A table saw is one of the most versatile and important tools in your workshop. When you are ready to purchase one, it’s important to look at all the different designs and features to ensure you are buying the one that will fit all of your cutting needs. Below are 13 things you should consider before buying a table saw.
1) Base Type
The first decision you will need to make when buying a table saw is finding the balance between mobility and power/accuracy. If you are someone that will need your saw moved around to different places (such as garage, yard, different house, etc), the saw you choose will look much different than what a woodworker who cuts large sheets of plywood needs.
Table saws come in three basic setups: portable, portable hybrid and stationary.
- Portable/Benchtop – These saws are both the smallest and usually the cheapest of the three categories. These saws are built so the users can literally pick them up and carry them to wherever they are needed.
The negative side to having a portable model is that they tend to be limited in the size of wood you can use on it. Many times, the tables, will be much smaller, and it’s just not safe to cut large pieces of wood on them.
Another negative with these saws is that they aren’t quite as sturdy as some of the larger units you will find. This can affect accuracy if you are looking for very precise cuts.
There are many plans available online that show you how to build a large table that has large extension tables surrounding the saw. These additions will allow you to make larger cuts, but they won’t significantly improve performance or accuracy.
Pricing on these units are much cheaper. A very basic table top model can start at around $250.
- Hybrid/Contractor – The appearance of these saws can vary a bit. A contractor saw can be mounted to a small cart that has wheels as well as a fixed legged base. These saws are typically larger than the benchtop versions, therefore they can handle bigger cuts.
Don’t write these units off simply because they are used by contractors. Depending on your needs, these may accomplish everything you need. In addition, they are easy to move around your shop and place in a corner when not in use if you are short on space in your shop. If you are just starting out in woodworking or carpentry, this would be my recommended category to buy from.
These saws will give you a good balance between power, price or mobility. Prices for these usually start around $600.
- Stationary– These saws are for the serious woodworkers. Normally, these saws are not going to get moved often and when they do get moved more than one person will be needed to do so. These machines can be massive once you start adding extension tables.
Due to the size and material used to make them, these units are much more expensive with prices starting around $1,000 and going up to several thousand based on your needs.
The features included on these models are much nicer and will certainly improve the accuracy of your cuts.
2) Table Space
The table space of your saw will ultimately determine what size wood you can safely cut. The table space simply the table on top of your saw that holds your wood level as it moves thru the blade.
Table sizes for the smaller portable saws are usually around 19”x22”. The table size for a contractor’s saw will increase slightly over the portable saws. Average table size will be around 24”x22”. The cabinet saw table sizes are MUCH larger. Cabinet saw models are often designed to handle multiple extension tables which significantly increase their space. It’s not uncommon to find a surface 27” by 60” or more.
3) Extension Tables
Extension tables may not always come with the purchase of a new saw, or if they do, they will be very basic. When comparing saws, you should at least look to see if it is built so that you can add extension tables in the future.
The nice things about extension tables are they are an easy way to quickly expand the size of your table space, thus allowing you to be able to cut larger pieces of wood. After you are done, they easily disconnect and can be stored elsewhere so they aren’t in the way.
You won’t find the option on the smaller portable saws, but some of the stationary saws have the option of buying an extension table that doubles as a router table. If you are interested in expanding your woodworking into an area that requires a router, this is definitely a feature to consider. A router table by itself can be bulky and take up a significant amount space in your shop.
4) Rip Capacity
Ripping a board is when you cut a board in the same direction as the grain of the wood. Rip Capacity of a saw is defined as the distance between the saw blade and the fence. The more distance present, indicates that larger boards can be ripped.
The general rule of thumb for determining how much rip capacity comes down to what type of wood you will be cutting. If you expect to cut plywood or wide boards, you will want a rip capacity of 24” or more. If you don’t anticipate anything that large, you can get by with less than 24”
Some manufacturers will advertise two rip capacities for each side of the blade. This is generally viewed as a marketing technique. Almost all saws will have a greater rip capacity to the right of the blade.
Adding extension tables (discussed above) or outfeed tables can increase the rip capacity of your saw.
Most of the table saws you find on the market today will be 15 amps. However, if you are looking at picking up a used saw, there’s a chance the amperage will be less. Common lower amperages are in the 10-13 range.
I recommend going no lower than 15 amps. Anything less than that is going to have trouble cutting common woods. For instance, a 13-amp table saw will struggle to rip a 2×4.
Another electrical consideration is whether or not the plug for the saw you are looking at is a 110v or 220v. All portable saws and most contractor saws are going to be 110v. Some higher end contractor models may handle both. It’s not until you get into the stationary bases that have much higher horsepower that the 220v options become common.
The important thing to keep in mind if you do get a saw that runs a 220v plug is to ensure your shop can handle it. If you do not have a 220v outlet installed in your shop, you will need to add one. I highly recommend hiring a qualified electrician to do so. Getting 220 plugs run can become expensive depending on how far from your breaker box the wiring will need to be ran.
6) Saw Blade Size
The 10” blades are easily the most common size for table saws. Other sizes that you may come across are 8”, 12” and 14”. You can use smaller blades that what your saw is rated for, however, you should NEVER use a larger blade than what it states. For instance, if you have a 10” table saw, you can use a 8” blade. If you have a 10” table saw, you can NOT use a 12” blade.
One tip is that the blades used on a miter saw and a table saw can be interchanged if they are the same size. Buying a table saw that has the same blade size as your miter will help prevent you from having to purchase two different sets of blades for the machines.
