Real Life Review – Craftsman 218331 Tablesaw – Part 1: Purchase and assembly

Ready_to_use

When you have gotten used to having a tool of a particular standard, not having an equivalent one has a way of gnawing away at you every time you find yourself at the point where you would have used the other tool.

That happened to me with the tablesaw. Like many (probably most) people, my first tablesaw was a lightweight, inexpensive portable model with a direct drive motor, small aluminum table, an occasionally accurate fence, and not much else. I then acquired a well-used older Craftsman saw with a cast iron table, belt drive, and much better adjustment capability – what is currently termed a hybrid saw. After a few upgrades to the fence, miter gage, etc… that saw remains the centerpiece of the original shop.

As the second shop gradual turns from a handful of tools to fix small things into something approaching a full shop, I have been trying to avoid the tablesaw trap. Although I tried valiantly, in the end I failed. Going without a tablesaw for a period opened my eyes to the capabilities that had been hiding in the bandsaw, but there came a point where the inability of a bandsaw to handle cuts wider than it’s throat just couldn’t be overlooked. Clamping a straightedge and using a circular saw was a fallback plan, but as with many fallback plans the tradeoffs were significant (in this case the lack of precision and cut quality) and at that point the decision to get a new saw was completed.

Once I decided it was time to add a tablesaw, my starting point was fairly easy – something like the one in the primary shop. In as much as it’s possible, the 218331 is a direct descendent of the older one. Looking around I found a couple of others with similar features, price points, and available for me to go look at before I bought, with the Rigid R4512 and Delta 36-725 being the top contenders – note that the R4512 is basically the same saw as the 218331 with some cosmetic changes. In the end the 218331 won out based mainly on the larger motor (15 Amps vs 13 Amps on the others) and cost, as it went on sale shortly after I started seriously looking and combined with some additional discounts I was able to get it for around $450.

Buying the saw was only the first part of the acquisition – next came unloading and assembling. The saw is neither small nor lightweight, and it took two people at the store to get it loaded into the back of the van.

as_loaded

Once home, I didn’t have any assistance so I had to find a way to get it unloaded by myself. The solution – enlist other tools to help:

First – Open the box and unpack as much as possible to remove excess weight.

stuff_to_unpack

more_stuff_to_unpack

Second – Use a ramp. For this weight (roughly 200 lbs) a 2 x 4 and a jack stand were sufficient. I only had one on-hand, otherwise I would have used 2 for some additional stability. I prefer to see how things are going when I transition onto the ramp, so instead of pushing the box out of the van I looped a strap around and pulled it out. Note that I used some scrap packaging on the floor to give at least some amount of extra padding had the box slipped off the ramp, as well as had a pair of movers dollies setup to receive the box.

on_the_ramp

Once the weight was fully off of the vehicle and the box was I contact with the dollies, I moved it forward a little to get some working room, then lifted up the ramp as a lever, pivoted it off the jack stand, and settled the box on the dollies.

ready_to_go_off_ramp

After getting the box out of the van, it was time to get started on the assembly. I generally found the assembly (aside from maneuvering big pieces) to be fairly straightforward with the only awkward bits being associated with mounting the fence rails.

The first assembly step was to get rid of the excess packaging around the table. This was accomplished by first cutting away the cardboard to get access to the packing foam, then cutting / breaking the foam away.

box_opened

packing_removed

With the table on dollies it was very easy to roll it over to my hoist (As an aside, if you tend to handle heavy things on your own having a hoist of some sort is nearly a necessity – this is only one of several projects where having the hoist made the difference between being able to get on with the job vs. calling around and trying to find a friend or neighbor to assist…). Once at the hoist it was short work to slide some straps under the table and lift it enough to remove the rest of the packaging.

table_lifted

After assembling the base, it was mounted to the table before turning the saw right-side-up.

base_and_top_joined

I righted the saw in a two step process. The first step was to tip the saw 90 degrees onto it’s back. To do this, I setup some of the packing materials behind the dollies at the back of the saw, then used the hoist to lift the front a little until enough weight was off the dollies that I could slide the back edge of the saw off the dollies and onto the foam. Then, since the center of gravity was already low, I was able to use the legs as levers and simply pivot the saw over.

ready_to_right

Once on it’s back, righting the saw consisted of sliding it slightly forward to get back under the hoist (having a piece of cardboard under the saw was a big help), then using the hoist to lift the saw enough so that most of the weight started being taken by the legs, at which point I took over for the final pushover in order to have more control of the rate the front legs came down. This is the highest risk / highest consequence lift of the process so it is worthwhile to approach it with due respect and ensure your rigging is secure and you know where you need to be when in order to minimize the chance for injury.

vertical

Getting the saw vertical is a major step in the process, but it is by no means complete. Attaching and aligning the extension tables and fence rails is a fiddly task as in these components you mount and align with multiple fasteners at the same time, so there is a fine balance to strike between being tight enough to know where you are vs. being loose enough to allow adjustment. The rear fence rail in particular is challenging as there are two bolts with very limited access clearance. It is worth noting that the fence rails are split with separate pieces left and right of the blade, and they do not have a robust connection design. I assume that the split design is for packaging purposes, and once aligned and mounted this isn’t so much of an issue, but it does make initial mounting and alignment more complicated than it really should be. A couple of 6-8 inch matching interior extrusions or even something as simple as a couple of holes and a tapped nutplate spanning the pieces would greatly improve the fence rail assembly process.

Final assembly consists of installing the power switch, installing and checking blade and fence alignment, and installing the blade guard and anti-kickback pawls. A rough and ready check of the alignment found the blade to be acceptable within the capabilities of my eyes and a ruler, but the fence needed some tweaks to get to the level of repeatability of alignment I want – which I decided to defer to another opportunity as it was acceptable for test cuts.

Initial power-up was smooth and quiet with most perceived sound being from the blade. During start it does momentarily dim the fluorescent shop lights which were the only other load on the 20 Amp circuit at the time. After a couple of test cuts on a piece of scrap I shut the saw off, and for the sake of my curiosity I grabbed four nickels and tried the nickel test with one on each corner on the next start / run / stop cycle – and it passed.

Initial reactions to the saw following assembly and setup:

  • Very happy with the price / performance ratio and looking forward to dialing it in and the first real project with it.
  • With the casters down it rolls around the shop better than a good shopping cart in a store, with them up it is perfectly solid; I was able to move it through a doorway between the shop and garage that was only about half an inch wider than the saw with no issues.
  • Overall happy with the design, but either single piece fence rails or an improved connection would be a big improvement.
  • I’d prefer a screw-down throat plate rather than the magnetic one; I don’t have any functional issues with the magnetic one aside from a personal preference toward materials other than steel near my blades.

Although I didn’t do the assembly as a time trial and took several breaks during it to do other things which were unrelated, I’d consider my experience as fairly typical for someone doing it in a home environment without assistance. Based on the times I took the pictures and some general allowances for other things which occurred (like going for a morning walk), a rough timeframe would be:

Unloading and preparation for assembly: 45 minutes
Assembly of the base: 1 hour
Righting the saw (taking it slowly with a fixed hoist): 20 minutes
Final assembly (extension tables, fence rails, …): 2 hours

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