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Table Saw Buying Guide

Table saw buying guide

A table saw is a fantastic tool to have for any woodworker, whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a contractor. There is a lot that goes into buying and maintaining a table saw, so you want to choose the right one, to begin with.

You may not know exactly what a table saw is, what it can do, what features they can have, what types there are, or how to maintain it. All of the queries are questions that we are going to help you answer. Let’s talk about everything there is to know about table saws so you can make the most out of your next purchase.

What Is A Table Saw?

A table saw is a versatile wood working tool that can be used to cut wood, metals, ceramics, tiles, and sometimes other materials too. It consists of a motor powered, usually belt drive, a circular blade that spins at high speeds to cut through anything that needs cutting. These things come in many different types, sizes, and have different features too.

Different Table Saw Uses

A table saw can be used to cut long materials or to rip longer boards down to size such as cutting a 2 x 4 in half. A table saw can be modified to work as a wood jointer for straightening crooked pieces and for evening out uneven ends.

They can be used for making crosscuts and angled crosscuts along pieces, and they can also be used to create various wood joints and specialty woodworking pieces too.

Having a good table saw is crucial for any handyman or DIY purposes because there are so many different things that a table saw can do. It is a very versatile tool that can cut through a variety of materials and can be used for a wide range of purposes.

Different Types Of Table Saws

There are four main table saw types for you to choose from, each of which has their own special features, their own uses, and their advantages and drawbacks too. Let’s go over what the different types of table saws are because if you want to get the right one for you, you will need to know the difference.

As you will quickly realize, each saw is meant for a slightly different purpose, and which saw you get will depend on the purpose you need it for.

Cabinet Table Saw

Table saw guide

Cabinet saws are by far the biggest, heaviest, and most powerful of all table saws. Just like their name implies, they’re often integrated into a full wooden cabinet. These things can weigh well over 500 or even 600 pounds with everything included, especially the cabinet itself. These saws are ideal for very big projects that require a lot of cutting space and power.

The cabinet that they come with can be as big as 15 by 8 feet, which means that they provide you with a lot of space to work on big projects, such as ripping big sheets of plywood. Due to their size and weight, the cabinet saw is a purely shop oriented saw that is very immobile and cannot be moved from one spot to another.

The cabinet saw has the most powerful motor of all table saws which produces between 3 and 5 horsepower. The motor is enclosed in the cabinet, which protects the motor from damage and sawdust intrusion. The cabinet itself is quite convenient because it usually comes with drawers to store all of your tools.

Cabinet table saws tend to have a machined cast iron table that is very heavy and very smooth. The weight of these saws may not be great for mobility, but it does reduce vibration and noise. Moreover, the trunnions and gears on cabinet saws are usually very big, thick, and are made for heavy duty use. Also, these things have a huge ripping capacity, a ton of features, and good dust collection capabilities as well.

Contractor Table Saw

All you need to know about Table saws

Pretty much the opposite of the cabinet saw, the contractor saw is a type of table saw ideal for contractors on the go, hence the name. These things are built to be lightweight and fairly small to make them portable and easy to move from one job site to another. A contractor saw can weigh anywhere from 200 to 300, making them pretty portable.

Unlike the cabinet saw where the table top is made of cast iron, the contractor saw has a table made of high-grade aluminum. The aluminum is still pretty durable, not quite as much as cast iron, but it is much lighter.

Due to its small size, the contractor saw has a motor that is usually mounted on the outside of the saw instead of the inside, making them a little less durable and resistant to sawdust due to the motor being more exposed than with the cabinet saw.

The motor on the contractor saw can usually produce anywhere from 1 to 1.75 horsepower, which is significantly less than the cabinet saw. Also, the trunnions on the contractor saw are usually lightweight and thin, and the blade is belt-driven.

These things usually come with their own fairly heavy duty stand, and may even have a cart with wheels to increase their portability even more.

The contractor saw is specifically designed for portability and on the go use, and thus it does sacrifice some workspace and power. The outboard motor also means that they need a longer belt, plus their lighter weight also increases the vibration and noise that they make.

These were originally designed as portable saws, however, with the emergence of both hybrid and bench top table saws, many people now use the contractor saw for stationary purposes.

Bench Top Table Saw

bench top table saw

The bench top table saw is by far the most portable and lightweight of all saws. These things are meant to be portable beyond anything else, and that is exactly what they focus on. The bench top saw can weight as little as 50 pounds and up to 150 or even 200 pounds for the really heavy ones. While these things are very portable, due to their light weight, they do sacrifice some power and abilities.

