(continued from Part 1
Stationary saws include the main categories of contractor saws, hybrid saws, and cabinet saws. They’re considerably heavier, larger, and more robust than the class of portable saws. Though inherently less portable, any of these saws can be placed on a mobile base and rolled easily around the shop. Some even have built in mobile bases. These are typically full size saws with cast iron tops and belt drive induction motors, but there are examples that offer solid granite tops instead of cast iron, and even some with aluminum tops. The vast majority have standard ¾” miter slots on each side of the blade. A standard full size top tends to have a main table that’s approximately 27” deep x 20” wide, with 10” to 12” extension wings made of steel or cast iron on each side for a total width of roughly 40” to 44”. There are exceptions and variations across the board, with some having deeper tables, extra wide extension tables, router tables, outfeed tables, longer fence rails, etc. In a standard configuration, these saws all tend to take up about the same amount of floor space. However, the older style contractor saws with the motor hanging off the back take up an additional 12” to 13” for the motor. It’s a common misconception that cabinet saws take up more space. In their stock configuration, the cabinet saws actually have a smaller footprint than a traditional older style contractor saw with an outboard motor. It isn’t until you add longer rails for more rip capacity that the area increases for any saw in this class. The misconception arises because it’s simply more common to find a cabinet saw with wider rip capacity than it is a contractor saw or hybrid with a similar setup.
This is the class of saw that most hobbyists, smaller professional shops, and schools will gravitate toward. Many will run on a standard single phase 20 amp 120v residential circuit, while others require a 240v circuit (2 horsepower and up). Some that are used in industrial settings will operate on 480v 3-phase circuits. These saws tend to have good adjustability and can be made to be very accurate. They’re large and stable enough to handle most sheet goods, powerful enough to cut most lumber to near full blade height if aligned well and fitted with a proper blade. They have ample table space and good operating room in front of the blade, making them inherently safer to use. There are many good fence options available, most will accept standard accessories, and are built to last for decades with basic maintenance. They’re also usually easier, and cheaper to fix in the event of a failure. Many of the motors are on a standard NEMA 56 frame, so off-the-shelf replacement and upgrade motors are readily available. Many parts like the wings, fences, and miter gauges are directly interchangeable with all three classes of stationary saws, or can be easily modified to fit, so upgrades for basic features are often possible, making stationary saws a good long term investment.
For years, the most common full size stationary saw has been the traditional contractor saw with a belt drive outboard induction motor hanging out the back of the saw. Developed over 60 years ago as a jobsite alternative to heavier cabinet saws, these were the true original “contractor saws”. The motor was designed to be easily removed to improve portability, were typically ½ to 1 horsepower, and could run on standard residential 110v circuits (now known as 120v). The belt driven arbor was suspended between two trunnion brackets that mounted to the table top. This design was lighter and cheaper to manufacture, but were a bit difficult to reach and made alignment more of a chore. The horsepower eventually increased to an average of 1hp to 2hp…about the maximum horsepower rating that a motor that will run on a standard 120v circuit can achieve. Though more portable than a 500# industrial cabinet saw, at 200# to 300#, a traditional contractor saw was still very heavy to be moved regularly from one location to another, but were capable, accurate, and reliable. In addition to being heavy, the location of the outboard motor had some disadvantages….the motor took up more space, required a longer belt (additional vibration), posed a lifting hazard when the motor was tilted, put additional stresses on the alignment when tilted, and generally had poor dust collection. This design remained relatively unchanged for several decades, with most improvements focused on the precision of the fences, safety features like guards and splitters, standardization of table size and miter slots. As smaller, more portable saws evolved, contractor saws became largely relegated to use as permanently located stationary shop saws. They also gained appeal as home shop saws for hobbyists and smaller professional shops because they were more affordable than cabinet saws, yet offered good performance for fine woodworking. In their new role as a stationary saw, easy access for motor removal was no longer necessary, so the location of the motor eventually found its way inside the enclosure, which resolved the nuisance issues of the outboard location. There are very few traditional contractor saws with outboard motors still available new in the marketplace these days. The Powermatic PM64a is one of the few I know of still available, and those are mostly new old stock (NOS)….you may also find some NOS GI and Delta contractor saws at smaller specialty tool stores, but new models haven’t been manufactured for a while.
Most of today’s contractor saws feature an inboard belt drive induction motor, as well as an updated splitter known as a riving knife, which raises, lowers, and tilts in unison with the blade as opposed to being fixed in place, or just tilting with the blade as was the case with a traditional splitter. Because the riving knife is less cumbersome, and less likely to be in the way, it’s more likely to be in place to do its job. Due to the inboard location of the motor, today’s contractor saws are sometimes referred to as hybrid saws, which are a really a cross between a contractor saw and an industrial cabinet saw. One aspect of the older style traditional contractor saws that remains are the open leg or splayed leg enclosures.
There are also several hybrid models that sport full enclosures as opposed to an open or splayed leg stand found on the modern hybrid style contractor saws. Some folks refer to these as cabinet saws, but it’s my opinion that it’s an oversimplification of the facts. Some savvy marketers promote the confusion by calling their hybrid saws with full enclosures a “cabinet saw”. Most of these models still feature table mounted trunnions with similar duty ratings as a contractor saw, but some do offer cabinet mounted trunnions. These are just some of the issues that complicate trying to categorize saw types. I suppose the nomenclature really boils down to semantics, but make no mistake about it….a hybrid saw with a full enclosure, whether it uses table mounted or cabinet mounted trunnions, does not have the same power, mass, duty rating, or robust design as a true industrial style cabinet saw. Modern updated hybrid style contractor saws and hybrid saws are available from companies like Jet, Powermatic, Ridgid, Craftsman, Grizzly, Porter Cable, Steel City, General International, Woodtek, Saw Stop, and others starting at about $525 going up over $2000 for a well appointed Saw Stop model.
Continued in part 3