A table saw is a vital part of working with wood beyond simple cuts and builds. Woodworking of any complexity will require a table saw to provide efficient cuts with the required power you need for more significant projects.
Choosing a table saw isn’t difficult, but you will need to decide on a few different questions before you make your decision. This buyer’s guide will help you make the best decision and choose the right tool for your needs.
Table Saw Categories
Table saws come in three basic categories that center around the table or surface itself. This is your first decision when choosing a table saw.
Benchtop Table Saws
Bench saws don’t have a dedicated table or top. Instead, the surface requires another workbench or frame to support the tool. They’re a portable job site option if you don’t have a large workshop for a dedicated space.
Job site Bench saws will be somewhat limited in capability because they don’t usually have the power or large cutting capacity to handle truly professional or heavy-duty jobs. Still, they will give the household DIYer the capability to cut wood or sometimes other materials. It also give you the flexibility to carry it around to job site.
Contractor Table Saws
Contractor saws have a dedicated tablespace designed to house the saw and aren’t considered portable like bench saws. They provide more power and greater cutting capacity, but they can take up a lot of space.
They’re also significantly heavier, so you’ll need to have a dedicated space where your saw will stay in order for these to work. You won’t be able to store them and pull them out for use if you don’t have the dedicated space.
Cabinet Table Saws
The biggest of the bunch, cabinet saws offer the most power and stability of the bunch. You’ll be able to tackle professional jobs with all the capability to handle other types of materials or just a full onslaught of cuts.
These will need the most space as well and will not move once installed. So you can not not carry it to jobsite. You’ll need to have a dedicated location where you know the tool will stay for the long term. They’re also the most significant overall investment.
Related: Radial Arm Saw Vs. Table Saw
Table Space And Extensions
Under each category, you may have some leeway for the overall amount of table space you require. Once you’ve chosen your type of table saw, you’ll need to think about the types of projects you’d like to do.
Ensure that you’ll have the space you need for your projects. The general advice is to defer to a bigger table size, but balance the size with the available workshop space.
It’s possible to find a table saw with an extension table, but they’ll be on the basic side. However, this simple extra space may be enough for what you need to accomplish. They deploy and then fold up for storage when not in use.
Rip & Cutting Capacity
Bigger space between the board and the fence determines the size of the board you’ll be able to rip. Larger areas allow you to use the saw on larger pieces while smaller rip capacity limits the size of the board.
For home DIY, you may not need a considerable rip capacity and can take advantage of a more compact size saw in a smaller shop. Professionals will likely need a larger rip capacity for bigger boards.
You’ll need to have a rip capacity of around 20 inches to do larger planks like plywood. Also, ignore marketing ploys that advertise two different rip capacities depending on the side of the table you work on. This is true of nearly all table saws.
There are two basic types of motors that run table saws. They both have pros and cons.
- Belt drive saws — When the motor runs, a belt transfers that power to the saw through indirect measures. These offset the motor to reduce dust contamination and prolong life. They’re sometimes quieter, but they will require more maintenance.
- Direct drive saws — These power the saw directly from the motor, providing more power and immediate response. They’re louder and require less maintenance, but are good at packing a lot of power into a smaller package.
Some larger table saws use a combination of both, but this isn’t as common. It’s best to decide one or the other.
Dust Extraction System
Dust is a serious hazard to your health and the life of your machine. You must consider what type of dust collection and trapping your table saw will have to protect both you and the tool.
For new models, the dust removal is a simple solution that connects to something like a shop vac. It can be as simple as attaching the hose to your shop vac. Older models may not have dust extraction, but luckily there are aftermarket solutions.
Fence and Miter Gauge
The fence of your table saw is a vital part of your tool. The best option will be a T-slot or T-square fence. These run along T-slots at the front of the tool and take far less time to ensure a genuinely straight cut. They’re made of steel for durability and adjust more efficiently than other types of slots.
They’re also going to be more expensive. A lower-cost alternative is a fence that clamps on the front and back of the table. These will take a bit longer to ensure a straight cut and to get clamped, but they could help you save money.
If you work with wood a lot, you may want to upgrade to a T-square or T-slot fence to ensure that you have speed and accuracy on your side. If you don’t do a ton of woodworking, an alternative may suffice just fine.
A Saw Stop Safety Feature
One essential feature that helps reduce the chance of catastrophic injuries is a saw stop. This feature detects the presence of human skin and sends a short electrical signal to short the machine and stop the blade within five milliseconds.
These features do come at a significant investment but could be worth it in the long run. Table saws are some of the most common shop injuries in the emergency room. So, this feature could save your fingers or more.
You should pay attention to what sort of plug you have in your workspace because table saws come in both 110v and 220v. It’s not safe to use a converter with a table saw, so get the right type of electrical plug.
You also need to think about the type of amperage you need to operate your saw. The higher the amp capacity, the more powerful your tool will be. The average for typical home use is around 15 amps in new models and a little lower in some older options.
In reality, the amperage shouldn’t go lower than 15 amps, or you’ll struggle to get even the most basic jobs done. Make 15 amps your baseline when buying a table saw.
Finding Your Right Table Saw
The right table saw will be a combination of these features and work well to accomplish what you need. Consider what you’ll be working on and find a tool that will achieve those goals with some room to grow.
This table saw a buying guide will give you the right information to be able to choose what you need. You’ll know what you’re capable of and be able to purchase a saw suited for your purposes.