Choosing a Table Saw
How to Choose the Best Table Saw For You
As you can probably imagine, writing a guide looking at what could be considered the “best table saw”, isn’t going to be the easiest thing to do for such a subjective topic. People will use their table saws for many different types of wood working, in different locations and environments and are likely to have different budgets as well as dozens of other factors that will determine their choice. This won’t be a detailed review of individual saws, but a list of all things that you need to think about when it comes to choosing the best table saw for your needs. Lets look at different working scenarios and the types of saws that are good choices for your type of woodworking.
Use this guide to make sure that you are asking yourself all of the right questions, think about the how you will use your saw and in what setting you’ll be using it. Because you don’t want to order your table saw, get it delivered, spend all the time on setting it up to finally realize that it is missing that key feature, that you have overlooked.
Factors that determine choice
- Workshop space
- Power requirements
- Table size
- Blade and tilt
- Type of motor
- Type of wood
- Type of cutting
- Dust control
Location and size
Do you have your own workshop or space dedicated to your woodworking? Or does your woodworking space need to be shared with others. Does it also have to function in another way. E.g. if you do your woodworking in a garage that you share with a car or cars, you may be looking for your table saw to be more portable, that’s not to say that you would be restricted to only using a “Portable” table saw. There are some great saws and saw accessories that will allow you to easily roll your table saw away and overcome the issue of space.
Now if you ever need to use your table saw away from your workshop or workspace, then this is likely to lead you to one of two types of table saw, either the portable or contractor table saw. Making a cabinet or hybrid table saw potable isn’t particularly practical. But the great news is that there are some great portable and contractor table saws on the market.
Now don’t feel that you have to compromise on quality and capacity just by going for a smaller saw. There are some great examples of woodworkers making custom out feed tables for their smaller table saw, allowing them to benefit from aftermarket fence systems and accessories. We’ll be covering these in future posts.
Now a portable saw, will fundamentally perform all of the main functions of a much bigger saw, but as you can expect on smaller scale. Bigger hybrid and cabinet saws as well as a lot of contractor saws come with much more powerful induction motors allow you to cut, thicker denser hardwoods with ease, where the smaller portable and some contractor saws, may struggle a bit with these heavier duty tasks, as they use tend to use a smaller lighter noisier brush motors. A big thing for me is how loud a table saw is, so I would personally tend to lean toward to a table saw with an Induction motor as they run strong and smooth and quiet.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
How much we have to spend on our saw is probably going to feature somewhere on our list of requirements. Now there is a lot of choice when it comes to table saws, and the prices can range from just over $100 for an entry level portable table saw to several thousand dollars for a high end cabinet saw, with many dozens of models in between. So there is no doubt there will be a choice of saws for your budget. It’s about finding the best one for your money. In some cases that may mean a few compromises, but with careful considerations some of these can be mitigated against.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
Now I would say that safety should feature very highly on everyone’s list of requirements. Even if i found a table saw that ticked all the boxes, but wasn’t safe. It probably wouldn’t make the short list. This is becoming less and less of an issue these days as manufacturers are waking up to the fact that woodworkers only have 10 fingers and that we want to keep the all.
Now I would be looking for a sturdy fence (if I wasn’t planning to add an aftermarket fence system) as kick back is a very real risk, and having a fence that is sturdy and square and true, will go a long way to reduce this risk of kick back as well.
I would also be looking for a good quality blade guard and riving knife. The riving knife is another defense against kick back and a properly set up blade guard will help you keep your fingers away from that spinning blade.
Now there is a great range of table saws on the market whose main USP is safety. Saw Stop saws are unique in that they have developed technology that is aimed to protect a woodworkers hands in the event that they should come into contact with the spinning blade. If something conductive (your fingers etc) come into contact with the blade, within milliseconds a brake is applied to the blade and at the same time the blade drops out of sight of the table. Now this technology comes at a price. The table saws from Saw Stop do tend to be more expensive than similar models from other manufacturers that don’t have this unique technology, but if safety is high on your list of requirements, and let’s face it, it should be, these should definitely be considered. If you think they are too expensive, what price would you put on your fingers?
