Pros: It's a decent run-of-the-mill saw
Cons: Direct drive is not the way to go
...I vegged out, and reset the breaker without turning off the saw. This sent an 8-foot long 1x4" hurtling across my basement like a blunt spear....
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The Craftsman 10" Table Saw Direct Drive 22821 is a typical Sears power tool in the sense that it solid, well built, eminently useable, and covered by Sears excellent customer service warrantee. I have used my saw for several years and have had good results with it, however, as my skills have grown so have my frustrations with this saw, and eventually, I will have to replace it. Much as I hate to admit it, the problems are not the fault of this saw; I simply bought the wrong model.
This saw is obsolete. Sears on-line store does not carry it anymore. It is possible you may find one left over somewhere or come across one in a garage sale. However, it is more likely you will be buying a new and hopefully improved model. Consequently, I will not be giving quite as much technical information as usual. Instead, I will try to include a few broader issues in this discussion to help you make a better job of saw selection than I did. Craftsman saws are very standard. Almost all American market saws come with the same basic equipment, and are subject to the same problems.
The very first test you do on your new saw should be done at the store. Yes, I know that's just a display model, but stay with me, okay. Either take a steel tape to the store with you or borrow one from the next aisle. If you are not good at eyeballing a right angle, you might want to borrow a square too.
What we are interested in is the fence. The fence is the piece of metal that runs like a dorsal fin from the front to the back of the saw, parallel to the blade. It is primarily used to guide the wood for ripping, and for crosscutting panels.
In the store, slide the fence to some random position and set it. Now, use the tape to measure the distance from the miter slot (the groove to the left of the blade) to the fence near the front of the saw, while making sure keep the tape at right angles to the groove. Do the same at the back of the saw. If the fence is parallel to the miter slot, the two distances should be exactly the same. This is important. Slide and lock the fence again and repeat this test. Try a few more times making sure you move the fence both toward the right and toward the left before locking.
Now admittedly, you are not usually buying this exact saw, but if the display model behaves well, chances are yours will too. Good carpentry technique demands that whenever you set up for a cut, you should check your fence is parallel. However, it saves quite a bit of time if it usually locks in the right position.
The fence on my saw has some play in it, and does not always lock exactly parallel to the miter slot. My saw usually needs minor adjustment by tapping it slightly. After a while you get very good at doing this, but I would still prefer not to do it. Sears is constantly improving its fence design, and newer models may well have this problem licked. This probably isn't a deal breaker, but unless there is a huge difference in price, go with the more accurate fence.
Out of the box comes the saw body, the fence, the blade, the red arbor plate, the miter gauge, a carbide blade, the blade guard/splitter and a hefty spanner for the arbor nut. This saw also comes with a steel stand and legs, which is optional on some other models -- more about this later. On some models the measurement scale on the front comes as a roll like an adhesive backed tape measure and has to be applied. Sometimes Sears throws in extension fences or other goodies to sweeten the deal. Since mine was a floor model, my scale, arbor and blade were already on the saw, yours may not be.
Once you have the plastic bags off, you can a good look at the saw. You can see that the controls are quite simple. A switch on the front with a removable safety key controls the power. A turn wheel on the front controls the depth of the blade. A turn wheel on the side controls the angle of the blade. This is all very standard, and will be the same on almost any saw you see.
First the pieces need to be assembled. My manual is pretty clear and usable. I must say that in my experience, tool manuals for Sears Craftsman have never been less than okay.
Start by adding any auxiliary or extension wings to the saw body and then put it on your workbench. If the blade is already attached, remove it or lower it into the saw. Now take a straight edge and check that the top of the saw is perfectly flat in all directions. Of course, in less expensive saws it rarely is, but what is more important is usability. Can you live with this saw? If the outer edges drop slightly, that is usually not an issue. Pay special attention to the area near the blade, and to the joints between the extensions. Is there anything that would cause a board rock as you feed it through? How about a large panel? Are their any high points that would prevent you cutting at right angles? Sometimes adjusting the screws that attach the wings can help. Next, attach the fence and repeat the test from the store.
