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The Ultimate Table Saw Buying Guide for First-Time Buyers

table saw buying guide
Written by Willie Osgood

The difference between a hobbyist woodworker and a die-hard one lies in how much they crave production of quality woodwork. And arriving at the best results requires you work with the right tools and machines. So, if you see a table saw in a workshop, you can tell the craftsman is a disciple of perfection.

However, they come in different types, all best for different functions. So, you might find yourself asking, ‘which table saw should I buy?’ Well, having the right table saw buying guide can help answer that question. Learning about the types, their components, and their pros and cons will help you narrow your choice to what bests suit your style of crafting.

Table Saw Buying Guide

Table saws take woodworking to another dimension. And what woodworker wouldn’t want that? But don’t rush into the hardware store just yet. You need to arm yourself with the necessary information before purchasing any tables saw. You need to know the types available and their features. You also need to familiarize yourself with the basic components as well as the brands out there for grabs.

Types of Table Saws

Table saws come in various types and each class is suited for various projects. Generally, table saws come as any of the following types; benchtop, contractor, hybrid saw, cabinet saw, job site and portable saws. Understanding their features and how best they work is the first step to deciding which saw you should get for your workshop.

1. Benchtop Model

These types are fashioned to be placed on a support for use. This allows them to work comfortably on tabletops or benches, as the name implies. They are most suited for light duties.

ProsCons
Benchtop models are very affordable. The average price ranges from $100-$200.Benchtop table saws always require a table or bench.
They are also compact and lightweight, allowing them to be easily carried from place to place. This makes the benchtops table saws appealing to hobbyists and DIY’ers.The narrow benchtop also reduces the width of rip capacity.
They run on a universal motor that almost has their blade driven directly by the motor.Also, universal motors produce more noise and possess lesser durability.
They also come with adequate ripping capacity and precision and are most suitable for light jobs.A shorter rip fence, due to the tabletop being smaller from front to back hinders achieving of clean, straight cuts.
Plus, a lesser distance between the blade and the front edge of the table makes cross-cutting with miter more difficult.

2. Contractor Saw

These saws are sometimes referred to as open-stand saws, these types are larger, heavier attached to a base or stand. They usually come with wheels and they operate on motors run with v-belts. This is because they were originally designed to be portable. Nowadays though, they are used as stationary saws.

ProsCons
Contractor saws are generally affordable, considering the power they have to offer.The motors of contractor saws are hinged, making dust collection sometimes ineffective.
They also have larger rip capacity and greater power compared to benchtop saws.And at a range of 250-350lbs, they are still relatively heavy to move.
They are also more durable and accurate.Older models use outboard motors which employ the use of longer belts, producing more vibration.
To some extent, contractor saws are somewhat portable as they usually come with wheels. And their electrical capacity (usually 750 to 1500w) allows them to comfortably run on household circuits.

3. Hybrid Saw

These combine some of the most valuable features of contractor saws and cabinet saws to give you a machine that is generally fitted for double advantage. They are equipped with more trunnions and arbor bearings, plus inboard belt drives inductor motors.

ProsCons
Hybrid saws come with an enclosed cabinet which improves dust collection.Hybrid saws are of lesser power compared to cabinet saws. This limits their use to smaller, less demanding projects and home workshop uses.
Some models come with a sliding table that improves cross-cutting efficiency.They are also louder and though sturdy, still produce more vibration than cabinet saws.
They also offer a wide variety of drive mechanisms- single v, multiple v or serpentine belts.
The gearings are usually better than most contractor saws. Plus, they are lighter-weight, more affordable than cabinet saws and can also run on a standard power supply (compatible with 110V service).

4. Cabinet Saw

Modern cabinet saws are more powerful and performance-oriented than most others in the lineup. They are specifically designed to complete all woodwork requirements meant for table saws. They run on more powerful motors and have heavier trunnions and arbor bearings build. They are the most used in specialized schools, factory-shops, and professional workshops.

