Review By Dean Bielanowski  Ryobi Website - http://www.ryobi.com.au

 


Ryobi BT3100K
Table Saw System

 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

Perhaps one of the most well known products made by Ryobi is their BT3100 table saw system. It has been available for some time in the United States, but not so readily available in other parts of the world. Ryobi Australia has just released the table saw in Australia and in other parts of the world and offers it with the full accessory kit as an added sweetener (usually only available at an additional charge in the USA). The saw is very popular among beginning woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts, and there are even dedicated websites run by BT3100 users. We thought we would take a look at why this saw seems so popular.

Note that the USA version of the BT3100 is very similar to the BT3100K system reviewed here. There are differences in power specifications due to differing power supplies of course, and the U.S. version does not come with the accessory kit included, however, most features of the basic unit are the same.

Package and Installation
The Ryobi BT3100K ships in quite a large cardboard box measuring 105cm long x 58cm deep x 52cm high (approx 41"L x 23"D x 21"H). It is very well packed with segmented polystyrene-type pockets keeping all components separated and protected from damage. Because the BT3100K comes with the additional accessory set, there are quite a few items to unpack from the box. Once you do unpack them all, lay them out so they are all easily visible. Among the goodies inside, you will find a DVD that walks you through the installation process and shows off features of the BT3100 system, including safety aspects. I could only wish a similar DVD was included with every tool I assembled in recent years. While full printed manuals are also included, the DVD is a much better way of presenting instructions, reducing any chance of making an error, and greatly increasing the user's capacity to understand and perform the assembly task. The detailed printed manual is, in itself, a useful resource. Together they are a great information bundle and introduction to the BT3100 system.

The first part to assemble is the pressed metal stand. This is provided as part of the BT3100K package. After assembling a ton of nuts and bolts, the task is readily completed. Just be sure to have the correct top rails opposing each other so the saw unit can be bolted to the stand. The pressed metal stand does seem a little flimsy to begin with, but once all nuts are tightened and the saw itself is bolted down to the stand, it becomes much more rigid. Four bolts secure the saw unit to the stand. You continue assembly by adding the rails and various saw table pieces, all of which secure very quickly with clamps or basic screw/bolt and nut components. The advantage of this system is that it allows you to remove these sub-tables later on if needed. The flexibility of the BT3100 system does call for moving or removing components to use a particular feature of the saw. Without the accessory kit, the saw can be setup successfully in about 25-30 minutes, which is quick for a large piece of equipment.

The Basics...
The Ryobi BT3100K is a 10 inch table saw, i.e. it takes a 10 inch (254mm blade) - a common size for many table saws. Arbor size is 5/8", again a common size so buying replacement blades should be no problem at all, and you will be able to choose from a variety of manufacturers and blade designs that are made for this blade size. Any blade you purchase must be rated to 4,800RPM minimum to be used safely on the BT3100 saw. A thin-kerf starter blade is provided, and it features 36 TCT teeth. It is actually not too bad a blade for a default offering, but you may wish to purchase a better blade down the track with more teeth, particularly if you wish to undertake crosscutting work with good results. 36 teeth is ok for rip cutting, but you would want at least 60 teeth for clean cross cuts. I also prefer wider kerf blades for ripping thick stock as they have less tendency to flex during a cut, however, there is greater waste.

Specs
The following are the listed specifications for the BT3100 table saw:
 
Motor Input 1800W (Aus rating)
Cutting Depth at 0 degrees 3 9/16" (90.5mm)
Cutting Depth at 45 degrees 2 1/2" (63.5mm)
Output Speed 4,800 RPM
Net Weight Without Workstand 56kg
Net Weight With Workstand 59kg

