddling with the blade angle (there are screws on the back of the table to do that) and adjusting the fence clamp to grip tightly, the combination has worked good enough to give decent cutting. (Installing a Freud Industrial ripping blade did not hurt, either.) Yep, complaining about the fence (or the short table) is akin to complaining about the small size of a car you just purchased, because it could not carry six football players. Small is an obvious characteristic (as is light weight and aluminum and plastic construction when it comes to Ryobi table saws), and complaining about an obvious thing like that seems a bit over the top. The reviewer complained about something basically related to the small size of a small saw, and then went out an did the wise thing: he purchased a larger saw. Good for him, but he then went on to damn Ryobi products in general, even though the main defect of the saw he disliked was related to its small size and lightweight construction.

Anyway, this particular saw has been replaced by the BTS21 version. I have not worked with the new version, but the main characteristic I noticed with the Home Depot display model appears to be that the folding stand has been changed from a round-tube design to a square-tube version. The saw itself has cosmetic changes, and (would you believe) the fence on the newer version seems more cheaply built and lightweight than the one on the earlier BTS20. Maybe our other Ryobi saw that was reviewed had that cheaper fence.

The specifications are fairly basic: 5/8-inch arbor, cutting depth at zero degrees 3 5/8 inches, cutting depth at 45 degrees 2 1/2 inches, 4,800 rpm spin speed, left-tilt blade, and a net weight of just under 92 pounds. I would prefer a slower blade speed, but speed is what you need to get decent power with a 15-amp universal motor. The thing comes with a miter gauge, but the thing simply cannot ride in the groove with enough stability to do really good crosscuts. For that kind of work, I use a Ridgid sliding compound miter saw, anyway. The right side of the table can pull out from the main section (the main section is cast aluminum and the pull-out section is sheet steel), and this gives you a 27-inch ripping capacity. The pull-out section is released by two small knobs underneath and is less slick than similar operations with competing models.

Deficiencies notwithstanding, this BTS20 model that I own is really quite nice. It got some good reviews a while back in one or two woodworking magazines (each of which were comparing it to some competing models, and each of which were fully aware of the limitations of such saw types in general), and also got a good review a while back in Consumer Reports (which also compared it to several competing models). Only two jobsite saws in the Consumer Reports review topped this Ryobi unit, and both of them (the Bosch and the Ridgid) cost considerably more. I paid $220 for mine at Home Depot.

The BTS20 has its faults. For one thing, the table’s lead-in area in front of the blade is too shallow (compromising crosscutting work), which is odd, given that the saw has a pull-out stabilizer in the back that gives the user a lot of support behind the blade. They could have moved the blade back a bit and still have had plenty of rear support, thanks to that stabilizer.

Another problem is the insert. It fits into a very shallow cutout, which makes it essentially impossible to build a zero-clearance cutout that is stiff enough and will stay safely in place. You are stuck with the factory-built insert, and that item has problems of its own. It is held in place by one screw at the front, and the back section has tongues underneath that catch on tabs that hold the rear section down. The problem is that they do not hold the thing down well at all if you want to be able to remove it easily for blade changes, and so workpieces can ride up a bit on the insert as it rises above the table surface. My solution was a lucky one. I discovered two screw holes under the rear section and I drilled out the insert above the holes, countersunk the drilled holes just enough, and then cut two correctly threaded screws down in size enough so they would work in those factory holes without coming up against the motor-frame assembly underneath. (See the second photo for the new-screw locations.) This stabilizes the insert nicely. Unfortunately, the insert, as tightened down, was then pulled slightly below the table level, so I installed some thin-strip, stick-on spacing materials underneath to get the insert to be exactly flush with the table top. In addition, behind the insert, on the back of the table surface, was a small recess that tended to snag workpieces, and I did some shallow filing work on it to eliminate that problem. The result was an insert that, although not as refined as a zero-clearance job, at least was not acting up as before.

Another problem involved the anti-kickback grippers. I have never liked such things (look at them crosseyed and they scuff your workpiece), and so one “fix” I did was to drill out the rivets that held them in place and reinstall the also attached blade guard with screws. The blade-guard itself was also problematical, being bigger than necessary to guard the blade. The front part stuck out further than necessary, given that there was also an internal baffle. I cut the guard back to that internal baffle and beveled it a bit, and the result was no change in guarding abilities, but with the weight and sized reduced enough to make the guard a bit less intrusive. Most of the time I leave the guard in the raised position, anyway. The blade-guard assembly itself can be removed for non-through cuts, and to do that you must remove the insert and loosen two screws. The screws also hold tapered shims in place and you can configure those shims to get the rear blade guide to center up right behind the blade. Unfortunately, like so many saws, the guide does not ride up and down with the blade, so the usual anti-kickback precautions need to be taken when ripping. I have not tried a dado blade in this saw, but I get the impression that the arbor and insert are not large enough to accommodate one.

All in all, this saw works very well when one considers its small size and price. Although no longer available as a new item at Home Depot, no doubt samples will still be available used here and there, and hopefully the replacement BTS21 works as well. On the other hand, assuming after lots of diddling with the few adjustments it has, that it can do work as welll as a good contractor or cabinet saw is pointless. However, when you need a low-priced saw that can be folded up and pushed into a small shop or garage corner, it is hard to beat for the money.

