Cabinet Saw Features and Performance Plus Unmatched Safety.SawStop’s new Contractor Saw is the safest contractor saw on the market. That’s a given, considering that SawStop’s patented safety system is built into every saw it sells (see Safety section). While the safety system and the famous hot dog demos may be the stars of show, standing quietly in the background are a host of other great features and built-in quality that make the SawStop Contractor saw stand-out in the crowd.
I’ve been using table saws of the cabinet variety for over 30 years. The few times I’ve used a traditional contractor saw, I was left unimpressed. So it was with some trepidation that I took on this review of SawStop’s new contractor saw. Having spent considerable time using their cabinet saw, I didn’t want to be disappointed.
For this test, we used the CNS175-TGP36 with cast iron wings and a mobile base. As I put the saw together, my worries began to dissipate. Rarely have I seen assembly instructions and components as well thought out as these. Dare I say it? SawStop almost makes assembly fun? SawStop packages the hardware in numbered, color-coded and illustrated blister packs that correspond to the numbers and colors on the laminated instruction sheets. Just punch the perforated back on the blister packs and pick out the hardware you need at each step. There are no bags of mixed hardware to paw through and organize on your own.
If you don’t own metric wrenches, you’ll need a pair of adjustable wrenches to assemble this saw. As the saw came together, I found the machining to be impeccable; all the holes lined up and the parts fit beautifully. The instructions were crystal clear with handy suggestions for the trickier procedures. I was never left scratching my head wondering what to do next. Nor did I find myself disassembling parts or loosening bolts because the instructions failed to warn me ahead of time not to do that step just yet. It was obvious that the writer had some hands-on experience putting these saws together.
It took the better part of a day to assemble and adjust everything on the saw. However, instead of feeling tired and frustrated at the end, I actually felt a sense of accomplishment accompanied by an eagerness to see if the thought and effort evident in the assembly experience flowed through to the saw’s performance.
I found the answer to be, yes.
Depending on the package you choose, this contractor saw can have all the great features you’d expect from a cabinet saw. Every SawStop Contractor Saw includes features such as heavy duty arbor bearings, a 1.75 HP motor with plenty of power, large blade adjustment handles that won’t skin our knuckles every time you adjust blade height, a shrouded blade for better dust collection, riving knife, blade guard and onboard storage for accessories. Optional upgrades include a large, dead flat cast iron top, and outfeed extension table, a top quality t-square style fence (36-in. or 52-in.) and two mobile base options (see “Models, Prices and Conclusions” below).
A Closer Look.The SawStop Contractor saw operates like any saw, with the exception of blade changes and initial power-up (see “Power Switch” below). As I mentioned earlier, I’m a cabinet saw guy. However, after putting the saw through its paces, it dawned on me; this thing cuts and operates just like a cabinet saw. The working surface of the saw, with the cast iron tables and wings plus the T-Glide fence (see below) appears identical to its larger cousin. Until you look underneath the table at the base, you wouldn’t know you were operating a contractor’ saw.
Making the Cut.Of course, the big question with any table saw is; how does it cut? The saw’s large cast iron trunnions, 62mm main bearing and cast iron top drastically reduce the vibration I experienced on other contractor saws. The low vibration combines with an included 40-tooth combo blade and zero clearance insert to produce smooth, accurate cuts in sheet goods and solid stock.
Power didn’t seem to be an issue either. The 1.75 HP, 15-amp, 120-volt motor cut through 8/4″ maple with ease. I had the saw plugged into a 20-amp breaker with a heavy gauge extension cord. The breaker never popped, even on heavy cuts.
OK, so far, so good. But, the acid test for any contractor saw is the 45-degree cut. Contractor saws are notorious for making poor bevel cuts. That’s because the weight of the cantilevered motors causes the trunion to twist so the blade is no longer parallel with the fence. That in turn, leads to rough cuts with a lot of burning. Clearly SawStop has dealt with the problem as the saw made perfectly clean 45-degree bevel cuts even in burn-prone cherry (Photo 1).
The SawStop Contractor saw is a left tilt saw. That means the blade tilts away from the fence, to prevent the wood from binding against the fence—another important safety feature that doesn’t have the star power of the blade break.
Blade Adjustments.The blade adjustment handwheels (Photo 2) are a joy to use compared with Munchkin-sized, knuckle banging handwheels I’ve run into on other contractor saws. They are a bit awkward to reach because of the large, overhanging top. Given the generous table size, I don’t mind the extra reach under the table for blade adjustments.
This sure beats the system some saws use, which requires contorting your head and hands under the saw to access the stop bolts. The blade height limit adjustment is required to keep the saw’s belt and arbor block from hitting the underside of the saw table when the blade is fully raised.
Blade Changes.There are a few operations where you realize the SawStop is a different animal. Changing blades is one of those operations. The gap between the brake cartridge and the blade is very sensitive and because there are minute differences in the diameter of each blade some checking and fine-tuning of the brake cartridge may be necessary for safe operation. Fortunately, SawStop has made the task quick and easy thanks to the convenient, self-storing blade spacing gauge (Photo 4).
