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Thread: Contractor vs Cabinet Saw (What is the difference?)

  1. #1

    Contractor vs Cabinet Saw (What is the difference?)

    I have always been a little confused to the end product difference (cut lumber) between the contractor saw and the cabinet saw. Especially the higher quality contractor saw. Assuming they are both set-up properly (parallel blade and fence), used properly and cutting typical hardwoods that are 5/4 or smaller, then what is the difference? I know horsepower is different, weight is different, maybe number of belts turning the blade, but if they are set up correctly and used properly, doesn't one find the end results the same?

    Disregarding the weight factor between the two saws, I have also noticed that at wood shows most vendors who are selling tablesaw blades, sleds, feather boards, etc use a contractor style saw. I would think that if I were selling these items I would use the best tool to make my produce look irresistible.

    Therefore given my impression, why should I put down another $600-$1,200 for something that produces the same results a properly cut board?
    The truth is always visible but often not seen.
    Measure twice, and cut--WAIT!-- better measure again then cut once, twice or whatever it takes to fit.

  2. #2
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    First off, cabinet saws have larger tables. Some contractors saw do not have arbors long enough for dado blades. Ofcourse you can build great things with a contractors saw.
    One word about the saws you see doing demo's at the woodshows, most of this saws which look beat up and 50 years old are prize pocessions of their owners. They have been reworked with great bearings and set up to cut prefectly. They may be selling great saw blades, but they always cut alittle better at the show than when you get it home.

    Richard

  3. #3
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    I used to have a very cheap contractors saw and now have a PM 66 cabinet saw. The difference is that with the PM 66, I set up the saw once when I got it, and I don't expect to have to set it up again. I also expect to have that saw until I die. I used to check the fence and miter slots/blade every few months with a dial indicator. I now only check it rarely and have never had to adjust anything.

    With the contractors saw, I never could get the fence to lock down straight and if somehow I did, it would be out of square within the next few cuts. Every time I ripped a board I used a ruler from the fence to the front of the blade, held it with one hand and then measured from the fence to the back of the blade, twisted the fence until it was square and then locked it down before I let go of the fence. Same with the mitre gauge, it just would not stay square. Same with the tilting arbor, when it tilted you could never be sure that it was still square and when you returned it to straight up and down you had to resquare the miter gauge. Essentially, if you wanted quality you had to square everything on every cut.

    Now, with some of the high end contractors saws that is changing, especially with the hybrid saws. You will still not see the same longevity however. I used to think the weight was a non issue as long as the saw was well made. However, it is nice to have a huge crosscut sled pushing an entire sheet of 3/4" plywood and not be worried about tipping a running saw over.
    Last edited by Tom Jones III; 02-14-2006 at 4:21 PM.

  4. #4
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    The end result is the same if you recognize the differences in horsepower and capacity. The real test is in the long run and in the saw's ability to stay true and cut true. Like all things, the devil is in the details. You can buy a low end contractors saw with direct drive (the blade is on the end of the motor shaft), sheet metal wings and a fence that will never cut true for $300 or $400. The other end of the scale is a General International or Jet or other saw with cast iron wings, a 2 hp motor (check the amperage on the tag) a great fence and a good base that costs near or above $800.

    I have a saying on my desk that goes "Someone can always find a way to make something a little cheaper and sell it for a little less". There are very few free rides out there. Whatever you decide to get,go with the best quality you can afford and a little more. The most expensive tool you can buy is a cheap tool. You buy them over and over and over again. A good tool will last a lifetime and more.

    CPeter

  5. #5
    My father bought a Craftsman contractors saw and had to adjust the fence every time he made a cut. He would always have to measure at both ends of the blade to make sure everything was square beofre cutting.

    I have had my Delta Unisaw for about twelve years and only checked for square after moving from Texas to California. Everything was perfect so I made no adjustments. I'll take the cabinet saw any day. I lived with it and a router for about four years before I could afford another major tool purchase but it has been worth the wait.

    CPeter James advice is best though, "...go with the best quality you can afford and a little more."

  6. #6
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    This post will probably get me into trouble but.....

    A cabinet saw was made to set in one place and crank out production. A contractor saw as made to move around and crank out houses.

    However the new contractor saws are being made aimed at the home hobbiest. And the cart mounted bench construction saws are taking it's place in the home construction.

