Table Saw Buying Guide? Know what to look for!
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Professional woodworkers rely on the table saw for most of their woodworking projects. Cross, miter, compound, bevel or rip cuts, they always look towards table saw. But, a table saw is not only limited to these cuts. With proper techniques and added accessories, one can utilize it for endless tasks. If you are one of the professionals who are really serious about wood projects, then always remember that a table saw will work in a beneficial way only if you purchase the right one that covers all your requirements and can work for you without leaving its breath.
To help you with the same, we have envisioned this topic that covers everything that you need to know before buying a table saw. Let us look at the points that you need to remember.
Different types of table saws
This section is useful if you have just started searching for a table saw. You have to know what are the types and based on the same you can make the choice. There are three basic types of table saws.
- Cabinet Saws
Most powerful among all, a cabinet saw is superior in performance, durability, precision or heavy duty usage. Because of such characters, it founds a way to most of the professional woodworkers, contractors, factory shops, and specialized schools. Talking about looks, it has a cabinet beneath the saw table to enclose motor. In general, the motor power of cabinet saws varies between 3 HP to 5 HP and can weigh up to 600 pounds.
- Contractor saws
For professionals who need to move from one job site to another, contractor saws are a better choice. A contractor saw feature belt driven blade and the motor is placed outside the saw. Treated as the replacement for cabinet saws but are lighter than the same as they are mostly constructed of aluminum. It can be a small bench top saw with motor power up to 1 HP or a large table saw having 1 to ¾ HP motor. You can purchase the best contractor table saw if portability is the major concern over power and accuracy.
- Hybrid saws
Covering the middle ground between cabinet saws and industrial contractor saws, hybrids generally have open leg stands. But, there are also some models that come with full enclosures. It is not necessary, but usually, hybrid table saws go up to 2 HP.
What are the features to look for?
Now you know the various types of table saws but whatever variant you buy, look for the following characters.
- Table and its extensions must be flat as deviated tables result in inaccurate cuts. Apart from that, the extensions should fit tightly to the table.
- Blade guard should be easy to set or change and must give you a clear view of the blade at work. You can always opt for a separate overarm blade guard as they are clear and easy to use. Overarm blade guard may cost anywhere between $260 to $380.
- The fence of the miter saw must be sturdy and smooth while moving from one side to another. The fence should also tightly lock once the wood is pressed against it and you can easily attach jigs to it. It should be longer than the table with auxiliary attachments that can make it slide into a shorter length. Also, the saw fence should be close to the saw table to avoid slipping of thin woods.
- Miter gauges have to fit tightly in the table miter slot with an easy movement of back and forth. For extended usage, we recommend you to purchase a miter saw with T slot for the miter gauge.
As we discussed earlier in this post, the motor power varies depending upon the table saw type. For professional purposes, any table blade with a power of 2 HP/15 amp or more will be good. At 120 VAC, you will get plenty of ripping ability from a 2 HP motor.
Blades used in the table saws are differentiated based on their diameter, teeth numbers, arbor size, speed, kerf size, application, and the building material. Commercial table saws feature 10 or 12 inches of blades while some of the variants even comprise a small 5-inch blade and large blades measuring 1 foot. However, the standard saw blade diameter is 10 inches that give you 3-1/2 inch cut capacity at 90 degrees. 10 inch saw blades are also the most versatile ones.
The number of teeth varies between 24 to 80. The building material is generally carbon, carbine, and even expensive diamond-tipped teeth as they are made to go through other materials apart from wood.
Revolutions per minute (RPM)
If you are going to purchase a hybrid saw, the motor RPM is also the blade RPM. However, if you are considering contractor or cabinet saws, it is a different scenario altogether. Professional saws have RPM varying between 4000 to 5000. There is a restriction on how much power you can draw and each manufacturer has to channel it between the torque and RPM. So, higher RPM is not always worthy. If you are working mostly on carpentry jobs, then a lower RPM will be helpful. Blades running at high speed may burn hardwoods as they go through while a low-speed blade will not harm the wood at all.
As discussed earlier, the cutting area of the table saw should be flat for accuracy and its weight should provide stability while working. Cabinet saw tables made of cast iron are the same. Contractor and hybrid saws come with aluminum, steel or granite table. Some of the hybrids use a primary table made of cast iron while the extensions of aluminum.
One of the essential parts of a table saw is a fence, which gives you an edge over other types of the saw. The fence should be easily adjustable and parallel to the saw blade so that it can be accurate. A fence that slides or flexes while using can bind the blade with wood resulting in dangerous kickbacks. We recommended a T-style fence, which is famous among woodworkers as it gives required accuracy and precision.
Spend plenty of time checking the fence while you are purchasing the table saw. If you see that the fence moves easily, locks properly and remains in tune to the blade, then it is a great choice. If you find that the fence is lacking anywhere, look for a different variant otherwise you will be frustrated later while working on the wood projects.
