jump to example.com

The “Heavy Duty ‘Driver’ Bench Saw” from a 1931 Sears/Craftsman catalog, only four years after Sears registered the brand, boasted that it came “complete with motor” and Timken tapered roller bearings. It cost $9.50 at the time (an average month’s rent on a house was $18), and was considered innovative for its speed and durability. What I find interesting is how little the basic technology of the table saw has changed in 80 years — or how advanced it was for its time.

1972 Craftsman 10" bench saw for $159

1972 Craftsman 10 Inch bench saw for $159

Modern Craftsman 10 Inch Table Saw, $799

Modern Craftsman 10 Inch Table Saw, $799

The modern Craftsman 10″ runs on exactly the same 1.5 hp, and at 3450 rpm is in many ways the same tool as the Depression-era saw. Though I have to admit that I see some pretty big changes in the 40-or-so years between the first saw and the second — besides the fact that the price seems to have dropped significantly, at least in relative terms. (Considering that one can rent a house now for $750 to, say, $1,500, you can now own a Craftsman 10″ saw for somewhere between half and the same price.)

But what do you think? Could you work with the earliest saw? How ’bout the one from the ’70s? If we could magically give you any one of these three — and don’t think too hard since we can’t — which one would you choose and why?

Personally? I’d go for the ’70s model. It looks durable and solid. But don’t let me influence you. Let me know what you think in comments.


21 Responses to Evolution Of Craftsman Table Saws

  1. fred says:

    Tablesaw safety has been getting a lot of attention lately – and the recent verdict in a lawsuit against One World –Ryobi has garnered a lot of attention:

    Using an older tool in a commercial setting brings with it a need to consider risks and remedies. The really old saw pictured would certainly need some retrofits (if even possible) probably to enclose the lower portion of its blade and its drive belt. While some of us use older table saws (Unisaws and Oliver machinery in my case) – we probably would not consider acquiring either of the older saws pictured for commercial use.

    If I had the luxury of setting up a tool museum – wouldn’t mind having one of those old beauties.

  2. Nik says:

    I’m curious about the price in the first picture. It says “$9.50 complete as shown.” Why do you write that it cost $42.50 at the time ?

  3. Joe says:

    That’s not really a fair comparison. Adjusted for inflation, $160 in 1972 equals $840 in 2010. And yet Sears sells a saw that looks very much like the 1972 model for $150 today.


    I’ve worked with that 1970’s era Craftsman saw. It was difficult to tune the fence. The table was too small to work a sheet of plywood. And the motor was underpowered, making for slow ripping of hardwoods. I’d imagine that the current $150 saw suffers the same problems.

  4. kyle says:

    i would like to have caftsman’s current granite top table saw

  5. aaron says:

    you guys are great. a few days ago it was an art deco style antique belt sander that you claimed “doesn’t look all that different from the models of today really” and now this. sure, if by table saw you mean a circular blade sticking through a table with a rip fence, then yeah, it hasnt changed. that old model is little more than a circular saw fixed upside down.

    I would much rather have the latest model. unless you collect antique tools for fun, what advantage would the other two give you?

  6. aaron says:

    what I thought this would be about is the evolution from quality tools to cheap crap. that first one might not be fun to work with, but it’s probably built well. the 1972 model – tough to tell. looks like it doesnt come with a motor, which might be a good thing. the modern one is a definitely good piece of kit. but that one joe linked to is complete garbage that *might* be useful for framing.

  7. Nik: You’re right. I was researching a few different Craftsman power tools and got that one mixed up with a different one. Price has been fixed.

    aaron: “you guys are great. a few days ago it was an art deco style antique belt sander that you claimed “doesn’t look all that different from the models of today really” and now this.”

    Different people, different perspectives. While Toolmonger writers have the same objectives in mind, individual writers will likely have differing observations about the aesthetics of a tool.

  8. aaron says:

    toolhearty said it best “That’s like saying a ‘56 Buick Roadmaster looks similar to a new Toyota Camry (both have a body, 4 wheels, doors, windows, etc.). Camry is woefully lacking in running boards, though.


  9. PutnamEco says:

    Re: Aaron Says:
    that old model is little more than a circular saw fixed upside down.
    The pictured saw looks to be a cast iron top on a cast iron base, probably quite stoutly built. Back in the day there were some number of the circular saw bolted upsidedown models to be found, they were in fact junk. Some even featuring pressboard or Masonite tops. I believe the saws were outlawed in the US some time in the late 70s. I would think that cast iron saw would be quite an improvement over one of them, especially with an induction motor instead of a circular saws universal motor powering it.
    True, the OSHA guys would have a field day with their ticket books should they find you using one commercially
    Festool now produces a system (called the CMS) that can use their saw in an under table mount, Not for US consumption. Seems to get mixed reviews abroad.
    Starting I believe in the mid to late 60s their was a DIY movement among the department stores that ended up producing some truly, (in my humble opinion) disastrous tools, which continues to this day at the big box retailers.

