A table saw is a machine tool equipped with a circular blade mounted on the arbor which protrudes out from the table surface. You push the workpiece against the rotating saw blade to make the cut.
A real workhorse, the table saw is widely used in woodworking since it is ideally suitable for making long cut along the grain of the lumber. This is called a rip cut. You can use a table saw to rip the lumber, make crosscuts, miter or angular cuts, dado, rabbet and square cuts.
Inshort, you can perform most sawing tasks that can be performed with other power tools such as a circular saw or a miter saw with this a table saw.
Anatomy of a Table Saw: Various parts of the bench saw explained.
Table Saw Buying Guide
The right table saw for your needs will be one that should work for years to come, providing you with years of performance that will be the center of your woodshop. It is also a considerable investment, so the one you purchase should be a table saw that fits your needs for many years to come.
What to look for when buying a table saw?
Here is a checklist of features that you will need to research to find the right table saw for you.
Table Saw Types
While table saws come in many different sizes, there are three basic designs that you should be aware, so you find the one that best fits the space you have available;
- Cabinet Saw: This is the heaviest, largest, and most costly. They usually weigh over 600 pounds and have large 3 to 5 HP motors
- Contractor Saw: This is a portable saw, lightweight and easy to use, and features a small 1 HP motor.
- Hybrid: A cross between the Cabinet and Contractor saws, the motors are usually 2 HP.
If you plan on using your table saw in different places, then the Contractor version will be best suited for your needs. However, if you are going to keep it in one place to do all your work, then the Cabinet saw is arguably the best. The Hybrid is best suited for smaller areas as it is similar to the Cabinet version, but lighter in weight, so it can be moved around.
The motors increase in size from contractor to hybrid to cabinet, ranging from 1 HP or less for the portable models up to 5 HP and perhaps more for the cabinet versions. More horsepower does not necessarily mean better performance, but it does help speed things along when cutting through all that wood.
If you are looking for power and portability, you’ll still want to stick to corded versions of the contractor saws for maximum performance.
Direct vs. Belt Drive vs Worm Drive
You’ll find the direct drive on the smaller contractor and some hybrid models where the motor directly drives the saw blade. Belt drives are almost exclusively for the cabinet versions as the motor is so large that a direct connection is not practical. While this means that you must replace the belt from time to time, it is an inexpensive part.
There is also a new type of worm drive saw that is becoming more popular, a variation of the drive with the motor transferring the motion through worm gear. Worm drive offers some advantages like higher torque. However, for most people it should not be the deciding factor in choosing the right saw for your needs unless you are cutting hard material.
|Direct Drive||Belt Drive||Worm Drive|
1. No power loss
2. Smaller Size
3. Less preventive maintenance
1. Enables the use of bigger and powerful induction motor.
2. Since the motor is further away, it can be well protected from saw dust.
1. Higher torque than direct and belt drive.
2. More powerful and hence suitable for cutting hard material
1. Saw dust can get inside the motor since the motor is close to cutting area.
2. Typically smaller and less powerful universal motor is used due to space limitation.
1. Needs to check and replace the driving belt periodically.
2. There is some power loss due to belt drive.
1. Need to check the lubrication oil levels and fill it on a regular basis
2. Comparatively expensive
All table saws will have a miter gauge, which has angles that can be adjusted and set so that the cutting is straight and true. The gauge itself should fit easily into the miter slots smoothly so that accuracy can be maintained.
There are two types of miter gauges, the rectangular one offers three sides to the slot while the T-slot offers narrow grooves on either side of the slot, so the shape resembles an upside down “T”. It also has gauges with notches on both sides which prevent it from being removed when in use.
Arbor or Shaft Locks
The arbor along with the trunnion hold the blade in place and allow you to make adjustments that fit the type of cut you want. This means you can move the blade up, down, or cut at angles if you desire. Of course, the better the arbor or shaft locks, the more expensive the table saw because it usually means a more powerful motor.
For contractor models, the arbor is usually 5/8”, but you’ll want to check this feature as it means there are minimum cuts you can make with the saw. If you are looking for something finer, then you’ll want to look over the arbors of different models and find the one that works best for you.
Here, you’ll want to look for a capacity of better than two feet or 24”. This is because the more space you have for the waste material opposite the fence, the easier it is to make cut after cut without having to clean away the debris. Cabinet saws usually have the best rip fences capacity and Contractor saws the worst, but you’ll have to keep this in mind when making your cuts.
