Most carpenters these days are very concerned about space. Whether we are trying to cram all of our tools into the back of a pickup, into a small garage/shop, or onto a cramped jobsite, most of us are all-too-aware that the old adage “bigger is better” is not always true. How many times have we been on a job only to wish we had brought that one tool that was left behind due to lack of space?
One of the main culprits in the attack against space is the pesky table saw. While it is an essential tool, the portable table saw takes up the largest chunk of real estate, whether in use or packed away. Most carpenters I know are always trying to find a smaller table saw—but we’re also loath to sacrifice quality. After all, a table saw isn’t worth a nickel if it won’t cut well or operate safely.
This article will focus on two of the smallest table saws out there: the Bosch GTS1031 (52 lbs.) and the DeWalt DW745 (45 lbs.). I wanted to see if these saws were up to a real-world challenge on a jobsite, or if they were simply designed for the occasional DIY project. Ironically, a lot of the carpenters I’ve been working with, and we have a good-size crew, have been interested in the results of my head-to-head study; in fact, many of them participated in this review.
Most portable table saws these days are pretty much a standard size, and many manufacturers offer some sort of collapsible-wheeled stand as an accessory. Wheeled stands are great if you have a step-van or a trailer—and an endless amount of available space. But if you’re working out of a regular van or pickup truck, you’ll have to start making serious sacrifices with the tools you carry when you decide to load your table saw. And if you do load your table saw, you’d better have help!
Table saws mounted to wheeled stands weigh over 100 lbs., more weight then I like to lift twice a day, alone. Some carpenters still swear by these stands, and I suppose I might, too, if I worked on small jobs where my tool setup was always close to my vehicle. But I work on large jobsites, on high-end custom homes, and some days I see my truck only twice a day. My on-the-job shop varies from a basement wine cellar to a third-floor master suite. And the grounds are always torn up with trenches, concrete work, and landscapers. Wheeling a saw stand around is not an option.
At the same time, portable table saws are too small to really work on, even if you’re just ripping trim and shelving. And for cutting cabinet parts, they’re nearly worthless. That’s why, for this review, I tested both ‘compact’ portable saws using a Rousseau 2745 table-saw stand with an out-feed table.
A little about the Rousseau stand: right out of the box I had issues. First, of the eight screws that secure the table top, two fell out when I turned it right side up, and two more were stripped! Those aren’t very good odds. There was also welding slag left on the main crossbar that impeded the fence from sliding smoothly and functioning properly. In order to get the fence to work, I had to sand off the little metal beads under the powder coating, which, of course, removed the finish. I was not impressed to say the least, especially since the stand costs just as much as one of these saws.
To Rousseau’s credit, when I brought this to their attention, they sent out a replacement stand. In fact, my note to them sparked a full-on company meeting and review of quality control issues. They thanked me for criticizing their stand! I’d like to see more companies step up and take responsibility for their products the same way. Believe me, if you ever have an issue with a Rousseau product, you can expect to get good service.
Now, back to how this affects the saws and their levels of performance. Rousseau stands provide portable saws—especially these new compact saws—a much larger work surface, greater stability, and improved safety. The stands come with a shop-saw-style rip fence, and there are a multitude of add-ons and modifications you can also purchase to suit your needs. I used the Rousseau 2720 out-feed table to go along with my stand.
Now, on to the saws.
My first suggestion when it comes to these portable saws is to remove the factory-supplied blade and go buy a good blade! You can keep the original blade around for those times when you need a sacrificial blade—when you know there are nails or something that might ruin a good blade. And while I’m on the subject, never buy a thin-kerf blade. I know that saw manufacturers recommend thin-kerf blades for these saws because the motors aren’t nearly as powerful as a shop saw, but, honestly, most of the work we do with a small portable saw is ripping trim material—not a lot of 8/4 hardwood.
Both of these saws have more than enough power to run a full-width saw blade. If you’re running a thin-kerf blade to save material…well, I honestly don’t think you’ll ever save enough material to make it worth your while. The biggest headache of a thin-kerf blade is deflection. When I’m cutting hardwoods—sometimes even when I’m ripping softwood—and I want to rip off anything under 1/8 in., deflection really pisses me off. And I’m often trying to rip off less than 1/16 in.!
