Pros: The leader of the pack
Cons: Leader pricing
When it comes to woodworking I cant decide whether its the tools or the crafting I like better. As a hobbyist woodworker and a pretty slow one at that I cant really justify a large outlay for tools for the hobby. But whoever said a hobby requires justification? Well, my honey for one. So, to satisfy my emotional need to own the table saw that most woodworkers drool over in the catalogs and woodworking tool stores, I used money earned by the sweat of my fingers on a keyboard. After several years of writing here on Epinions about the tools I love (and hate) and watching the pennies earned each month by those reviews slowly climb over the many months I sweated whether anything I wrote would be read by anyone else, the number finally rose enough and Woodworkers Supply cooperated with a special sale on the table saw of my dreams. I cashed out the Epinions account and ordered a Delta 10" Unisaw 3 HP,Single Phase, Left Tilt Model L31 cabinet saw to replace my trusty Jet Contractor's Saw
There are several good saws to choose from in the price range of the Delta. Starting at the low end are several offerings from Grizzly. Then the Jet and Shop Fox models are available. Finally the General and Powermatic offerings round out the selection in the high end home shop category of this venerable saw. But before any of the others came on the scene Delta pioneered the tilting arbor cabinet saw with their Unisaw. Although it wasnt the first tilting arbor saw out there (as opposed to tilting table saws that had come before it) it was the first one that could be easily fit into a home workshop. Delta claims an introduction of 1937 for their Unisaw (universal saw) but independent researchers place the date closer to the end of 1938. Anyway you look at it; it is the granddaddy of cabinet saws.
Comparing that original saw to todays Unisaw finds very little has changed. Many of the parts will interchange. This is one of the key reasons I decided on the Unisaw. When I first began lusting for a cabinet saw many years ago the Powermatic rose above the Delta and I checked it out thoroughly before making this purchase decision. It costs more than the Delta and has a better historical reputation. Recent posts on various woodworking web sites, however, question its vaunted superiority by claiming shoddy workmanship in the Powermatics they have purchased over the last couple of years. Scratch Powermatic for me. I have a Jet Contractor's Saw which has given me very good service so the Jet was a contender. The quality doesnt, in my opinion, match that of Delta in the fit and finish area and the motor. With the Woodworkers Supply sale, the price wasnt better either. My local candy store for woodworkers, Chesapeake Woodworking, carries the new Shop Fox line. Again it seems like a nice saw but with the sale they couldnt beat the Delta price and why take a chance on a newcomer when an experienced rival exists? General is not readily available to me so I went with the deal offered by Woodworkers Supply.
The saw can be purchased stand alone as listed here. Most, however, come with at least a rip fence. Before getting into the details of the Unisaw I will try to show some of the variations on the theme available through Delta dealers. Starting with the basic cabinet saw, this one is a left-tilt model (the blade tilts to the left rather than the traditional tilt to the right of cabinet saws). Delta introduced this version late to compete with Jet and Powermatic. The left tilt is indicated by the L in the model number L31. A right tilt would be an R31. This saw has a single phase, 3 horsepower motor. The L51 has a 5 horsepower single phase motor and the L53 a 3 phase motor. These motors are all available on the right tilt version as well. An X added at the end of the model number indicates the saw is part of Deltas X-series of saws. As far as I can determine this only adds a 5 year warranty instead of the traditional 2 year warranty and a different logo.
Most of the time this saw is sold with a rip fence as part of the package. Delta offers their original fence, the Delta Unifence, as well as what used to be a very popular third party fence made by Biesemeyer. This company is now owned by Delta and they offer the fence as an option. It is more popular than the Delta Unifence based on total sales. Both of these fence styles come in 30, 50, and 96 lengths. The 50 is the most popular, again based on total sales. With the fences you will also need a table board. You can make your own but most packages come with the table board and legs.