ProsCons
Hybrid saws come with an enclosed cabinet which improves dust collection.Hybrid saws are of lesser power compared to cabinet saws. This limits their use to smaller, less demanding projects and home workshop uses.
Some models come with a sliding table that improves cross-cutting efficiency.They are also louder and though sturdy, still produce more vibration than cabinet saws.
They also offer a wide variety of drive mechanisms- single v, multiple v or serpentine belts.
The gearings are usually better than most contractor saws. Plus, they are lighter-weight, more affordable than cabinet saws and can also run on a standard power supply (compatible with 110V service).

5. Jobsite and Portable Saw

As the name implies, these portable saws are frequently used by contractors and carpenters on the job site. They are slightly bigger than benchtop saws. And usually, come with foldable or stationary stands.

ProsCons
Jobsite table saws are easy to carry around.Sadly, the same 15 amp universal motors are too small for certain jobs. They are usually less powerful and the build leads to more vibration. This makes steadying work mostly difficult.
They tend to have larger rip capacity compared to benchtop table saws.The motors are also louder than those of benchtop table saws. Their lack of power also does not encourage accuracy in work.
They’re usually more rugged and accurate than benchtop table saws.They also usually come with aluminum tops, which are less durable. Plus, they’re costlier than benchtop models.
They also come with their own support structures, allowing them to be used in any location. And they’re ideal for quick, simple jobs.
Plus, the 15 amp universal motor allows operation of basically a wide range of electrical output sources.

Learning the Two Key Components

For those who are buying and using a table saw, the blade and the motor are crucial components to know about. The combined effort of these two components determines how fast and efficient your work comes out. Let’s have a quick overview of the blade and motor in table saws.

SKILSAW SPT99T-01 8-1/4" Portable Worm Drive Table Saw
  • Legendary worm drive gearing offers maximum torque for ripping applications
  • Precision rack and pinion system makes fence adjustments quickly and smoothly for accurate cuts
  • Light weight and compact footprint make it easy to move around the jobsite
  • Tear through sheet goods and slice up to 3x with the 2-5/8 inch depth of cut and 25 inch rip capacity
  • All-metal construction delivers legendary durability

What to Know About the Blade?

Selecting the right blade is an essential prerequisite for the efficient use of table saws. Yes, the blade cuts your material but the right blade will reduce work time and ensure a cleaner, more precise cuts. Knowing which to use, however, is a basic need.

Before selecting a blade for your table saw, you need to get familiar with the properties of a typical blade. First, you need to learn about the number of teeth on a blade. This influences its cutting action. The space between each tooth, a.k.a. the gullet is also important as it determines the size of chips produced when cutting.

Tooth angle is also important. Blade teeth might lean forward (positive tooth angle) or away from the direction of the blade rotation (negative tooth angle). Blade with higher positive angle tends to be more aggressive with fast feed rate. Also, consider the quality of the blade. Carbide or steel blades are built for durability and less noise, compared to economy blades.

The width of the slot the blade cuts in the material called the kerf is also another important consideration. It determines how much material the cutting process expands. It is determi9ned by the thickness of the blade plate. Many blades come in thin kerf and full kerf blades. Full kerf blades come in the standard thickness (1/8 width), thin kerf blades are lesser than that value.

Many blades also have expansion slots, allowing slight expansion and contraction of the blade without throwing it out of true.

Types of Blades

Blades are classified based on two factors. These are tooth count or a number of teeth on a blade and tooth configuration. The number of teeth on a blade determines its cutting speed and neatness. The tooth configuration refers to the shape of the teeth and how they are grouped. It determines what function it is best suited for.

When considering tooth count, there are two types of blades; rip blades and crosscut blades. Rip blade has a smaller number of teeth but larger gullets, allowing faster removal of shavings. They are also good for faster cuts along the grain but the results are rougher. Crosscut blades have smaller gullets, resulting in more teeth available to make finer cuts across the wood grain. This, however, makes them cut slower.

