Ask any woodworker and they'll likely tell you that they depend on their table saw more than nearly any other tool. The cuts the table saw makes serves as a base for all the other work that follows. But knowing which table saw to buy depends on what type of work you plan to do, so our table saw buyers guide will help you pinpoint the right features and accessories you need.
With so many options on the market today, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Buying a table saw is a big decision since it'll play such an important role in your woodworking, and, let's face it, they aren't inexpensive. After reading our table saw buyers guide you'll not only have the information you need to make an informed buying decision, but you'll also have a good understanding of what you need so you won't waste money on accessories you'll never use.
One of the primary jobs of a table saw is to size wood. In fact, it's often considered to be a ripping saw, but it plays a much bigger role and is often the foundational tool in any woodshop. One extremely important role the table saw plays is to rip boards to width, but there are a host of other jobs such as making crosscuts, doing miter and bevel cutting, and of course cutting sheets of plywood.
Add a jig, and you'll be able to crosscut wide or exceptionally long lumber, perform repetitive cuts, make tenons, cut slots, grooves and molding. You'll even be able to cut raised panels.
How and where you plan to use your table saw plays a big role in what type you should purchase. Knowing how and where your saw will be used is the foundation to determining which table saw your should purchase.
How Will Your Table Saw Be Used?
Whether you're a DIYer or a professional contractor, it's time well spent to consider the types of projects you plan to tackle. For example:
- Do you just want to cross cut stock to length or rip boards to width?
- Or will you need to use your saw to make box joints, raised panels, bevels, and dadoes for cabinet and furniture carpentry?
It's a good rule of thumb to purchase a table saw that meets your needs for the most complex projects you plan to tackle. It doesn't need to be superior on the complex projects, but it does need to be able to adequately accomplish them.
Where Will Your Table Saw Be Used?
Once you determine what you want to do with your new table saw, it's time to determine where you'll be using it. Chances are, this is a pretty easy question to answer. Most people already have a good idea if they want to use their saw in a garage or at a work site, but there are a few things you should consider:
- If you plan to use it in a home shop, will you have adequate space?
- If used in a garage or home shop, will you need to set it up and store it after each use?
- Do you want to take it to a work site, such as working on a home remodel?
Table saw are available in two main categories: Portable and Stationary. And each category has several different model styles. Let's take a closer look at each:
Portable Table Saws
Portable table saws are designed to be able to move from one job site to another. They are compact and lightweight and can be used on a table or a stand. There are three main models of portable table saws: Bench top, compact, and job site.
Bench Top - A bench top table saw is designed to operate on a workbench or tabletop. They won't have a support stand, although you may be able to build or purchase one. However, they're very portable and offer excellent value. Powered by a direct-drive, motor bench top table saws are a favorite of DIYers, homeowners, and hobbyists.
Compact - Compact table saws fill the gap between the bench top and job site saw. They're larger than a bench top model and smaller than a job site. From a design standpoint, they're similar to a job site table saw. A compact table saw is typically driven by small toothed belts.
Job Site - Although a job site table saw is designed with portability in mind, due to their light frame construction, they're also built to withstand the abuse you'd expect on a construction site. They're often mounted on a stand, and frequently used by trade professionals.
Stationary Table Saws
Stationary table saws tend to be heavier, larger, more powerful and more accurate than portable table saws. They're designed to be used in workshops and not transported to a job site. They typically have heavy, cast iron tables and are powered by belt drive motors.
Stationary table saws are most commonly used by cabinet makers and serious wood workers. There are three types of stationary table saws: Contractor, hybrid, and Cabinet.
Contractor Saws - Contractor saws are not as common today since they have basically been replaced by the portable Job Site table saw. The initial role of a contractor saw was to provide a more portable alternative to the much larger cabinet saw.
As portable table saws gained in popularity, contractor saws became the go-to saw in workshops for serious hobbyists and enthusiasts since they were more powerful than portable saws and less expensive than cabinet saws.
Hybrid Saws - Hybrid saws fall somewhere in the middle between the older-style contractor saws and the industrial cabinet saw. They frequently sit on an open leg stand, but you can find models that are fully enclosed. The major advantage of using a full cabinet enclosure is the improved dust collection.
Cabinet Saws - If you're looking for power, the cabinet saw is the way to go. Cabinet saws are built to be robust and durable, and even with heavy use they're designed to last for decades. They're bulky and heavy, but extremely precise. Cabinet saws are found in factory shops and are a favorite for the professional contractor workshop.