Delta 10" Unisaw 3 HP, Single Phase, Left Tilt Model L31
Since I had settled on a 3 horsepower saw, the choices I had to make were left or right tilt and what fence to get. I decided on the Unifence for reasons I will detail in the review of that venerable fence. I also decided on the left tilt version rather than the traditional right tilt of the older Unisaws. Here is what went into that decision. Usually the rip fence is used to the right of the saw blade and the miter gauge for doing crosscutting is on the left. My contractors saw was the traditional right tilt so I had some experience with that mode of operation. When doing bevel ripping, the blade of a right tilt model tilts toward the fence, trapping the cutoff piece between the blade and the fence. This increases the risk of pinching the cutoff and having it violently thrown backwards by the fast spinning blade. This is called kickback and I have a very bad dent in a garage door from an example of this happening. Had I been not standing in the proper position beside the work it could have been in me. The door was over eight feet behind the saw. More often the problem I have encountered is burning of the beveled edge in easily burned woods like cherry. This happens when the cut releases tension in the wood and the wood is pressed against that same fast spinning blade. Both of these problems are alleviated when the blade tilt is away from the fence.
On the down side, the left tilting blade now leans toward the miter gauge when using it for crosscuts, increasing the risk of striking the gauge or your hand. Since I seldom do crosscuts on the table saw, preferring my sliding compound miter saw, and since I practice sliding the miter through before turning on the saw to check for clearance I opted for that increased risk instead of the problems I had already encountered with the right tilt blade.
What you get
What I got arrived in five packages, all of them heavy. Only one package is the subject of this review, the Delta 10" Unisaw 3 HP, Single Phase, Left Tilt Model L31. The listed package weight is nearly 500 pounds. It is heavy. It came on a wooden skid surrounded by a cardboard box. The truck dropped it in the driveway using a lift gate and three husky people horsed it into the workshop.
Once the cardboard wrapping was removed we had a big saw bolted to a skid and a couple of small packages of associated parts. We unbolted the saw and two of us easily slid it from the pallet to its Delta Mobile Base which had been assembled earlier. Since the top of the base was lower than the skid, gravity helped here.
Once on its base the first step of the very complete manual was to attach the blade tilt wheel at the side of the saw. This takes a couple of minutes and consists of placing a key in the shaft slot and sliding the sturdy wheel all the way in to the fiber washer that had been slipped over the shaft. Although the instructions said the Allen wrench to lock the hand wheel to the shaft was included we didnt find it. The local tool box took care of the problem. The next step was to mount the left side iron extension table to the side of the saw table. This is heavy and, although it could be done by one person, two made it easier. The action consists of screwing the three supplied bolts through the extension and into the three pre-threaded holes of the main table. Once they were snugged we used a dead blow hammer to get the extension level with the main table and tightened the bolts.
The manual next suggests installing the blade guard/splitter. Since I had bought the Delta Uniguard
, we skipped this step. The blade guard is the typical type that comes with most saws and often ends up stored somewhere out of the way after a few instances of having to remove it and reinstall it when making non-through cuts. Having fought the similar one on the Jet I was happy not to have to install this one. I have to say the construction on the Delta guard, though no less irritating in its use, was much beefier than the one on the Jet.
The remaining assembly steps included an instruction on how to assemble the motor cover (it was already in place on this one), mounting the holders for the fence on the right side of the saw, an easy process and a feature I missed on the Jet, mounting the dust chute cover with the four supplied sheet metal screws, and screwing the handle into the supplied miter gauge. The miter gauge is, again, the typical sloppy and hard to set accurately kind that comes with most table saws. Its construction is beefy, but it leaves a lot to be desired. The fit of the slider in the table miter gauge slot was unacceptably loose and I had to raise dimples on one side and then file them for a smooth sliding fit. Im not sure why I bothered since I have an Incra Miter 3000 which I use.
Once the protective coating was wiped off the iron surfaces using paint thinner, we coated it with Boeshield T9, the only cast iron top coating we use, and the saw is ready for calibration checks. Before installing the blade we checked run out of the arbor with our TS-Aligner Junior. As expected it was well within tolerance at just about .001 inch. The supplied blade was then installed and its run out checked. By changing the position of the blade in relation to the arbor we were able to get a total run out at the blade edge of less than .003. This is acceptable and the blade supplied is much better quality than we expected. It is a 40-tooth ATB which is a fair compromise for most work.
