Table saw: general capability questions

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Forum topic by nickbatz posted 05-07-2018 06:02 PM 4431 views 0 times favorited 59 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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532 posts in 888 days

05-07-2018 06:02 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tablesaw

Woodworking newbie (or close to it). I picked my first table saw on Craigslist a few months ago, a Craftsman 137.248880. It’s great, but I’m curious whether the next level up addresses its limitations. For example, there’s a Delta contractor saw for sale locally for about $250 – hardly a high-end saw, but the next level up.

The main limitation with the Craftsman is that it’s very difficult to cut exactly where you want. You can’t rely on the scale markings, but even with a tape measure I never have high confidence that I’m going to get closer than within about 1/32” of my target line. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but still…

It does repeat cuts accurately, and it’s square, but tight-tolerance cuts are never a sure thing.

The other issue is that its plate sucks whale dingus. Due to its not-perrfectly-rectangular mounting system, I can’t make a replacement plate – let alone a zero clearance one – without resorting to kludges… not what I want to spend my time on.

There are plenty of positives about this tool, but those are the issues I’m having.

By the way, its inverted T-shaped tracks don’t bother me – I was able to make a crosscut sled no problem – and I don’t really need to cut larger sheets than its 24” theoretical fence-to-blade capacity (I just use a circular saw for that). Nor do I need to cut thick hardwood. The main issue is accuracy.

So would the next level up make my life easier, or is this pretty much the way it is until the $5-600 range?

This is what I’ve been working on (custom composer’s desks):

59 replies so far

View MrUnix's profile


8162 posts in 3007 days

#1 posted 05-07-2018 06:41 PM

What you have is a plastic portable saw that is good for light duty use. It has a brushed universal screamer motor that has a plastic housing which can easily be warped/melted if you push it too far, so it’s suitable for the weekend warrior who doesn’t use it much. If you want to keep it alive, let it cool down between cuts and don’t push it hard.

A contractor saw is a huge step up IMO. Much larger cast iron top instead of aluminium, so it also has more mass and less vibration. Real belt driven induction motor, so it’s more powerful and quieter – plus it’s easily upgradeable/swapped if need be. Only down side is it will take more room. You can find the ubiquitous C-man and Delta contractor saws frequently in the $50-$100 range, and usually with a bunch of extras thrown in (ZCI, sleds, mobile bases, upgraded fence, etc…). Countless woodworks got their start on these saws and have produced some very fine work with them when tuned up.

Back to your saw for a moment – does it have the little ‘tabs’ in the miter slot? If so, grind them down! Also, those extensions are horrible and are mounted with cheap ass plastic clamps, so they will sag badly if any weight is put on them. They do however make it easy to fabricate a removable router table extension that will sit on the rails and use the existing fence. I pretty much only use mine as a router table now, although I do have a few sleds and use it occasionally for quick-n-dirty cuts that don’t require much precision.


PS: Throat plates can be made for your saw… I’ve made many. Not the easiest things to make, but it’s doable.

-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Ripper70's profile


1378 posts in 1717 days

#2 posted 05-07-2018 08:01 PM

A contractor saw is a huge step up IMO.


- MrUnix

+1 That step up will make your life easier. I’m actually impressed you’ve managed to get this much done with your current setup.

-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#3 posted 05-07-2018 08:18 PM

Thanks Brad.

Yup, it has those tits-on-bull tabs in the miter slots. I’d planned to grind them off, but I made a sled with smaller rails that fit between them, and it doesn’t wobble, so I put that off. My other thought was just to run the edges of rails across a straight router bit to cut grooves that will fit them.

Funny, my first thought was to use those wobbly crap extensions as a router table. Good to know there are other great minds.

Thanks for the info about contractor saws. I haven’t seen C-man or Delta contractor saws for $50 – $100 here in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t change the equation. They’re more like $250 here, often more.

My Craftsman was $50, and that was a great deal for this town (even after I bought a new $40 blade for it). For scale, I actually picked up a second one in much worse shape for $50 at 3:30 in the afternoon, removed the splitter that was missing from mine, and re-sold it at 10:30 the next morning for $40. :)

And yes, I know it’s only a light-duty saw. That’s okay. In some ways I’m more than a weekend warrior, because I’ve now had three orders for composer’s desks (it’s a fledgling side business), but at the same time I’m hardly an industrial shop.

