Table Saw Buying Guide
What is a Table Saw?
The valuable and functional tool is a part of almost every do-it-yourself’s workshop and for good reason. It is used for making a variety of cuts that include cross cuts, rip cuts, miter cuts and bevel cuts. Another plus to this tool is that accessories can be purchased and added to it so you can cut dadoes and make moldings as well.
In reality, a table saw is a circular saw that has been mounted on a table with the saw blade extending up from the surface of the table. This saw blade remains in a stationary position while the different materials being cut are fed through underneath the blade. You can adjust the depth of the cut by adjusting the height of the saw blade.
The old designs of table saws did not have the angled capability that newer models have now with their ability to have the blades angled at 45 and 90 degrees. Before these upgraded styles, the table itself had to be tilted which made cutting extremely unsafe. The new styles that accommodate angling the blade for the beveled cuts make things much easier and safer for the user.
Different Sizes of Blades that Table Saws can use
How big a table saw is, is determined by the largest blade the saw will hold. 8” blades are the smallest that should be used for any home workshop. You can get blades in 9”, 10”, and 12” sizes as well. Most workshops will not really need the 12” blade as this has a very deep cut capability, but for construction firms and larger, commercial shops, the 12” comes in handy.
The Different Types of Saws
There are four basic types of table saws on the market today.
Each one has different power, capabilities, mobility and price points as well. If you’re not sure which type you need, we have outline some specifics on each below that will help you choose. When you begin the search for your table saw, you will need to know the answers to a few questions that will narrow down the choices for you and make choosing much easier.
- What kind of material will you be cutting most often?
- What types of cuts are you looking to make?
- Will you be working at home in your workshop or on a jobsite?
- How often do you see yourself using the table saw? Once in awhile? Regularly? For Work?
Along with thinking about how the table saw will be used now, it is important to also consider how you will be using it in the future. Will your usage increase or decrease? Many woodworkers may turn a hobby into a fulltime profession if they are talented at what they do. Why are these considerations important? Because they will give you better insight into the kind of money you should spend on your table. If you are going to go into business for yourself in a year or two, spending the money for a high-quality table now is a good idea. It will save you from having to buy another table in the future to accommodate your new needs as a business rather than just a hobbyist.
This is the smallest of all the table saws, typically weighing about 50 pounds or so and designed to sit on top of a table or workbench. Bench style table saws are usually made of steel, plastic and aluminum. They are good for light to medium duty cutting and would not be a good choice if you do a lot of cutting or if you have a professional business. Because it can be lifted by one person and moved around with relative ease, this type of saw is often called a portable table saw. Due to the size of these saws which measure approximately 19” x 27”, they are not designed to rip large pieces of wood. It is also not easy to make mitered cuts. You will notice that there might be more vibration when using this saw as compared to other, larger models. This is due to the lighter weight of the saw. Unfortunately, the vibration can affect the accuracy of the cuts you’re making.
The bench table saw is the least expensive of the four types of saws. Some models come with a folding stand that is on wheels which makes it very easy to move or reposition without having to lift it all the time. Even though it is relatively light, constant lifting can become tiresome. You can mount these on your workbench which will give it more stability and could possibly reduce the amount of vibration as well. These smaller table saws generally have a 1 hp motor or even smaller and can run on a normal household circuit with no issues.
Measuring approximately 22” x 38”, the contractor table saw is then next size up from the bench style. It typically sits on an open attached stand or base which may or may not be on wheels. It weighs between 200-300 pounds and is still portable but requires more than one person to lift. This style of table saw is good for woodworking shops, hobbyists, small contractors and DIYers. The 1-2 hp motors have enough power and stability to handle more heavy duty job site work and workshop demands. One of the benefits to these saws is that they still run on standard electrical circuits.
Despite the heavy-duty capability, the contractor table saw is still not a good choice for ripping dense wood on a regular basis. The motor on these types of saws is not enclosed so you may find that dust collection can be a problem. They still have quite a bit of vibration, although not as much as the bench saw.