    As far as fence problems that many mention that is the result of the fence. You can get the same fence for a construction saws that you get for cabinet saws so that shouldn't be an issue anymore.

    The only real short coming of construction saws are how they carry the arbor between the trunnions. In Cabinet saws this piece is one solid cast iron piece that mounts between the trunions and is tilted to cut bevels.

    In most construction saws this is at least four pieces consisting on two tubes or bars and 2 other pieces into which the bar mount and then connect to the trunnion.

    With this type of saw you can have a problem, as you crank the blade over for a bevel cut if either trunnion sticks a little the bars can rack. Also if the bars work loose and any pressure is put on the blade the bars can rack. What usually happens is the blade develops a situation called heeling. Where the back end of the blade is closer to the fence than the front. Many discover this and say their saw got out alignment and adjust the trunions around to solve the problem, only to have it reoccur the next time they crank in some bevel. They often blame the trunnion mount location whether it is to the table or cabinet as part of the problem.

    In fact the problem is in the bars and how they are being held in the piece that rides in the trunion. It could be loose, woren or the sliding piece needs to be adjusted so it moves smoothly without racking the bars. The older Delta saw use to include this adjustment procedure. The other saws more or less ignore it telling you to adjust the trunnions if the blade is heeled.

    The location where the trunnion mounts really doesn't have any thing to do with the situation. Cabinet mount trunnion you adjust the table for blade alingment. In table mount trunnion you adjust the trunnion. It use to be harder to adjust the trunnions but PALS and/or the new cam Ridgid uses on their saw eliminate most of the problem. So I consider this a non issue.

    If you read most saw books they say set your saw up for perfect 90 and use a jig if you need to cut any bevels. Of course that would works because you probably would never rack the tubes unless you try to crank in some bevel.

    There are two "non cabinet" saws presently on the market that don't have the potential for this problem because they don't use the tube/bars but rather have a one piece casting supporting the arbor. Those two saws are the Ridgid 3650 and the Dewalt 746. As far as I know all the other contractor and new hybred all use the two tube/bars to hold the arbor. I personally would not own a saw that had two bars/tubes supporting the arbor. There is too much potential for movement in them.

    That all said I visit many commerical shops and many have contractor saws in use all day long day in and day out. In fact the more and more commerical shops are get the slidding table European saws and usually have a contractor saw doing their "light" work. In fact lately having visited two a few cabinet shops I'm seeing more and more panel saws and computer directed cutting. However if you look around you find a contractor saw doing all the back up work.

    I hope this helps. Ah yes one would hope a $2000+ saw would cut better than a $400 one but I think it would probably take a microscope to see the difference.
    Ed

  7. #7
    Dennis, your observations are on target. The end product from either a contractor or cabinet saw is a cut piece of wood. The fence issues some have mentioned with contractor saws are exactly that -- fence issues, which have little or nothing to do with the saw the fence is mounted on.

    Years ago, when using my granddad's Yates-American cabinet saw, I always had to check the fence for square after each and every adjustment. Fast forward to present time, and the factory fence on the Ridgid TS3650 contractor saw I now have has been truly "set it and forget it". (The Ridgid has also stayed square to the world since I first set it up, and as Ed mentions, the Ridgid doesn't seem to have the "heeling" problems other contractor saws might have.) Prior to the Ridgid, I had a little $100 benchtop saw that was capable of making accurate cuts, but it took a lot more effort, adjustment, and preserverence to get them.

    Someday I hope to have a 3 to 5 HP cabinet saw, but I don't expect to get rid of my contractor's saw...it'll be my secondary TS if space permits. Like you mentioned, they both get the same end result.

