From finish work to furniture making, you can’t beat the accurate cuts you’ll get from a table saw. The simple design of table saws makes it easy to get straight cuts at almost any width, which saves time and gives your projects a professional finish. Choosing the wrong table saw can lead to frustration, but Pronto’s Table Saw Buying Guide will help match you to the right one for your projects.
Table saws do a better job than circular saws of accurately cutting long pieces of wood. A table saw can also be used for bevel cuts and joinery cuts for furniture making.
Portable table saws are smaller, but less efficient at cutting wide stock, such as plywood. Look for portable table saws with metal tables and supports that extend from either side. If you’re looking at a stationary table saw, only choose a large model built for plywood if you’ll be cutting wide pieces of stock.
Direct drives transfer more power to a table saw’s blade, while belt drives protect the motor from sawdust buildup and reduce the chance of the blade binding during use. A 2HP motor is good for most cutting jobs. Look for more powerful motors only if you need to cut thick or dense wood.
Look for rip fences made of nonflexible materials that always remain parallel to the blade. Table saw blades that bevel to the left and right are easier to use. Look for a miter gauge with positive stops at 45 and 90 degrees.
Table surfaces made from smooth metals provide the least friction during cutting. Look for electronic braking that reverses the motor when the power is turned off for a quick stop, and a power switch that pushes into the off position for secure operation. If you’re interested in advanced woodworking or joinery, make sure the table saw you choose can use the specialized blades needed for these projects.
The size of the mount for a table saw’s blade. The 5/8” arbor is the most common and versatile.
A table saw drive with an offset motor that spins the blade with a tensioned belt. This design reduces the chance of the blade binding and keeps the motor safe from sawdust buildup.
Another name for stationary table saws, taken from the cabinet that houses the motor and blade.
A specialized saw blade used to cut grooves into pieces of wood. The wood can then be joined with glue and a wooden insert.
A table saw with a blade mounted directly on the motor. Although this delivers more torque for cutting, it also increases the chance of the blade binding if the motor is overloaded.
A feature that reverses the motor of a table saw when the power is turned off, stopping the blade quickly.
A metal or plastic measuring guide on a table saw that allows you to visually set the angle of a bevel.
A depression in a miter gauge that lets the adjustment click into place on commonly used angles, such as 45 and 90 degrees.
An adjustable guide on the top of a table saw that determines the width of the cut and holds the wood parallel to the blade.
A rack that slides out from the side of a table saw, extending its width and making it easier to cut wide pieces of stock, such as plywood.
Chances are you already own a circular saw. While they’re great for making short cuts, circular saws aren’t known for their accuracy and long cuts can be a challenge. Table saws make short, accurate work of longer cuts, and the accuracy of a table saw’s miter makes them valuable for framing work as well.
A table saw is a type of circular saw with an open blade mounted beneath a flat cutting surface. An adjustable rip fence next to the blade lets you set the width of the cut. You then feed the wood you want to cut between the table saw’s blade and the rip fence, resulting in straight, even cuts every time.
The first choice in buying a table saw is between a portable or stationary workshop model. Budget is a factor, as portable table saws cost less but may lack the ability to handle larger jobs.
Portable table saws are smaller and lighter than workshop table saws, though few are light enough to carry a great distance. Most portable table saws have plastic or metal cutting tables mounted on top of a metal base. All-plastic table saws should be avoided, because they lack stability.
Portable table saws are much smaller than stationary saws, which makes cutting plywood and other large stock a challenge. Look for supports that extend from either side of a portable table saw that let you support larger pieces of wood, as well as nail loops in the feet that let you secure the table saw to a work surface. Some portable table saws include stands, and while these are useful in a remote setting, they’re not as stable when you’re dealing with pieces of wood that are long or wide.
Stationary or cabinet table saws are built for permanent installation. These table saws offer iron or steel construction for superior stability, but they’re not designed to be moved once they’ve been set up. Stationary table saws transfer fewer vibrations, and they’re quieter than portable table saws if the motor is mounted inside a cabinet.
If you’re considering a stationary table saw, think about the dimensions of the largest pieces of wood you need to cut and how much space you have in your shop. A table saw that’s built to handle plywood will take up a lot more space, but it won’t perform any better than a smaller table saw if you’re only cutting pine or floorboards. You’ll also want to think about power, as larger motors require a dedicated 220-volt outlet.
There are two basic types of table saw drives: direct drive and belt driven. Direct drive table saws have the blade mounted right on the motor, which allows for the greatest transfer of cutting power. Belt-driven table saws have a motor that’s offset by a belt, which reduces the chance of the wood bucking when the motor jams and also prevents sawdust from accumulating in moving parts.
Belt-driven table saws require a bit more care to use, as you need to periodically inspect the belt to make sure there are no cracks. Both belt and direct-drive table saws need to have their motors cleaned and lubricated periodically.
A table saw’s horsepower is a good gauge of cutting power, but it’s seldom worth spending a lot for extra horses. Most portable table saws have 1HP or 2HP motors, which is enough to cut plywood up to ¾” thick with ease. Stationary table saws have motors ranging from 3HP to 5HP that will handle thicker, denser material. If you’re cutting hardwoods or thick plywood and boards, look for extra horsepower to reduce the chance of the table saw binding up during use.
The accuracy of a table saw’s rip fence is the greatest factor in getting consistent results. The best designs use a rip fence made of firm steel that travels on a pair of bars mounted on either side of the cutting table. This ensures that the rip fence is always parallel to the table saw’s blade. Look for reliable cam or pressure-locking mechanisms that hold the rip fence securely in place.
Table saws are measured by their blade size. The 10” size is the most common and is the best choice for general use. Larger 12” table saws are needed only for specialized commercial cutting, and 8” table saws are too small to handle thicker woods, although they can be a good choice if you need an extremely portable table saw for thin flooring or finish work.
Both the height and the angle of a table saw’s blade should be adjustable. A good table saw will have a crank or wheel for height adjustment and a miter gauge with positive stops at 45 and 90 degrees. Look for table saws that can tilt the blade to the left or right for the greatest ease of use.
Look for a smooth table surface made from durable metal, such as steel or cast iron, that won’t scratch or pit. Table saws should have retractable blade guards that snap back into place once cutting is finished.
Consider the location and operation of a table saw’s power switch. Many table saws now use a switch that pulls to turn power on and pushes to stop the motor, which is simple to operate while you’re cutting. Look for electronic brakes that reverse the motor to stop it quickly when the power is shut off.
Advanced woodworkers should consider the arbor size of a table saw and whether it allows specialized blades to be used. Some table saws can work with stacked dado blades, an ability that makes furniture construction and joinery quick and easy.
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