For any kind of professional woodworking and large scale construction work, the cabinet table saw is the one for the job. These types of table saws are often called stationary saws. The motor is protected in a cast iron and steel cabinet that reduces noise and vibration as well. With reduced vibration comes better accuracy which is always the desired effect, especially for professionals. The motor us a powerful 3-5 hp and requires a 220-volt outlet. If you are using it in a home workshop, a special outlet may need to be installed if 220s are not already installed in your garage or shop. Measuring about 28” x 43” and weighing in at over 400 pounds, these table saws were not designed to be portable. The large work surface is ideal for cutting large pieces with ease. Cabinet saws can use a 12” blade with no problem, although a 10” blade is the most commonly used. It is the most expensive of all of the styles of table saws.
Hybrid table saws are a combination of a cabinet saw and a contractor saw. They have a heavy solid base that reduces vibration and offers dust control as well. It is smaller than a contractor saw and can weigh up to about 375 pounds. The price point of Hybrid table saws is that of a high-end contractor saw or a low-end cabinet saw.
When looking for a good table saw, there are a few things that you will want to ensure that you check out. These points below are important in determining the quality of table saw you buy and the features it has.
When you purchase your table saw, more than likely it will have standard 10” carbide tipped blade that is good for general purpose use. This blade is capable of cross cutting a 4 x 4. If you replace it with a 40 tooth combination blade you will improve the quality of your cuts significantly and more than likely be much happier with the blade overall. You can get specialty blades also if you are going to be cutting other materials as well.
These are two arms with extremely sharp teeth that prevent whatever you are cutting from moving backwards during the cutting process. A way to make them work even better is to sharpen them using a smooth cut file.
Splitter (riving knife)
A splitter is a piece of metal that keeps the blade from binding in whatever material you are cutting if the saw kerf starts to close up. The splitter is vertical and sits directly behind the blade. This plays a big part in preventing kickback and should be mounted on the motor assembly so it rises and falls with the saw blades movements. You can also get splitters that can be adjusted to fit the width of the kerf.
Lock this parallel to the saw blade no matter what setting you’re using to control the width of the rip. The ideal rip fence will ride the front and back rails and grab onto them and that can also be adjusted for parallel when needed.
The more table size you have, the more support you have which is always a plus, not only for convenience but safety too. There are right side extensions that can be purchased for table saws that increase the table saw’s capacity to get to the center of a 4 x 8 sheet of wood. Although most saws have a rear band that supports the wood as it exits the saw, an additional safety measure is to rig up an outfeed support of some kind in addition to this rear bar. Be sure that the outfeed support you set up is ¼” lower than the table saw is.
Table Insert (throat plate)
This insert is designed to prevent small pieces from dropping through the saw. It fits around the blade and needs to be level with the surface.
For ideal usage, the on/off switch needs to be mounted on the front of the saw and should be easy to turn off with your knee or a swat without having to look at it to locate it. Most table saw models have a safety feature that is a plastic key that has to be inserted before the table saw can be turned on. Some may even have a way to padlock the switch.
Collapsible stands may sound like a great idea in theory, but ideally the safest place for your table saw is mounted to a workbench. Stands can be convenient but they can also be top heavy and fail, posing a real danger if you are in the middle of a cut when it decides to go.
An elevation wheel will control the blade height and depth of your cut.
Blade Tilt Handle
The blade tilt handle enables users to angle the blade for bevel cuts up to 45 degrees left which is away from the rip fence. You want to find one that has an adjusting bolt or screw that enables users to set a 90 or 45 degrees stop point exactly.
This gauge is for square or mitered crosscuts. It needs to move freely in the table saws table slots and ideally you should find one that can be calibrated at 45 and 90 degrees. This miter gauge is a removable fixture.
Blade guards are an important safety device and should never be removed from the saw. You want to find one that rises up parallel to the table so it is always on top of the material you are working with. The purpose of this blade guard is to protect you from the spinning blade. While some woodworkers find them annoying, the safety they provide is well worth the inconvenience.
Dust can be a real problem with a table saw due to the debris kicked up during the cutting process. If you get a table saw that has an exit point for debris on the back of the saw, you can find a wet/dry vacuum or trash can to catch the material rather than have it go all over the floor.
This valuable feature stops the blade almost instantaneously when you hit the off switch. It’s not a common feature of a table saw, so if you find one that has it, it is a great additional feature to have that will increase safety and speed up the jobs at hand as well.
