Powermatic 66 Tablesaw
by Matt Lally


IllustrationI’ve had a little over two months of time to put my new Powermatic 66 table saw through a moderate but thorough workout and I’d like to share my impressions. The saw is a Model 66, 10" left tilting arbor table saw manufactured in the USA by Powermatic. My particular saw uses a 5HP, 230-volt, single phase motor but a 3HP motor is also available.

I chose the PM 66 because it has a documented reputation for being a solid shop performer for many amateur and professional woodworkers alike.

1. Setting Up.

When making my final decision to purchase the saw, I decided to purchase locally because I wanted to avoid any potential damage that could be caused by having it shipped by a freight company. When I arrived home with the saw in the back of my pickup truck, I knew that the 600 lb. machine would need to be stripped down farther than what it already was for a safe landing onto the ground. Therefore, I removed the top and motor to make for a relatively easy transition from truck bed to the garage floor. The total package came in about five different cartons: The main saw cabinet, motor, extension wings and top were securely fastened to a pallet, while the motor cover, fence, fence rails, fence guide tube, blade guard assembly, mitre guage, and side table w/legs were all in separate boxes. Separately purchased was a Powermatic mobile base that was in a box by it’s self, which I put together and placed the stripped down saw onto before assembling the saw back together. A good decision.

The instructions for putting the saw together are fairly straightforward and the parts are pretty much self-explanatory, making it an easy task. The only exception is wiring the cord (not included) to the start/stop switch. The instructions for this could be confusing to some people not familiar with motor wiring and switches. There are five diagrams which include three phase hook-ups, with the last set of diagrams looking like somebody just drew them freehand and Xeroxed them into the back of the instruction booklet. The only reference to what size circuit breaker and what size AWG cord to use, that I could find, is on the very last page way on the bottom near the last wiring diagram.

With the tabletop back on the saw, the first thing I needed to do was fasten the extension wings to the table with three 3/8" machine bolts and lock washers. This task can be accomplished alone, but it’s much easier with the services of a helper. Next I attached the fence rails, both front and rear. The fence rails are attached with bolts only to the tabletop and to the side table, but not to the extension wings. This is nice because the extension wings can be adjusted later without having to remove any of the fence rail bolts. The front rail’s position on the tabletop is critical and a combination square is needed to make this alignment. The rear rail is only supporting the side table so only an eyeball alignment is necessary. Now the support legs could be attached to the underside of the side table and then set in between the fence rails. I used two cargo tie-down straps around the rails and the side table to keep everything in place while drilling all twelve holes for attaching the side table to the fence rails. A bar clamp could also have been used. I’m not sure why there are so many bolts holding the side table to the fence rails, since there are only six bolts securely holding the rails to the saw’s table top. Anyway it makes for a very secure setup. The fence’s guide tube could now be fastened to the front rail via bolts from underneath the fence rail and into threaded holes in the guide tube. The guide tube is self-aligning on the rail so no measuring is required to align it to the rail. All of the holes lined up perfectly on all of the parts and there was no hardware missing. I must note that a separate instruction booklet is provided for the fence and rail assembly since the Accu-Fence can be purchased as an after market item for other brands of saws.

2. The Little Things.

The PM 66 comes with a few "freebies" which in my opinion should be standard items of issue for all brands of table saws. The motor’s cover being one of these items, along with a dado insert, and the above mentioned side table and support legs. The motor’s cover is a molded plastic piece that simply covers the motor and is secured at the top with two self-tapping machine bolts screwed into the saw’s pre-drilled cabinet. The bottom part of the cover has a lip that slides into the opening for the saw’s motor. Not the most sophisticated arrangement, but it works well and it has not worked its self loose through many saw operations. The side table is quite adequate for being a support piece when handling wide material, but not substantial or flat enough for use as a router extension table. It is constructed of 5/8" birch plywood in a torsion box configuration – less a bottom piece – and is laminated on the top and sides. I would recommend routing a small chamfer on the top edges to reduce chipping of the laminate prior to installation.