They have an outboard motor that has no covering, thus making it susceptible to the elements, plus because of the light belt drive motor as well as their light weight build, these saws tend to suffer from a lot of vibration, they can be pretty noisy too. Finding a bench top table saw with more than 1 horsepower is usually not viable, as the focus is on being lightweight, not powerful.

These are ideal for small jobs and working on small DIY projects, though some contractors may choose to use them for simple jobs. Their limited power does mean that they are only ideal for cutting through softer materials.

Moreover, they do not have very much ripping capacity, their features will be limited, and they usually don’t come with any dust collection abilities. What is convenient about these things is that the often come with a portable and foldable open leg stand, or may even come with a nifty cart to increase portability.

Hybrid Table Saw

hybrid table saw

The hybrid table saw is a combination of the previous table saw types and makes for a good middle ground. The hybrid table saw is pretty much a combination of the lighter contractor saw and the heavier cabinet saw.

More or less, you can expect a hybrid table saw to perform like a high-end cabinet saw, but be more portable like a contractor saw, or small smaller versions even have the portability of a bench top saw.

These usually have anywhere from 2 to 3 horsepower to turn the blade, making them ideal for cutting through a variety of materials. While they can’t handle the most durable of materials like a cabinet saw, they are still far more powerful than the average contractor saw.

Hybrid table saws usually have an inboard motor that is well encased, and thus protected from the elements and from sawdust, and they usually have a belt drive induction motor.

Regarding space, you are going to get an average amount, with the hybrid saw having a lot more space than a bench top or contractor saw, but also substantially less than a full-size cabinet saw. Some hybrid table saws have an enclosed stand included, but some also have open leg stands.

A hybrid table saw will also usually have a fair number of accessories and will feature dust collection capabilities too. Don’t get it wrong, while these are a good middle ground between the cabinet and contractor saw, they are still considered to be too bulky and heavy to be portable in any way.

The Features Of A Good Table Saw

Not only do you have to consider what type of table saw you want to get, but you still want to look at their individual features. While what we discussed above is usually true regarding each table saw, every saw is different and may deviate from the standard path.

Therefore, here are the different features which you want to consider before you purchase any table saw. Remember to always weigh your own needs against the features of a particular saw to come to the right choice. Buying a saw is like cutting with one, you want to measure twice and cut once because the other way around just doesn’t work.

Blade Elevation & Bevel

One of the things that is important to when buying a table saw is what the possible blade elevation and tilt/bevel is. How high you can elevate the blade above the table will determine how thick of materials you can cut through. A good table saw should be able to elevate the blade at least 3.25 inches to deal with big pieces.

blade elevation and tilt bevel

Keep in mind that bigger and more stationary saws such cabinet saws will usually be able to elevate the blade higher than smaller saws such as a bench top saw. On that same note, the blade tilt or blade bevel of a particular table saw is also important for making longer angled cuts.

A good table saw will have a blade bevel that ranges from vertical to -2 degrees to the right and 45 degrees to the left. Once again, this capability will depend on the size or type of table saw that you get. Just remember to think about your own needs when determining how much blade bevel and elevation you need your table saw to have.

A Good Table Top

Another important thing to keep your eye on is a good table too. Your table saw needs to have a smooth and flat table top no matter what. This will help facilitate a smooth glide of the wood through the blade, plus it will help ensure accuracy too.

a good table top

Keep in mind that bigger saws like cabinet saws will usually have precision machine manufactured cast iron table tops, which are generally very big, very heavy, but also very well made.

On the other hand, smaller saws such as bench top saws will usually have and aluminium table top which is lighter, but also a little less durable than cast iron. Try to avoid getting a table saw that has a plastic table top.

Safety Features

There are various safety features which you should look out for, all of which will make cutting much easier and of course much safer too.

  • Riving Knife - A riving knife is a pretty valuable thing to have. For one, they help to reduce kickback, and they stop the wood from pinching in between the blade and table when cutting, thus greatly increasing the safety.
  • Features Of The Best Table Saws

    A riving knife also helps to stop workpiece rotation in the middle of cutting, which helps to increase your ease of cutting and the accuracy too. Bigger models such as cabinet saws will usually always come with one of these, while smaller contractor or bench top saws may not, but most can accommodate an aftermarket add-on either way.