If you use a dado set, you will need to buy and install a different brake cartridge to accommodate the 8″ blades ($89). Changing out a cartridge adds a couple more steps, but again, SawStop has designed the system so it only takes about a minute. Once you’ve made a few blade changes, you won’t think anything of the extra steps.
The brake cartridge is released with a cartridge key. Alignment pins insure proper installation of the new cartridge. As a backup, the cartridge will not lock and the saw will not function unless the brake is seated properly. Once the new brake is in place, the dado blade can be installed, the proper gap is set with the gapping tool and the saw is ready to cut dadoes.
Every blade change requires you to remove the throat insert. The SawStop insert is locked down with a screw for safety. One of my only complaints on this saw is the lack of on-board storage for the 3mm hex key used to remove the insert. Having the insert locked down is a good safety feature, having no place to store the key is a bit of a pain.
Blade Guard and Riving Knife.The icing on SawStop’s safety cake is the blade guard and riving knife that come with each saw. Most cuts are made using the blade guard (Photo 5).
Power SwitchWhen you first plug the saw into an outlet, the power switch lights up like a Christmas tree. The blinking lights let you know that the electronics are doing their system check. If you’re really curious about what the lights mean, refer to the “Quick Start Guide”. The guide is designed for quick reference on common saw operations and features a magnetic back so it can hang right on the front of the saw. If the system reads an error, you can use the Guide to interpret the blinking lights and find out where the problem is. Once the check is done (it takes only a minute), the saw can be turned on and off with the paddle switch (Photo 7).
A removable lockout key prevents unauthorized use. A bypass system is activated with a key and allows you to cut conductive material like aluminum or wet wood, e.g., treated wood. A thermal overload switch protects the motor from overheating.
Dust Collection.The contractor saw features a dust shroud around the blade. The shroud drains into a 4″ dust port for hook-up to your system. The dust collection was very effective although the blade can still throw off its share of dust above the table.
Onboard Storage.Most of the SawStop Accessories are self-storing including: a magnetic holder for the blade gap device; hangers for the miter gauge, arbor wrenches and blade guard and a magnetic backed quick reference manual (Photo 8).
Mobile Bases.For site work, the JobSite Cart is the way to go (Photo 9). It’s wheelbarrow style handles and large wheels make it ideal for maneuvering around construction site obstacles.
The Fence.Both the 36″ and 52″ fence systems include an upgrade to the T-Glide Professional Series Fence (Photo 11). A lighter 30″ fence is recommended for use with the job-site cart package.
The fence can be used on either side of the blade. The wide stance of the plates that support the fence on the rail allow for true one-handed operation. I really like the adjustment screws on either end of the plates that allow you to square the fence face to your table.
The magnified indicator lenses really help when fine-tuning your setting.
SawStop’s safety system has done for the table saw what airbags did for the automobile; dramatically increase safety. SawStop’s safety feature is basically a blade break on steroids. It sends a low voltage current through the blade that can sense contact with your skin. It works in much the same way as lamps that dim when you touch the metal stand. Once skin contact is made with the blade, the brake is activated stopping the spinning blade in .005 seconds. That’s 10 times faster than the airbags in your car. The fast stop breaks a shear pin and the blade instantaneously drops below the table. The end result for the sawyer is a nick on the finger instead of a trip to the emergency room. For more info on the brake system, including a cool slo-mo video of the brake in action, visit www.sawstop.com.
Models, Prices and Conclusions: There are several models of the contractor saw available:
CNS175-SFA30: Includes aluminum extrusion fence & 30″ rails; 58 1/2″ w, 40″ d, 34 3/4″ h; $1,599 (See Photo 9)
CNS175-TGP36: Includes Professional Series T-glide fence & 36″ rails; 69 1/8″ w, 45″ d, 34 3/4″ h; $1,779 (Intro Photo)
CNS175-TGP52: Includes Professional Series T-glide fence & 52″ rails; 85 1/4″ w, 45″ d, 34 3/4″ h; $1,839
Add: $199 JobSite Cart, $160 for MB, $189 for cast iron wings.
If you want the saw for site work, than the CNS175-SFA30 with the JobSite Cart add-on is the way to go.
I would also recommend this set-up if your shop is really small because the JobSite Cart allows you to tip the saw against a wall to free up precious floor space.
For the home shop, you can’t beat the CNS175-TGP36 or 52. If you’ve got the room, go for the 52″ model. The large fence is less limiting when it comes to cutting up 4 x 8 sheet goods. For sure, you will want to add the cast iron wings. I would also recommend the mobile base, even if you rarely need to move your saw.
This is a great saw. I found it to be more like a hybrid or even a cabinet saw than a classic contractors saw. SawStop has done a wonderful job of engineering quality, safety and convenience into this saw. I am also impressed with the packages they put together to meet the needs of any woodworker. All the important features of a cabinet saw can be found on the SawStop Contractor’s saw. I was sad when the saw left my shop.
Photos By Author and Manufacture