The cut line indicator helps you line up the material you’re cutting to ensure an accurate cut. The cut lines are in front of the table saw’s blade.
Notched Blade Guard
Sometimes, table saws will have a notch that is located on the upper blade guard. This enables you to keep an eye on the blade and the cutting line and you won’t have to lean over the saw to do it. It is an additional safety measure that makes watching your blade and the cutting much easier.
The majority of table saws provide storage of some kind for the wrench that is used to change the blade. In most cases, this storage will be on board somewhere that will not be in the way or affect the cutting or performance of the saw in any way.
Drive Configuration of Your Table Saw
Table saws will use one of two different kinds of drive configurations; Direct-drive motors and Belt-drive motors. In a direct-drive motor, they will link directly to the blade itself and transfer all of the power of the motor to the blade. They tend to last longer than belt drive motors and there is no belt to replace or worry about getting worn out. Belt drive motors transfer power from the motor to the blade through a belt. In this type of configuration, the motor can be offset away from the sawdust which helps the motor last longer. In general, belt drive motors need more preventative maintenance than direct-drive motors do. If you have a belt drive motor, check the tension of your belts as well as checking them for wear periodically to ensure your continued safety.
Getting the Right Table Saw Blades
You can have the best table saw on the market and if you get a low-quality blade, the table will not work properly nor give you good quality cuts. This is why it is important to get the right kind of blade for the jobs that you will be using your table saw for.
The teeth in a rip blade are very deep and there are less of them than other types of blades. This style helps get rid of the cuttings and cut the wood faster. These coarse teeth leave rough cuts that can be sanded down later. You should cut with the grain of the wood when using rip blades.
Cross Cut Blade
These blades will give you a better finish on the cut but due to the way they do this (alternating each tooth to the left and right of the center line) you will have a wider cut gap to account for during the measuring process.
Combination blades are rip blades and cross cut blades combined into one and are typically designated for a specific use that will be outlined on the packaging. They are not good all-purpose blades.
Special Cut Blades
You will need specialty blades for cutting materials such as plywood, masonry, hardwood and metals. Other specialty blades are used for dado cuts. Most dado sets have multiple rows of teeth and chippers and they are typically much wider than traditional blades. Be sure that the model of table saw you have can accommodate the type of specialty blades you want to get so you don’t waste your money on a blade that won’t fit.
Hollow Ground Blades
These types of blades are great for making very clean cuts on material such as acrylic.
These blades have a special hardened tip to ensure long life and durability. Almost any blade can be carbide tipped. It will say on the packaging whether it is or not.
A Bit about Blade Teeth
How many teeth a saw blade has will determine how smooth the cut is. Most blades have from 24-80 teeth. The exceptions to these blades are specialty material specific blades (i.e. for masonry) In general, the more teeth a blade has the smoother the cut will be. The higher tooth count means that the cut speed will be slower as well. You cannot overcome a slower cutting speed by pushing harder on the material. This is a common mistake newbies make. All this will do is cause kickbacks when the saw blade catches and tosses the object back towards to the user at dangerously high speeds.
Table saws can be very dangerous tools when used improperly. Children should never be allowed to use them unsupervised, and even supervised is questionable. Even with guards in place, kickbacks and other mishaps can happen, causing serious injury. Below are some cardinal rules to remember when you begin using your table saw.
- Always use a push stick when the fence is set under 3” to the table saw blade to protect your fingers
- Never stand in line with the blade
- Whenever you have to change blades, always, always unplug the table saw
- Always wear eye protection, even if you wear glasses. Glasses are not enough, use workshop designed safety goggles over your glasses
- Never reach over the blade
- Make sure the fence is locked into place once the setting the width that you want
- Make sure the material you are cutting stays down on the table firmly while pushing It past the blade
- Don’t allow excessive overhang of the work past the blade
- Don’t try to push the material through faster than the saw is cutting, this can cause kickback
- Keep the work against the fence throughout the entire cut
Table saws will continue to be popular and much sought after tools in any workshop or construction site. There are many terrific styles on the market which is why it is important to do some research and look at the reviews provided here as well as the tips contained in this guide to help you choose the right table saw for your needs, whether you are a professional or a DIYer who loves to work in the workshop making things for enjoyment.