You have to rely on the miter gauge of the miter saw for any angled or crosscuts. Miter gauge must be sturdy with easily adjustable angles that should remain firm when the lock is tightened. It should easily glide in the miter slots without any lag or sloppiness. If it is sloppy, the result will be inaccurate angled cuts.
Table saw comes with two types of miter gauge slot – rectangular and T-slot, which is commonly found on cabinet saws, but rarely on contractors. Standard rectangular slots will fit into the T-slots, but not vice versa. Choosing a miter gauge depends on your preference, but we will recommend the T-slot.
Expect the table saw to create a lot of dust and debris. Some variants are easy to clean while others are not so convenient. In this department, cabinet saws are the best as they already have a 4-inch dust base connecting port. On the other hand, collecting dust from the contractor’s saw is worst as it has an open bottom that allows the dust to fall freely to the ground. The only option is to hang an open. Hybrid saw has sometimes an easy dust collection like cabinet saws and can be difficult similar to contractor saws. Some of the hybrids accept 2 or 2.5 inches’ external vacuum hose. But, the main problem is their unsealed bases where you can use dust tapes with cardboard if needed.
Consider dust collection while you decide the type or model that you are going to purchase. If you will work indoors than opt for a table saw that has the port to an external shop vacuum. On the opposite side, if you are going to work outdoors, any open cabinet saw will be good.
It is must to know that you need a high level of safety while working on a table saw. You have to be careful when your fingers are inches away from a blade that is running at thousands of revolutions per minute. When the wood binds between the blade and the table or fence, it results in kickbacks that may result in some unwanted injuries if the table saw lacks the safety features. Safety components to minimize the accidents are-
- Blade guard. Most of the professionals have a habit to remove the blade guards. However, this is not a good practice as the blade guard has a significant role in reducing injuries. So, either look for a table saw with a blade guard or install it separately. Otherwise, you also will have a story of how you get injured while working on the table saw.
- Blade brake. Another safety component to look for while purchasing the table saw is a blade brake. Without a break, that blade will keep spinning for a long time before it finally halts. Table saw with a blade brake gives you added protection and stops the blade within seconds. In fact, SawStop manufactures table saws with flesh detection that instantly stops the blade if it detects any living strike. It is a costly feature but can save you from a much worse injury in case of an unfortunate accident.
- Splitter and anti-kickback pawls. Kickback is when a wood piece ejects at high speed towards the operator, which is one of the top reasons for the table saw-related injuries. It happens when the wood binds between the blade and fence as well as gets caught by the blade by its back teeth. To prevent kickbacks, table saws comes fitted with a splitter – a metal or plastic blade that holds the kerf behind the blade of the table saw. Seems a simple solution, but does its part to keep you safe.
- Attached with the splitter, there are a pair of anti-kickback pawls protecting both the sides of the wood. It prevents the “launch” of a wood piece in the event of any kickbacks as they stick their claws in it. However, it will not be in use while making crosscuts.
- Riving knife. You can look for a table saw the features a riving knife, which is a better option than a splitter. Riving knife mounts at the back of the saw blade and has the same width. As the wood pieces go through the blade, the riving knife keeps them separated to stop any kickbacks. As you see, both are responsible for a similar job of keeping you safe, but there are differences. Splitter is a fixed component and hence cannot move with the blade. While making cross or dado cuts, you have to remove the splitter and you may forget to put it back once you get back to the rip cuts.
- On the opposite side, a riving knife can move along with the blade as it is also attached to the same mechanism. As the riving knife moves along with the blade, you do not have to remove it while making cross cuts. It is also comparatively safe as you will never come into contact of the back side of the blade. A riving knife is also mounted very close to the blade, so the wood does not have much space to get caught by the back of the blade.
- Magnetic switch. Another important features to look for is the presence of a magnetic switch in the table saw. This switch protects the table saw from overload and also puts it in an “off” mode when the power is lost. Imagine the situation wherein you are adjusting saw or the blade and power comes back to it. So, a table saw with a magnetic switch is a lot safer purchase.
The removable plate surrounding the blade that is fitted with the table is known as throat plate. Remove the throat plate and you will be able to change or replace the blade and adjust riving knife. All you have to do is look for a narrow throat plate. A narrow plate prevents falling of wood particles into the blade area and their lodging between the throat plate and the blade. Second, it gives you close support to cut resulting in minimized tear out as the blade exits the cut.
Storage space and portability
If you have a storage problem than hybrid saws will be the best choice. If you have enough area to establish a table saw, but you need to move the power tool to job sites than you can always consider a contractor saw with mobile stand. Just by spending a few more bucks, you will get easy to push bases that can carry the heavy table saw without any damage. Finally, if you have a decent storage area, you should choose cabinet saws for all the woodworking needs. Cabinet saws are durable as well as accurate with great cutting depth and reduced noise levels.
Now, we will assume that you have earned the knowledge about the features that need to check while buying a table saw. So, buy the power machine and let us know which one you got.