Based on tooth configuration, blades can be divided into four basic types;

  • Flat Top Grind (FTG) specialized for ripping
  • Alternate Top Bevel (ATG) optimized for making crosscuts
  • Combination Tooth blends both types and is ideal for all-purpose cutting
  • Triple-Chip Grind (TCG) blades optimized for sawing denser materials with neat results

The Right Blade for Your Job

Now that you know the various properties of the blade, you must ask yourself what blade is best suited for your project. Putting the various components together, you can easily decide that. The type of blade you go for depends on the type of material you will be cutting. It also rests on how long you will need to run the machine and if neatness of cut is paramount.

When your projects require rough ripping, the best choice is an FTG blade with at least 24 teeth. These cut thick lumber faster. A 50-tooth Combination Tooth blade can also be employed for this purpose, though it will not rip as quickly as the former. However, it will compensate with much neater cuts.

If crosscutting is what the project requires, ATB blades are ideal. They are perfect for minimizing tear-out, associated with cutting across the wood grain. Ensure to use blades with more teeth (70-100) as these guarantee the cleanest crosscuts. High-quality ATB blade with lesser teeth can also be used to get clean cuts. Also, a 50-tooth Combination blade, though the cut won’t be as neat.

Sheet goods, however, the choices come in various densities. If you’re working with plastic laminate, an 80-tooth TCG blade is highly recommended. TCG blades wear out slower than ATB blades and will last longer on such use, though they cut slower.

Plywood is thinner and requires ATB blades or, if you can, a good quality Combination blade. Particleboard, MDF and hardboard are denser than plywood and require ATB blades for cleaner cuts, though they quickly wear the blades out. TCGs and ATBs used should be around 40-80 tooth capacity.

If you wish to cut thick, hardwood with an underpowered saw, you might have to consider thin-kerf blades. They don’t overwork the saw motor but they might produce slightly rougher cuts.

Generally, choosing blades for best cutting experience can be done by observing the following rules;

  • Purchase an excellent quality Combination blade for operating a greater percentage of your projects. 40-50-tooth blades cost between $80-$110 and guarantee very little tear-out.
  • Invest in a 24-tooth Rip blade if your work involves frequent cutting of hardwood. These speed up work and are not so pricey. A good rip blade costs as much as $50.
  • Premium quality Combination blades are perfect for crosscutting. A 40-80 tooth blade of good quality will do the job perfectly.
  • If your work involves cutting lots of plastic laminate, your best choice are TCG blades. These can take the extra workload requirements for the job, whereas ATB blades will wear out quickly.

Knowing About the Motor

The second key component to consider when learning how to buy a table saw is the motor. As the engine head of the entire machine, it determines what kind of work you can run. It also determines how long the machine can run without issues and how quickly it is cutting capacity will be. And the type of motor will influence how much electricity your machine will need to run smoothly.

The capacity of the motor depends on its power and drive type. Understanding how these two combine to run the machine is key to understanding how to shop for the right one.

1. Power

The power of the table saw, measured in horsepower (hp) determines much it can cut without issues. The higher the horsepower, the more powerful the table saw. Most contractor table saws range between 1.5-2hp. Jobsite and benchtop table saws are lesser while cabinet saws boast the highest power (3-5hp).

2. Drive Types

The drive refers to the mechanism that runs gives the blade rotating power. Most table saws come in two types of drives; direct drives and belt drives. The type determines how fast the blade will cut as well as how long it can work nonstop.

3. Direct

Direct drive motors have the blades directly connected to the motor mechanism. Saws with this type of drive are usually lightweight and cheaper. They also require little maintenance. However, their cutting capacity is very limited due to the low power from the motor. Most portable and job site saws come with this type of drive system.

4. Belt

In the case of belt drives, the blades are connected to the motor by means of a belt-and-pulley system. This requires more space thus, such table saws are usually larger. It also generates more noise and vibration and requires regular maintenance. However, belt drives are more durable and powerful. This allows them to handle a wider range of tasks with utmost efficiency. Stationary table saws come with belt drives.

