Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New tools

Over the years, I've written a lot of tool reviews and tests. As time has passed, I've whittled my own shop down to a bare minimum, which is still unwieldy in some ways.

I'm working on a new small project book, with possible break-outs for a couple of magazine articles as the book progresses, so I recently got hold of a new tablesaw of a type that might possibly interest the space-challenged weekend project builder.

The saw is a Ridgid Job Site saw, with a folding stand, with wheels that allow for easy moving when the stand is folded. The only lack I can see on the stand is of a brake: if you tilt it against the wall so the wheels rest on the floor, you need to block the wheels to keep it from sliding down. Otherwise, it operates easily and quickly.

Some years ago, I wrote an article on job site saws for a contractors' magazine. Of the saws I checked, most of those on the market at the time, the Ridgid turned out to be the most feature laden and best built, though it was a pretty tight battle for the top spot. Bosch was a very, very close second place.

It pays to remember with this type of saw that you're not buying a Delta Unisaw or a Powermatic 66, though. If you go into it with the expectations of getting all the benefits of a 500+ pound, 230 volt, light production cabinet saw, you'll be disappointed. If you buy a saw such as the Ridgid with an expectation that you can build small projects quickly with the tool, you're closer to the center of the bullseye. The Ridgid weighs about 110 pounds, an aid to portability. It has a composite table that extends for wider cuts (up to 26"), and a fence that is accurate and holds settings well. The miter gauge is surprisingly good for a saw of this class, too.

On the portability front, the stand rides on 8" diameter wheels, a real help whenever the saw is off of a paved driveway or a floored shop.

I'm not wild about the standard blade. It's serviceable, but not great. In the good old days, many saws came without saw blades, and those that did include blades, came with cheap steel versions that were invariably crappy. This carbide tipped blade isn't bad. To see an apparent improvement in power, and an actual improvement in cut quality, try a Freud, CMT, Infinity and similar blades. I wouldn't buy a Forrest blade for a job site saw, but if you have one on hand, and want to see an improvement in the saw's speed and accuracy, give it a try.

The shot of the Ridgid Job Site saw that you see here is of a saw that is about three years old. It's in my shop, but isn't the new saw I just got. There are some minor differences, largely in the realm of the blade guard, which is now well enough made I'll actually use it. The new guard has a two part lift so you can work close to the fence from either side, along with a removable splitter/riving knife assembly that accepts anti-kickback pawls for through cuts.

Blade height and tilt are controlled by a single wheel/lever combination, with a bevel locking lever to make sure everything stays the same once it's set.

On-board storage for an extra blade, the miter gauge and the fence are easy to use, while the cord wraps easily around its prongs at the back of the saw.

The package is complete, and is useful for the beginning craftsman, and for carpenters and others who don't want to be hoisting a 300 and more pound "contractors" saw on and off their trucks to start and end the day.