    - Vaughn

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Blough
    ...There are two "non cabinet" saws presently on the market that don't have the potential for this problem because they don't use the tube/bars but rather have a one piece casting supporting the arbor. Those two saws are the Ridgid 3650 and the Dewalt 746. As far as I know all the other contractor and new hybred all use the two tube/bars to hold the arbor. I personally would not own a saw that had two bars/tubes supporting the arbor. There is too much potential for movement in them.
    Hi Ed - The GI 50-220 hybrid and the Grizzly G0478 hybrid also use a cast blade shroud between the trunnions, so now there are 4 available (in the states anyway). All the other hybrids, except possibly the Hitachi, use larger diameter rods than contractor saws. That plus the fact that the motor isn't cantilevered out the back significantly reduces the forces that can cause heeling.
    Last edited by scott spencer; 02-15-2006 at 5:19 AM.
    Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

  9. #9
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    The PRINCIPLE difference (outside of heft, size and horsepower) between a cabinet saw and a contractors' style saw is the mounting of the trunnions. A cabinet saw's trunnions are mounted to the cabinet and the table is a separate component. The trunnions on a contractors' style saw mount to the table. (hang from it...) The former is generally heavier, more stable and easier to adjust for alignment. The latter is certainly very serviceable, but can be a bit harder to align due to the stress of suspending the motor "way out back" and the complexity of dealing with the trunnion mounting bolts on the underside of the table.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  10. #10
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    It's kinda like asking what is the difference in a Mercedes Benz and a Volkswagen.
    "If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride - and never quit, you'll be a winner. The price of victory is high - but so are the rewards" - - Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant
    Ken Salisbury Passed away on May 1st, 2008 and will forever be in our hearts.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Salisbury
    It's kinda like asking what is the difference in a Mercedes Benz and a Volkswagen.
    Somehow, there's less difference than you might think: I wouldn't buy either of them. That's what they have in common. (Exception: Mercedes trucks)

    Back to the subject, I'm not familiar with the US table saw categories but here's an article you might be interested in.

    Hope this helps,

    Christian
    "On Wednesday, when the sky is blue,
    And I have nothing else to do,
    I sometimes wonder if it's true
    That who is what and what is who."


    (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)

  12. #12

    You ask for knowledge and you get it. Thanks.

    Thanks to everyone for all of your comments. I currently have a delta contractor saw 34-444 that I bought new about 15 years ago. While I am stickly a novice woodworker, I have always wanted a cabinet saw. Kind of like driving my '91 Chevy and looking at all the new SUV's and European cars drive by. Although, I do catch up to them at the stop light. Thanks again.
    The truth is always visible but often not seen.
    Measure twice, and cut--WAIT!-- better measure again then cut once, twice or whatever it takes to fit.

  13. #13
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    Dennis, I think your analysis is dead on. In terms of finished product there is nothing different between the wood cut on a contractor versus a cabinet saw in the quality, provided both are tuned properly.

    Jim summarized the real difference between the saws, and some others have indicated that one may be nicer to "drive" than another. However, just like your '91 Chevy, your contractor saw will get you where you want to go just perhaps not as "in style" or as fast as the cabinet saw with the 5hp motor and 450 lb cast iron table.

    As a weekend warrior, sure, I would love a Uni/PM66/Sawstop, etc. However, I will never wear out my contractor saw, nor will I need the extra cutting speed you can get from the 5hp motor. My blade and fence stay perfectly aligned, so that is not an issue.

    I will build in some better dust collection for my saw, but it doesn't bother me much. For now, the $1,000+ I saved in buying a contractor saw instead of a top notch cabinet saw feels really nice in my pocket. And, as you note, my saw still gets me where I want to go.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dennis Collins
    Thanks to everyone for all of your comments. I currently have a delta contractor saw 34-444 that I bought new about 15 years ago. While I am stickly a novice woodworker, I have always wanted a cabinet saw. Kind of like driving my '91 Chevy and looking at all the new SUV's and European cars drive by. Although, I do catch up to them at the stop light. Thanks again.

  14. #14
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    My two cents

    I recently upgraded from a Contractors to a cabinet saw. One of the things I noticed is noise level is less, for me that can be a concern because my shop is off of the family room. Also with the motor placement, on a contractors saw with the blade hanging out the back, when making a cut with the blade tilted the motor can tork the blade sometimes on some of the contractors saw.

    And I have to say that after using the power of the cabinet saw I would never go back.

    JMHO Dave

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Dodge
    My father bought a Craftsman contractors saw and had to adjust the fence every time he made a cut. He would always have to measure at both ends of the blade to make sure everything was square beofre cutting.
    Story of my life, man.

    I have a beaut of a Craftsman. 3 - HP, yeah right! I check the square and the fence/blade distance for almost every cut. I'm just biding my time until I can buy a sawstop or General or PM 66 cabinet.

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