The SawStop contractor saw. These saws use new technology that can detect when a finger comes into contact with the blade. A aluminium brake is released and the blade instantly drops away from the table. You’ll need a new blade and a new brake, but at least you’ll have your fingers
Another aspect of safety is dust control, not only is nasty on your lungs it can make surfaces very slippery, so having a table saw that can deal with that nasty dust is something that you should consider looking into, If you already have a dust extraction system, then will it integrate easily with your chosen saw?[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
Table saws come in 110v or 220v In the US. 110v will allow you to run your table saw on your domestic circuit, now this is most likely to be fine for the casual and hobby woodworker. If you are going to be running your saw all day, then it may be worth installing 220v power as running a tool like this for a long time on 110v can generate a lot of heat.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
You will have to make a decision about the size of the table, if you are going to be cutting large sheets, it may be worth looking at saws that have large table areas or come with extension wings either with the saw or as optional extras. One good thing about using extension wings is that they can be removed when not in use to help you save some of that valuable space in your workshop.
Don’t be put off buying a saw with a small table if it ticks all your other boxes. You could look to build yourself an out feed table which would allow you cut those large sheets[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
Now most table saws come with the ability to tilt, meaning you can make those bevel cuts. But if you thought you had enough to think about, well there’s another decision you may have to make. Left or right tilt. Now most saws will have a blade that tilts to the right. The default configuration for most table saw fences is to have the fence on the right of the blade. For safety reasons it is not safe to have the saw blade tilting toward the fence for bevel cuts, as it traps the work piece and doesn’t allow it lift clear. So in the event of kickback, it can be sent back in your direction like a rocket.
So If you have a right tilt blade, simply move your fence to the left of your blade and make your cut. Simple!!
Now a lot of savvy saw manufacturers got wise to fact that some wood workers were getting fed up with having to keep moving the fence so they introduced an option to purchase a saw that tilts to the left, meaning that you can leave your fence on the right hand side of the blade when you come to make your bevel cuts.
Now left or right tilt is entirely subjective, If you have used right tilt saws in the past then you may want to stick to right tilt as it is what you have become used to. Nothing is gained or lost on the quality of the cut, its just down to personal choice.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
Types of Motor
Now the smaller portable saws and some contractor saw will probably come with a smaller brush motor. These motors are light and are best choice if you need to move your saw around regularly, but they do also tend to be noisy and are not as powerful as the larger induction motors. This may be fine if you only hope to cut sheet materials and softer woods. If you plan on cutting materials that are quite thick and more dense then these table saws can struggle.
Induction motors run only on AC power and don’t use brushes, this is the reason why they are so quiet they run slower and use a belt drive instead of a gear train. Induction motors on table saw usually range from 1.5 hp up to 5 hp. The more powerful saws will require you to run 220v.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
Types of cuts
If you are going to be doing a lot of ripping on your table saw, then being able to safely support the work piece on the table and as it feeds through the blade is essential, as is having a good riving knife and blade guard.
If you’re looking to make lots of cross cuts, then looking at a saw that comes with a miter gauge or a standard size miter slot that will allow you to purchase aftermarket miter accessories or cross cut sleds. Many portable saws use a smaller size mitre slot so don’t be caught out.
Miter slots come in two formats, straight and T slot. Straight miter slots are simply a rectangular channel that allows a rectangular miter gauge to run in the slot. T slots are, you guessed it, look a bit like a “T” the benefit of these are that they keep the miter gauge against the table by not allowing them to raise away from it. One less thing to worry about when you are making the cut. As long as you stick to a table saw with standard miter slot dimensions (3/4” wide and 3/8” deep) then you should be fine finding aftermarket accessories that will work with your saw, such as the very popular Incra MITERV27
The standard size for a table saw blade is 10 inches, although some of the larger table saws will come with a 12 inch blade. Never discount a table saw because it came with a poor quality blade, as this is always the cheapest and quickest thing to upgrade when you buy your table saw. In fact I would recommend that replacing the blade is the first thing that you do. Changing the blade to a higher quality blade more suited to the type of woodworking you will be doing can make a mediocre saw a great one., manufacturers have got to keep their prices down somehow and unfortunately the blade is sometimes where a lot of them make this saving.
If you are planning on using a dado set with your table saw, make sure that your saw is capable of taking a stacked dado set.
So there you have it, those are the main things that you will need to consider when you are choosing the best table saw for you. I’m sure that I have probably missed a few things, so please as always drop me a note with what you look for in a table saw.