Understanding the Basic Components

It is imperative to know what to look for when buying a table saw. Some basic components besides the blade features, motor power, and drive type must also be analyzed. They are listed below;

1. Anti-kickback pawls

These are a pair of tooth-edged, spring-loaded metal grabs mounted on the table top. Their purpose is to stop the wood if the event of a kickback ever occurs. This is achieved by the toothed edge which digs into the wood should the feed motion be reversed. You can create an Anti-KickBack for DIY Table Saw easily to protect the tool.

2. Flat Top

The flatness of the table top is a very essential component to consider as it determines how the accurate cut is. Before purchasing any table saw, check its flatness deviation. Cabinet table saws with a deviation of 0.005 are tolerable.

3. Fence Type

The rip fence is essential in making sure your cuts are accurately measured and cut squarely to the blade. They also serve safety purposes for the user. Built-in fences are usually the most effective in providing accuracy. Good rip fences must also be perfectly parallel to the blade and lock down solidly. They can be upgraded to fit user standards.

5. Miter Gauge

This small tool allows you to make accurate crosscuts and compound cuts on the table saw. It is usually attached to a guide on the table saw. Make sure the saw has a slot for the miter gauge set perfectly parallel to the blade. Check for miter gauges with 45 and 90 degrees stops.

6. Bevel System

The bevel system allows you to adjust the tilt of the blade when you need to make angled cuts. If you would be making a lot of these cuts, ensure the bevel adjustments are easy to operate. Bevel system should be able to set to the exact angle without complications.

7. Riving Knife

Using a riving knife is a good way to reduce kickbacks. The riving knife is a piece of metal that helps to keep the two halves of the board from pinching together. It is located very close to the blade, reducing space between the wood and the blade. This helps prevent the wood from getting caught by the back of the blade.

8. Blade Guard

The blade guard provides a boundary region between the saw blade and your fingers thus ensuring prevention of injury. It is important that your table saw comes with this and if it does not, you should have one fitted.

Many professionals are in the habit of removing blade guards from the table saws before use, most times permanently. Reasons vary from it blocking observation of the cut to making cleanup of blade difficult. This is ill-advised as these guards are fixed for your utmost protection. Currently, some models now come with blade guards that don’t hinder observation of cutting.

9. Shaft Locks

The shaft or spindle lock stops the blade from turning so you can change the blade. Without the shaft lock to stop the blade, you will not be able to unscrew the nut that holds it. Check if the table saw comes with a shaft or spindle lock, usually a button. If it does not, you will have to find another way to stop the blade before changing.

10. Dust Collection

Sawing wood tends to generate a lot of dust. Long exposure to this can cause health risks, and so dust collection is necessary. Plus, it makes clean up much easier if you work indoors. Some table saws feature a dust shroud that directs dust to an outlet behind the table. A vacuum dust collection system then collects the dust. Others come with collecting pouch that can be emptied after work.

11. Throat Plate/Table Insert

This refers to the removable piece that sits surrounding the blade on the table. The throat plate keeps material from falling into the blade area, as these can lodge the blade. It also gives the wood support, reducing tear-out. The narrower the blade clearance between the tables inserts, the better the function.

12. Dado Capacity

Some table saws come with features (dado sets) that allow you to cut dados (grooves in the workpiece) in wood. If you consider this a requirement, you might want to opt for a table saw with dado capacity. This means you will need to check if the table saw has enough horsepower and arbor needed to cut dados. The riving knife must also be adjustable for this purpose.

13. Elevation and Tilt Wheels

The elevation and tilt wheels control the height and the angle of the blade respectively. The elevation wheel allows influencing depth of the cut while the tilt wheels allow you to tilt the blade away from the fence. The blade elevation and tilt hand wheels are located on the front and side of the saw respectively.

Some table saws, especially portable ones tend to combine both adjustments in one wheel. The result of this system is limited control on height and tilt preferences. Cabinet saws, however, are designed for professional work and as such, come with separate wheels for these features.

Safety Components

Table saws are high powered tools with sharp blades that rotate at an insane speed. This means they can inflict extreme levels of injuries if misused. As a prospective owner, you need to know about the components set in place to keep you safe from incidents while using these power saws. Plus you need to look out for them when deciding what table saw to buy.