  • Blade Guard – Another important safety feature to have is a blade guard. A good blade guard keeps your fingers away from the blade for the duration of cutting. Moreover, a blade guard can be see through so that you can still see what you are doing while cutting.
  • sawstop blade guard

    Also, a blade guard can often be adjusted for height to suit various projects, and some even have dual wings which can be separately adjusted for even more versatility. A blade guard is something that virtually every table saw comes with.

  • Anti-Kickback Pawls – Anti-kickback pawls are like a little set of teeth that keep the wood moving in one forward direction. They help reduce kickback and stop the workpiece from flying up in your face while you cut.
  • kick back guard

    This is because the teeth face one direction, and if the wood starts to move back, they will dig into the piece slightly to stop it from moving back more. This is a feature that many modern saws come with, yet there is still, smaller table saws such as the bench top saw which may not have this feature.

  • Blade Brake System – This is a relatively advanced feature that not too many table saws come with. The ones that do have a blade braking system will usually be higher end models, and they will cost you a little more. That being said, this is a very valuable safety feature, especially if you value having all of your fingers.
  • best table saw guide

    A blade brake system usually works by the blade sensing contact with your skin through conductive electricity, and when it registers contact it stops the blade from spinning in a fraction of a second. This is a great new feature that has saved many people from permanent injury and maiming.

Portability

The portability feature is something that you definitely want to pay attention to, especially if you plan on moving the saw around a lot or want to take it from one jobsite to another. This will depend on your own needs because if you only need a table saw for at home shop use, the portability issue is not all that important. That being said, if you need a portable table saw, you will want to make sure that it is not too big or too heavy.

What this means is that a portable table saw is most likely going to be a bench top saw or a contractor saw, while cabinet and hybrid models are usually going to be too bulky to move anywhere.

Another thing that helps with portability is if the saw comes with some kind of rolling cart that lets you set it up into a stand, and allows you to fold it down, make a cart, and pull the saw around.

Cutting Capacity & The Fence

Yet another thing to pay attention to is how much cutting capacity the saw in question has. This does come down to how big the table of your saw is, as well as how big the whole thing is in general.

The bigger your table saw table, the higher cutting capacity it will have. Simply put, depending on your needs, you want to make sure that the table is big enough, and that the fence system is adequate to cut the size of workpiece that you are working with.

cutting capacity and fence

Once again, cabinet and hybrid saws are just bigger, so they are going to have more capacity than a smaller bench top, or contractor table saw. The size of the table top (and the possible extension you can get for it) is not the only deciding factor of cutting or ripping capacity. Another important aspect here is the fence itself.

A good fence will allow for somewhere around one foot or more of ripping capacity so you can rip long and wide boards. Keep in mind that larger saws such as a cabinet saw will automatically have more rip capacity than a smaller saw such as a bench top model.

Many newer table saws do come with a telescoping fence that can extend several feet to the right of the blade to increase rip capacity, a feature that even some smaller table saws have.

On a side note, the fence does need to have a secure clamping mechanism to stay in one exact place while you rip or cut, plus it should be placed on easy to move rails. Also, the fence should be easily adjusted and able to be perfectly paralleled to the blade within a matter of minutes.

The Miter Gauge

The next feature that makes a good table saw is a decent miter gauge. A miter gauge is something that you need to make cross cuts with complete accuracy and ease. A miter gauge will usually rest on a standard T-slot miter slot so it can easily move back and forth. Keep in mind that most miter gauges can be replaced with other sleds or accessories, but that is usually only the case if your particular table saw has a standard T-slot.

How to Care for Table Saw Parts

Some table saws do not have standard slots which will make adding after-market add-ons quite difficult. A miter gauge should be able to rotate at least 45 degrees to the left and to the right to accommodate for various angled crosscuts.

Moreover, to adjust the miter gauge, the table saw should have a simple to turn spindle wheel. If you are planning on getting a table saw, this is a feature that virtually everyone needs.

The Stand & Mounting

Something else you should consider before making a purchase is what kind of stand the table saw in question has, or if it has a stand at all. A cabinet saw will come enclosed in a cabinet, so of course, it has its own stand. A hybrid table saw will also usually come with some kind of stand and may even have wheels.

A contractor may come with some kind of portable folding stand, and a bench top saw while being compatible with many stands, is usually designed to just sit on top of a work bench or normal table.

best table saw guide

It is up to you to weigh your own needs to figure out what kind of stand you need. Some table saws, such as larger cabinet saws or hybrid saws, will have a completely enclosed stand where the motor is concealed on the inside, thus protecting the motor, but also making the saw heavier and less portable.