7) Cut Depth
A common question that gets asked is “What is the deepest cut a table saw can make?”. The primary determining factor to this question is the size of the blade. The general rule is that a 10” blade can cut through about 3 inches of wood, while a 12 inch blade can cut about 4 inches deep.
NOTE: One thing to remember, the wood that you purchase at a big box store is different than its true dimensions. For instance, a 4×4 is actually 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches, so a 12-inch table saw will easily cut through it.
The build of a table saw can impact the depth of what the saw can cut. The design of the blade rising mechanism can have an impact on how high the blade will rise. Most manufacture’s have designed their saw to get the max height out of their machines.
Interestingly, dust buildup can also impact the cut depth. If you don’t take time to clean your machine, saw dust can build up on the rising mechanism and prevent it from raising to its maximum height.
It’s important to remember that due to safety, it’s recommended that one saw blade tooth clears the top of your stock as it cuts through the wood. Tooth size will vary from one blade to another.
8) Dust Collection
Within the past 30 years, there has been more and more studies that show a link between saw dust and lung and nasal issues. Long term exposure to saw dust has been link to lung cancer as well as rare versions of nasal cancer. If you plan to do most of your cutting outdoors, then the need for dust collection features on a table saw decrease some.
Many of the newer models on the market today come with features that allow you to easily connect the table saw. It can be as easy as take the hose from your shop vac and connecting it to your table saw with a quick connect adapter.
If you are looking at purchasing a used saw that is older, chances are that it will not come with any dust collection features. Fortunately, there are aftermarket options available but compatibility will vary by model.
9) Dado Blade Option
The purpose of dado blades is to efficiently cut grooves into the wood you are cutting. Dados work by stacking various types of blades together, almost the same way you build a sandwich. The more blades that you add, the wider the groove that is cut into your wood.
If this type of cutting is important to you, then you first need to make sure the saw you are looking at, has this capability as some saws do not.
Once you find a saw that does handle dado cuts, you’ll want to look to see how wide it will cut. Most saws that allow a dado set will cut at least a half inch wide, but this is something that will vary from machine to machine.
10) Fence Options
You never know how important the fence on a table saw is until you use a nice one. It almost as if it opens a whole new world to the process of cutting wood on a table saw. A fence is an incredibility important feature to consider when looking at your purchasing options.
There are a wide range of aftermarket fence upgrades available. The alignment of your will determine how accurate your final cut will be. A fence is near worthless if it is not properly aligned to the blade on your saw.
You will find that many of the lower cost saws come with a setup where the fence attaches on the front and backside of the saw. Typically, the user will clamp the fence down by either a handle or knob. These setups will work, but it will usually take more time to ensure the fence is parallel to the blade at all points.
The nicest fences on the market are referred to a T slot fences. These fences slide along T slot rails on the front of the saw. The rails and fence are generally made up of steel components which help ensure sturdiness and stability. These fences also lock using a clamp but are align much quicker and are more accurate than the other models.
11) Blade guard
A blade guard is one of the most underappreciated safety features you will find on a table saw. You can tell they are underappreciated because many times they are removed from the machine which is HIGHLY discouraged.
A blade guard is an enclosure that is placed over the blade to protect users from moving their hands or fingers into the spinning blade. On some occasions, usually when the wood you are cutting is large, the guard will need to be removed. Older machines did not make the removal and reattachment of the blade guard an easy process. Therefore, if you grew up around someone like my dad, you just took it off completely and tossed it aside.
Newer models of the table saw have made the removal and reattachment of the guards much easier and quicker. When you begin looking at saws and comparing them to one another, be sure to look at this feature. Does the saw allow you to remove by releasing a couple clamps, or will it require that you grab an Allen wrench and try to get to a bolt that is in a different and awkward spot to reach?
12) Riving Knife
This is another safety feature that is important when using a table saw. Though it uses the word “knife,” it actually does no actual cutting. A riving knife sits behind the saw blade. As you push your stock thru the blade, the knife keeps the two cut pieces pushes apart. This action prevents the wood from moving towards another after being cut.
If the wood does move towards one another, it could “pinch” the saw blade which will results in a kickback. A kickback occurs when the table saw throws the wood back at the operator which can cause serious injury. Kickbacks occur within a slit second and give no warning. I highly recommend adding a riving knife to your machine if it does not come with one when you purchase it.
13) Saw Stop
As mentioned before, table saws are the most dangerous machines in a woodworker’s shop based on ER visits. Being a hobbyist woodwork himself, Steve Gass recognized the dangers that a table saw presented. So he set out to make a product that reduced these risks. Over a couple of weeks, he designed a prototype for a new product called the “Saw Stop.”
The saw stop works by stopping the blade in under 5 milliseconds once it comes into contact with human skin. The machine works by sending a small electrical current thru the saw blade. Once human skin comes into contact with it, a short is created which stops the blade.
Mr. Gass was so confident in his new invention that during his first press conference to show off his new invention, he tested the saw by purposely placing his own finger into a spinning saw blade. As he anticipated, the saw stopped causing only a minor cut on his finger.
Saw Stop offers saws in all three of the major table saw product lines: job site, contract and stationary. The high-tech safety built into these machines does drive the cost up when compared to normal ones. The base job site saw is the cheapest option available and it starts at $1,299. The contractor base model starts at $1,599 while the large stationary model will set you back at least $2,299.
There you have it! The 13 features I think you should be checking when you decide you are ready to purchase your first table saw. Fortunately, today there are plenty of options available to consumers. You should be able to mind a saw that meets most of your needs!