Perhaps the most important figure in the above table is the motor rating. At 1800W (a little under 2 1/2 horsepower), the universal motor of the BT3100K has enough grunt to handle most tasks, although be aware of the differences between universal and induction motor ratings. A 2 1/2HP induction motor would likely be more powerful. Nonetheless, the motor on the BT3100 handled everything we threw at it, sometimes you could hear a little strain when cutting thick lumber, but it never stalled at any point. The motor assembly and much of the blade below the table is encased in a metal enclosure or shroud... Why? Quite simply for dust collection purposes. The enclosure is linked to the dust collection port that protrudes from the back of the BT3100K. A dust bag is provided in the accessory kit, or you can hook up your dust collection system just as easily. The BT3100K's dust collection capability is really quite good. Perhaps the best I have seen in any table saw so far. The shroud really helps to channel most of the dust that is drawn under the table to the collection port. I found that connecting my 2HP extractor to the port provided excellent collection capacity as opposed to using the collection bag, but this is to be expected. As a guesstimate, I'd say that about 90% of the dust that is drawn below the table is captured by the shroud when used in conjunction with a dust extractor.

The motor features somewhat of a "soft startup". My larger 3HP cabinet saw can "jolt" a little as it powers up suddenly. With the BT3100K, the motor starts a little slower, but takes only a second or two to reach full running speed. The advantage is that it eliminates that startup jolt which is common in many table saws. I must admit that when I was assembling the BT3100 and examining the motor and various components, I had a feeling the motor would be as noisy as a circular saw and perhaps give off a little vibration. I was quite surprised to find that, on first power up, the noise was less than expected (a bit more than an induction motor, but a little less than a circular saw) and there was virtually no vibration. In fact, I had to eat my own words in regard to these two aspects. The BT3100K, when used on a firm surface, ran very smooth indeed, smoother than my table saw for that matter. I thought at least the pressed metal stand may add a little to vibration, but no... this was certainly interesting and a big plus to the design of the system.

The on/off power switch on the front of the unit features a safety key that can be removed to disable the switch, great if you have little ones running around. Additionally, on the side of the unit is a power point. You plug the saw's cord in to control it via the switch, but if you have a router set up in the router wing, you can plug the router cord into this outlet to allow you to control that tool via the main saw switch as well. A nice feature.

Blade Adjustments
The BT3100K is a right tilt saw... i.e. the blade tilts to the right to make beveled cuts. I'm not going to get into a debate about whether right-tilt or left-tilt is better except to say that it mostly comes down to personal preference. The adjustment wheel on the front of the saw actually controls both blade tilt and blade height via a lever behind the wheel which switches between tilt and height adjusting modes. Blade tilt is achievable between 0 and 45 degrees and the tilt mechanism is quite fast in its action. I can go from 0 degrees to 45 degrees in just a few rotations. This is much quicker than my cabinet saw, which takes close to a dozen rotations, however, the tradeoff is that very fine adjustments to tilt angle are a little tougher on the BT3100 in comparison to my cabinet saw. You can of course make the fine adjustments on the BT3100, it just takes some finer motor-skills using the rotation handle.
Blade height adjustments are also made via the front hand wheel with the wheel lever set to height adjustment mode. You can raise and lower the blade just like any regular table saw. The blade can be raised to maximum height to successfully cut a nominal 4" x 4", which is about 3 9/16" in height. The blade can be lowered fully below the table as well, as you would expect. Blade lowering and raising on the BT3100 is certainly not as smooth as my cabinet saw and a little noisier, but it is achieved in much the same manner, and it works as expected.

Saw Rails
The black rails you can see front and back in the photos of the BT3100 to the right form the platform by which most other components attach. Primarily, they are used to guide the rip fence, but both the sliding table and router table components attach to these rails also. What is different about these rails as opposed to standard rails on other table saws is that they are adjustable left and right. They are basically clamped to the saw unit itself, but can unclamp and slide left and right to provide more cutting capacity on either side of the blade. And speaking of cutting capacity, the rails allow cuts up to 30" wide to the right of the blade and 31" to the left of the blade. If you want full capacity on the left side of the blade, for example, you unclamp both front and rear rails and slide them all the way to the left before re-clamping. You can also move both the sliding table along and remove the router table component from the right side of the blade to the left to help support the wide cut on the left side of the blade. Both the sliding table and router table pieces secure via tool-less clamp mechanisms to the front and back rails. The miter slot accessory (comes as part of the accessory kit) is actually bolted down to the saw itself. The versatility provided by these moving components offers benefits you cannot find on conventional table saws, however, on the flip side, this versatility does come at the cost of having to check or re-align and square the rails once moved (more on this later).
The measure tape incorporated into the front rail is incremented in millimeters and can be read both left and right of the blade. I'd assume the USA model is measured in inches. As part of the initial setup, you will have to align the front rail to "zero" it in according to the printed measure scale. Any time you move the rails, you will have to repeat this step to ensure accuracy and a trustworthy measure tape for determining cut widths.