Smaller models such as the contractor saw or bench top saw will usually have open legged stands. These are much lighter, more portable, and may fold down into a small package for convenience, but they also do not do as good a job at protecting the motor as an enclosed case and stand. If you do get a table saw that does not already have a stand included in the build, you can always get one so long as it is compatible with your model of saw.

Motor Power

This is something that we touched on before, but the point is that you will want to make sure that you get a table saw that is powerful enough to get through anything you need to cut. This will, of course, depend on your own needs and what you will be doing with the thing. A smaller table saw with a 1 or 2 horsepower motor will probably do for smaller at home and DIY jobs, and for cutting softer materials such as some woods.

However, if you are going to be using the table saw for big projects and tough materials such as hardwood, tiles, ceramics, and metals, you are going to want a bigger table saw that has between 3 and 5 horsepower. Like we said before the bigger hybrid and cabinet saw models are going to have more powerful motors than the smaller bench top and contractor saw models.

Dust Collection

The final feature you should look for in a good table saw is the ability to collect dust or at least one that has a dust port where you can hook up an aftermarket dust collection system. Once again, this capability will depend on the type of saw you get. Smaller bench top and contractor says will usually not come with a dust collection system included, nor do they usually have the ability to hook one up.

table saw dust extractor

On the other hand, hybrid table saws will usually come with the ability to hook up a dust collection unit, and cabinet saw will generally have a full blown dust collection system already included. If you don’t have a problem with sweeping up some sawdust, then this is a feature that you may not need to pay so much attention to.

Some Accessories You Can Get

When it comes to table saws, they always come with a range of features, but they can usually still do more. Doing more with a table saw usually means getting some extra accessories. Here are just a few accessories that you can consider getting to make your table saw cutting experience both easier and safer too.

Push Stick

A simple little accessory that you can buy to make cutting much safer is a push stick. A push stick is usually just a smaller piece of wood with a handle and a protruding edge which lets you hook it onto the piece of wood you are cutting and push it through. This allows you to keep your fingers at a safe distance for the blade so as to not risk cutting one of them off.

best table saw push stick

The other choice is an extension wing and these help to increase the width of your table which is convenient for wide pieces, especially for ripping things such as big planks of plywood. These extension wings can extend the width of your table saw on either side of the blade by several feet.

​Table Saw Stand

​If your table saw does not come already with its own stand, you can always choose to get one. Like we touched on before, a cabinet or hybrid saw always comes with a stand, but that is not the case with all contractor and bench top models. Getting a stand eliminates the need for a work bench or table and it makes setting up your table saw in various places quick and easy.

A stand can be a solid one-piece stand, some can fold down to size for easy transportation, and some even come in the form of a folding cart with wheels to make it even more portable than ever. One thing to keep in mind is that most table saw models are only compatible with particular stands, so be sure to get the right one for your particular saw.

​Various Jigs

There are many different table saw jigs or sleds out there which you can choose from. There are miter sled jigs which increase the miter gauge capacity of your table saw, there are small parts jigs which makes cutting very small pieces easy, and there are bowl jigs which are specifically designed for cutting circular bowls.

the best jigs for a table saw

There are also chair seat cutting jigs, jigs to make building a pyramid easy, and jigs to elevate your work piece as well. Plus there are also a wide range of jigs that make it easy to create wood joints such as miter joints, finger joints, box joints, dovetail joints, and much more.

Simply put, whatever the purpose may be, there is usually always a jig that you can get to make the job at hand much easier than it would otherwise be.

Dust Collection

The final accessory that you should consider getting, if your particular table saw does not already come with one, is a dust collection system. A good dust collection system will consist of some kind of vacuum as well as a bag to store the dust in.

This is an accessory that makes clean up time much easier. Keep in mind that some smaller saw options will not have the ability to connect a dust collection unit.

Some Brand Name Table Saw Options To Consider

Table saws are of course very useful tools, but as is the case with almost anything you buy, the brand name of the saw in question can go a pretty long way in determining the overall quality of the saw that you get. Here are some of the best, most reliable, and most trusted brand names that you should definitely keep an eye out for.

  • Bosch
  • DeWalt
  • Makita
  • SKIL
  • Shop Fox
  • SawStop
  • Ridgid
  • Craftsman
  • Porter Cable
  • Rockwell

Some Table Saw Maintenance Tips

Maintaining your table saw is a very important thing to do if you want to keep it in prime condition and top working order for as long as possible. No, a table saw will not last you until the end of time, because like all machines with moving parts, something is bound to break down after prolonged use, especially when you put it through a lot of stress.

