By Todd Fratzel
Childhood memories can be powerful forces in the choices we make and the hobbies we pick up as adults. Some of my best memories are from the hours spent in dad’s ad hoc workshops growing up. I always had dreams of dad building a great wood shop where the two of us could build furniture and enjoy time together working on endless woodworking projects.
Dad’s workshop never really turned into much, but we still enjoyed building all kinds of things, including quite a bit of furniture for my dorm rooms in college. At the center of his shop was an old, rusty, dented Delta table saw. That old beast wasn’t much to look at, but it always turned on, and it always worked well. That old, tired piece of machinery was my first taste of Delta, and I’m happy to have experienced it.
Fast forward 25 years, and today I’m getting to experience that dream wood shop at my own home. At the center of my new shop sits the heart and soul of the entire space, my Delta Unisaw, Model 36-L352, with a 52” Biesemeyer Fence System. The new Unisaw has earned my utmost respect and adoration while continuing to impress me hour after hour in the shop.
Made In America
Last year I had the pleasure of traveling to Anderson, South Carolina to visit the folks at Delta Machinery to see how they make the Unisaw. The Unisaw is over 90% US-made, including motors and cast pieces manufactured in Wisconsin. The frame and final saw assembly is done in South Carolina before they are shipped all over the world.
While I was visiting the plant in South Carolina, I got to follow my actual saw as it was built from scratch. Early in the morning the metal used to build the supporting cabinet was bent and cut from massive sheets of steel. As the pieces moved around the building they were fabricated and finally powder coated before hitting the assembly line.
Watching a first class piece of machinery like the Unisaw being built by Americans for Americans in a factory in South Carolina was a great experience. I hope the folks at Delta can expand the factory to allow them to make more of their products here in the United States. The fact that the Unisaw is built here in the U.S. should be a high selling point for many users.
Accuracy and Power
The top two characteristics that come to my mind when choosing a table saw are accuracy and power. The Unisaw focuses on both of these via three key components, including: American Marathon Motors in 3 HP or 5 HP models, an American-made single-cast trunnion system (which greatly reduces vibrations), and the precision ground cast-iron table top.
Accuracy begins on the assembly line, and that’s where I was very impressed by the attention to detail that was given in calibrating the blade alignment. During final assembly, I watched with amazement as the worker tested and re-tested the orientation of the blade to the saw assembly. The worker was using feeler gauges as small as 0.001 inches.
On the power side of the equation there are two primary options for the Unisaw: the standard 3 HP motor and an optional 5 HP motor. The latter is from Marathon Motors and is built in Wisconsin. If you’re running a strictly commercial operation, you can also order a 5 HP three phase motor from Baldor.
Combined, these three components create a machine that sings when it’s fired up. In fact, the saw is so smooth that it easily passes the “nickel” test. If you place a nickel on edge on the table top it will not fall over once the motor is started or is running. It’s certainly very impressive, especially once you’ve seen it in person and realize how smooth it operates while still delivering substantial power.
One of the features that really stands out on the Unisaw is the front-mounted controls. Because of the unique single piece trunnion system, the controls for depth-of-blade and bevel can be located on the front of the saw cabinet. This gives you a much safer (not to mention easier) way of setting up the saw blade.
And when I say “easy”—the cranks both turn so smoothly—you’d think you were working with a very expensive milling machine. Mounted between the two cranks is a very easy to read dial-type gauge for the blade bevel angle. The gauge reads to an accuracy of ¼ degree.
The Unisaw features an excellent riving knife and split blade guard. The user can release the riving knife using a small lever mounted just underneath the table top on the front of the cabinet. This simple yet important feature makes it very easy to remove and install both the riving knife and the blade guard. By making it so easy to install, Delta has certainly increased the number of professionals likely to actually use these safety features. The setup is very simple and far less restrictive compared to older guard designs (which, unfortunately, often led pros to cast them aside).
The Unisaw has large On and Off buttons located just below the table top where a user can quickly power the unit up and down with ease. The Off button is large enough that you can kill the power just by pushing your leg up against it, but not so delicate that you’d be likely to do so by accident.
The 52” Biesemeyer Fence System
The 52” Biesemeyer Fence System is also built at the same location in Anderson, SC. This simple yet effective fence system slides across the table smoothly, locks into place with little effort, and allows the user to set the saw to precise measurements through the use of its hairline pointer.
A bi-level dust extraction system means that the Delta Unisaw has one of the most efficient means of removing dust from the cut zone and the cabinet. A single dust collection hose connects to the back of the cabinet, but uses a diverter to pull air from both the bottom of the cabinet and also from a chute that catches dust just below the saw blade. The bottom of the cabinet is also sloped so that dust can fall down and slide into the dust port.
As I used it, the design really seemed to work well and cleared away over 90% of the dust while also keeping the cabinet fairly clean. The remaining dust tends to fly up from the cutting service and land on the work piece and/or the table top. In the future, I’d like to see some sort of top dust collection integrated with the blade guard.
As an option (which I utilized), the side table can be ordered with a built-in storage drawer. The drawer is a great feature because it serves as the perfect place to store extra blades, wrenches, the blade guard, push sticks, and other small accessories.
By this point you’ve got to be thinking to yourself, “This all sounds great, but how does the darn thing perform?!” Well, this story actually started a year ago, and over that time it has performed flawlessly. Perhaps, one of my greatest challenges came recently, as I set out to tackle a large cabinet project.
I fabricated a large 10 foot wide by 8 foot tall built-in entertainment cabinet. The project included building cabinet boxes, drawers, doors, shelving and a wood countertop. Obviously, the Unisaw was a major player in the project from ripping materials down to cutting tenons and dados.
The precision of the Unisaw stood out from the onset. While I’ve built projects like this in the past, they always seem to have “little” adjustments here and there due to my precision (or lack thereof). This project turned out absolutely perfect with amazingly tight joinery and beautiful lines. The Unisaw made the difference and proved to me not only its value but its place among the top table saws on the market.
The Legend Lives On
The current Unisaw certainly isn’t your father’s from the past. It’s been almost 75 years since it was first introduced (1938), and it’s actually better than ever. Most impressive, for me, given our current manufacturing climate, is that it’s still built here in the U.S. by proud Americans who care about the history and future of woodworking.
The Unisaw is an excellent table saw made with quality materials and attention to detail. The result is a very powerful, accurate cabinet saw built to last a generation—much like a fine piece of heirloom furniture.
I’m proud to have such a fine piece of machinery at the heart of my shop. If you’re in the market for a quality cabinet saw, be sure the Unisaw is on your short list.
Todd Fratzel is the Editor of ToolBoxBuzz.com and the President of Front Steps Media, LLC, a web based media company focused on the Home Improvement and Construction Industry. He is also the editor of several other sites including: Home Construction & Improvement and Today’s Green Construction.