Now is the moment of decision. Either put it back in the box or continue assembly. If the platen is a problem now, it is not going to improve with age. Take it back to the store and get another. If the fence in the store performed better that the one you bought, take it back. Be ruthless. This is Sears. They won't hassle you about returns.
Now its time to put on the blade and arbor plate, any new blade will do for now, although a low-tooth rip blade does make it slightly easier. You should check that the arbor is flat and does not protrude above the platen. If it does, there is a screw adjustment, and a small file and/or washers can be used for extra adjustment. Many woodworkers prefer the arbor plate to be a smidge too low at the front, to ensure that it does not catch on work as you feed it through.
Now, mark a tooth on the blade with a felt tip pen. Measure from the miter slot to the marked tooth, with that tooth at the front of the saw. Rotate the blade to put that tooth at the back, and measure again. (You always use the same tooth in case the blade is slightly warped.) If the two measurements are not exactly the same, then the blade is not parallel to the miter slot and needs to be adjusted. This is not unusual. They are set right at the factory, but shipping can knock them out of alignment. The manual will tell you how to make this adjustment.
Once you are sure the saw is set correctly, rotate the blade and make the miter slot to front tooth measurement several times for different teeth around the blade. (Make sure you always measure teeth that lean the same way.) If these measurements are not exactly the same, your blade is warped. Replace it. (If you can't return it and it is not too bad, you might save it for rough cutting.)
Next, with a non-warped blade installed, make sure the blade angle is rotated so that it presses against the 90 degree stop. Get out your very best square and check that the blade is at right angles to the platen. Make sure you are not pressing the square against a tooth. Hold a flashlight behind the square and look for light coming through a gap. Once again, shipping may have knocked the saw out of true, and the manual will tell you how to fix it.
These tests need to be done on any saw you buy made by any manufacturer. Do not expect to take a saw from the box and use it. A saw with a non-parallel blade will bind constantly, burn or mar wood, and may kick back dangerously. An out-of-true saw will copy its error onto every piece of wood you cut. Not making these adjustments is the biggest error that beginners make. That's why I have gone into so much detail here. Recheck these settings every few years, more frequently if you use the saw a lot, or transport it.
Now you can complete the assembly.
You do have one more check to make. You must make sure that the miter gauge 90 stop is exactly 90 degrees. The easiest way to do this is to cut a board. Pick a straight piece of scrap wood, put two Xs on the top and cross cut it between the Xs using the miter gauge. Place the board on a flat surface, with the cut edges together, then rotate one until the X is at the bottom. Push the pieces against a straight edge and examine the cut. If the two faces do not mesh perfectly, then the miter is slightly out of square. Adjust the miter gauge and try again.
All of these adjustments were fairly easy to make on my saw, and once set, it has stayed in adjustment for many years. Now you are finally ready to use your saw. Just be careful, be safe and follow every safety precaution religiously.
So, you are probably wondering, with my saw properly set up, adjusted and working well, why I am advising you not to buy it. It is because it is a direct drive saw. A direct drive saw has the blade attached to the axle of the motor. Think of a saw blade and arbor attached to your electric drill. A belt drive saw has the motor attached to a pulley, and a small belt attaches it to the arbor. Direct drive saws are usually a little cheaper than belt saws, but it is their only advantage.
Direct drive saws are inferior to belt drive saws for several reasons:
- At first, it might seem that they are more powerful, but that is not true. You can't believe the numbers. The belt and pulley system allows you to get more power from a smaller motor.
- Vibration is a big problem in direct drive saws. All the vibration from the motor is directly transferred to the blade. This reduces accuracy, causes the blade to run hotter, and increases the likelihood of kickbacks. The heat causes the blade to warp, dull and pick up resin more quickly. It's a lose-lose-lose scenario.
- Vibration can also cause the saw to lose its settings, both the long terms ones I have described, and the particular ones for this set of cuts.
- When you do bind or get a kickback, a direct drive saw can easily blow its motor. Worst case scenario for a belt drive saw is a broken belt. It's a difficult $100 plus repair, versus an easy $20 repair. You decide. After replacing the motor you have to redo all the tuning from above too.