Thanks again for this reply and for your other one in my bandsaw thread. I don’t know whether you remember, but you were the guy who diagnosed that it was a bad bearing.

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#4 posted 05-07-2018 08:30 PM

Thanks Ripper!

Hey, I actually made the first one – a simpler one – with only handheld power tools. This one looks simple now that it’s done, but it required a billion decisions that made my brain hurt. The two sliding shelves are just for openers; customizing the ergonomics and dimensions, angles, etc. for the way this producer works was a challenge.

And I truly enjoyed it. :)

Since I’m bragging – hey, that’s what the Internet is for, right? – this is the first one (below). The desktop is on heavy-duty slides over the keyboard, so you go between playing and writing positions in half a second. (I used maple rails instead of slides for the latest one, because it wants a little friction – he rests his arms on the padded wrist rest.)

I’ve sold about 20 of a version of the earlier one over the years, but I was having a wood shop build them for me. It wasn’t until a composer offered me some actual $ to build a more affordable one that I got the idea to make them myself. That gave me a chance to come up with my own design tweaks as well.

And now I have the bug…

View knotscott's profile


8382 posts in 4184 days

#5 posted 05-07-2018 08:40 PM

A true full size belt drive contractor saw like the Delta is a huge step up from a plastic bench top or portable saw….more mass, more torque, more space in front of the blade, more upgrade potential, etc. I’d only buy a portable if I needed portability to tote the saw from jobsite to jobsite. If you post or put your general geographic area in your profile, a member here might have some insights a great deal.

The ABCs of Table Saws

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#6 posted 05-07-2018 10:51 PM

Okay, thanks knotscott. Yes, that seems to be the consensus – it’s worth upgrading.

I’m in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles.

There was a Delta on Craigslist for $250, but it looks like someone grabbed that one. Someone’s selling an unused/half-assembled Craftsman one for $200. It’s missing its bolts, though, and I don’t know if I feel like – literally – screwing with that. The idea of buying anything from a total putz makes me nervous.

View jimintx's profile


934 posts in 2393 days

#7 posted 05-08-2018 02:52 PM

I am now off to google to figure out just what a Composer’s Desk is. The one you have pictured looks like a well built one, despite me having no knowledge of how that would be used by a composer. Admittedly, I have little or no knowledge of how music is made, but I do enjoy the outcome of that process.


-- Jim, Houston, TX

View Robert's profile


3799 posts in 2289 days

#8 posted 05-08-2018 06:32 PM

Its all about 1) the fence, 2) power, 3) cast iron.

As for brands, first off, I say “Friends don’t let friends buy Crapsman ;-)” so my advice is don’t even look at them. (BTW the same thing goes for anything Stanley made after 1960). If you stick to these two as a newbie, you’ll thank me later.

Well, there are a few models of C’man with decent fences like this one which would need a serious motor upgrade but I’m just giving and example. But I still say be wary of C’man.

My advise iis relist it and get it gone even if you lose a few bucks.

Several brands of contractors saw are nothing more than jobsite saws on a stand. The minimum you should start with is a contractors saw. That being said, there’s a lot of junk out there, too, even new saws. 25 years ago I started out with an old 70’s model C’man with that horrible twist handle fence. Went from there to a 3HP Jet Xacta it was like going from a Cessna to an F-16 Fighting Falcon LOL.

The best advice I can give is stay away from the homeowner models you see in the big box’s (and that includes Delta). And any saw that doesn’t have a belt (which means is not an induction motor).

I would look for something older and even with a little rust. Think Powermatic, Jet, Rockwell, Delta (only the older contractor saws.)

If you can increase your budget to around $6-800 you can get into a base line cabinet saw. I recently bought a Jet 1 3/4HP cabinet saw for $800.

Here are a few I found in a couple minutes:

Example 1

Example 2

And my choice its already set for a router ;-).

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#9 posted 05-08-2018 06:45 PM

Jim, a composer’s desk is something I “invented” through years of cumbersome ergonomics. :)

Music is made lots of ways, but these days a lot of it is done using synthesizers/samplers running on computers. You play the parts in, and/or enter them, using a keyboard controller. It’s become a whole new musical medium, and I actually ran a magazine on the subject for a few years, called Virtual Instruments – before the simultaneous crashes of niche print publishing and the world.

