Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tool Review: Firestorm FS200SD / Black & Decker BDTS200 10" Table Saw

Occasionally I will write a review of a tool I have used. In no way do I pretend to be a professional, as this blog should show, but I also have found some of the most helpful reviews to be by "average joes" like me. All the tools I will review should be within the budget for most homeowners and weekend warriors.

Table saws come in five basic designs:
  • Bench Top - Small and portable saws often sold as introductory table saws.
  • Contractor - Heavier duty motor and larger table than bench top. Motor usually drives a belt to turn the saw blade.
  • Hybrid - Motor from a contractor's saw with the design of cabinet saw
  • Cabinet - Large motor requiring 220 volt, 3 phase wiring (will not work with your standard household wiring). Has large table and is extremely heavy.
  • European - As large and expensive as a cabinet saw, these saws use a sliding table to move the work piece to the blade.
The Firestorm FS200SD and its identical twin, the Black & Decker BDTS200, are low-end budget bench top saws. The small table of this saw limits its use to small boards. You will not be able to rip full sized (4'x8') sheets of plywood on this saw without some serious modification or help. If you are planning on ripping long boards on this saw's scant table, I would suggest using an out-feed support jig. You can purchase one that is basically a roller mounted on an adjustable shaft, but a frugal alternative - which would probably be what you want if all you can afford is this table saw - would be to clamp an old paint roller to a saw horse.

Another quick and easy jig you can make for any table saw is a miter gauge extension. Simply take a straight board about 2"-4" tall and 8"-18" long and affix it to the front of your miter gauge so that one end protrudes past the blade. Then, with the blade set to its maximum height, run the miter gauge through so that the blade trims the wood extension. Now, when you place a board to cut on your table saw you can line up the cut mark with the edge of the miter gauge extension and you will know exactly where the cut will be made.

So How Good is the Firestorm FS200SD / Black & Decker BDTS200 Table Saw?As I mentioned before, this saw is priced as an introductory saw. At Lowes, it could be found for anywhere from $80-$130. That is very inexpensive for a table saw, but is it worth it to shell out that kind of money or are you better off if you save your pennies and put them towards a different table saw? Read on for more information that will help you make that decision.

The saw comes in a large box with the motor, blade assembly, and table pre-assembled. You have to assemble the stand with the provided hardware and instructions. It should take about half an hour; or, you can fore go the stand and clamp the saw on a workbench or table.

The table is made out of aluminum and, combined with the plastic housing, is very light. The stand also includes two wheels, so this is definitely back-friendly to move around the work shop.

Black & Decker included a rip fence that can be mounted in the integrated fence rail and can be adjusted to about 12" to the right side of the blade and 9" to the left. The fence locks in place by a cam lock activated by pushing the lever at the front of the fence down. With a bit of coaxing the fence can lock down square to the blade, but do not expect it to keep square. I was able to move the back end of the fence about 1/8" from side to side even after the fence was locked in place.

A miter gauge comes with the table saw as well. It fits into non-standard t-slots milled into the table top surface. You can adjust the miter gauge by loosening the bolt on top and rotating the gauge. There are no stops at common angles, so you will have to be very careful when setting the angle.

The saw blade that comes with the table saw is a generic carbide-tipped blade designed to be sufficient at most cuts. It actually leaves a smooth edge and performs better than I would expect with such an inexpensive saw. It can be easily changed to accept any blade up to 10" You can also use a stacked dado blade (up to 1/2" wide) with this saw, though you will have to make, buy, or remove a blade insert.

The controls for the saw on all on the front. The large, prominent wheel raises and lowers the blade. To tilt the blade (up to 45 degrees) you have to unlock the lever and then manually lift the blade assembly (using the blade height adjusting wheel as a handle helps) to the desired angle.
The on/off switch is a small toggle switch low on the base. I would much prefer a larger switch within easy reach. The small switch can cause a problem if you ever need to shut the saw off in an emergency.
Some other miscellaneous features and points about the Firestorm saw include a convenient miter gauge holder on the side of the saw. There are also threaded bolt holes on the right hand side of the table that you could use to build your own table extension. This tool comes with a dust collector bag which can help keep your work area clean, however sometimes I think the spinning blade actually sucks some of the dust out of the bag and spews it out into the air over the table saw. This saw seems to make a lot more dust than my other table saw.

What I Like
  1. Light weight and portable
  2. With some fine tuning you can get straight cuts
  3. 15 Amp motor has plenty of power
  4. Table top is true and flat
  5. Included blade works well

What I Dislike
  1. Fence does not stay straight
  2. Built-in rail system
  3. Non-standard t-slot miter slots
  4. Cheap miter gauge
  5. Plastic housing
  6. Small on/off switch located too far away from work area

Although the Firestorm FS200SD / Black & Decker can make a decent cut I think its small size and non-standard accessories severely limit its functionality. A good circular saw will be a much more useful tool for cutting large pieces of plywood and a good power miter saw will do just as good of a job cross cutting boards.

Woodworkers often say that the table saw is the center of the work shop. That may be true for the larger table saws, but this saw will probably be relegated to the side lines.

This Model's Rating
I will say this, if you need a small and simple table saw to make quick cuts on small boards, this table saw will be great if you can find it for about $50. If you need a table saw for jobs best suited for table saws, I would highly recommend saving your money and getting a contractor style saw.
With that being said, I think this saw does a satisfactory job at cutting wood - even thick wood, but due to non-standard miter slots and fence and rail system, there are no aftermarket accessories you can get for it. The non-standard miter slots really bother me because virtually every other table saw uses a standard 3/8" deep by 3/4" wide miter slot.

If you are looking for your first table saw, I would suggest browsing the used market. Free online classified websites, such as Craigslist, can have many table saws that offer so much more at similar prices. Or, if you want to buy new you can get some a decent entry level contractor's table saw in the $350 price range on sale. Yes, that is potentially more than twice the cost of the Firestorm saw, but if you buy the inexpensive Firestorm and out grow it within a year, you will be spending that money on a better saw anyway.

This Power Tool's Rating
Bench Top table saws are a niche product. They can be very useful filling this niche, but unfortunately they are also marketed towards novice weekend warriors and hobbyists who may not fully understand the tool's inherent strengths and weaknesses. I think the weekend warrior will be served by saving his or her money and completely skipping bench-top style table saws in favor of either a larger table saw or simply substituting a circular saw and miter saw.

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