- A direct drive saw has a DC motor like the one in your circular saw. This runs hot and is very loud. Belt drive saws often have induction motors, which are much quieter and run cool. Induction motors are longer lasting and are a much better choice for extended use.
- The motor unit is usually much bigger than an arbor pulley needs to be. Consequently direct drive saws cannot be raised as high as a comparable belt drive saw, and they usually have a slightly lower range of blade angles.
- I am not exactly sure why, but direct drive saws usually have a slightly narrower arbor than belt drive. My saw can only hold a dado blade that is 1/2" or so, not wide enough for 3/4" boards.
A belt drive saw does need slightly more routine maintenance, but considering the advantages, it is a small price to pay. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have bought a direct drive saw.
My saw has all of the above problems, and it has one more issue. It's bigger, direct drive motor puts its amperage perilously close to the 15 amp maximum in my basement. My work lights and dust collector/shop vac are on the same circuit. If my feeding of a piece of wood falls even slightly short of perfect, I blow a breaker. While this usually does not affect crosscuts, it's is a rare afternoon's ripping that does not blow a breaker at least once. Stopping and restarting a cut in the middle is dangerous and very likely to leave a mark on the wood. On one particularly annoying afternoon, when some very resinous wood was causing frequent problems, I vegged out, and reset the breaker without turning off the saw. This sent an 8-foot long 1x4" hurtling across my basement like a blunt spear. Luckily, I was not in the direct line of fire.
I must say that my saw does everything you would expect of it. The fence may take longer than I would like to position, but it is solid and reliable. The splitter fits easily, and is not too bad to align. The little safety fingers do work nicely to stop kickback. The blade guard is easy to see through and not too much of an annoyance during through cuts. And yes, I do use it whenever I can. I am not a woodworker who puts convenience ahead of safety. This saw can handle almost all of the add-ons that Sears makes such a good job of providing. It was not very expensive and it has been a work horse for me. I am not slagging it in any way. It has been the best saw that it could be. My 15 amp circuit is not its fault, and I knew when I bought it that it was direct drive. But all things being equal, I would not buy it again, not even on super special sale.
Now back when direct drive saws were the bee's knees, they would say DIRECT DRIVE on the front in big letters. Now that more educated consumers are steering away from direct drive, some saws simply don't fess up. For example, if you go to the Sears Craftsman site today, the blurb at the top of their table saw page says that some of the saws are direct drive, but the detail information on the saws does not say which ones. How times change. Just have a look at the innards of the saw before you buy. If the blade attaches to the axle of the motor, don't buy it. If it has a belt and pulley, start going through my check list below.
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I cannot possible cover every issue here. I strongly suggest to head down to your local library and take out a good book on table saws. This is an expensive tool, and the more research you do, the happier you will be with your purchase.
In the long run you will spend more on wood than you do on your saw. Be willing to spend a little extra to get one that meets all your needs.
In the long run, you will spend more on blades than you do on your saw. Pay attention to what blade comes with the saw. That more expensive model may actually be a cheaper saw with a more expensive blade included. However, since a good 10" blade can run from $40 to well over $120, it is nice if the blade that comes with the saw is one you would actually use.
A cast iron platen is preferable to a cast aluminum one. Any cast metal is preferable to sheet metal. (Sheet metal... Shudder... Where are you? Wal-mart?) Don't forget to rust proof your cast iron with turtle wax.
Look for a nice rigid fence that slides easily, is quick to lock, and consistently locks parallel to the miter slot. A low fence makes working with small pieces easier. A tall fence makes working with wide/high pieces easier. A dual height fence is nice, but it is easy enough to make your own add-ons.
Ignore the Horsepower rating and look at the Amperage. Don't go over 13 Amps unless you know you have a 20 Amp circuit to plug it into.
Look for a blade guard/ripper that sets up and removes easily. If this is a pain then you will sooner or later stop using it. Your safety is too important to put at risk.
Don't buy a direct drive saw.