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Although there are a few differences, both cabinet and portable table saws share the same components. Here's a look at the primary components of a portable table saw:
Table - Cast iron is the best material for the table top because it's excellent at absorbing vibrations. However, you'll commonly find other materials, such as aluminum on portable table saws in order to reduce the saw's overall weight.
The table top should be flat to make accurate cuts, but, if there's a small amount of deviation it shouldn't be a problem. With that said the most important area is around the blade, and it should be absolutely flat.
Blade - The blade on a table saw is arguably the most important part. A new table saw will come with a blade, but you may want to upgrade to a higher quality one. The better the blade, the better the table saw will perform.
When purchasing a table saw, pay attention to how the blade is changed. It's not uncommon to need to frequently switch blades depending on your project, so you'll want the process to be as easy as possible.
Saw blades are made from carbide or carbon steel, and the teeth are either standard tungsten carbide or diamond-tipped, which is used for cutting slate and ceramic tile. Since today's blades are designed to cut other materials besides wood, they're made from a variety of elements.
When shopping for a saw blade, there's a few specifications to consider: Number of teeth, arbor size, diameter, kerf size, speed, material, and application. Blades come in a variety of different sizes, with the 10-inch diameter being the standard size. You can expect a 3-1/2 inch cut at 90° with a 10-inch blade.
There's a lot to know about selecting a blade for your new table saw, and this topic is beyond the scope of this article. However, here's an excellent video if you're interested in learning more:
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Riving Knife - A riving knife is a safety feature designed to prevent the board being cut from kicking back. The riving knife is a piece of steel that sits behind the table saw blade. As the wood is being cut, it's prone to close around the blade. If it fully closes, it will kickback and cause serious injury to the users face or body. However, with the use of a riving knife the wood isn't able to close.
Throat Plate - The throat plate is the removable piece which surrounds the blade. Manufacturers often paint them a different color than the table top. DeWalt's throat plates are bright yellow. When the throat plate is removed, you can replace the blade or make riving knife adjustments.
Another role the throat plate performs is to keep wood and objects (as well as sawdust) from getting lodged around the blade, or falling inside the arbor.
Rip Fence - The rip fence is a long metal piece that runs parallel to the blade from the front to the back of the table. Since it's role is to provide a cutting guide, it should lock solidly in place. DeWalt table saws have some of the best rip fences around, but if you choose a saw with an inferior fence, you may want to consider upgrading in the future.
Miter Gauge - The majority of table saws use miter gauges for crosscutting. A miter gauge is simply a metal bar with a metal protractor head. The miter gauge slides into a miter slot which runs parallel to the blade. The miter slot holds the miter gauge in place to ensure a straight, clean cut.
Most table saws come with a basic miter gauge which can perform a decent crosscut at any angle between 90° and 30°. This is one of the more popular items that owners choose to upgrade. Some manufacturers offer upgraded systems or you can purchase an aftermarket miter gauge, or even a crosscutting sled.
Elevation and Tilt Wheels - Located on the front of the table saw is a hand wheel which allows the user to control the height of the blade. The height of the blade controls the depth of the cut. The wheel can be turned to either the left or right, which will raise or lower the blade.
The blade is tilted to the side by adjusting the tilt adjustment which is typically located on the side of the table saw. By tilting the blade, the user can make bevel cuts at a range of 0 to 45° from the fence.
As you might guess, portable table saws typically don't offer as much control as a cabinet saws. In fact, it's not uncommon for manufacturers to combine the elevation and tilt adjustment into a single wheel accessibly.
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There are three essential mechanical components on a table saw: The motor; trunnions, and arbor assembly. A table saw's ability to hold settings, cut heavy stock, and it's overall durability are all impacted by the quality of these components. Let's take a closer look at each:
Table saws use one of two types of drive/motor combinations.
Most portable table saws have direct-drive motors. These systems use a universal motor which connects directly to the blade. They provide plenty of power and don't take up a lot of space, but they tend to be quite loud.
Direct-drive powered table saws operate on 120-volts and have motors under 3 horsepower. They typically have enough power to meet the needs of DIYers and contractors who work on job sites.
Belt-drive systems are most commonly used on stationary table saws and use an induction motor which transfers power to the blade with the use of a belt. The motor is often offset to protect it from sawdust, which also allows it to last longer than a direct-drive motor.
Induction motors require less maintenance, although they do require periodic belt checks to ensure the belt is in good condition, as well has the proper tension. In addition, they're quieter and can cut denser material than direct-drive motors.
