As readers of this blog in past weeks may have noticed, I purchased a new sliding compound chop saw at the end of May. It has mostly sat in my shop since then, as I was waiting to obtain a support stand before setting the saw up for use. I bought this saw having had satisfactory results from a Dewalt 12″ non-sliding chop saw I had used a few times, along with advice from a couple of other woodworkers who said their Dewalt ‘worked great’.
I received the stand yesterday, a Bosch Gravity rise stand, which I obtained from Amazon for a pretty good price of $229.00, with free shipping. The best local price I could find on the stand was $329.00, so it wasn’t even close. I would have preferred to support the local company, but $100 is a bit too much of a differential.
An hour of assembly later and I had the saw and table all set up ready to go:
The stand went together well and folds/unfolds without drama. Then I ran a couple of test cuts on the saw, and I discovered that out of the box, the Dewalt 780 doesn’t cut 90˚ vertically or horizontally. And why should it? After all, isn’t close enough going to be good enough? Why, from 10 feet away no one would notice that the horizontal alignment is 3˚ out. I hope my humor, a bit sarcastic as it is, translates. Perhaps you’ll understand where my sarcasm comes from by the time you read through this entry.
I twiddled a few nuts and bolts and managed to get the saw to cut 90˚ both vertically and horizontally with minimal fuss. So, even though the saw didn’t come from the factory set up square to cut, at least it could be made square to cut – or was I kidding myself? Turns out, I really was hallucinating, and not in a good sort of way.
While looking at a piece of wood sitting on the saw table, I noticed some gappage where there ought not to be any gappage: on the top surface of the table, and at the fence. This photo probably gives little hint as to how bad things were:
I’ll start with that photo since I think it best to go easy on the tender eyes of my viewing audience, lest they develop the same nausea I suffered. Nearer the middle of the turn table the gap at the aluminum is bad enough, and I’ll leave off mentioning the even greater gap above the through insert plate:
Hmm, well, my old eyes can be easily deceived even with the sun shining brightly, so I got out a straightedge and the feeler gauges, hoping that the cold hard numbers would be reassuring somehow:
Well, on the left side of the table, with the saw set for a 90˚ cut, the total space is a canyon-like 0.009″:
On the right side of the table, again with setting for 90˚, the gap is a more reasonable, but still unacceptable, at 0.004″:
Now, not only was the table low, but it was canted to the left. I rotated the table to extremes left and right and not much changed.
The problem with a gap like that is twofold:
- a stick which is long and spans the entire work surface will be partly suspended in the air when the cut is made, and will likely dive slightly down when the wood is cut through, potentially marring the cut line or binding the blade a little
- since the table leans, to where exactly does one relate the 90˚ fence?
While the saw could be set up to cut well in a certain condition, change anything – like trying to cut a short piece for instance – and the geometry changes, unfavorably.
As for the fence, it wasn’t square to the table or the base:
Again, that may look minor enough – let’s zoom in a little shall we?:
I imagine the gap here was on the order of 0.009″~0.012″ or so. I declined to find out a definite number. It was sufficiently non-square for me to cut the examination short. The fence on the other side of the table was okay, but of course I won’t be doing all my cutting from that one side. I discovered later that the fences on both sides of the turntable were in fact co-planar to one another, however the tilted turntable made it impossible to get squareness all the way across.
With either fence though, there was no provision for making adjustments to get it square, other than by abrasive grinding. Ditto for the turntable – it cannot be adjusted or shimmed.
I called Dewalt to double check my conclusion, in case there might be some perfectly simple, rational way out of this problem where everything is fixed with the twist of a Torx screw. I ended up speaking to a woman at Customer Service, who, like any reasonable person who doesn’t work with tools and never tries to do accurate work with tools (that’s my presumption anyhow), I’m sure thought that I was some sort of nut bar for my talk of nine thousandths out! and such. She duly jotted down every word I said, then talked with her supervisor who then said just what I thought: there is no way to adjust the saw that way, so I needed to return it to the store where I purchased it.
And that store was the big Orange Box. Back I went to that box on this sunny Tuesday, this time with straightedge, feeler gauges, and try square in hand. I cannot recommend this strongly enough to someone in the market for a sliding chopsaw, especially if you want to have that appalled, shipwrecked sort of feeling, where despair takes over and the hope of a simple 90˚ cut result is but a faded dream….
I checked the Dewalt on the display and it also had a non-square fence and a table that was tilted and lower than the surrounding base platforms. It was not quite as bad as the one I had bought, but still pretty bad.
And let me say this: I’m not expecting the base and table to be within 0.0001″ alignment here folks, I’d be okay if they were out by 0.001~0.002″. At least then one could shim the table top with some tape, put in a sub-table, etc, and get on with things. I imagine those who do not seek precision in their cross cutting work would also be fine with a chopsaw with such poor tolerances of fit. Not me. Call me crazy, but if I cut two sticks off squarely on their ends, according to the machine’s settings, I expect that I can butt those two pieces together endwise and they will be aligned in a straight line. I’m just not that into kinky things you see.
And let me say this, too: if a machine is supposed to cut a square-section stick at a particular angle accurately, then it needs to have a flat table and a fence which is 90˚ to the table. Period. That is the ‘normal’ operating parameter for a device like that.
Back to the adventure at the box store. I then checked the other brands of chopsaw on display. They all suffered from the same problems of tables low (though 1 had a table that was too high) and fences un-square to one extent or another regardless of brand, Makita, Ridgid, and Dewalt alike. I did find one Dewalt non-sliding chopsaw that was actually pretty flat across the tops, and this gave me some hope that I might find another Dewalt 780 which by stroke of luck, act of god, etc., had decent alignment of parts.