The throat plates that are included (regular and dado) are made of what appears to be aluminum metal but have a substantial heftiness with a good quality of fit, although I did have to edge grind one of them a small amount to get a better fit in the table’s opening. I soon made my own zero-clearance inserts and have put the factory ones aside as many of us do. I would like to note that the PM66 has a throat plate opening that is wider than the JET XACTA Saw’s by about ½ an inch making it easier on the hands when changing blades. A small but very noteworthy feature, in my opinion.

A mitre gauge is included and it is worthy of any task that you could assign to it. It has a wider base than what I’ve seen included with other table saws and the bar fits well into the table’s slots.

As with many table saws, the PM 66’s factory blade guard is difficult to align and cumbersome to remove and reinstall on a regular basis. But, to Powermatic’s credit it is heavily constructed and implements two independent guard leaves instead of just one single piece. I will suggest using the blade guard as a safety procedure but if it were easier to remove and install onto the saw I would like it better. Some operations are difficult if not impossible to perform with any blade guard in place; for instance, using a tenoning jig or re-sawing. Someone would probably be more motivated to use the guard if it were easier to remove for these type of sawing operations.

The overall fit and finish of this saw is very acceptable and there were no major cosmetic flaws discovered while assembling the tool. I will note that the throat plate opening had a small amount of rough areas that needed to be filed down lightly, and the mitre guage slots could have had smoother edges. Everything else was near perfect.

3. Major Components.

After the PM 66 was completely assembled I checked the table for flatness. Powermatic has set a tolerance of .010 inches or less for flatness on its table saw tops. I found that the top on my saw had areas that were beyond the manufacturer’s tolerances and tried to work through the local supplier where I purchased the saw to have the top replaced. This did not go smoothly so I soon decided to work directly with Powermatic, and a new top was sent to me within 3 weeks of the initial order date. The extension wings fit well and are level with the top and flush end to end. Both the top and the extension wings are highly polished but will dull quickly from regular use. The aesthetics of the polished top may be a selling point for Powermatic, but it will soon become a non-factor once you put the saw to good use. I will also mention that I found Powermatic’s customer service very good with a degree of personal interaction akin to what you could find at a small town hardware store.

On my initial attempt to remove the arbor nut and beveled washer from the arbor, the washer would not come loose. I used a putty knife and gently pried it from the facing arbor flange. Not knowing at the time that this created two small nicks – one on the arbor flange and one on the washer. After fitting the saw with a blade, the nicked arbor flange gave the appearance that there was excessive run-out, but upon closer inspection I discovered my problem and used a file to carefully smooth both faces. Following this the blade runs very true with almost zero run-out. This problem was self-inflicted and a lesson was learned.

One of the best features of this saw is the massive trunnion, motor mount and extremely smooth blade heighth and tilt mechanism. The design of these components releases the motor weight from the arbor, which gives it it’s smooth raising and tilting operation. Illustration

Illustration The hand cranks are made of heavy cast iron and have ample diameter for easy grasping. I do wish that the locking knobs and handles were also metal but their plastic design should not pose a problem to the overall integrity of the hand cranks.

Illustration Another great feature of this saw is that it is equipped with a Baldor brand motor. For a number of years the Baldor brand has been an industry standard for many industrial type tools. This was a definite selling point for me when considering other brands of table saws. The motor is fed from a 30-amp circuit, but I did run it from a 20-amp circuit for awhile without any trouble. The manufacturer recommends a 30-amp circuit. I performed a no-load current check and found that the motor draws a little over 11 amps under no load and draws just over 15 amps when cutting through 3-inch hardwood using a new DeWalt Series 60 C4 carbide tipped blade. The motor’s plate has it rated for 24-amps at 230 volts. Illustration

The motor drives the arbor using two belts as opposed to three. Powermatic calls this the "3VX" belt system. I’m not sure why they gave it this name, but I don’t think there is anything lost by the lack of a third belt. As a matter of fact, one thing that swayed me from the JET Xacta Saw was that the local Woodcraft store showed me their JET table saw that is used in their in-store shop and I noticed that the regular drive belts had been replaced with link belts. When I asked about this, the gentleman said that they had a vibration problem and needed the link belts. In my opinion, the way a cabinet saw is designed there should be no need for link belts. I thought this was peculiar.

IllustrationPowermatic’s Accu-Fence system with a 52" rip capacity has proven to be very accurate in the time that I’ve been using it.

