3-hp Cabinet Tablesaws
For many of us, a 3-hp cabinet saw—so named decades ago for having a closed cabinet when other saws did not—ideally suits our needs. In addition to muscular motors, these saws have larger cast-iron tops, beefier trunnions and blade-support mechanisms, better dust collection, and less vibration than lower-powered saws. To find the best of the best, we tested seven machines priced from $1,795 to $3,200.
No problems with power
Each of the saws, with motors wired for 220 volts, has ample power to rip and crosscut hardwood and softwood up to 3" thick without bogging down. However, two saws (Jet XACTA 708675PK and Powermatic PM2000B) require you to supply a power cord and plug.
Rip fences don’t disappoint
We configured these seven machines with long fence rails and rip capacities ranging from 47" to 53". (Each model is also available with 30–36" rip capacity.) All the saws come with T-square-style rip fences that locked solidly, yet glided smoothly along the rails. But deflection at the unsecured end can occur with this type of fence, so we measured for that with a dial indicator while ripping 4×4' sheets of plywood and 2×12 lumber. The SawStop Professional’s fence deflected the least (.001") and the Shop Fox W1820’s fence the most (.008"), but we saw no negative effects in any case.
The steel-tube fences have faces made of coated plywood, high-density plastic, or aluminum—all worked fine—and none have T-slots for mounting accessories, such as hold-downs. (T-slots are a common feature on lesser-priced saws.) All the faces were spot-on perpendicular to the tabletop, and each fence proved easy enough to adjust parallel to the blade and miter slots.
Most of the time, you’ll rip with the fence to the right of the blade, where the scale provides reliable accuracy. The Delta and SawStop machines also have scales to the left of the blade and cursors to match—a bonus for times when you choose to rip on that side—as well as scales marked in 1⁄32 " increments along the full length. The Grizzly G1023RLX, Jet, and Powermatic have these markings only in the first foot, with 1⁄16 " increments beyond that; the Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox have 1⁄16 " and metric markings along the full length.
Miter gauges barely make the cut
A miter gauge must have adjustability to calibrate angle stops, adjusters for snugging the fit of the bar in the miter slots, and a way to attach an auxiliary fence. Among the tested models, we found only a few miter gauges reliable and helpful enough to use regularly, particularly for cutting angles other than 90°. The Delta gauge, shown above, was our favorite. It has setscrews to adjust the bar fit, and screw holes for mounting auxiliary fences.
Miter gauges on the Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox were inaccurate at 45° angles, with no way to calibrate them. And, despite having angle adjusters, the SawStop gauge’s sloppy pivot pin made it necessary to use a square to set accurate angles. All saws but the Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox have built-in storage for their miter gauges.
Guards get better
Thanks to mandates from regulatory agencies nearly a decade ago, the guard systems on these saws (above) work well enough so you won’t want to remove them. The splitter holds open the kerf behind the blade to prevent kickback and follows it when you raise, lower, or tilt the arbor. A two-piece guard and antikickback pawls mount separately to the splitter, letting you use either or both with the splitter.
The Grizzly G1023RLX, Jet, and Powermatic saws require you to lift the throat insert and reach into the opening to release the splitter from its clamp—not an easy process. The Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox saws make this easier because you can remove the splitter without lifting the throat insert, shown below.
We like the guard setups best on the SawStop and Delta saws. The SawStop guard has a 11⁄4 " dust port built into it—the only one with this feature—letting you capture dust above and below the blade. Its open-split throat insert, shown above, lets you easily remove the guard assembly to swap the splitter for the low-profile riving knife or to change blades. Delta’s machine has a quick-release lever beneath the front fence rail, shown below. With this model, you first remove the guard and pawls, then lower the splitter to use as a low-profile riving knife.
All saws but the Jet and Powermatic come with a separate riving knife. You can buy theirs as accessories for $30–$40.
You can put a price on safety
In case you’re not already familiar with SawStop’s blade-brake safety system, here’s a quick primer. A brake cartridge with a low-voltage, electric “fuse” rests below the blade, sending a current through the blade. Should anything more conductive than wood—flesh, in particular, but also metal or very wet wood—touch the spinning blade, it triggers the fuse, which slams the aluminum brake pawl into the blade, stopping it and pulling it below the tabletop in a fraction of a second. If your finger triggers the activation, you get only a tiny nick.
After such an activation, you must replace the brake cartridge (about $70) and the blade, but that’s a small price to pay for what could otherwise have been a devastating injury. These saws use separate cartridges for 10" blades (included with the machine) and 8" dado blades. Swapping them takes just a minute or two.
More details to consider before buying
■ Blade changes. Whether you prefer using two wrenches or a single wrench with an arbor lock to remove blades—we don’t have a strong preference, both methods work well—the key is access. That’s why we like wide throat openings to avoid scraping knuckles. Delta’s Unisaw is widest at 5", while the Grizzly G1023RLX has the narrowest at 33⁄4 ", a tight squeeze.