So for this review, I ended up using three different blades: I tried a Ridgid Titanium 50 tooth blade and a Forrest Woodworker blade on both saws, in addition to the factory supplied blades. I actually liked the less-expensive Ridgid blade in the Dewalt more than the thin-kerf Forrest. But, in the Bosch both alternate blades seemed to wobble more than the original blade so we used the factory-supplied blade in the 1031.
While I am on this rant, I’m also not a believer in making your out-feed table a multi-purpose Swiss-army knife. I see a lot of carpenters installing everything from router inserts to accessory clamps in their out-feed tables (sorry, Gary!). I may be the only one—and I apologize if I’m insulting all the other out-feed table fanatics—but maybe I’m the only unfortunate soul that runs into that open router hole, or that slightly proud lip or screw, while I’m making a delicate and expensive rip.
Hang-ups like that also create a dangerous situation when you have a spinning blade, binding material, and irreplaceable fingers. I know it’s tempting—after all, just look at all that free space! But unless you are extremely diligent about making everything absolutely flush, unless you use solid router inserts every time you rip, you could be putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Okay, that’s enough lecturing for today.
The Bosch GTS 1031
TiC has already examined the DeWalt 745, so let’s look closely at its rival. The Bosch compact saw has many of the same features—after all, manufacturers are beginning to recognize the importance of these details.
|A large paddle-switch makes it easy to turn the saw on, and especially easy and fast to turn the saw off!|
|Like the DeWalt saw, the Bosch table extends to the right. Lift the lever to slide the table out, then lock the lever by pressing it back down.|
On the DeWalt 745 the fence slides out on a cool rack-and-pinon gear, but relies on a Rube-Goldberg flip-over arm to support the stock. But on the Bosch extension system a small section of the table actually slides out. There’s no rack-and-pinion control, but there is good support for the workpiece. Of course, on our jobsite, we rarely used these fences because the saws were mounted in Rousseau stands.
Riving knives are now required accessories on all saws—the days of having to remodel a saw guard and make your own riving knife are fortunately over. Like most carpenters, I’ve grown to like riving knives so much—and have learned to rely on how well they prevent kickback—that I’m reluctant to use a saw without a riving knife. You should be, too.
|Both the DeWalt and the Bosch come with similar guard systems. The lever that releases the riving knife on the Bosch saw is slightly larger than the DeWalt’s, but it’s not painted yellow, so it’s harder to see in this photo.|
|The riving knife is really nothing more than the splitter, stripped of the guard and anti-kick back pawl, with the height adjusted to about 1/8 in. to 1/4 in. below the teeth on the blade.|
|Once the riving knife is lifted to its highest position, the guard slips onto the front…|
|…and the anti-kickback pawl snaps on to the back.|
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit the truth: Like most carpenters, our crew rarely used the saw with the full guard in place. We like to see the blade—there’s no other way to make precise measurements. In fact, most of the time we put on the guard only when we heard the jobsite safety inspector was around the corner—and at those moments, it was nice that the guard installs so easily and so quickly. (Yes, on some of our jobs, there’s a safety inspector! For insurance and liability purposes, many large contractors have an OSHA-style inspector that will fine companies for frayed cords, not having guards on saws, pinned back safeties, etc.)
|The guard stores beneath the saw. A flick of the finger releases it.|
|The anti-kickback pawl stores beneath the saw, too, and snaps in securely.|
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Accessory Storage & Handles
While we’re looking at the bottom of the saw, notice that the whole base of the saw is protected by a roll-bar cage. That may be the reason the Bosch weighs 7 lbs. more than the DeWalt, but it is good protection.
