Pros: Solid-locking fence, soft-start motor, rugged & precise construction.
Cons: A bit on the loud side, compared to induction motor-powered models.
This is my third table saw, and the one I like the most. I asked my buddies over at woodnet.net what they thought of the chances of me finding a jobsite saw with a quality fence were, and the recommendations were for this, the Bosch 4000 and the DeWalt 744.
After going to Home Depot to check them out, this one is clearly the best.
The saw was designed by Emerson originally, one of America's largest motor manufacturers.
The rip fence is just awesome. With an easy flip of the lever a rubber-faced clamp in the back comes inward and grips the rear rail tightly, pulling the front tightly against the front rail too. (which also has a rubber bumper to keep it from slipping) There is no drama and the back of the fence doesn't slip out under load of cutting sheet goods. I've gotten completely through my first project (a paper towel holder) and have finished the cutting on my second project (a sideboard/server) and the rip fence has stayed put. I don't even need to check the cuts with a ruler or tape measure; I can actually rely on the ruler built into the fence. It is that good. It took a couple of cuts to get used to reading it, as the magnifier kind of blocks out the markings adjacent to it. I made one bad cut when I mixed up the 1/4" marking for the 1/2" marking. No biggie, just double check it a few times until you get used to reading it. The fence also has a micro-adjust wheel. It is knurled and made of hardened steel, and it works by digging into the front edge of the front rail. It is for this reason that I don't use it. It works fine, but it does dig into the fence, and I don't want the fence to become less smooth as that edge gets more and more chewed up. It's probably nothing to worry about, but I don't need to take that chance.
THE MITER GAUGE
Also great. The slot is a T slot, which means that when cross-cutting wider materials than will normally fit in front of the blade, it can still do it with a little care. The side-side fit in the slot is snug with very little play.
Very nice. Motor brushes are interchangeable from the outside of the motor. The latest version of this saw (I bought mine in late 2007) has an electronic soft start circuit; this is one of the main reasons I liked this saw. In my garage, I have the lights, heater, and radio all wired to my sole 15 A circuit. I still have to turn off the heater, as it draws 10 A, but after that, I'm OK, and the lights don't even dim when I start the saw. It hardly slows down at all when making cuts with one of the high tooth count plywood blades. I haven't yet cut anything thicker than an inch and a half red oak.
The included blade is a low tooth count rip blade, but seems to be of very high quality. After verifying that the fence & blade gauge were parallel to the miter slots, I did a few cuts with it and it is just great. I think it is actually better than the cheap Oldham steel plywood blade I have mounted now for cutting plywood. A high quality Tenryu, Amana, or Forrest general purpose blade is definitely in my future. (2008-01-11 Update: I wound up with a Freud thin kerf general purpose blade from Home Depot, very nice!)
The table is nice & flat, and is made of cast aluminum. It is the thickest table of all the jobsite saws. One of the neatest design features of this saw is how the right-hand table extends. One only has to pull up the lever, pull the table out, and lock the lever back down to make rip cuts up to 25" in width. (half the width of a full 4x8' sheet of plywood) The crowning touch on this is that the built-in ruler for the rip fence rolls around underneath the table extension and automatically extends WITH the table. It remains accurate no matter what one does with the table. (by comparison, the Bosch has some weird system in which you have to choose which scale to read. To me, this was non-intuitive, but one would probably get used to it quickly anyhow)
Very nice. It isn't as ...engineered as the Bosch Gravity Rise stand, but it does its job and it's simple. The fact that this is the heaviest jobsite saw (~144 lbs) doesn't really matter unless you need to lift it into a truck by yourself all the time. Even then, you could do it in two stages if you needed to and it wouldn't be bad. Just for reference, the DeWalt DW745 weighs around 50 lbs, so this saw weighs 3x as much, but also offers much more rip capacity, power, and smoothness. If you have a small shop like I do, (half of a one car garage) this stand is very nice, as one only has to fold the stand and the saw goes on its end in a corner when you need the space for something else. In this position, it rolls around like a dolly.
90% of the sawdust made by this saw shoots out the rear port where it is supposed to. I don't have enough current left on my circuit or a shop vac adapter to use a vacuum with this, so I just rubber-banded a garbage bag onto the dust chute and it has been working well so far. One of the Ryobi saws has a bag, I will have to check to see if that will fit. (2008-01-11 Update: I bought the Ryobi 18V One+ Canister Vac as a dust collector for this and my router table, perfect!)
I also compared several other models before deciding on this one: DeWalt DW745, Bosch 4000, and Ryobi BTS21 (with the sliding miter table. I also took a look at the smaller, less expensive Ryobis, Skils, etc. but they are not in the same league at all, and it is instantly apparent.
DW745: $300, Small & light, nice rack & pinion fence. But I was concerned about the lack of rip capacity compared to the larger saws. No stand, no wheels, so I'd have to get another table for this. I also didn't see any way to fine tune the rip fence parallel to the miter slots, which was very worrisome. Everything else, I may have gotten over. No soft start. Seems like a good quality saw.
Bosch 4000: Other owners (about half of them) complained that the fence doesn't stay parallel to the miter slots & blade over time. This alone is a deal breaker for me, as I was tired of fighting that from previous saws. The stand looks like the best of the bunch. The extended rule for the rip fence is not as intuitive as Ridgid's. Soft start motor, very nice. I've also read of a few instances of a rip fence that wasn't completely straight or a table surface that wasn't completely flat. I understand Bosch customer service is OK, but I'd just as soon not deal with this hassle. At the time of my purchase, the newer Bosch with the Euro-style guards was not available. However, costing at least $100 more would have steered me back towards the Ridgid anyhow.