Sliding Table
A nice feature on the BT3100K is the addition of a small sliding table. Now, while this will not handle full size 8" x 4" sheets, it is great for crosscutting and miter cutting most other smaller pieces safely and accurately. You can angle the fence anywhere from 0 to 45 degrees in either direction, and the large scales printed on the sliding table in 1 degree increments are easy to read. Like the router table top, the sliding table can be moved and clamped anywhere along the saw rails.

The sliding table comes with an adjustable miter fence which performs a similar action to the miter gauge on other table saws, however, because the table slides smoothly, I found controlling and moving pieces past/through the blade was a little easier than with a traditional miter gauge in a miter slot. One of the accessories included in the 3100K kit is a miter clamp which secures to the top of the miter fence and allows workpieces to be clamped down to the sliding table to make a cut. This ensures the piece will not move during a cut, greatly improving accuracy. If you would rather use the sliding table as just a support table for regular rip cutting, you can do this too. Simply remove the miter fence first, then you can lock the sliding action of the table in place using the drop-down tab on the table which engages into one of two slots on the sliding table frame underneath. This is then secured via a screw. This way, when secured, the sliding table cannot move back and forward and provides a stable and safe working surface to use for rip cutting tasks.

Router Table Wing
The wing that is normally installed to the right of the blade is milled to also act as a small router table. To use it effectively, you need the Router Table mounting kit which is included in the BT3100K model (as a part of the accessory kit), but not with USA models (it is sold separately there). The router mounting kit provides a mounting plate that will fit just about all Ryobi routers easily, and some other brand models as well. You are also provided with router fence assemblies, a clear plastic overhead guard which doubles as a dust collection port, and an array of snap in clearance inserts of varying sizes (see photo). The router fence is attached to the top T-channel of the saw's rip fence, and both the infeed and outfeed fences are adjustable forward and back and left and right. I used a straight edge to line up both fences before running some stock through to make picture frame profiles. You can also offset the outfeed fence to perform jointing or trimming operations if needed, but both fences are adjusted manually and can bit a bit tricky to align for offset while still keeping the fences parallel to each other.

Attaching a vacuum or dust extractor to the guard will require suitable attachments, and you may need to provide additional support to hang a heavier collection hose from the top of the guard. Once done, extraction is quite efficient. It doesn't catch it all, but certainly catches the majority of the finer particles. Perhaps the only criticism I can make is the size of the knobs used to attach each router fence. The protrude over the plane of the rip fence on the left side, so you need to remove the router fences if planning to rip cut wood that is higher than the top of the fence. With slightly smaller diameter screw knobs, you would have been able to leave the router fences in place and rip cut on the saw with no obstructions. I may be heading to the hardware store soon to find smaller diameter screw knobs to avoid adding and removing the router fence regularly, which can take valuable time. On the whole however, the addition of a small router table to the BT3100 provides the extra functionality the DIY woodworker or renovator may be looking for, and at little additional cost - you only need to supply a router (that fits) to use this feature.