■ Dado capacities/inserts. The Unisaw can handle up to a 11⁄8 " dado stack; the rest max out at 13⁄16 ", plenty wide for 3⁄4 " stock. The two Grizzly saws and the Shop Fox include a dado throat insert. It’s an optional accessory for the others.
■ Handwheels. All the saws have the blade-height handwheel located on the front of the cabinet, but only the Delta has the blade-tilt handwheel there as well (shown above). It’s convenient after you get used to it being there. But to avoid inadvertently changing the blade angle rather than height—which we did—lock the tilt wheel in place at all times.
The Powermatic wheel needs only seven rotations to raise the blade fully, the fewest in the test group; the Grizzly G1023RLX requires 30 turns. For tilting, the Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox need only 20 turns to reach their maximum angles. The Powermatic needs 34 turns.
■ Aligning the top. Typical of cabinet saws, all the test machines proved easy to align. Here’s why: The trunnions—which hold the blade/arbor/motor assembly in place—mount directly to the cabinet. The top also mounts to the cabinet. To align the top, loosen three of the four mounting bolts—easily accessible outside the cabinet—and then simply pivot the top until the miter slots are within .002" parallel to the blade. (With most lower-priced tablesaws, the trunnions mount to the tabletop, so you have to reach inside the base to loosen the trunnions and align them and the blade to the top—much more difficult to do.)
■ Blade tilt. Each saw has a stop for setting the blade-tilt angle at 90° and 45°, typically adjusted by reaching inside the cabinet. Delta makes this easier by placing the adjustments on the front of the cabinet (show below). Delta’s tilt gauge reads easily, with large numbers and clearly discernible increments. But Powermatic’s digital gauge works best: It’s easy to read, and maintains calibration when turned off.
■ Dust collection. Closed cabinets help with dust collection, but you need more than that. A step up from a simple 4" port on the back or side of the cabinet is a shroud around the blade with a hose that sucks dust directly to the port. All but the Grizzly G0691 and Shop Fox have this feature. We found the SawStop’s dust collection most effective, especially when attaching a secondary hose on the blade guard. And all but the Delta have 4" dust ports; it has a 5" port, but comes with a reducer so you can connect to 4" flex-hose.
■ Warranty. The Delta, Jet, and Powermatic saws come with test-best five-year warranties. The others give you one or two years.
■ Assembly. We give kudos to SawStop for having the best owner’s manual and assembly instructions, as well as for packaging all the hardware and small parts in separate, easily identifiable blister packs that correspond to steps in the manual. And leveling the cast-iron extension wings on the Delta, shown below, proved easiest.
Mobile: It’s not just for phones
If moving your tablesaw around the shop would make life easier—or if it’s a necessity—get a good mobile base. But with dozens of mobility options on the market, which should you choose? Here’s our advice:
■ Buying a saw with a built-in mobile base, such as the Powermatic PM2000B (below) or some SawStop models, makes sense because the integrated casters eliminate tripping hazards, and the hydraulic jacks raise and lower the saws with ease.
■ If possible, buy the optional mobile base designed specifically for that saw by the saw’s manufacturer. For example, the Delta mobile base fits the Unisaw’s cabinet perfectly (show in photo above), while also supporting the extension legs. It rolls nicely, and its kickstand works perfectly to elevate and lower it.
■ If you opt for a mobile base that supports only the saw cabinet, be aware the extension legs may catch on uneven surfaces and break off when moving. If available, get the extension to support the legs.
■ Get a mobile base rated for the weight of a cabinet saw. Overloading can hamper mobility and damage the casters.
■ Swiveling casters with toe-kick, over-the-wheel locks work best. A mobile base should have at least two locking casters, but four work even better.
■ Universal mobile bases adjust to fit a wide range of machines.
This proves helpful should you replace your saw—no need to buy another base.
Here are a few of our favorite universal mobile bases:
■ Portamate PM-3500, $150, shown on the Shop Fox saw, photo below; PM-3245 extension, $110; 866-588-0395, portamate.com.
■ Grizzly Bear Crawl T28000, $60, shown on the two Grizzly saws, shown below; T28347 extension, $60; 800-523-4777, grizzly.com.
■ Rockler 22672 All-Terrain Mobile Base, $170, shown on the Jet saw, photo below; 800-279-4441, rockler.com.
Three finalists, but one claims the title
Our Top Value award goes to the Grizzly G1023RLX. Yes, it’s the lowest-priced saw in our test at $1,795, but it has greater rip capacity, better dust collection, and sturdier table legs than the other saws priced less than $2,000. Invest some of your savings in a miter-gauge upgrade.