The table saw is the center of any workshop. Purchasing the ideal table saw is critical as it will impact the quality of your work, your productivity and the limits of what you can actually build on your store.
Table saws come in four classes and I will explain each one and outline the pros and cons of each one. The table saw you ultimately purchase will be largely influenced by your budget, this space you have available and in some cases the actual sort of floor you will be working on.
Portable Table Saw ($150 to $300)
Portal table saws are the most popular selections in most home workshops because of their cost, weight and size. These versions can be installed directly on a workbench or a floor stand. They’re simple to handle, transport and move around the store. Some woodworkers with tight spaces will really stow them away under their seats, in a corner or even in a cupboard. Although these table saws provide low cost and portability these saws have several drawbacks. Though adequate for the novice woodworker, cutting precision is somewhat limited. Inherent play in the job guides and a small cutting a table may create acceptable cuts for many projects but may be a problem with larger and more sophisticated work. To save cost portal table saws have direct drive motors that operate on 110 volts and are usually limited to one horsepower. Thick heavy cuts are often beyond the capabilities of the sort of table saw. I’ve found that extensive use of those small saws eventually results in motor burnout, and the motor is not replaceable. Although limited in power, the saws are also quite noisy and usually start with an abrupt jolt of the blade. Most use a crude pivot system that is difficult to set and might become quickly clogged with sawdust making the mechanism stiff. Even though these saws that serve a purpose, you will likely need to upgrade as your woodworking skills evolve.
Contractor Saws ($600 to $1,000)
These units resemble bigger versions of the portable saw variety but with a few significant improvements. Although usually mounted on a rack with wheels, these units are not portable and are restricted to rolling around the store at best. Weighing in most cases over 250 pounds they are not portable. Most of their weight is at the table and motor surface. Larger motors up to 3 horsepower and larger cast iron tables offer bigger cutting capacities. Well designed cutting guides with low tolerance levels offers considerably more accurate cutting as well. Starts and stops are smoother and quieter and if in the future if you wish to increase the size of the engine or replace a burnt out one, the process is easy and straightforward. Most contractor saws also have worm gear driven blade tilt systems which are more precise and less prone to jamming because of sawdust buildup. 1 drawback of contractor saws is their open cupboard design, similar to the portable saw. This makes dust collection hard to control. In spite of this drawback, contractor saws offer many great features for the intermediate woodworker. Even as your skill levels evolve, contractor saws can provide you with many years of reliable service.
Hybrid Saws ($1000 to $2000)
These are a relatively new addition to the category of saws available on the market. They are a cross between contractor saws and larger cabinet saws, and usually offer more of a cabinet structure to the ground over the builder saw configuration. These saws will usually house the belt driven motor within the cupboard. This makes dust collection more efficient, and the saw runs quieter as well. These saws are thicker, typically from the 350 pound range and feature bigger motors beginning at 3 horsepower. Like the contractor saw they have worm gear driven blade tilting systems and larger cast iron tables. Many hybrid saws can be fitted with table extensions to create cutting larger sheets simpler.
Cabinet Saws ($2000-$10,000)
Cabinet saws are both awesome pieces of gear and prohibitively expensive for most hobby woodworkers. They’re heavy and require a solid concrete floor to rest on. Cabinet generators take up a lot of room particularly when fitted with large table extensions. All operate on 240 volt electricity and engine sizes vary from 3 horsepower to 6 horsepower. Some expensive industrial components run on three phase electricity, not offered in a home. They provide 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 larger 12″ blade which even further increases cutting capacity. The cost and size of the woodworker’s dream limits these units to big shops with good cement floors and large budgets.
If you can afford to purchase a new contractor saw outright, consider this one of your best options. A good contractor saw will serve you for several years to come and turn out quality work. If it’s not on your budget consider a mobile saw as a temporary measure with the plan to upgrade to a contractor’s saw in the future. Think carefully before making the leap to a hybrid or cabinet saw. Justify the expense and make sure you have
Forty years ago, I purchased my first portable table top saw from an ad in the paper (the internet wasn’t invented then!) . The kind man sold it to me with a stand for $20 and I was able to get started in woodworking. Over the last four decades I’ve owned every type of saw outlined in this article based on what work I was doing and the distance I had to work with. I still feel that the best bang for your buck is the contractor saw. A few years ago a fellow was selling one on Kijiji and I managed to buy his hardly used contractor saw for the price of a new portable saw. Obviously the builder saw was a much 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 enable me to turn out good quality work.
One Last Word on Table Saws
When purchasing a table saw, examine the blade tilt direction. These days, the vast majority of saws are left tilt nevertheless some models are configured for right tilt blades. I will go into more detail in another article on all of the advantages and disadvantages of both of these different configurations. But in general, right handed woodworkers are more harmonious with left tilt versions. Also, in regards to beveled cuts, left tilt saws are safer to use. Although right tilt versions have some measurement and production benefits, most woodworkers will discover left tilt blade saws simpler and safer to operate.
Always try to buy the best saw type you can afford. Cheap mobile generators can create limitations and tend to wear out quickly under continuous use. Consider the dust collecting capabilities of this you are considering as well as electricity requirements (do you will need to put in a 240 volt outlet?) .
There are lots of lightly used saws out there. Think about purchasing a much better designed used saw over a cheaply made new one.