|The cage provides a secure handle for lifting and carrying the saw.|
|Comfortable handles are also installed at the top of the saw, on both sides of the table.|
|Handy cord storage can be found beneath the back of the saw, inside the cage.|
|I really appreciate how saw manufacturers are thinking more about the problems we face with tool accessories. Even the miter gauge—which I never use—stores beneath the table, at the back of the saw.|
|And if you use the rip fence, it can also be stored upside down beneath the table. Unfortunately, in that position, the rip fence interferes with dropping the saw into a Rousseau stand, but hey, you can’t expect to win every time!|
|A stout push stick also stores on the side of the saw, within easy reach.|
Head-to-Head on the Jobsite
Remember, we used these saws one at a time. And they were often the only table saw on the jobsite. So we used each saw a lot—sometimes asking a little too much of it. But that’s reality, right? My overall impression of the Bosch saw is that it’s okay. I’m not the type to bash anyone or anything, but I tried two different blades on the saw and they both had a serious wobble—and one of them was the blade that came with the saw. The wobble was especially noticeable on startup, and although it straightened out—or seemed to—I wasn’t happy with how it left the edges of the stock: rough, and often with saw marks, which meant extra work cleaning up edges that wouldn’t normally need that kind of effort. It was pretty disappointing.
|The Bosch saw bevels past 0 and 45 degrees, which is very handy!|
|But the lock/unlock lever is a knuckle-buster at the 45 degree angle. You can’t release the lock without bashing your knuckles into the table saw extension release lever. I guess that’s another price we pay for compact portable saws.|
I like the cool riving knife system, but more dust seems to fly in your face than out the back port, especially if you don’t have a vacuum hooked up—which is another thing to carry, and another reason why a wheeled saw stand doesn’t work for me. Overall, I don’t have a lot of great things to say about the Bosch. It’s a mediocre tool, a judgment reflected by the voices of my other crew members: They all asked if I could bring the DeWalt back. That about sums it up.
Top Pick – DeWalt
We started working with the DeWalt, and in the end we went back to it. I didn’t play easy with this saw just because of its size, and neither did the other guys on our crew. Like I said, it was often the only table saw on the job site, so it was used for everything from making custom plinth blocks out of 8/4 hardwood to ripping sheet goods down to size.
Overall, both saws are loud. Hearing protection is a must when using either of these tools. Gary tested the decibels and found that the Bosch was slightly louder.
Both saws have 15 amp motors and work just fine for what I would call “standard” ripping, but both struggled somewhat with thicker hardwoods. Their ripping capacities without the Rousseau stand are limited. You could, of course, supplement this with a track saw, but that means finding space for it. And that is what this article is about: finding tools that work within our confined spaces—both on the jobsite and in our vehicles. Do we have to sacrifice space for function? And what exactly is the sacrifice?
The truth is, I made both of these saws work for me on cramped jobsites for over a month each, and our work is demanding. In the end, the DeWalt won the war. For those of us with limited space, this saw is a viable option. But that doesn’t mean the DeWalt won with acclaim. The saw has some deficiencies that might really bother a fanatic. Two black metal tabs at the rear of the blade insert are not flush with the insert. I had to tape over those pieces to stop wood from catching on the proud lip.
The DeWalt has some serious plusses, too, like the rack-and-pinion fence, though unfortunately, because I used the Rousseau stand, I didn’t get to use the best feature on the saw—it’s very easy to make accurate adjustments in small increments with that fence!
But the DeWalt is a good little saw. It handled everything we threw at it. Sure, there were a few hiccups, like burn marks and chatter, and scant power at times—when we really pushed the little guy. And really, given the price, size, and weight of the saw, all of these complaints are minor; they should be expected. Call me a pessimist, if you will, but I don’t expect cabinet-saw performance from a portable unit. In my opinion, for the money (and for the size!), this little DeWalt saw performs just fine, even on the very demanding jobs where I work—where installations are often unacceptable if they’re off by 1/32 in.
And I have to say this in support of both Bosch and DeWalt: I think manufacturers are starting to catch on that people like us make our living out of the back of a pickup, a van, or half of a garage, and we need all the help we can get!
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Michael Inskeep is a foreman at Millworks By Design in southern California. As a young man he realized he had a talent for creating things, which grew into a love for building furniture, painting, drawing, and making music. As a professional carpenter, he cut his teeth building stairs. From there he made the transition to other aspects of finish carpentry. Along the way Michael had the fortune to work with some exceptional carpenters who taught him a few “tricks of the trade.” He also enjoys passing those “tricks” on to others who are willing to learn. His attention to detail, and ability to learn quickly, have led him to work on some of the largest and best projects in southern California. But, at the end of the day, his true passions are his two baby boys. The smiles on their faces make all the stress of deadlines and dust worthwhile!