Some do it for their livelihood; some take it as a hobby. Craftsmanship is a rare quality that requires a very good investment, even if you’re just planning to get started. A table saw, one of the most favorite power tools for today’s wood craftsmen, is basically a circular saw blade, mounted on an arbor. In one word, it cuts wood, and it cuts them accurately. The market of table saws is quite evolving with major innovations from time to time. Brands like DeWalt, Bosch, Ryobi, SawStop etc. today offer a various range of products, and each of them tends to offer various conveniences, which makes it pretty complicated to make a purchase decision. However, just by going through some key stuff, you can get yourself just the machine you need, and the effort will be worth it.
Currently manufacturers offer 4 sorts of table saws, portable, contractor, cabinet, and hybrid, and each of them fill up different sort of customers’ perspectives. However, before determining which table saw you actually need, we should cover what your table saw should have, as in the basics.
Safety measures should be the first concern, while choosing a table saw. According to Table Saw Accident Statistics’ data compiled in 2003, table saws caused 38,000 injuries of total 52,000 stationary saw related injuries, leaving only 27% for the other sorts of power saws like miter saw, band saw etc. Yes, table saws are currently the most dangerous power tool for common use. The typical injuries are caused by cutting of flesh by the spinning blade, kicking back of a piece of wood with a huge amount of force towards the user, reaching over blades, and jammed blades. However, thanks to the evolving market, higher priority is being given to this concern, and thus, better products are available. Courtesy of the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), today most of the systems offer riving knives, replacing splitters, and easily adjustable guards. These guards are much easier to remove and replace in accordance to convenience. Another safety feature that is currently offered by the manufacturer is the magnetic switch. A magnetic switch ensures that machine’s power switch goes off when the power plug is pulled off, ensuring less chance of injuries. This also prevents ruining the work that was being done. There’s also the flesh sensor technology offered by SawStops that detects the presence of tissue, such as our fingers, hands etc., and immediately turns off the blade upon 0.01 seconds. However, that’s a patented technology by SawStop, and the machines, though state-of-the-art, are quite expensive. The manufacturer also doesn’t offer any portable models. You should also keep in mind that a left blade tilt setup, although rare, offers more safety than a right blade tilt does. Right tilt machines increase the chances of kickbacks due to trapped debris. Note that left tilts are easier to clean miter cuts along the length of the panel.
This specification will tell you how powerful your machine is. Typically, they are between 1 to 5, while most of the contractor saws offer 1.5 to 2, and cabinet saws offer 3 to 5. For most applications the power that contractors saw offer is enough. The smaller ones do offer less chance of kickbacks, but are not that suitable for cutting the thick stocks. To make use of the full capacity, consider feeding the wood slowly and use a very sharp carbide-tipped blade.
The market currently offers three sorts of belts, V belts, ploy V belts, and link belts. V belts can cause vibrations in contractor and hybrid table saws due to the fact that they have their weights hang in the belt. In comparison to V belts, poly V belts are usually more effective, and also safer. Link belts, on the other hand, are not made of rubbers. Thus, they are not prone to assuming the shape of the pulleys, and the source of the vibration is usually avoided.
Most of the machines currently offer a blade size of 10 inches. They are effective enough for most applications. However, a lot of cabinet table saws also offer a blade size of 12 inches. They do tend to be a bit more expensive. These are typically made of plywood, plastic laminates, and other materials. A combination blade offers both ripping and crosscutting, and is a safe choice to start with. You also get a stack dado blade, if you need. Yes, you need to buy them separately. The sharpness and cleanliness of a blade should also be given higher priority, while choosing. Easily adjustable blades also go a long way. Better adjustable alignment means accurate cuts.
A bad dust collecting system is the biggest enemy of your fine work. There’s no point of having a high end system without convenient dust collecting facilities. The best system is covered around the blade and has a slanting chute toward the main dust port. Table saws with sealed bases tend to vary a lot in dust control performance. However, most cabinet table saws provide a perfectly closed base, and they are great. A dust bag that tends to fill up quickly should also be taken care of immediately.
Tabletop is one of the most important parts of your table saw. A smooth and flat table top ensures less vibration and thus, accurate cuts. Cast iron tabletops are the best ones, and they are milled to within 0.001 of an inch for flatness. They offer more weight, and thus, less vibration. In contrast, stamped or open steel, or aluminum tabletops are lighter and case vibrations.
While the tabletop of your machine only covers 24 inches, the rest of it contains wings. Sometimes these are also referred to as the extensions. These can be made of cast iron, molded steel, wood core plastic laminate, or other materials. The quality of a machine’s wings plays quite a major role in its pricing. However, extensions can also be purchased separately and added later on.