I dragged out one of the enormous Dewalt boxes and was midway into tearing the plastic wrap off when the tool department guy suddenly appeared. An older fella, older than me anyway. He asked me what I was up to in a friendly voice and I explained the issue I had with the 780 saw and that another sales ‘associate’ had given me the green light to open the other boxes to do any checks I pleased.
“Well, I can tell you right now there’s no point in doing that as you’ll find they’re all like that,” he said matter-of-factly. He was remarkably candid as he went on and told me that the new Dewalt products, since Stanley/Black and Decker (a.k.a. the Death Star) bought them out, were basically junk. I quote him verbatim: ‘junk’.
Oh, I thought, and I had concluded only their portable planers were junk – I clearly needed to revise my low estimations of post-buyout Dewalt.
The tool ‘associate’ then suggested I find the newly obsolete Ridgid 12″ sliding chop saw, as he had had good results with it (and had personally done some cabinetmaking, so he actually used tools, not just sold them or ‘serviced’ customers). Now, why he was working in Home Desperation instead of his own cabinet shop is a question I decided to take up at some later juncture….
I realized that although the Ridgid 12″ saw was now discontinued, I knew of someone else who thought highly of it and also that another Home Depravation near my house (a half-size one) actually had one left on display, if my memory served me correctly.
Leaving the Home Deposit, I decided to visit their neighbor Lowes a mile down the strip to see what they had on offer. Again, I went in armed with straightedge, feeler gauges, and try square. This time I checked the Bosch 12″ Glide saw (result: table low and both fences unsquare to base) and the Hitachi ski boot-esque 12″ sliding saw (also non-flat, non-square, and absolutely ugly). A short visit, and an unimpressive one.
At the end of the day I drove home and stopped, last ditch effort here folks, at that mini-me orange box store and yes, as I had remembered they had the 12″ saw on display, one just like this:
I looked the saw over and checked a few things. First, since there is only a turntable and no flanking base decking, the only issue with the table would be whether it was flat. Checking with the straightedge, visually things looked good. Then I inspected the two fences for squareness – one was fine, the other not so much, but could probably be filed square. The saw had no blade and I noticed the box was not anywhere to be seen, a box containing the blade, manual, hold-down clamp, wrench, dust bag etc. None of that was critical but I thought it would be worth seeing if it could be turned up somewhere. I managed to find a sales ‘associate’ and he said he had no idea where the box was, so the saw would have to be sold without the blade, wrench, etc. Then I noticed the fence was loose, and one of the plastic pieces which is for storing the electrical cord was broken. It clearly had been on display a long time, and as this model had been discontinued, this saw was the last one they were ever going to have. I decided to ask if the price might be negotiable, considering the various issues. The clerk said that the best he could do personally was 10%, which brought the price down to $450.00. I thought they should be able to do better than this so I went off to locate the manager or assistant manager.
At the ‘service’ counter, the young lady behind the desk phoned the assistant manager for me. While they were speaking, she suddenly turned to me and asked, “what is this specifically about?“. I explained the situation and she repeated my words more or less verbatim to the manager. Then she said, “Can you show me the machine in question?.” I took her over to the tool section and explained the situation. She decided quickly that the discount was 10%. I gather that must be company policy, even if the machine had been dropped off a truck or urinated upon, you get 10% and no more. I gathered she came over to see it as the assistant manager couldn’t be bothered with such matters. I said that 10% off was not attractive enough to persuade me to buy and made my way to the exit, keeping a couple of paces back of the young woman who had come over to look with me. As we approached the ‘service’ desk again, I suddenly notice an older employee with ‘Gary’ written on his apron – the very same name as the assistant manager. Hmm. Guess he was too busy to give me his time.
That my friends is how I make my very last trip into that particular Orange box. Sayonara. If the assistant manager can’t give me two minutes of his free time on a slow shopping day, with a discontinued piece of merchandise, worn from years on display, well, they don’t deserve any further business from me. It’s the small things that make the difference in perceptions at times. It’s actual customer service, not a friggin’ smiley face badge on your apron.
So, I now have a shiny Bosch miter saw stand, and a new Forrest chopmaster 12″ blade, and not quite sure which way to go saw-wise. The only two saws I have yet to look at are the Makita 12″ (reviews on amazon are not promising), and then I would be looking at 10″ saws, like the Festool Kapex, which also appears to have some undesirable characteristics from what I have read – like a $1300 price point. This is a drag.
The conclusion I draw from this, and please slap me for being so late to figure this out, is that these large tool companies couldn’t give a crap if their products actually worked well, only that they look flashy, look tough, look like something you could show off even, but as far as the basic operations they are supposed to carry out, well, who cares about stuff like that? It gets in the way of shareholder returns. Cut the costs, cut them down, way down to the bone, outsource it to the cheapest place and add some tits and ass to the adverts if you can and flog these junky pieces of equipment as fast as you can. And when the machine wears out and becomes so hopelessly inaccurate that even the most ham-handed begin to notice – ideally just a week or two after the warranty expires – come out with a ‘new and improved’ model with exciting new ‘features’. You see, what sells are ‘features’, and ‘perceived benefits’, not quality of build, accuracy of work execution, or reliably solid construction. That my friends is hopelessly outmoded it would appear. Or, if you really want that, you need to spend thousands of dollars to acquire it and it usually comes from Germany. Silly me for even imagining otherwise.
I can take a least some satisfaction for having vented. Thank you for your attention. For a follow up, check the post “Dewalt Default: Postscript“