If you’re an aspiring carpenter, then you should know that a table saw is arguably one of the most valuable tools you can own. A table saw can perform a wide range of cuts – rip cuts, crosscuts, mitered cuts, beveled cuts, and even compounds cuts. Furthermore, there are a ton of different accessories you can use to increase the usefulness of your table saw.
What separates a table saw from circular saws, track saws, and many other types of saws, is that you move the material towards the blade and not the other way around. This produces a much more accurate and cleaner cut since you’re being assisted by a miter gauge and fence.
Types of Table Saws
There are three main types of table saws to choose from – cabinet, contractor, and hybrid.
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The cabinet saw is most likely the table saw that you’re familiar with the most. It’s the largest type of table saw and weighs roughly 600 pounds or more. They are the heaviest-duty type of saw that typically come with motors of between 3 and 5 HP, though there are some models that come with even more powerful motors. They are often made of heavy cast iron with smooth-surface tables and heavy fences. This table saw gets its name from the cabinet that encases the motor under the table.
This is the portable type of table saw that contractors can take to the job site. To keep the table saw lightweight, many of its components are made of aluminum and may not be able to withstand heavy blows during transport. The motor is found on the exterior of the table saw, and the blade is belt driven.
It also has very limited cutting capacities since the table is considerably smaller than a cabinet model. Most contractor table saws come with motors of less than 1 HP and up to 1-3/4 HP. You will only need this type of table saw if portability is a high priority since it has significantly reduced accuracy and power.
Manufacturers try to incorporate the best of both a cabinet and contractor table saw into a single model, though the hybrid saw’s features can vary between models. Many hybrid saws come with heavy-duty cast iron tables and fences, but to keep weight to a minimum, they come equipped with motors of a maximum of 2 HP.
Table Saw Buying Guide
After deciding which type of table saw you need, now it’s time to look at their features and specs. Note that not every model is the same and performs similarly, so it’s extremely important that you know what you’re looking for, especially if you’re thinking of dropping a couple hundred or even thousands of bucks on a tool.
The first thing to pay attention to is the size and capacity of the motor. A more power motor translates into increased precision and cleaner edges.
As we mentioned earlier, a contractor table saw’s somewhat weak motor will mean you’ll have plenty of sanding to do after running your boards through the table saw. This isn’t exactly a deal-breaker since many times even powerful 3-plus-HP table saws can require a bit of finishing touches.
Also, note that a larger motor means you can load larger blades onto the machine. This gives you the ability to make deeper cuts through thicker boards per pass. Using a smaller blade on thick boards can be a pain in the neck since you need to flip the board over the repeat the same pass on the other side. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, especially when you’re dimensioning large boards on your own.
When looking at table saws, you need to consider both the size of and materials used to make the table. The size of the table matters depending on the size of the boards you plan on ripping/crosscutting. A larger table offers better support for bigger, thicker boards, but it comes at the cost of reduced portability.
The material, between aluminum and cast iron, also plays a role in how the table saw performs. You want something stable that won’t warp or bend since that could affect how your board glides across the table. Remember that cast iron, though more durable, isn’t as lightweight, so portability is sacrificed for increased stability.
Another part of the table saw that requires careful consideration is the fence. The fence needs to be able to lock in place without the slightest budge in order for the blade to make perfectly straight cuts every time. If the fence flexes or moves even a fraction of an inch while your board has made contact with the blade, it could lead to a painful kickback.
Be sure that you’re spending enough time studying how well the fence moves, locks, and remains parallel to the blade at all times. If the fence fails in any of these regards, you’ll most likely end up sorely disappointed in your table saw.
Blade Tilt and Miter Gauge
A table saw, as a compound miter saw, can cut on two planes, thanks to the beveling and mitering systems that come with the saw. To make accurate angled cuts, you need to ensure that these systems are sturdy and can lock in place without any give (remember kickback). Most table saw blades can bevel up to 45° to the right, but some contractor models accommodate tilting to the left. The miter gauge should swing to the left and right with little resistance and lock in place perfectly.
It doesn’t matter which type of table saw you’re getting; they’re going to produce a heck of a lot of sawdust. Even when working outdoors, you’ll still want a proper dust collection system to pick up most, if not all, of the dust before it has a chance to accumulate and clog the blade.
Cabinet models usually drop the dust directly into the cabinet, which is a fire hazard since the motor can easily ignite the dust if overworked. Contractor models simply let the dust fall and collect onto the ground. Dust collection systems include simple dust ports and a hood and overarm collector which suctions up dust as the blade makes contact with the board.
A table saw can be one of the most valuable and versatile tools in your workshop. Finding the right model isn’t difficult as long as you know what to look for. First, decide whether you need a portable model (contractor), a model for your workshop only (cabinet), or something in between (hybrid). After that, check out the most important specs, namely: the motor, the table, and the fence. The table saw is only as good as these three components.