Ryobi BTS21: This is an innovative saw, I very nearly bought this one. After looking at it and operating everything for a good while, I noticed that the miter table is a bit higher than the other tables. This will mean cuts that are not 90° to the face of the boards. I didn't see any way to level this table with the others either. This model only has two bolts, on top of the fence, to adjust the fence parallel to the miter slots; the Ridgid has 4, on the sides. The fence takes more effort to lock & unlock, and doesn't lock any more solid than the Ridgid's. This seems minor, but I had a Makita jobsite saw with the same setup, and I couldn't keep the damn rip fence aligned. The main issue was the fact that the tables are not level with one another.
Skil, smaller Ryobi: Poor build quality, flimsy materials. Not worth the $80 - 100.
First, I had a Makita jobsite saw. The huge inrush current was a challenge for my breaker. It was noisy and the fence would not stay parallel for more than 2 cuts, even after hours and hours of checking everything. Avoid this terd.
Next, I bought a Shopsmith Mk. V. Fantastic machine. The fence was much better than the Makita's. The power is great, as is the variable speed. The other tools are tops, but the table saw had a few shortcomings. Short table, front to rear. Side to side, it is the biggest in the business short of a Unisaw with extension tables. Since the blade height doesn't change, the table is always at the wrong height. (depth of cut is changed by raising/lowering the table, ditto with bevels; the table must be tilted) I really liked this machine, but I couldn't overlook the only OK table saw.
So I moved to a Jet contractor saw. It had the wonderful induction motor (like the Shopsmith) but not adjustable speed. Induction motors are much quieter than the brushed, universal motors found on all jobsite saws. It had a nice big table, nice miter gauge, and a nice stand. No real dust collection though, and the standard equipment "T-style" rip fence was garbage. It would lock firmly, but only in the front. There was nothing to hold the back steady, so no matter how steady the front of the fence is held and no matter how solid the fence, there will be some flex at the back. This would have been a great saw, if not for that fence. If you do go with a big contractors saw, make sure you get a Biesemeyer style fence and avoid the frustration. Yes, it is worth the $200 extra. Jet's customer service was also top-shelf. I had a couple bent parts out of the box, and they mailed me new ones at no charge, with no questions asked. One thing that should be noted about contractor's saws is that they take up a LOT more floor space than jobsite saws. The motor hangs out the back by a good foot, and the table is deeper. They're heavy enough that they're only really portable compared to cabinet saws. A mobile base helped me, but it doesn't help the large footprint and lack of collapsibility. If I had a bigger shop, I might have bought another of these with a better fence.
Don't underestimate this. It is like wearing a seatbelt; 99% of the time, it doesn't matter, but the other 1% can totally and permanently change your life. Other saws carry CSA or ETL certification; avoid those, they are second-rate certification agencies. UL is the American one that has been around since the 1800s, and knows our American standards & codes the best. I made sure the Ridgid had the UL mark before buying it. There are fewer table saws without the UL mark than other tools, because manufacturers want UL behind them when they go to court, and they want to lose as little money as possible in litigation. If you're shopping for contractor saws, make sure you look for this, when buying on the internet (Grizzly, General, etc.) you don't know what you're getting safety-wise.
Ridgid did an excellent job. My saw came in a double-walled cardboard box, with thick styrofoam padding top & bottom. Although I don't like the styrofoam because it can't be recycled, at least it did a good job with the padding. Also, the tech or QC people have it in their process to adjust the saw before sending it out. I did go through all the recommended adjustments, but they were all spot-on except that the 90° stop on the miter gauge was off by about 1/2°. It took hardly any time to get this saw ready to use. The hardest part was getting it out of the box, and I managed that single-handedly by tipping the box on end and simply rolling the saw out on its dolly wheels.
Also excellent and easy to follow. They seem to have been written originally in English, as there is nothing that makes you scratch your head. It also tells you how to make a push stick & featherboard for safety. The binding is good and it is printed on nice paper.
This saw has everything you need if you have a smallish shop and still want to do precision woodworking. Soft start, excellent fence & miter gauge, and precise but durable construction. Also, it is UL Listed, so safety will not be an issue if you do your part and read & follow the instructions. I can't really think of any bad parts to it, unless you compare it to bigger, heavier, and more expensive saws. An induction motor would have been nice, for quietness, but then it would be heavier and more expensive. A larger table in front of the blade would also have been nice, though I can cross cut a 12" board as-is, and then the saw wouldn't be compact any more.
Dec. 15, 2009 update: I've had this saw a couple years now. Nothing has changed; everything is holding up great. I don't think one can do better than this, especially for the money. The new Bosch jobsite saw might be in the same league, but it costs at least $200 more. One thing I should add is about the noise level. This is powered by a universal motor. It is much louder than an induction motor in the old style contractor saws. But that is the price for true portability. The induction motors are much, much heavier. I've built some furniture with this saw now and it has performed brilliantly. Don't let the old hands tell you that you need a cabinet saw or classical, big, heavy contractor saw to do quality furniture work. This one is perfect for the small shop.