While we had a lot of different people evaluating these saws, there were still some common features that we all looked for. Some were the “convenience features” that make a saw easy to use, and some were “survival skills” that help keep a saw accurate over the long haul. Here are the overall features we like and looked for.
Standard detents at 0 and 45 degrees:
In general, we find that just a couple standard positive-stop detents are enough. It is easier to find the angles and lock the table when you need to, rather than bang through detents all day long.
Low tool weight:
Let’s face it: A saw gets moved a lot during the day, including getting hauled in and out of a truck. We like saws that are tough and light. That’s a difficult combination to find, so we’ll sometimes compromise and build up more shoulder muscles so we can have a saw that will last.
Stamped-in raised miter scales:
Over the years, riveted-on and flush-mounted scales tend to fall off, wear away, or otherwise disappear, leaving the old pencil marks on the table to cut with. When you wear out a raised scale, though, you know it must be time to get a new saw.
Separate transport handle on top:
All these saws have a mechanism for locking the head in the down position. If you pick the saw up by grabbing the motor or the trigger handle, you are stressing the pivot point and the saw will lose accuracy over time. So we like the tools that have a separate carrying handle behind the motor. This keeps the tool balanced during transport and distributes the force so nothing gets bent. We find that this keeps the saw true a lot longer and makes it far easier to handle over time.
Quick response to full speed:
As mentioned above, this is one of our pet peeves: wasted time waiting for the saw to come up to full power. And you do have to wait–you can damage the saw’s motor if you start cutting before the tool is at rated speed.
Power is important to farmers, deck crews, and trimmers alike, especially those who occasionally run a dull blade or use not-so-perfect power from a portable generator. Hopefully, those conditions don’t exist too often, but when they do, it’s nice to have a tool that can get the job done in spite of adversity.
One of the most important features is a good, tall fence. A large fence makes the job easier 99 percent of the time. If the manufacturer makes an optional larger fence, we always get one. These always work better and stay true longer than site-built jigs and improvised fences. The safety factor is better, too.
The days are gone when guards were the first things off the saw and into the trash. This important safety feature will protect you, but some guards work better than others at staying out of the way. The best guards are durable, allow you to see through them to see the cut line on the wood, and glide smoothly up as the saw chops down.
Another important factor to consider when shopping for tools is the parts and warranty service network of the product that you are considering. It can be frustrating to wait six months for a $10 replacement part while you beg, borrow, or buy another saw to replace the one that you already bought to do the job.
Most of the recognized names in the tool business have substantial networks in place to support their products, but you should still check locally just to make sure. Check for repairs services in the Yellow Pages or ask your tool supplier how warranty service and parts are handled.
If that doesn’t work, call or write the manufacturer and ask for the service network information. Then call the service center and ask how warranty service is provided, and what the lead time is to get a tool fixed. It is a good idea to ask if they have a switch or handle in stock and if they will ship it if you call with a credit card number.
All these things will indicate how long you could wait to get a problem solved. We often pay a little more for a tool if we know the manufacturer will be there when we need it to be.
While we gained valuable information from all of our field tests, we found it easier to make our final decisions with all the tools lined up in the shop, cutting similar materials. By testing them simultaneously and working back and forth from tool to tool, we could evaluate subtle differences in their features and performance.
All these tools are pro models and will do the job they were designed for, but a few stood out from the crowd. They were the saws we would consistently reach for first.
We liked the Hitachi C10FCE2 (see Hitachi C10FCE2 review) and the DeWalt DW715 (see DeWalt DW715 review) best. While both the DeWalt and the Hitachi had similar features, the Hitachi finally won out overall. This was because of its lower price and a few especially nice features, such as the easy-to-adjust large fence and a very comfortable lock lever on the turntable.