There are two miter slots in your machine. Miter slots ensure accommodation of the aftermarket accessories that you’re going to purchase later on, while considering upgrades.
Miter gauges are fit into the one of the two miter slots. They guide the wood that is being fed through. If it doesn’t tend to feel snuggly, while wiggling it sideways by putting it in one of the miter slots, you should move on another table saw. However, better miter gauges can be added later on as well.
The fence is the part that slides the wood against when the wood is fed into the saw. This is one of the most essential parts beside tabletop that can assure accurate cuts. They tend to price up a table saw to a good extend too. However, the better ones can be added later on.
The hand wheels determine how much effort you need to tilt your blade, and it shouldn’t take much. They should avoid heavy frictions and be easy to lubricate. Aftermarket hand wheels are also available.
Ease of Use
Any machine should be easy to use. Nowadays manufacturers try a lot to make a machine so productive that they forget about this key factor. There’s no point in having a high end machine, if it isn’t user friendly.
That’s basically all about the parts and their roles in the machine’s efficiency.
As said before, currently the market offers 4 kinds of table saws. It’s time to find out about them in detail.
Portable Table Saws
The name basically says how they are. They are portable and also referred to as benchtop or job site saws. You should consider them, only if portability is the highest concern.They tend to be a bit noisier than other table saws.
The good about them is that they deliver greater ease than cric saws with their 15A-120V motor with typically low horsepower. However, they can also get stuck, if thick hardwood is fed too quickly. The motors are usually supported by small lightweight steel or aluminum trunnions mounted to the other side of the table. These trunnions can wear out as time progresses. You also shouldn’t consider cutting full size sheets of plywood or MDF with these small trunnions unless you’re backed up by a good table extension. Again, adding up extensions eliminates the portability option to an extent as well.
The cabinets are typically made of plastic. The tabletops are made of cast-aluminum tops and extruded aluminum.
While choosing a portable table saw, make sure that they have folding stand wheels and adjustable feet. Built in table extensions go a long way for handling sheet goods. You need to fine tune the fences, so, make sure that you have proper amount of screws. Dust collection is a big factor, as said before. Make sure that they can be hooked to a vacuum.
If you’re just starting and have a tight budget, a good portable table saw is the way to go.
Contractor Table Saws
Now these are basically slightly upgraded versions of portable table saws, weighing pretty much around 400 lbs. However, they do tend to be a bit heavier due to hanging motor at the back, and open, fixed legs. You may consider them as portable, only if you have better arrangement for moving them around with those fixed legs.
They usually bear 1.5 horsepower, and are large enough to make cutting plywood and sheet stock easier. Due to open back design, they offer improved dust collection. Good units last as long as cabinet table saws.
These are suitable for beginners with a good budget and less portable needs. However, wood working professionals may need a bit more than it usually offers. Less expensive models are also available for home use.
Cabinet Table Saws
Cabinet table saw is a step towards the professional world. They are quite efficient. They can cut through the thickest wood without getting stuck or anything, so are the best choice for cutting through hefty items, including plywood, and MDFs. They cannot be considered as portable, as they tend to weigh more than 600 lbs.
They usually bear a 220V motor with 3 to 5 horsepower, which is really quiet. The trunnions are cabinet-mounted and thus, they offer minimum vibration with maximum accuracy. Wide, iron-cast tabletops offer stability and make it easier to cut through sheet goods.
The base is perfectly sealed, so, dust collection is as easy as it can be. You just need a good port in order to hook it up with a good vacuum cleaner, and control the dust in a whole new level.
A cabinet table saw with cast iron table extensions makes it more trustworthy. You should also look for accessible adjustable wheels, if you’re considering them.
A cabinet table saw can costpretty much a fortune. It’s great for professional and experienced use.
Hybrid Table Saws
Combine both your contractor and cabinet table saw, and you’ll have yourself a hybrid table saw.
They bear a 15A-120V motor with 1-1.5 horsepower, which is fairly quiet. The trunnions are mounted to the underside of the table and usually come with hefty steel cabinet, and these make them fairly accurate. The tabletops tend to be a bit large and made of cast iron. They also come with advanced drive belt system.
They tend to take less space than a cabinet table saw, and thus, they are usually seen in the garage or basement. Good arrangements can also transform them into portable units, but not for long roads.
The dust collection is fairly good.
Now while considering a hybrid table saw, you should definitely look for cast iron table extensions. Adjustable fence and height wheels can go a long way. A good dust collection port means that you can hook it up with a good vacuum cleaner and manage it professionally.
Hybrid table saws are great for experienced DIYers. They are mainly made for home users that demand a bit more accuracy and smoothness.
Finally, you should never forget how dangerous a table saw can be and use them with utmost care. A good machine remains good as long as you want it to. You just have to take care of it. Happy purchasing!