    As for me, where I to find one of the old ’31 era saws for a reasonable price, it would be the only one of the bunch that would interest me at all, to be relegated to the collection, for my own amusement only. I don’t care for Craftmans tools produced past about 1960. When, ironically, they ceased building tools for the professional craftsman and instead focused on the bigger numbers generated by the DIY market.

  10. Dean in Des Moines says:

    Which would I choose? That depends on which role I’m playing. I’m my woodshop I’d pick the newest model. It’s big enough to rip anything, has all the safety gear, and won’t move around when I’m working with it.

    The earliest model can’t even perform a crosscut. On the other hand, if I’m working as a remodeler, the 70’s era saw wins for it’s portability, but I’d pick the modern equivalent with a better fence.

  11. PutnamEco says:

    Dean in Des Moines Says:
    The earliest model can’t even perform a crosscut.

    Odd of them to include a miter gauge then….

  12. aaron says:

    actually it looks like that first one was never meant to be used as a standalone piece, but rather mounted inside a larger bench. In that case (notwithstanding the joke of a fence) it might be quite a bit better than a lot of the smaller saws out there today.

  13. aaronp says:

    Yeah, but will that new saw still be working in 38 years? Because that 1972 table saw is still cutting wood just fine in my shop.
    Original motor too.

  14. melee says:

    I have the 70s version. The fence is terrible: note how it’s unsupported at the far end. Not much use for anything you want done accurately, and it’s too small for plywood.

    Of course, that’s not entirely because it’s from the 70s. You can still get modern benchtops in almost exactly the same configuration–and cheaper than the 70s list price! The fence would probably be slightly better, but not by much I think. The saw listed here as the modern version (probably it is by price, but not by style) is tremendously better.

    If anyone would like to trade their #3 for my #2, I’ll do it instantly.

  15. whiskeywaters says:

    I find it more interesting what the bang per buck these saws wold be. That #3 looks like a solid hobbyist choice – and #1 may have been something nice back in ’30. But I say the modern one gives the most bang for it’s dollar.

  16. dreamcatcher says:

    I am sorry to have to inflict my negativity on you all, but I think all three represent the look of junk tools aimed at home hobbyists through the years. I have in my life used many Craftsman tools and even owned one Craftsman table saw, the only Craftsman power tool I have ever owned [I am happy to say].

    Although I do admit that there were some well made Craftsman power tools and occasionally still are, the consensus is that they were always sub-par compared to their peers at any time in their history. That’s just sort of their MO; copy or buy a patent then cheapen it. Craftsman, Stanley, Black and Decker, DeWalt, Ryobi and many other brands still do the same thing today.

    Not speaking as some sort of elitist, but rather as a professional, I would say that a Delta Unisaw is the bottom of the barrel for me – and I own one today. There are many other brands which I aspire to, but it took having experience on the lesser brands to know why I feel the way I do.

    That said, I would certainly recommend any of the “hobbyist” brands to anyone who just uses a table saw a few times a year. To an aspiring woodworker however, I would recommend trying out an older model table saw like a Delta/Rockwell, Jet, Powermatic, or even Craftsman. With some patience, your local Craigslist should yield something for 1/4 the cost of a new model. I got my Uni with many extras including a 2hp dust collector for $500.


  17. fred says:


    I agree with you about an older model possibly being the right choice – especially if you get a gem. On the other hand, we all make compromises in buying tools. First cost, O&M cost, features and performance all should be compared. Before the Internet – Sears may have been the only place that a DIY woodworker might have been able to see a selection of table saws to make any sort of comparison – and may not have had the need or budget to move up the quality/performance scale from there. The first line of “professional tools” from folks like Powermatic and Delta may have been way over the top for those who were looking at tools in Sears. We have some old Unisaw’s and while I do not think they are up to the same standard as some of the other machinery we have, they were not as costly either – and I would not call them “bottom of the barrel”. The last table saw purchase that I made was a Shop Fox 10 hp sliding table machine. I thought that I wanted an Altendorf F45 – but compromised based on what was available at the price point that made sense to me.

  18. Dr Bob says:

    I have an old Craftsman table saw I got from my dad – I’m guessing it was made sometime between 1948 and 1952. And yes, I still use it. I also have an equally ancient 10 inch Craftman bandsaw and Craftsman drill press.

  19. Artie says:

    Agree w/PutnamEco about the induction motor… circular saws tend to be incredibly noisy which carry the universal motors and run on ac/dc power.

    Also circular saws + drills, get that added gear train noise. Because induction motors run strictly on ac power and don’t utilize brushes they tend to be easy on the ears for a quiet smooth cut. –found some excellent tips here.

  20. Mikegjax says:

    I have a 25 year old craftsman 12 inch table saw that has the original fence. I would like to replace the fence with something a little more accurate. There are lots of fences out there for 10 inch saws but I am not sure if the table top dimensions are the same as what I have. Would anyone be able to provide me with the dimensions of a Craftsman cast iron top for a 10 inch saw minus the extensions about the same age as my saw?

  21. William McCracken says:

    I have and still use the craftsman saw pictured above as the “modern 10 inch”. I don’t recall paying $800 for it though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.