The parallelism of the blade to the miter slots is critical. In our case it was .000 off in other words, perfect. If it had not been, this adjustment is much easier on a cabinet saw than a contractors saw, The four bolts holding the table to the cabinet have to be loosened slightly and judicious tapping will bring it right in. The bolts are readily accessible around the edge of the table. This compares favorably to the requirement to move the arbor under the table of a contractors saw.
The next step was to check the tilt stops. We used precision machinist angles for this step. We had to adjust the 45 degree stop .007 inches. The zero stop was dead on. The pointer for the angle is not that precise. We had to adjust it slightly but we always check angles anyway so that is not a problem for us.
We checked the flatness of the main table and the extension with a precision straight edge and feeler gauges. We were off a few thousandths on the extension and fussed with it until it was less than the thinnest feeler could slide into, under .001. We found a slight dish in the main table about in the center of the right side of just a little over .001 inches. Although I guess we could complain, this had no material affect on the use of the saw and we ignored it. Adjusting the supplied blade cover dead level with the table was the final step.
We added the Delta Unifence, subject of another review, and were ready to hook it up. The saw comes with a cord already installed, a rarity in the 220 volt motor world. We had to run a 220 volt line to the saw from the electrical panel and install a standard 15 amp, 220 volt outlet to meet the cord end of the saw.
The Technical Details (from the Delta website)
Delta Industrial Model 36-L31 with a 3 HP 230V, 60 Hz., 3450 rpm single phase motor with full-voltage motor starter (GPE). Includes TEFC motor enclosure, equipment mounting hooks, see-through blade-guard, 10" diameter combination blade, miter gage, table insert, motor pulley, 3/4 bore, set of 3 matching V-belts, 4" dust collection port, and instruction manual.
Single phase, 3 HP electricals will be supplied wired for 230V only. Power cord and Plug supplied on 3 HP, single phase UNISAWS only.
3 HP, 1 phase, Type of Motor - Induction, drive - Triple V-Belt
Diameter: 10" (254 mm)
Speed: 4000 rpm CAPACITY
Max Depth of Cut: 3 1/8"
Max Rip to Right of Blade: 30 1/4"
Max Rip to Left of Blade: 12"
Max Thickness of Cut at 45 Degrees: 2 1/8"
Distance; Front of Table to Center of Blade: 16 13/16"
Table in Front of Saw Blade at Max Depth of Cut: 12 1/4"
Max Width of Dado: 13/16"TABLE
T-slot: 3/8" X 3/4"
Height: 36 3/4"(933 mm)
Width with Wing & Rail: 36 3/4"(933mm) and 52" Unifence Guide Rail: 83" (2108 mm) and 30" Unifence Guide Rail: 63" (1600 mm)
Depth: Rail: 35 3/4" (908 mm)
Delta Unifence Rip Fence: 43" (1092 mm) long
How Does It Work?
The short answer is, Like a dream. A firm push of the magnetic switch produced a low hum and a rapidly spinning blade. The magnetic switch is a very nice safety feature. If, for some reason, you pop the breaker during operation and then walk over and throw it back on, the saw will not start running again and maybe throw a piece of work at you or some other important part of your workshop. There was no vibration that we could detect and the blade just looked fierce spinning away. We stopped to install the Delta Uniguard and the Delta Outfeed Table before actually using the saw. We also made a few zero clearance inserts from 1/2 inch birch plywood and set one up for the supplied blade at zero degrees.
Once we got the saw in use, a weekends work with all the accessories, we found it to be everything we expected. Ripping 16/4 oak, something we only did with difficulty and slowly with the Jet, was a breeze. The saw just sliced right through it with the supplied blade. This operation takes two passes since maximum depth of cut is 3 1/8 inch. With the Jet we always had a noticeable ridge where the second cut slightly missed the line of the first cut. Not with the Delta. Even at full depth of cut in a fairly hard wood and with a full thickness combination blade, the Delta handled the work with aplomb.
We have enjoyed this saw very much since we started using it over a month ago. It does everything we ask it to, is good at collecting the sawdust, the controls and adjustments are easy to use and intuitive. There is just nothing wrong with the leader of the pack. Our lust has turned to love.