Table Saw

How to choose the one that's right for you

The table saw is an incredibly versatile machine that can greatly improve the accuracy, quality and variety of cuts a woodworker can make. For most people, the table saw is one of the first major tool purchases made. Choose wisely.

Things to do before you buy

Buy a book on using a table saw before you buy a table saw. It is a cheap investment that will give you a good idea about what table saws can do and how to make them do it. And, a book is always a good reference tool for later on. In addition, every major woodworking magazine offers regular tool reviews. They are very good at evaluating the equipment. Get an issue or two, read them, and use their insights to guide your choices.

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Determine the kind of work you expect to do most of the time. Softer woods like pine or cedar won't require the same cutting power as oak or maple. Cutting plywood or sheet goods will require a wider fence capacity and support table than ripping narrower boards. If you are a weekend warrior, you can get by with less of a workhorse than if you are in the shop morning to evening every day.

Determine how much you can afford to spend on a table saw. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. What will your budget allow? And what accessories will you need? You may want an after-market rip fence. You will almost certainly want at least one quality blade. A standard miter gauge will work, but a quality miter gauge will work well.

When all is said and done, the accessories can easily add up to more than the cost of the saw itself. It is easy to overextend yourself, so do some homework. Set a budget, and stay within it. My advice is to spend as much as you can for as good a saw as you can get. The investment will pay off for many years.

The various types of table saws and their relative pros and cons

Benchtop Saw

This is a small, portable saw, usually with a direct-drive motor, that can be purchased for less than $500.

  • Pros: Portable; inexpensive.
  • Cons: Small work surface; less power; not as accurate as other saws.

Contractor's Saw

This is the most common type of table saw and probably the type of saw you will end up buying. It has most of the features of a high-end saw but, generally, less power. Most are belt driven. Prices range from $500 to $1000.

  • Pros: Large work surface; more powerful and accurate than benchtops.
  • Cons: Not as powerful as cabinet saws.

Cabinet Saw

This is a high-end saw for a high-end user. It is belt driven by large-horsepower motors. Prices range from $900 to over $2000.

  • Pros: Large work surface; heavy base; powerful motor; very accurate.
  • Cons: More expensive than many woodworkers can afford.

Other considerations when you're purchasing a table saw

  • Most saws are right-tilt blades (meaning that the blade can be tilted to the right (where the operator is facing to feed the board to be cut). While this is not a factor for most people, many owners would argue for hours that a left-tilt blade is superior.
  • Don't fear well-cared-for used equipment found through want ads, estate sales or pawn shops. Quality saws work well for decades. A little care can turn someone else's cast-off into your treasured tool.
  • Check prices online. Most saws come in a box, so you have to set them up anyway. Avoid the middleman and purchase directly, or go through a middleman like Amazon.com. Even if you don't purchase a saw online, knowing its online value may give you a negotiating edge.
  • There's value in those names. Manufacturers know that most people buy a saw because a friend told them it was the saw to buy. So, over the years, the names that have risen to the top have done so because of the quality of their tools. Brand names like Delta, Jet, Grizzly, PowerMatic or DeWalt (to name a few) matter.

These saws can last many woodworkers for a lifetime, so you'll want to invest more at the beginning for a tool you will pleased and proud to own for years.

By Donald Moore

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