Blade Guard and Riving Knife
The plastic blade guard comes pre-assembled on the riving knife, and these must be manually assembled to the saw during initial setup. A set of anti-kickback pawls are also found attached to the whole component. The riving knife and blade assembly attach close behind the blade via two nuts and screws, and sandwiched between a set of adjustable shims. These shims can be removed and turned around to allow the user to align the riving knife with the blade, which is an important step to ensure no binding of wood takes place during a cut. Instructions for alignment are included in the manual of course, as well as on the supplied instructional DVD. The advantage of the riving knife and blade guard assembly is that it raises and lowers, and tilts with the blade, as opposed to a fixed splitter which may only be useful for fixed blade situations. You do have to be careful however, as the kickback pawls can bind on the back of the blade slot and be easily bent when lowering the blade, at least this was the case in my experience. If you use a zero clearance insert, this will not be a problem however, although you will have to modify the insert to accept the blade guard assembly. The blade guard should be used in all through-cut operations for user safety. In those instances where non-through cuts need to be made (i.e. dado cuts or grooves for table top clips), it will have to be removed, but you should use appropriate safety devices (push sticks etc) to ensure your hands do not come close to the blade. We recommend the Microjig GRR-Ripper table saw safety device for these types of cuts. It's a great tool for any table saw owner.

In use we found the blade guard and riving knife to perform its job as it is intended to do, that is, keeping the cut sections separated and ensuring the kerf does not close on the back of the blade and cause a kickback. The blade guard also keeps hands away from the blade and helps eliminate small chips being directed back to the user, something which is quite noticeable when cutting chipboard without a guard in place more than anything else.

Zero Clearance Inserts
As part of the accessory kit included with the BT3100K (but sold separately in the USA) you receive additional inserts for your saw. The Zero Clearance Insert kit provides two hardened plastic inserts for use with your standard saw blade. They replace the standard metal insert that ships with the saw and are secured with small screws provided. Once installed, you secure them down, and with blade lowered below the table, start up the saw and slowly raise the blade up, cutting through the insert (it doesn't harm the blade), creating a kerf in the insert the same size as the blade kerf. What you create is an insert that only has clearance for the blade and nothing else, i.e. a zero clearance insert (ZCI). The ZCI allows workpieces to be supported right up next to the blade, with the major advantage being almost chip and splinter-free cuts on the underside of the material being cut. ZCIs also inhibit small off-cuts falling down under the table beside the blade and causing blade jams or reducing the chance of off-cuts being thrown back at the user. ZCIs can also improve dust collection by directing more dust below the table to the dust shroud. The inserts are of a large rectangular shape, so not the common shape found with many other saws. You will need to order replacements from Ryobi to fit the saw should you require them, however, with a bit of care and the right materials, you could manufacture some replacements of your own if you choose to do so. However, I would recommend the Ryobi replacements as the insert is quite large and may be prone to flex in the middle around the blade. The Ryobi inserts are designed with a ribbed matrix of plastic supports on the underside to remain rigid and flat.

Dados and Dado Insert
The BT3100K can also take a dado set, which is very handy should you need to do some rebate, trench or dado cutting work with your saw. A metal dado insert is included in the accessory kit for this purpose. It is secured via three screws and provides a wider clearance for a dado set to be used more safely. To add a dado set you must first remove the blade, outer and inner washer and the large spacer on the arbor. I fit my Freud SD208 8" stacked dado set to the arbor and found there was very minimal clearance between the teeth and the BT3100 motor frame at the back end of the blade, plus there is a limit to the height you can raise the dado set above the table because of the smaller opening in the dado insert. While I was able to spin the blade up fine with just enough clearance, I'd probably recommend a 6" stacked dado set just to be on the safe side. This is probably what the saw was designed for as the motor may not be able to handle a larger 8" set. With a 6" set installed there is no problem at all. I found I could stack enough blades and chippers safely to make a 3/4" width setup. I could perhaps have added another chipper but that wouldn't have left much arbor thread for the securing nut to sit on. In my woodworking experience thus far, I have not had a need for a dado wider than 3/4" as yet, so I personally had no problem with this limitation. Anything larger can be done with a router handheld, or with a mounted router on the BT3100 itself.