Belt-drive systems have either a 3 to 5 horse power motor and operates on 120 volts, or a 5 to 7-1/2 horse power motor that requires 240 volts.
The arbor assembly consists of two components: The arbor itself and the sector gear. The shaft that holds the blade is the arbor, and it's typically 5/8" in diameter. You'll need to know your arbor size when you purchase blades for your saw.
The sector gear is the arc shaped gear that raises and lowers the blade. It's used in conjunction with a worm gear that's attached to an adjustment wheel.
The front and rear trunnions are joined together by a yoke, and hold the motor and arbor assembly in position. The Trunnions are also responsible for keeping the blade aligned to the rip fence and miter slot, as well as absorbing and transferring vibration from the motor and blade to the saw's base and table.
A table saw is one of the most dangerous saws on the market, and taking the time to ensure your new saw has the necessary safety components just might save you from losing a finger or encountering another serious injury. Here are a few things you should consider:
Guard Assembly - A table saw's blade is spinning towards the user at an incredibly fast rate. The blades only job is to cut. It doesn't care if it's cutting wood, granite, or a finger or body part. Whatever comes in contact with a spinning table saw blade will be cut. Period. Full stop.
In order to reduce injuries, manufacturers have developed a guard assembly which is designed to protect the user from coming in contact with the blade from above, the rear, and from the left and right sides. Unfortunately, it won't protect against contact from the front of the blade.
Riving Knife - A riving knife is a safety mechanism that prevents the board from closing around the blade while its being cut. The riving knife is a piece of metal that rises and lowers with the blade so there's always a safe amount of distance to prevent kickback from occurring. A splitter is also commonly used instead of a riving knife. It's basically the same, only it doesn't adjust with the blade height.
Anti-Kickback Pawls - Anti-kickback pawls are designed to attach to the riving knife and add another layer of safety from kickback. They are spring-loaded so as the board passes through the saw, they simply rise and ride along the top of the board. However, if the board kicks back, the teeth on the pawls will dig into the wood and stop the board from coming back towards the user. The video below shows how to install the guard assembly and anti-kickback pawls.
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Out Feed Table - An out feed table catches the wood as it moves off the table after being cut. If you're ripping a piece that's 4 or 5 feet long, the cut wood will lean off the side of the table if there isn't a out feed table. The user is in a prone position and could accidentally lose their balance and fall onto the saw with their arm or their body.
Most table saws have a built-in out feed support that can be extended, but if you typically cut long pieces, it's a good idea to add another extension. One easy option is to purchase roller wheel stands.
Push Stick - A push stick is a stick that's used to push a narrow piece of wood between the rip fence and the blade. It provides a simple layer of safety to your body by adding distance between the material and your hand. Most table saws come with a push stick, but you can always purchase a new one or build your own.
Feather boards are also a safety device. A feather board utilizes the miter slot in order to secure it in place before the blade. This will allow the piece of wood to sit firmly against the rip fence as it passes through the saw blade. In most cases, you'll need to purchase a feather board separate from your table saw.
Power Loss Reset - DeWalt has redesigned their tables saws with a safety component called Power Loss Reset. Whether the saw loses power because it becomes unplugged or a circuit breaker overload (which often happens from a dull blade) the power loss reset switch will reset the saw to the OFF position. Thus preventing the saw from automatically starting up once the power has been restored.
On/Off Switch - The on/off switch itself is a safety device. It's typically located at the front of the table saw where it is very visible and easy to reach. The ON switch is usually small and may require the lifting a lever to access, and the OFF switch is much larger and can be pressed quickly and easily in the case of an emergency.
Flesh Sensing Saw Stops - Some saws even come with flesh sensing saw stops which stops the blade in it's tracks. These are typically seen on higher-end saws, and unfortunately once activated they will destroy the blade and braking mechanism. But the reality is, if the safety mechanism prevented the loss of a finger, the replacement cost and hassle will be a price you'll happily pay.
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There's plenty of additional features and accessories available for table saws. Many can be added later or upgraded down the road. If this is your first table saw it's worth your time to have a good understanding on how and where you'll be using your saw. Decide what's important to you and check if there are proprietary settings/fittings that would prevent after purchase add-ons from a different manufacturer.
Onboard Storage - Many table saws have a built-in storage compartment that's designed to house extra blades, push sticks, safety glasses, and other items.
Stand - It's a good idea to have a stand for a portable saw, especially if you'll be using it at a job site. Some table saws come with stands, other do not. If you have a heavier saw, you might want to consider purchasing a stand with wheels. They're more expensive, but they're extremely convenient.