American market table saws are notoriously poor at dust collection. If the saw you are interested has a dust port in the base, cool, but don't expect it to work too well.
A dust port on the blade guard is way cool, but ease of use and set up is more important. Think safety first, second and third.
Unless it is a special-offer add-on, a metal base is not free. If you plan to make your own base (usually a good choice) then you might save a few bucks if a base is not part of the package.
A riving knife is way better than a ripper, but don't get your hopes up. You are unlikely to find one on a saw made for the US market. They are common in Europe. A good saw book will tell you how to make your own riving knife.
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There are three common types of blade: flat, ATR (alternate tooth rebate) and combination. Combination is usually a mix of ATR and Flat teeth. In general, less teeth cut faster, more teeth cut smoother.
Flat teeth are best for ripping. Flat teeth are like chisels. A 10" blade with 18-28 teeth is fine.
An ATR blade has each alternate tooth leaning the opposite way. An ATR blade is good for crosscutting and light ripping. A 10" blade with 40-60 teeth is fine.
A combination blade is best for man made materials like chipboard and MDF (medium density fiberboard). A 10" blade with 80 teeth is perfect.
A good quality stacked head dado blade is essential for many woodworking projects. A 6" to 7" blade is about your limit on a 10" saw. Since the dado blade is wider, it uses more power to cut, hence the smaller blade. Check the manual for dado size limitations.
A good quality carbide blade is always worth the money. It will cut better, sharpen easier and last longer. Good quality blades have gussets or slots cut in around the sides. This allows the blade to expand as it gets hot without warping.
Never force wood through a blunt blade. Buy a new one or take it to get sharpened. A carbide blade may sharpen 7 times or more. Check your yellow pages. (Sharpening is tricky and best left to a professional.)
In my experience, Sears Craftsman blades are very good, and competitively priced. As a beginner, you could do a lot worse.
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Most people regard their table saw as their most dangerous tool. If they don't have a radial arm saw, they are probably right. While the blade is deadly, kickbacks can throw wood across the room at a 100 mph. A table saw kickback is probably the most common reason for a woodworker to visit the emergency room. It is essential that you learn how to use this tool properly.
I spent $60 for a one semester woodworking course at the local high school adult program. I told the instructor, Paul, that I was more interested in tool safety than actually building something. It was the best money I ever spent, and I got a nice window seat in the bathroom out of it too.
Safety tips include:
- safety glasses
- ear protection
- a dust mask, especially if cutting pressure treated wood
- wearing comfortable clothing with firmly fastened cuffs
- workboots with steel or hard plastic toecaps (No sandals, those 2x4s hurt)
- no jewelry, especially rings, bracelets and/or necklaces
- using push sticks, feather boards and all possible safety precautions
- support big pieces with inlet/outlet tables and rollers
- don't work when you are tired or impaired
- cut using a fence or miter gauge, never free hand
- never use a fence for crosscutting boards
- never force wood through a blunt blade.
- wait till the saw stops spinning before going near the blade
- unplug the saw before making blade adjustments
- keep your work area clean and free of scrap
- remember that the blade is sharp, even when it isn't spinning
- make sure you family know not to distract you when the saw is running
- KIDS... Where do I begin? (Rolls eyes!!!)
And your bonus tip of the day:
- if you are not just a little bit scared of your table saw, you probably shouldn't be using it.
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Check out some of my other tool reviews:
Rayovac 1 Hr Battery Charger
Porter-Cable Quicksand Random Orbit Finishing Sander 333PK
Porter Cable Fixed and Plunge Base 1-3/4 HP Router Kit with Case & Edge Guide 693VSPK
Sears Craftsman 7-1/4" Circular Saw
Sears Craftsman 6-1/8" Jointer/Planer 21768
Sears Craftsman 5 piece Wood Chisel Set 36859
Sears Craftsman Circular Level 39891
Sears Craftsman 6 amp Biscuit Plate Joiner 17501
Sears Craftsman 48" heavy duty aluminum level 39898
Makita 3/8" Cordless Driver-Drill 6095D
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