With a dado set installed I made several dado cuts of varying width and depth. 1/4" dados are a breeze and you can cut them relatively fast. At the 3/4" end, you have to take things a bit slower so as to not bog down the motor (although we have had no stalls to date). I had no trouble making a 3/4" wide x 3/8" depth dado using the BT3100 and my 6" dado set. The ability to use a dado set with the BT3100 was a good design choice by Ryobi, and certainly helps from a marketing perspective no doubt. It definitely adds a lot more flexibility to the type of cuts you can make with the saw system. Note that, as with all table saws, the blade guard and splitter must be removed when making dado cuts.

Wheel Kit
Another accessory that comes with the "K" model of the BT3100 are the stand wheels. These attach quickly and easily to the stand legs on one side and allow you to roll the saw around the workshop or work area. A big advantage of the BT3100 is its light weight. While it probably will require two people to lift the saw completely off the ground, with the wheel kit added, a single individual can easily roll the saw around the work area with no problem at all. I found you did need to lift the saw up at a fair angle to roll it around smoothly, clearing the rubber leveling feet on the bottom of each stand leg. Also, you need to pull the saw around rather than pushing it, as pushing it (with wheels leading) tended to lead the fixed wheels off course causing a twisting of the stand legs (although this twisting only occurs as the wheel is sent off course, it doesn't stay twisted). Pulling the saw around - and you hold the saw rails to pull it around - presented no problem at all. You can have the BT3100 wheel out of the garage and ready to go in 15 seconds on your own if you don't need to lift it or lower it to another level. The wheel kit makes an already very portable saw even more portable and user friendly and is a must have if you need to move your saw regularly.

Alignment Issues?
Even the best table saws need to be properly set up to achieve accurate and square cuts. Because the BT3100 features a lot of moveable parts, alignment is paramount to achieving acceptable results with this saw system. As you assemble the saw, you should check the various components for alignment as you go. Instructions for aligning components can be found in the manuals, and there are a few sites online that provide additional tips and tricks in this area. Each time you move the rails, you must align them to match the print scale. Likewise, the sliding table should also be aligned correctly for accurate results.

The rip fence actually clamps to both the front and back rails, however, securing the fence is actually a two-step process. As you lower the locking lever, the fence first squares itself up to the front rail, and as you continue to lower the lever to the lock position, the fence clamps itself to the back rail to ensure zero flex in use. It actually works pretty well, however, you must ensure the fence is square to the blade to begin with. There is a small amount of adjustment allowable to the fence and this should give you the room to square it to the blade before you begin. I was a bit skeptical at first as I have heard many stories about dual locking fences, but the BT3100K locks down square almost all the time. The only time I had a problem was when moving the rails and using the fence on the left side of the blade. I found I was out by about half a millimeter at the back end and had to make an adjustment, probably caused by rails not being squared up first after moving them.

Pros and Cons
The BT3100 include a number of useful features not found on other table saws, but incorporating these additions can result in issues elsewhere. Here is a list of pros and cons I found while using the BT3100;

Pros:

  • Portability is excellent. The system is very light for a table saw and easily maneuverable with the wheel kit accessory.

  • Can achieve results as good as saws costing three times as much, but accurate setup and regular checkup is the key.

  • Versatility - A traditional table saw and router table all in one. Throw in a good working sliding table and you have a saw that offers excellent features for the asking price.

  • Dust Collection - The shroud surrounding the motor assembly is a great design feature and works very well.

  • Expandable - The BT3100s design encourages the use of home made jigs and devices to further expand its functionality and use. There are many examples of this online.

  • Miter slot accessory - Giving users this option addresses a common complaint about previous models of the BT3xxx saw system.

  • Surprisingly smooth running and virtually vibration-free.

Cons:

  • Universal Motor is noisier than induction motor, but does make the system lighter and more portable.

  • The need to re-check and possibly re-adjust alignment of components after being moved around.

  • Blade and anti-kickback pawls can sometimes become wedged as you change blade angle via the hand wheel. You need to manually raise these before you change angle to avoid this possibility.