Table and Fence
Here, the primary factors when looking at table saws is the weight of the table and fence. For hybrid and contractor models, the table is usually made of aluminum, a strong, yet lightweight material that makes it easier to move the saw where you need it. Cabinet saws usually have tables crafted from cast iron which is quite strong, durable, and very heavy.
The fence needs to be high-quality because it needs to be perfectly square, so you can cut parallel to the edge for consistently straight cuts. One intriguing type of fence is the rack & pinion version which can be found on cabinet table saws. This version locks the fence in place and the saw moves which provides greater consistency for every cut.
Inexpensive saws usually have fences that can be moved easily, but they also have a tendency to slide when you are making the cut. This is especially true after you’ve had the saw for a while. You’ll want to look at customer reviews and recommendations since the fence is a vital part of the saw’s performance.
What may be an afterthought to some is an important part of operating the table saw, especially in closed-in areas such as your garage or workshop. If you are outside using a contractor saw, then dust collection may be minimized since it usually blows away in the wind. However, for table saws used inside, you’ll need a saw that offers excellent dust collection to minimize the effect on your lungs.
Plus, the collectors will help with cleanup which otherwise will be quite a chore. So, choose the table saw that offers the best dust collection method which minimizes the dust in the air. You may want to add some air circulation to the area where you are working, such as fans that pull away the smaller particles, so you can breathe easier.
While working with any table saw, the safety features should be a prime concern. I can’t stress this point enough since the table saw is considered as the most dangerous machine in a woodworking shop. The first is that the saw should have a riving knife to prevent the kickback which happens when the material is being pinched along the back of the blade. In addition, you’ll want the saw to have anti-kickback pawls and a blade guard. While many people tend to remove these items because they can be fiddly, the also greatly reduce the chances of injury.
You’ll want a push stick as well to move the material through the blade. While many like to use their hands, having a push stick ruined because it touches the blade is a lot more desirable than having the same thing happen to your fingers or hand.
A blade brake is another crucial feature, stopping the blade when it contacts any part of the body. While it does add considerably to the cost of the table saw, it is a feature that has prevented many serious injuries and has saved lives as well. If you are wearing gloves, a blade brake just may well save your fingers or hand in an accident.
Any safety feature that lowers the risk of injury should be something you want to be included. Considering the number of injuries that occur every year due to table saws, having these important safety features is a must.
If you are into building cabinets and furniture, you may want to consider a table saw that can handle a dado blade. This allows the saw to cut out dadoes that can be used to put the furniture or cabinet together easily. You’ll rarely find this on contractor table saws, so this is a feature that is most common on cabinet table saws.
You should start with the type of table saw you want and then narrow the choices by using consumer reviews, brand recommendations, and your budget to find the one that is right for what you want to do. Do not be pulled in by features that you will seldom, if ever use. Stick to the basics and only consider table saws that offer what you want. This will help you keep your focus and perhaps save you considerably on the price.
The table saw you choose should have all the desired features you want while fitting within your budget. The areas where you do not want to compromise are safety, fence, and arbor. Getting the best in these areas should be paramount while you can look for other features which provide some degree of variation so that it fits your parameters.
In the end, you do not purchase a table saw as you invest in one. Treat it like an investment and you will make your decisions more carefully about finding the one that works best for your needs.
Table Saw Safety Tips
The bench saw or table saw is simple in construction and its working principle is very easy to understand. However this is also the machine tool that causes most accidents in a woodworking shop. Hence, always follow safe working practices even if you are an expert.
- Always use the blade guard.
Perhaps the number one reason for injuries on saw bench is caused by the absence of blade guard.
- Use splitters and ant-kickback pawls:
The anti-kickback pawls keep your workpiece from jumping forward.
- Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.
- Woodworking enthusiast should wear a mask to cover your nose to protect from airborne saw dust.
- Before you switch on the blade, make sure that the table is clear-off all the timber and tools.
- Start the blade and let it attain the full speed before you start cutting the wood.
- Always stand on one side of the blade. For right-handers, use your left hand to hold the workpiece in place. And use your right hand to push it.
- Always use appropriate size push stick.
- When you are using the miter gauge to make angle cuts, remove the rip fence.
- Before you remove or make any adjustments on the fence, switch off the blade and wait for it to reach a complete halt.
Apart from the above table saw safety tips, you must also follow the general safe work practices like wearing safety shoes. Do not wear loose clothes and if you are a female with long hair, contain your hair. Those work long hours must also use ear plugs since table saws can be loud.