Anyway, you need to go between writing/typing on a desk and playing on a keyboard all day long. And the approach taken by every company making studio furniture is to have the keyboard slide out from under the desktop.

But that means you’re the wrong distance from your computer monitor and speakers when you slide the keyboard out, plus it’s cumbersome. So my solution – and this sounds simple, but I’m absolutely serious that I tried a whole lot of bad solutions over the years – is to have the desktop slide forward to reveal the keyboard, with the computer monitor raised above it. Your computer keyboard/mouse are always in the right position too.

After lots of friends raved my makeshift solution put together with Ultimate Support pieces (, and then I teamed up with an amazing woodworker (since retired) to come out with a product: The one in the picture is the desk I’m sitting at right now.

The evolution is what I posted above: my redesign, which I now build myself. I’m truly enjoying it!

And the much more complicated desk I just finished is totally custom, since not everyone works the same way. It has a sliding desktop, but it’s shallow and can’t slide far enough to reveal all the keyboard’s controls, so I had to make the keyboard shelf slide out too. He doesn’t need to do that often, so it’s not a hassle.

As I said, between the ergonomics, aesthetics, and just making the thing stable (notice that the back is totally open for access to the wires going into equipment), this design made my brain hurt!

More than you wanted to know about composer’s desks? :)

Seriously, I’m interested in reading about other people’s projects too – not just “how to” but about the design issues.

View NeophyteGrant's profile


134 posts in 1317 days

#10 posted 05-08-2018 08:15 PM

I would just save and get a hybrid in the 700-800 range, one of the 1 3/4-2hp saws. Do an aftermarket fence if the fence is lacking.

I have a $800 Grizzly771z with the biese close fence that I outfitted with the Very Super Cool Tools extruded aluminum fence. It’s rock solid. cast iron. enclosed cabinet mounted trunions.

It’s a real good saw for the money, and besides the underpowered motor can do serious woodworking tasks for someone who isn’t churning out production work. If you want to get serious you’re going to realize limitations quick so just pony up, up front. I feel like with whatever hybrid you go with, that can keep you happy for a while if/when you want to go to a full fledged 3+ hp cabinet saw.

View rodneywt1180b's profile


185 posts in 1194 days

#11 posted 05-08-2018 09:33 PM

You’re serious enough about woodworking that my thought would be to skip the contractor models, save your money, and skip straight toward a good used cabinet saw like a Unisaw or an American made Powermatic. There are other good brands too. Personal preference would be to skip the Asian imports like Jet and Grizzly.
Once you use a good cabinet saw you won’t look at jobsite saws the same way again.

-- Rodney, Centralia, WA, USA

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#12 posted 05-08-2018 11:11 PM

Well, I’ll need quite a few more orders to justify that kind of investment. Also, I’d need more room – which I’m already contemplating (by rearranging, not adding on!). I’m sure a cabinet saw is a big step up, but at the moment I’m using less than half a 1-car garage plus our back yard.

And it wouldn’t stop at the table saw – I’d find my other machines inadequate next to it. :)

What Brad says above makes a lot of sense to me – all of it.

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#13 posted 05-08-2018 11:23 PM

rwe2156, thanks – I missed your post earlier today.

Those look good, but again, I want more orders before spending $600+ on a table saw.

By the way, my bandsaw and drill press are both old Craftsman models – and they do have belts, and cast iron tables. No complaints about either one so far, although they are older models (I’m guessing 30 years old?). Maybe if I were resawing ironwood I’d have problems with the bandsaw, but I’m actually not. :)

Also, I’m not worried about selling my current Craftsman table saw. It was only $50, and it works fine even though I’ve run into its limitations. I just have to be prepared to do some sanding to get things to fit right and/or get rid of burn marks in hardwood (maple).

View nickbatz's profile


532 posts in 888 days

#14 posted 05-08-2018 11:30 PM

Whoa. I’d also have to run a new circuit from our already-full breaker for a saw that draws 18 amps.

View NeophyteGrant's profile


134 posts in 1317 days

#15 posted 05-08-2018 11:34 PM

A hybrid 2hp will run on 15 amp no prob.

showing 1 through 15 of 59 replies

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