However, a good maintenance schedule can make all the difference between a saw that only lasts for one year, and one that lasts for ten years.

Keep A Schedule

Perhaps the most important thing to note when it comes to table saw maintenance is to keep a steady and strict schedule as this is the best way to ensure that your table saw will always be in working condition. As a general rule of thumb, you should perform regular maintenance on your saw at least once per week if you use the thing for more than one hour per day on a daily basis.

Cleaning Sawdust

A very important thing to always do is to clean out all sawdust and debris. These unwanted intruders can cause your motor to give out, your blade to seize up, it can obstruct your vision when cutting, and they can cause unnecessary damage to many parts of your saw.

Simply open up all compartments and take apart the saw and clean it out with a soft brush or tamp cloth. One thing not to do is to use compressed air to get rid of sawdust as it can damage electrical components and can actually force sawdust deeper into the cracks instead of cleaning it out.

Lubing

One quick piece of maintenance to perform on a regular basis is lubing. Simply put, you should always make sure that all of the moving parts of your saw are well lubricated. This will prevent excessive grinding, it will stop parts from seizing up, and it will make the saw run much smoother.

table saw lubrication

The Miter Gauge

The next important thing to do regarding maintenance is to keep the miter gauge in working order. You need to make sure that the miter gauge is tight enough to not wiggle when in use, but also loose enough to be able to move back and forth in the slot. To adjust the tightness, simply use an Allen wrench or another appropriate tool.

The other thing you need to do is to make sure that the blade and miter gauge are parallel to ensure accurate cross cuts. You can do this through time-tested manual adjustment and paralleling methods or you can also use a special paralleling tool too.

Check The Belt & Pulley

Yet another crucial thing to check every now and then is how the belt and pulley of your table saw is holding up. The belt is what drives the blade to move and is a very important component of the average table saw. If your belt shows any signs of wear and tear, has rips, or lumps, you will more than likely need to replace it.

table saw belt and pulley

The other thing that you need to do is to make sure that the belt is properly aligned with the pulley and the belt drive on their respective sides. You will have to read your owner’s manual to do this as it is a fairly difficult process. That being said, it is very important because a misaligned pulley and belt drive can cause your saw blade to not move at top speeds, to shake, and maybe even to seize up completely.

Fence Maintenance

The next thing to do in terms of maintenance is to make sure that the fence is parallel to the blade. You can do this by using a special paralleling tool or by using two blocks of wood that are the exact same length.

Simply measure the distance from the front of the blade to the fence and from the back of the blade to the fence, then make adjustments accordingly. This is important for ripping because a fence that is not parallel to the blade will result in uneven cuts.

The Blade

Something else to do during maintenance is to check the blade. First and foremost, if the blade has any cracks or broken teeth it will need to be replaced without a doubt. You should also make sure that everything holding the blade in place is in one piece and firmly attached. A broken or loosely attached blade can be very dangerous.

The Table Top

When it comes to maintaining the table top itself, always make sure to never leave anything sticky on the surface such as juice because that will make moving the wood back and forth quite difficult.

Also, the table needs to be as smooth as can be to facilitate a good glide, therefore if your table has any scratches you are going to want to polish or buff them out very lightly. Moreover, to prevent the table from rusting, you can treat it with special wax or an anti-rust formula. Rust is a very bad thing for any table saw top to have.

The Wiring

The final thing to be done regarding maintenance is to check the wiring. The wiring in your table saw is what carries the current and powers the blade, and without solid wiring you may as well not have a table saw, to begin with.

best table saw wiring

Simply take apart the housing on the motor and all other electrical components, use a wattage measuring tool to see if everything is in working order, and make sure that all wires are properly connected, plus make sure that the wires are not damaged in any way. If you have any of these problems, you may need to replace certain electrical components.

Table Saw Guide – Conclusion

As you can see, there is a whole lot of thought that needs to go into buying a new table saw. You need to consider all of the different types, what each of their uses are, what the features are that you need, what accessories you may want, what brand name to get, and a whole lot more. Plus, once you have your table saw you will need to perform regular maintenance on it.

As long as you keep in mind everything that we have talked about you should have no problem choosing the best saw for you and keeping it in prime condition for as long as humanly possible. Any questions or concerns you may have are always more than welcome.

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