This morning I was perusing the tools for sale section of Craigslist, as I am apt to do whether I need something or not, and I came upon this ad for the original DeWalt sliding compound miter saw. I was immediately taken back down memory lane.

My uncle was the foreman of my dad’s construction company back in the day, and he purchased one of these saws brand new. It was a bit of a watershed tool, because before it if you wanted a saw with this kind of capability, you had to drag a damn radial arm saw to the job site.

I remember him being really happy for about a week, and then cursing it every chance he got after that. He passed away when I was in middle school, and I inherited his tools. The miter saw sat in a corner of my dad’s shop for several years. When I was in architecture school, I got a bug up my butt to make my life infinitely harder for no benefit, by building my design models out of wood instead of foam core. I dragged the saw out of retirement and set it up on the enclosed porch of my dumpy coach-house apartment.

It was there, while undoubtedly driving my downstairs neighbors insane (they never complained though!), that I got intimately familiar with the saw’s short-comings. To put it as nicely as possible, this saw was a pile of hot garbage. When you used the compound feature, the blade would actually eat into the frame of the saw itself. That was GREAT for the blade. The blade which is a weird and hard to find size, by the way. So you had to be really careful when compound cutting to only go down just far enough to get through the wood.

That was not the worst part though, not by a long shot. Miter saws all have preset stops at certain angles, generally 0, 22.5, and 45 degrees and a couple others in there too. The problem on this saw, was they were off by about 3/4 of a degree. That doesn’t sound like much, but I assure you it’s enough to mess everything up. So to get the saw square, I’d have to put it just to the left of the stop with one hand, hold a square against the blade with my other hand, and then tighten the angle stop down with my other other hand, but not so much that it would suck the saw back into the preset stop I was trying to avoid. I really got to hate my life whenever I had to reset the miter angle on that pile.

Advertisement

I think I dispatched that heap for $50 to some bonehead who didn’t understand the value of his time. When I saw the ad for this one, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s the only other one of that saw I’ve ever seen. You’d have to pay me to touch one of those again.

If a used sliding compound miter saw is what you’re after, look about a decade past the not ready for prime-time 1707, and get yourself a DW708 like this one. When the 708 came out, it put every other tool manufacturer on notice that their junk was now hopelessly out of date.

The 708 was the first miter saw to move the motor on top of the blade and connect it with a belt. This made room for the saw to be able to compound in both directions. It miters up to 60 degrees in one direction and either 50 or 55 degrees in the other, and compounds 48 degrees either left or right. It was a real game changer, and this time the quality was there to make the new features meaningful.

Advertisement

At my insistence, my dad bought a new one when it came out, and I cannot tell you how much time having the ability to compound in both directions saves when you’re doing a big trim job. Adjustments to the angles are quick, easy, and most importantly accurate. The blade guard is both effective and unobtrusive, the electric brake stops things quickly. This saw is a delight to use, especially for those of us who remember what they used to be like. It only had one minor flaw, it’s so top-heavy that it needs to be screwed or clamped down.

Even the good miter saws I used, that were made in between the 1707 and the 708, felt like cumbersome dinosaurs in comparison. In the early 2000's, only a brand-loyal fool bought any sliding miter saw other than the 708. Teamed up with their 18 volt cordless tools that were the first really powerful and really good cordless tools, and the DW744, the first really accurate and easy to use portable table saw, DeWalt became a juggernaut. There were a lot of job sites during the building boom where just about every tool you saw there was yellow.

I bought a used one about ten years ago for $400. It still kicks butt and takes names. Other saw manufactures have caught up and in some cases surpassed DeWalt. There are other tools with more wiz-bang features, lasers and junk. But none of them can do a single thing that my trusty old 708 can’t do. It still feels like a finely tuned machine, and it still puts a smile on my face every time I use it.

Advertisement

I’ve been thinking about starting a sub-blog about tools. All kinds of tools. I’m wondering if anybody here has any interest in that?