A table saw can be a beneficial addition to your tool stable for a number of reasons. First, they come in highly-portable designs, which allows you to easily move them around the shop or to-and-from a job site. Second, they could potentially replace other saws you own and upgrade your performance. The larger hybrid or cabinet saws afford more power, precision and durability than typical handheld saws.
Let’s cover some of the basic features and terminology before we delve into the types of saws.
It is important to establish what type of table saw you need. The most important question to ask yourself is: Do I want a portable or a stationary saw?
If you are a carpenter that moves between job sites or otherwise needs a moveable saw, a portable or semi-portable saw is probably the answer. If you are an experienced woodworker with a dedicated facility, a stationary unit is probably more advantageous and effective. A neophyte will be better served with an entry-level portable before committing the space and capital needed for a stationary. For the experienced tradesman, there is likely a role for both types. The typical price for an entry-level portable saw is $200-$600.
There are many types of portable saws. The benchtop or compact variety is the lightest, and also the most affordable. If space or pricing is an issue, this category of saws offers the best of both worlds. They are useful for light work and are generally equipped with 120v, 15 amp, 2 horsepower, and direct-drive motors.
Jobsite saws are a slightly-beefier variation. They feature a larger rip capacity, heavier components, stronger motors, and are generally more well-constructed. Most saws in this category have foldable stands and dust-collection ports. They are also pricier than the entry-level saws and are semi-portable. The tables are larger, which allows for work on larger materials. For the typical intermediate user, they offer the best of both worlds: portability and heavy-duty use. Prices range from $300-$800 (generally speaking) for this type.
The next category of table saws is the stationary version. If space isn’t a consideration, but power, rip capacity, durability, and accuracy is, this may be the tool for you. There are three types: contractor, hybrid, and cabinet saws. While some models offer casters to move about the workspace, they are anything but mobile. You could potentially muscle these around your workshop, but they are not ideally suited to load up and take somewhere.
Industry marketing has afforded a blurry line between the designations of stationary saws, with the terms “contractor, hybrid, and cabinet” often used interchangeably in the same product description. What’s important to note is that these more expensive saws feature large, belt-driven, totally enclosed, fan-cooled (TEFC) outboard induction motors, which makes them ideal for any and all demands. The motor cases are sealed, which means they are nearly immune to dust and debris, unlike 120v motors found on cheaper saws.
If you can run it through a stationary saw, it will get cut. They are precisely accurate, powerful, and undeniably durable. These are the most expensive of the saws, and it’s imperative to evaluate your workshop not only for their sizable footprint but also for their higher voltage requirement. Most premium cabinet saws require 240v, so make sure your shop is equipped accordingly before investing.
While the cabinet saws can cost upwards of $4,000 new in some cases, they may eliminate the need for other types of equipment, depending upon your scope of expertise.
Evaluating which brand of saw to purchase is no easy task, as the choices are seemingly endless. The common theme is that the more you pay, the better the user feedback. The cheaper, no-name, one-off brands garner the lowest reviews. Brands like Dewalt, Skil, Ryobi, and Bosch hold the highest overall star ratings, but also hover near the top of the price range.
The only company to boast of preventing 5,000 injuries or amputations per year is Sawstop. Their patented safety technology disconnects the drive-in 4/1000ths of a second if the blade contacts flesh, and they proved it on YouTube using a hotdog. The power equipment industry has a long-held adage that safety doesn’t sell. Sawstop pricing may have a little bit to do with that. At a range of $1,600-$5,700, you will have to determine how fiscally-crucial devastating injury protection is to you.
One final strategy: consider buying a used saw, especially if you are unsure of how the new piece of equipment will adapt to your workflow. Facebook marketplace and your local pawn shop are excellent resources. You can likely find a decent used model for less than half of retail. If it doesn’t work out, you can resell it and recoup most or all of your money. Large hardware box retailers offer liberal return policies if you feel the need to buy a new saw with a guarantee.
The woodworking and carpentry community is a tight-knit fraternity, so ask a fellow tradesman or two before making a major equipment investment. There is no better source of practical information than your local expert.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the types of blades and which should I use?
A: Generally speaking, the lower the tooth count, the rougher the cut. A 36t blade will cut faster than an 80t blade, but there may be more finishing work with the lower-tooth-count blade. There are four basic types: rip, crosscut, combination, and composite. Depending upon the project, you may find the need for multiple blade types. A 60t combination blade is sufficient for most ripping and cross-cutting tasks, especially for a beginner.
Q: How important is horsepower when choosing a table saw?
A: For a neophyte, 1.75 hp is sufficient for most tasks. Just like with cars, higher hp equates to more speed. If you are an advanced or commercial operator, more is definitely better.
Q: Is blade RPM a consideration?
A: Not really. The vast majority of table saws run at 3,450 rpm (revolutions per minute). For a novice or intermediate user, blade selection is far more imperative than the rpm rating of the saw.