Howard Ferstler

View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 4293 days

6 comments so far

View matter's profile


210 posts in 4542 days

#1 posted 12-19-2008 07:12 PM

I have the same saw. 3 years, and going strong. Only failure was the switch, which I replaced with a heavy duty industrial switch.

The BTS21 has the sliding table (I think that’s the one), which I found sloppy and cumbersome.

If you pull the arbor washers you can use a dado up to 1” without the throat insert

-- The only easy wood project is a fire

View fr8train's profile


19 posts in 4211 days

#2 posted 01-07-2009 11:25 AM

I also have this saw, and have had it for going on three years now. I think that ferstler provided a very fair review. My complaints are similar (although I have no problem with the insert on mine).

I completely agree with the comment about the blade being too far forward…. this is my biggest complaint about the saw…. doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the rest of the table. To compensate, I thought about building an extension table forward and have stared at the saw for some time. The front measuring strip/fence grip will come off, and with the proper patience and materials, it is possible. You would then need to buy or fashion another fence. After looking at the cost/time factor, I decided against doing it and just simply support my work with rollers and Black and Decker portable workbenches.

My fence is also fine/true enough, and what you would expect to get with the price of this unit. I measure each movement of the fence with a square to ensure accuracy…. something that I would do even with a better fence. I even made a couple of jigs out of MDF for the fence to support my work with featherboards and the like. The fence accommodated them nicely.

Another nice feature on this unit is the dust collection port…. works very well with the proper dust collector attached…. I was surprised.

Overall, this is a fine saw for the price. I work this saw quite a bit, both ripping, cross-cutting and making furniture pieces (I am attempting a cabinet with it now). For the first time, I milled my own lumber using a portable planer, jointer (both Grizzly’s) and this saw. The boards came out well, managing to true up 90/95 percent of what I attempted. I wouldn’t use it with expensive wood, though.

I will eventually replace this saw. My problem is more a “constantly moving” issue (military) than it is a problem with money and space. I will most likely not replace it until I settle down. For people on a strict budget or who move a lot, this saw will do the trick. I will caveat this comment…. Craftsman appears to have taken advantage of the portable table saw market and appear to have come out with two or three portables that I would have considered had they been on the market when I bought this one. I would be interested to read the reviews on them (if they haven’t been reviewed already….. I haven’t looked.)

View RandyMarine's profile


236 posts in 4142 days

#3 posted 07-24-2009 03:54 PM

The saw you reviewed is a better saw than the one that replaced it…I have the newer model, and as you stated it is good for a beginner, how ever the sliding table is junk. I found this arrangement was useful for carpentry and not wood working….without miter slots you can not make effective jigs for the newer saw….the fence is ok for the cash but after using the saw on a few wood working projects I bit the bullet and bought the new ridgid granite table saw…..

Word of caution with the Ryobi table saws, if you get your particular model, ensure you have the miter slots. If not you have a great framing table saw!

-- Semper Fi, Randy Sr.

View Hotpuppy's profile


69 posts in 2519 days

#4 posted 09-02-2013 02:19 AM

Great review and spot on. I’ve had this saw for several years. It is worth diddling with the fence to get it parallell to the blade. I consider it to be a good carpentry saw. The right hand extension is a PITA to work, but otherwise it’s a nice light weight saw.

I’m looking at buying a heavier duty saw for my woodworking projects.

View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 4293 days

#5 posted 09-02-2013 08:22 PM

I have since sold that nice little Ryobi saw to a neighbor, who is getting good use out of it.

I now have only my Ridgid 4510 jobsite saw for table-saw work, and it is indeed better than the Ryobi, which is to be expected, given the higher price. I would have kept the Ryobi as a second unit to use during the art-collage projects I have been doing these days, but I have limited space in my shop.

Actually, I get more mileage out of my Ridgid band saw when doing collages than with my table saw, because I am cutting small pieces, and that can be risky with any table saw. I also had a Ryobi band saw, but it was also crowding me in my shop, so I sold it to the same neighbor, who uses it even more than he uses the table saw. Sold him a table-top Ryobi drill press, too, since I have the Ridgid floor-standing version, and he also bought my small Ryobi table-top belt sander, since I have a 6×48-inch Craftsman version for work on the collage wood pieces. Finally, I sold him a workable Ryobi miter saw, since (you guessed it) I have the big Ridgid 12-inch sliding version for crosscutting work. I now have some space in my small shop to turn around.

I am doing well with the collages, with groups of them in two different local art galleries, another group in a local bookstore, and one large grouping in an important gallery in a nearby small town. This latter gallery also has two of my chess boards for sale, plus some small shelf-art pieces. I have posted project write ups about some of the collages and the chess boards, and some art pieces, on this site, and I have a review and modification of the Ridgid saw at:

There is also a discussion of a second modification I did at:

I did a review of the band saw, also discussing modifications I did, at:

Howard Ferstler

View damjensen's profile


11 posts in 3017 days

#6 posted 11-23-2014 12:19 AM

That saw is in many ways related to my AEG TS 250. Only yours has a real table with a real T-nut track.

The fence appears to be the same.

My zero clearance insert is also made of plastic, and not good.

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