To buy or not to buy?
That is the question of course. In Australia, the BT3100K sells for AUD$999. This model does include the eight-piece accessory kit however. In the USA, the basic kit (excluding accessory kit) retails for US$299. I believe these prices are reasonable for the features the system offers. In Australia, you can buy a cast iron table contractor saw with a good Biesemeyer clone fence for around the same price, so it may be a tough sell to dedicated woodworkers. What you miss however, is the sliding table and router extension. This is a similar story in the USA, however, the BT3100 seems a little bit cheaper in comparison to other comparable contractor saws, probably because you do not get the additional accessory kit included.

As I own a 3HP cabinet saw, I can say that I do enjoy using that better, however, I cannot load my cabinet saw into my car and take it to a worksite without hiring a crane or four gym junkies to load it into a big truck. Likewise, the combined footprint of my table saw (without sliding table) and my separate router table is about three times the size of the integrated BT3100K system, so if space is a premium in your workshop, garage or shed, then the BT3100 has that solved. Sometimes I like to work outside too, and I now have a portable table saw to use to catch some cool breezes in summer, or some warm sun rays in summer. There is no chance my cabinet saw is moving from its current position without a struggle!

I couldn't think of a better portable solution for a home remodeler or tradesman that requires the use of a table saw system, although the Triton Workcentre is certainly an equal here. Nonetheless, portability is an important feature of the BT3100K.

If you are just beginning in woodworking and don't want to commit to a big table saw costing thousands of dollars only to find out that you don't enjoy the hobby, then the BT3100K is a good compromise which should also hold reasonable resale value later on if you decide to upgrade.

The accessory kit which we have outlined in the review is, in my opinion, a must have, as it extends the capability of the BT3100 system and really adds the "value for money" factor to the franchise. The additions to an already flexible system allow the saw to perform functions your regular table saw cannot.

So my recommendation to readers interested in purchasing a table saw is to have a look at the BT3100 system... consider how much you are willing to spend, and whether you require portability and the added features the accessory kit provides. If you are after those features and the BT3100 falls within your price range, then certainly give it consideration, but as with all important purchasing decisions, look around at what's available and make the most informed decision you can.

I certainly hope this review has highlighted the features of the BT3100K system, as well as exposed some of its strengths and weaknesses as a table saw system overall. The decision is now in your hands!

The Ryobi Australia website can be found at www.ryobi.com.au
In the USA, the Ryobi website is at www.ryobitools.com

Ryobi BT3100K Photos
All photos copyright onlinetoolreviews.com. Use without prior written permission prohibited


The assembled BT3100K table saw


The power switch with yellow safety lock pin.


The hand wheel on the front of the saw controls both blade tilt and blade height.


The right tilting arbor is adjustable from 0 to 45 degrees.


Need to be mobile? The accessory wheel kit will achieve that task.


You can hang your jigs from these hooks or wrap your power cord around them when not in use.


Note the power outlet in this picture. When the saw or router plug is attached, control of the tool is handled by the main saw switch.


The miter slot accessory allows common miter accessories to be used with the BT3100.


The dust collection bag accessory works great, but hooking up a powered dust extractor is a better option.


One of the BT3100's standout features is the sliding table.


Miter cuts from 0-45 degrees are achievable accurately with the included miter fence.


The main fence lock mechanism is a two stage process. First it aligns the fence, then locks it to the rails front and back for stability.


The riving knife, blade guard (partly shown) and anti-kickback pawls.


Note the miter clamp accessory in use, securing the workpiece to the table for an accurate cut.


Using the miter fence (and clamp accessory) to cut a 45 degree miter for picture frames.


The included blade is actually very good quality and delivers a smooth cut on most materials.


Dado set installed with dado insert plate.


A router installed in the router table wing. Most Ryobi routers will fit easily.


The router accessory kit includes router fence, dust collection/guard, and a number of clearance plates.


Running a profile on some stock for picture frames.

Information contained on this page is copyrighted to onlinetoolreviews.com.
Reproduction in any form prohibited with express prior written permission. Copyright 2005