Dust Collection - If you're working outside, you many not need to worry about collecting the dust. But operating a table saw in a workshop or inside at a job site is another story. It's always a best practice to buy a table saw with a dust port, this will give you the option of connecting a vacuum or saw dust collector bag to keep the mess to a minimum.
Table Extensions - Although it's true that using a table extension offers a layer of safety to operating your table saw, they also allow the user to handle large pieces of wood since they increase the overall rip capacity. Most tables have some built-in extension, but you can also purchase a roller support stand that folds up and can be taken with you on the job site.
Dado Blade Compatible - Not all table saws are designed to accommodate dado blades, so this is definitely something you'll want check. Because even if you're not using dado blades now, you may want to in the future. Dado stacks cut straight, wide slots in one pass. Learn more about dado cuts by watching the video below.
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It's easy to get lost with all the choices when buying a table saw, and there's plenty of decisions to make. In fact, when you begin shopping you'll notice that each manufacturer will list a number of specifications, some we've already covered, but others are easy to over look. Here's what these specifications mean and why they're important:
Amps - In the simplest terms, the power of the saw motor is measured in amps. The higher the number, the more cutting power the table saw motor will be able to deliver. This is particularly important if you'll be cutting dense material, such as hardwoods.
No Load RPM - If you've been out shopping table saws already, then you've probably noticed that there isn't one standard RPM. Although this topic can get complicated, it really isn't something you need to get too excited about, but it does matter.
The term RPM (revolutions per minute) refers to how fast the motor shaft is spinning, as an example, the DeWalt 10" (DWE749IRS) Table Saw has an RPM of 4800. So, you can expect the motor shaft to spin 4,800 times each minute when it's operating without a load. However, the DeWalt 8-1/4" (DWE7485) Table Saw has an RPM of 5800, it's motor shaft is spinning even faster.
But a higher RPM isn't necessarily better. As a general rule, torque decreases as RPM increases. So, it's a bit of a balancing act between blade speed and torque, and manufacturers are always trying to find the best ratio to maximize their saws performance.
Here's a couple of things to consider:
- A lower RPM tends to work better for carpentry work. High RPMs require a faster feed rate while performing the cut, and the higher speeds have a tendency of burning hardwoods by causing excess heat to build on the blade.
- Many professionals believe that higher RPMs extend the blades service life.
- Higher RPMs make better cuts.
- When saws are operated at higher RPMs they tend to be noisier. Regardless of which RPM you choose, always wear protective hearing gear.
At the end of the day, the RPM shouldn't really be your deciding factor. We recommend giving RPM a consideration, but spend more energy on things like motor quality, build quality, fence and guard quality, as well as the saw's overall performance.
Blade Diameter - The blade diameter refers to the size of the blade. A 10" blade diameter is considered the standard size for table saws, but 8-1/4" is gaining in popularity. Smaller blades reduce the cutting depth, but many new table saw owners simply don't need the versatility of a 10" blade.
There's also a growing number of cordless table saws on the market and the 8-1/4" blade is a popular choice manufacturers are using.
Provided the arbor size matches, you can put a smaller blade, such as an 8-1/4" on a 10" table saw. When doing this you'll reduce your depth of cut, but you'll get more power. You can expect to get a maximum depth of cut of 3-1/2" with a 10" blade, and a little over 2" with an 8-1/4" blade.
Arbor Size - The arbor is a shaft which holds the blade in place, and the standard arbor size for 10" blades is 5/8-inches. Although, this is a standard size, it's still a good idea to double check the arbor size on the table saw to make sure it doesn't use an odd-ball measurement.
The arbor size is important when purchasing saw blades. The hole in the middle of the saw blade needs to fit onto the arbor.
It's a good idea to look for a table saw that has a arbor lock. This will immobilize the blade and make changing it much easier.
Depth of Cut @ - Typically you'll see the depth of cut measured @ 90° and @ 45°. When the blade is tilted to this angle you can expect the saw to cut at this depth. The 90° angle provides a larger depth of cut than the 45°.
Rip Capacity - A table saw's rip capacity is measured by the distance from the saw blade to the fence when it is fully extended. This measurement will be listed in the manufacturers specifications as the Maximum Rip to the Right of Blade.
But you'll typically also see a listing for the Maximum Rip to the Left of Blade. This measurement is usually less than the right side. These rip capacities are considered the maximum the table saw can cut while using the fence.
As a general rule, portable table saws tend to fall into the 20 to 26" range, but there are some with rip capacities of 32" or more. However, they frequently come with a higher price tag.
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