The fence slides smoothly across the guide tube and is easy to align with the mitre guage slots by adjusting the metal allen head set screws on either side of the heavy gauged metal fence body. I would, however, recommend replacing the factory auxiliary side boards with better shop made ones. I removed the gold colored laminate from the factory pieces and relaminated them onto new 1/2 inch russian birch plywood backed by ¼ inch masonite. The new pieces turned out well and are very flat. The fence’s main body design allows for easy removal, installation and alignment of the side boards via slots cut into the underside of the body where a nut can be accessed with a small 7/16" wrench. The fence’s locking design is well thought out and has three main positions – up for removal of the fence from the saw, middle for setting the fence while it remains square to the blade and down for a positive lock. I did discover that very little pressure is required to lock the fence when properly adjusted, but if the mechanism is adjusted to lock too tight the back of the fence will raise slightly above the table while applying pressure to the locking handle. An annoying problem that can be remedied by properly adjusting the two set screws used for aligning the fence square to the blade.

I’m going to mention the Powermatic mobile base as a major component, although sold separately, because it is essential if you will need to move the saw around the shop at any time. Overall I like the mobile base, but the wheel locking system could be improved greatly. Screwing a bolt into the face of each wheel locks the two fixed wheels. This is fine except when you forget and try to move the saw while the wheels are "locked". If this happens, the screw will chew up the wheel’s plastic face and the screw could possibly become bent. I solved this by slipping wedges in between the screw and the wheel, but I’m thinking of trying something else in the future. Notwithstanding, the saw does sit in the mobile base securely and it is easy to put into motion.

4. Performance.

The Powermatic 66 is a very silky smooth running machine with an industrial feel. There is absolutely no vibration when operating the tool and the motor is relatively quiet, though hearing protection is recommended. I cut some 3" thick hardwood that would have brought my previous contractor’s saw to an abrupt halt, but this saw cut through it without the slightest sign of trouble. Very impressive and quite comforting to know that there is ample power for any sawing operation that may arise.

The tabletop is held to the cabinet with 3 bolts and can be easily be adjusted square to the blade. To adjust the top you simply loosen the three bolts and nudge the table until satisfied. I was satisfied when after using a dial indicator and then following up with crosscutting a test piece of wood without excessive "rubbing" at either the front or the rear of the blade. I believe it is within .001" parallel to the blade and this is again proven by excellent performance while both ripping with the fence and crosscutting with the mitre guage.

The start/stop magnetic switch is located to the operator’s left-hand side and is mounted on a sturdy bracket that is welded to the saw’s cabinet. The start/stop buttons are easy to negotiate without looking directly at them, but I do wish that the stop button were a little bigger for added safety.

The integrated dust port is located at the bottom of the cabinet on the opposite side of the operator. Along with the motor cover, this provides good overall dust collection. The bottom on the inside of the cabinet is angled up on both sides to create a "path" for the dust to be extracted with a dust collector. The access door located at the front of the cabinet gives easy access to the inside of the cabinet, especially when the arbor nut is dropped while changing blades. I did modify the latching device for the access door because the factory setup was pathetically loose. I removed the latch and handle and threaded the "stem" with a ¼-20 die. This enabled me to fasten the latch securely to the "stem" with two nuts on either side. I also used a rubber faucet washer between the handle and the door to provide some firm resistance when the door is secured. A small but worthy improvement.

5. Summary

I would highly recommend this saw to any serious woodworker looking for a quality tool. I did not directly compare the PM 66 with the equivalent models offered by either JET or Delta in my review because I wanted to remain unbiased. In my opinion Powermatic justifies it’s higher price tag for the Model 66 table saw by providing woodworkers with a very solid, smooth operating machine coupled with a very good fit and finish and an excellent fence system.

The things that I’d like to see improved are: metal locking knobs on the crank wheels, an easier to use blade guard – primarily taking it on and off, caps for the fence’s guide tube ends, and better auxiliary fence faces.

The features that really sold me on the saw are: the quality Baldor motor, very smooth tilt and height adjustments, and Powermatic’s own Accu-Fence system. I really enjoy the overall feel of this tool and have not thought twice about buying anything besides the PM 66.


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© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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