Real Life Reviews – Craftsman 218331 Tablesaw – Part 2: Setting up and first uses

With the new saw assembled, it wasn’t long until some projects arose which needed it.  Before they could begin, though, the saw needed to be set up.

The first task was to check that the blade was parallel to the miter slots. I realized that all of my suitable squares were at the other shop, so I grabbed a handy piece of wood, marked it at the slot and the front of the blade, then checked the same tooth at the back of the blade. It didn’t look to be perfectly parallel, but after several checks  I decided whatever error I was seeing was probably in my fairly crude gauge.

Next came aligning the fence to the blade, which was much easier thanks to having some shelving scraps which I was able to use as a positive guide.  As it came, the fence was a bit loose on the clamping pressure and about 1/4 ” off at the far end, but adjusting both was very straightforward.

With the saw setup, I rolled it into position and brought it off the casters.  For something which rolled around the shop so easily I was happily surprised just how stable it becomes when it is let down – not a hint of wobble or vibration.  I would have liked to have started off on a piece of scrap first, but I didn’t have any around so my first real cut was straight into ripping a piece of 5/8″ plywood in half.  The saw was very much up to the challenge and the supplied 40 tooth blade sliced through fairly cleanly.  The saw and table were sturdy and stable enough to allow me to focus fully on the cut, and even as the weight of the cut pieces moved out and to the sides there was not a hint of wobble.  With the cut completed and both hands occupied with controlling the pieces, I found the big paddle switch very easy to find and operate with my leg.

Several cuts later, I remained very happy with the saw.  The fence was easy to position and set tight, the riving knife stayed in alignment, noise level was driven by the blade and the cut rathar than the motor, and it was incredibly stable.

The only area I found I didn’t like was the blade guard and anti-kickback pawl design – but that isn’t unique to this saw as it seems to be a new standard.  After a few uses I found I really liked the older style, single piece design on my older saw rathar than the new split design.  For one thing the older design had a front chip deflector, which I didn’t miss until I had a flurry of plywood splinters shooting at my faceshield through the open gap.  Second, the older style fully covered the blade, where the newer style really only covers the front half.  Third, all the reinforcing ribs molded into the side of the guards make it harder for me to see where the wood is relative to the blade as I start a cut.  Fourth, the curved design of the guard to fit all stock through-cut thicknesses leaves a huge “horn” sticking up when cutting thinner stock, which I found interfered with my perspective during the cut.  Finally, the design of the anti-kickback pawls riding on the riving knife has driven them to be very long, resulting in a gap of several inches between the back of the blade and the first pawl tooth (vs about half an inch on the older style).

The next task was to crosscut some ripped pieces which were too wide for my sliding miter saw to handle.  Although I had planned to use my Incra gauge, I decided to try the first cut with the stock gauge due to it’s slightly longer length feeling a bit more solid when crosscutting a 20″ x 8′ piece in half.  After carefully setting the gauge to 90 degrees, I was very pleased with how well the saw handled a fairly awkward cut… until I measured it and found that it was 1/8’th of an inch off square.  I double checked the gauge against a known square piece, then tried it again (saw off) with my Incra and saw the same results.

At this point I made a more careful survey of the blade to slot alignment, and I discovered it was very slightly out of alignment.  Very slight on a short distance adds up to noticable on a longer one,  so to complete my project I gave myself some slop on the crosscuts until I got pieces short enough to use the fence and squared them up that way…. But the alignment of blade, slot, and fence will be confirmed prior to the next significant project.

All in all I remain very happy with the saw.


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