1. Push Stick

Sometimes, you might need to slide wood material through the blade. This is where push sticks come in handy. Many table saws come with push sticks which may be plastic or light metal. These are very handy and help you reduce the risk of exposing your fingers to the saw blade. Some versions with special grips are even available for purchase.

2. Sensors

Some table saws come with Saw stop safety systems– features set to reduce injury during use. One of these is a sensor fitted into the table saw that triggers a brake upon detecting human skin close to the blade. These sensors are so sensitive that they can stop the blade in 0.02 seconds. And the brake is so powerful that both it and the blade will need replacement afterward.

3. Magnetic Switch

The magnetic switch is also one safety feature to check for when considering which table saw to buy. This performs two functions. First, it protects the motor of the table saw from power overload. Secondly, it sets the saw to automatic off in the event of a power outage or interruption. This proves most useful in cases where the user forgets to turn the machine off before cleanup or blade adjustment.

Table Saw Accessories

There are also some extra components that can be purchased with table saws. These are usually up to the users’ taste but they do come in handy in some cases. A few are listed below;

1. Rolling Stands

These stands allow you to take your job site or benchtop table saws. Most are made with lightweight metals for easy mobility and designed to offer stability on any surface.

2. Mobile Stands

Mobile stands are designed for heavier table saws- contactor and hybrid saws, for instance. These comprise of a durable base that allows the table saw fit snugly in its four corners. It also comes with four sturdy wheels to allow the machine to be moved around. Mobile stands may be homemade but third-party brands are available in the market. They may be wood or metal.

3. Extension Supports

These allow you to increase the length of the table extensions, allowing you to work on longer boards or sheets. There are infeed tables that allow you easily feed longer boards through the saw and still maintain accurate cuts. Outfeed tables are also out for purchase. These help collect longer boards without displacing feed angle.

Popular Table Saw Brands

Asking ‘what table saw should I buy?’ is basically the same as asking ‘what table saw brand should I buy?’ There are so many brands in the market, each boasting one thing over the rest. But there are some brands that have become household names in the table saw markets. Here, we shall list a few of these brands;

1. DeWalt

A leading name in the portable table saw the market, DeWalt table saws come in both corded and cordless models. The also feature rack and pinion fence systems for easy fast and accurate fence adjustments. Plus, they’re very compact and powerful as far as portable table saws are concerned.

2. Bosch

Bosch has always been well known for quality power tools and appliances. And they prove this further with their portable and job site table saws. These come with impressive cutting power, sturdy build and accurate cutting capacity.

3. Rockwell

Another household name, Rockwell excels in manufacturing contractor table saws that offer top-class cutting depth, easier blade adjustments, and high cutting power. It also boasts models that employ laser technology to make cutting more accurate.

4. Skil

In addition to having models with rack and pinion fence mechanisms, portable sizes and large tables, Skil stands out with its unique Wormdrive motor which produces more power at surprisingly affordable price.

5. Shop Fox

Shop Fox leads the market in the manufacturing of quality hybrid table saws. It offers machines with massive rip capacity, powerful motors and extensive safety features enough to make a hybrid table saw appealing to professionals.

6. Craftsman

Craftsman offers a wide range of table saw models to fit various woodwork needs. It is most popular for making affordable stationary table saws offering durable table tops, amazing motor power, and very extensive rip capacity.

Using this table saw buying guide gives you an edge in knowing how to choose a table saw. It helps to know the basics of these power tools as this lets you pick the right model for your work. It also helps you get great value for your money and the satisfaction of knowing you picked an amazing machine.

About the author

Willie Osgood

An Avid Metalworker

Willie doesn’t really consider himself an artist, rather a craftsman involved in practical trades. Yet, most of his projects require him to make interesting and fine objects. Being the eldest son of a carpenter, his background is 100 percent rooted in crafting. He found the art of blacksmithing quite appealing since his teenage years… that fire, the sound of swinging hammers, and those long and shiny blades that came out as a finished product. Soon he literally became obsessed with metal – the way it moved, worked, and changed when heated or cooled.

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