The table saw is the center of any workshop. Purchasing the right table saw is critical as it will affect the quality of your work, your productivity and the limits of what you can actually build in your store.
Table saws come in four classes and I’ll explain each one and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each one. The table saw you finally buy will be largely influenced by your budget, this space you have available and sometimes the actual sort of floor that you will be working on.
Portal table saws are the most popular choices in most home workshops because of their cost, weight and size. These versions can be installed directly onto a workbench or a floor stand. They’re easy to handle, transport and move around the shop. Some woodworkers with tight spaces will really stow them away under their benches, in a corner or even in a cupboard. Even though these table saws offer low cost and portability these saws have a lot of drawbacks. Though adequate for the novice woodworker, cutting accuracy is somewhat restricted. Inherent play in the work guides and a small cutting a desk may create acceptable cuts for several projects but may be an issue with larger and more complex work. To save cost portals have direct drive motors that operate on 110 volts and are typically limited to one horsepower. Thick heavy cuts are often beyond the capabilities of the type of table saw. I’ve found that extensive use of those small saws eventually results in motor burnout, and the engine is not replaceable. Though limited in power, the saws are also rather noisy and usually start with an abrupt jolt of the blade. One last problem with the saws are their blade angle systems. Most use a primitive pivot system that’s difficult to set and may become rapidly clogged with sawdust making the mechanism stiff. Although these saws that serve a purpose, you will likely want to update as your woodworking skills evolve.
These units resemble larger versions of the mobile saw variety but with some substantial improvements. Although usually mounted on a stand with wheels, these components are not portable and are restricted to rolling around the store at best. Weighing in most instances over 250 pounds they are not portable. The majority of their weight is at the table and motor surface. Well designed cutting guides with low tolerance levels provides much more accurate cutting also. Most contractor saws also have worm gear driven blade tilt systems which are more precise and less prone to jamming due to sawdust buildup. 1 drawback of contractor saws is their open cabinet layout, similar to the portable saw. This makes dust collection hard to control. Regardless of this drawback, contractor saws offer many amazing features for the intermediate woodworker. Even as your skill levels evolve, contractor saws can provide you with many years of dependable service.
These are a relatively new addition to the class of saws available in the marketplace. They’re a cross between contractor saws and larger cabinet saws, and typically offer more of a cabinet structure to the ground over the builder saw configuration. These saws will usually home the belt driven motor inside the cupboard. This makes dust collection more efficient, as well as the saw runs quieter as well. These saws are heavier, typically from the 350 pound range and feature larger motors beginning at 3 horsepower. Like the contractor saw they’ve worm gear driven blade tilting systems and bigger cast iron tables.
Cabinet Saws ($2000-$10,000)
Cabinet saws are both amazing pieces of gear and prohibitively costly for most hobby woodworkers. They’re heavy and require a solid concrete floor to rest on. Cabinet generators take up plenty of room especially when fitted with large table extensions. All run on 240 volt electricity and engine sizes vary from 3 horsepower to 6 horsepower. Some expensive industrial components even run on three phase power, not available in a house. They offer the maximum in cutting precision and capacity and although the majority of the saws discussed utilize a 10″ blade, some cabinet saws operate with a bigger 12″ blade that further increases cutting capability. The cost and size of the woodworker’s dream restricts these units to big shops with solid concrete floors and large budgets.
If you can afford to purchase a new contractor saw outright, consider this one of your best options. A fantastic contractor saw will serve you for many years to come and turn out quality work. If it’s not on your budget consider a portable saw as a temporary measure with the plan to upgrade to a contractor’s saw later on. Think carefully before making the jump to a hybrid or cabinet saw. Justify the cost and make sure you have
Forty years ago, I bought my first portable table top saw from an advertisement in the newspaper (the internet was not invented then!) . Over the last four decades I have owned every type of saw outlined in this article based on what work I was doing and the space I needed to work with. I still believe the best bang for your buck is the contractor saw. A few years ago a fellow was selling one on Kijiji and I was able to buy his barely used contractor saw for the purchase price of a new portable saw. Obviously the builder saw was a far better bargain, and has served me well since 2012. I’ve got two other contractor saws that I have used for over 25 years. They have proven to be solid and durable saws that let me turn out good quality work.
One Final Word Table Saws
When buying a table saw, look at the blade tilt management. These days, the vast majority of saws are left tilt however some models are configured for right tilt blades. I will go into more detail in another article on all of the benefits and drawbacks of both of these different configurations. But in general, right handed woodworkers are more harmonious with left tilt versions. Also, when it comes to beveled cuts, left tilt saws are safer to use. Although right tilt models have some dimension and production advantages, most woodworkers will discover left tilt blade saws easier and safer to operate.
Always try to purchase the best saw type you can spend. Cheap mobile generators can create limitations and tend to wear out quickly under continuous use. Consider the dust gathering capabilities of the you are considering in addition to power requirements (do you need to install a 240 volt socket?) .
There are many lightly used saws out there. Think about purchasing a much better designed used saw over a cheaply made fresh one.