Tips on How to Choose a Table Saw

Choosing a Table Saw

The table saw is the most important equipment in practically every cabinetmaking business, and it is perhaps the most essential single tool a woodworker will own, because the work it does serves as a foundation for everything that follows.

The table saw is usually used for scaling wood, although it can also be used for ripping. Without one, a woodshop can appear to be woefully underequipped. In most projects, ripping boards to width is critical, but the table saw also cuts sheets of plywood, makes crosscuts, performs miter and bevel cutting, and a variety of other tasks, just as it was designed to do. The table saw can be used to manufacture tenons, crosscut wide or long lumber, make repeating cuts, cut grooves and slots, and mold, among other things.

Table Saw Categories

Bench Top Table Saw

Contractors and others that require lightweight job site saws frequently use bench top table saws. These are simple to toss in a truck bed or take from its nest in that truck and swiftly set up for use by one person. Most tabletop saws are under 65 pounds, have universal motors (with brushes), and are more louder than induction motor-powered saws.

Because the arbor is normally the motor shaft, the depth of cut for a certain blade height is lowered due to little motor interference. Because the reduction is in the 1/8″ region, it may not be significant for most sawing applications—if you’re not cutting material 3″ or thicker, it’s irrelevant.

Hardwoods that thick are difficult to cut with most bench top saws, while softwoods that thick cause a lot of trouble. Fences on these saws range from average to outstanding (excellent fences are often seen on saws costing more than $350). Because of two factors: table size and table design, the fences on aftermarket versions are usually not replaceable.

Many bench top table saw tables are built of aluminum or composites and molded to accommodate just the fence made by the saw’s maker; the tables are usually too short (front to rear) to accept most aftermarket fences. At 115 volts, the amperage ranges between 13 and 15 amps, depending on the manufacturer.

The motor horsepower of these saws is usually irrelevant, as almost all manufacturers rate them at maximum brake horsepower, which isn’t practical on a daily basis. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and even if you account for 100 percent efficiency, you won’t obtain five horsepower from a 115-volt 20-amp circuit.

Contractor Saw

Contractor saws are far heavier than bench top saws, are usually much more durable, and have larger tables. Brushes aren’t used in their induction motors. The engines are also quieter, however it can be difficult to detect when cutting wood.

Contractor saw motors typically produce 1-1/2 to 2 horsepower and draw between 11 and 18 amps at 115 volts. Almost all contractor’s saws include motors that can be easily changed to 230 volt use in instances where it would be beneficial.

With several types of extensions (cast iron, solid or waffle pattern, laminate covered manufactured wood, or pressed sheet metal) and at least the availability of high grade fences, the contractor saw weighs between 280 and 220 pounds.

Many come with excellent fencing as standard equipment. Contractor’s saws are lighter than cabinet saws, but still four to six times heavier than bench top versions; the arbor is driven by a single belt, which enhances the depth of cut by up to 1/8 inch “On many models, (above direct drive saws). The arbor/blade system is also isolated from much vibration, making the saw more pleasant to use while also producing smoother cuts. Fences range from terrible to superb, but they can all be replaced with aftermarket models that are designed to improve table saw utility and accuracy.

Trunnions—the arc-shaped supports for the arbor—are commonly made of cast metal and are fastened to the table from the underside. Cast iron trunnions are found on the greatest contractor’s saws, but other metals, like as aluminum, have shown to be just as durable over time. A good contractor’s saw will serve a woodworking hobbyist for a lifetime in practically every aspect necessary, assuming modest or no misuse.

The saw has some limitations, the most notable of which being its inability to cut large, heavy hardwoods. If you’re going to work with materials that are longer than 6/4 (1-1/2), “) thickness with frequency, the contractor’s saw is slightly underpowered, but it is perfectly adequate for all other hobby usage.

Cabinet Saw

The cabinet saw is the next step up from the table saw. Because the motor is encased in the cabinet, cabinet saws have a smaller footprint than contractor’s saws, but the table size is the same or slightly larger. Everything is more robustly constructed, made to last and last and last.

Cabinet saws come in a dizzying array of fences and support tables on the sides and rear, but they always revolve around a large basic saw with an enclosed base cabinet housing a single phase 220 volt three horsepower or stronger motor. Three belts drive the arbor from the motor (there are a few lower horsepower two belt versions available, too).

Because the trunnions are attached to the bottom of the cabinet rather than the top, cabinet saws are simple to modify for blade parallelism to the miter slots and, ultimately, blade parallelism to the fences. The arbor assembly is more substantial and has a stronger bearing assembly than contractor’s saws, and the trunnions are truly big, cast iron.

These are lifetime plus saws that are built to withstand heavy use and have a low failure rate. The tremendous weight of these saws also makes them smooth to operate, resulting in even more precise and smoother cuts.

What table saw to choose?

In addition to the above essentials of type, look for the following features: the table must be flat , and extensions must fit snug and flat to the main table. Out-of-flat tables can lead to a slew of subsequent issues, including erroneous cuts.

The blade guard should provide a clear view of the blade in operation and be simple to position and change: no hobbyist’s table saw currently has a good blade guard. Furthermore, over-arm blade guards are currently the most popular setup, although they are somewhat expensive.

The fence must be strong, able to move from side to side easily, lock tightly with no creep when wood presses against it, and be simple to connect jigs to. It’s also beneficial to have consistency. If you need to reset to a size, you don’t want to be 1/8″ off with the second setting, even if the marker is exactly the right size. You may or may not desire a fence that locks from the front and back; only a few of the best fences have this feature. There’s no need to be concerned about fences that only lock at the front unless you want to use a power supply.

The saw table’s fence must be longer than the fence (but may have auxiliary adjustments to allow it to slide into a shorter position). To prevent thin woods from slipping underneath the saw fence, it must be near to the saw table top (though an auxiliary fence may be clamped in place to prevent this kind of problem).

The width of the fence is frequently determined by the size of the shop. When it comes to cutting a full sheet of plywood, wider (50″ and 52″) fences are wonderful to have if you have the space. However, because the wide fences add nearly two feet to the table saw’s width, they can be a concern in smaller shops.

Miter gauges must fit snugly in the table miter slot while still being able to move back and forth smoothly. If at all feasible, choose a table saw with a T slot for the miter gauge to maximize its utility.

Space Issues

Essentially, the best saw for someone with limited room is a bench top model. This can be adjusted if space allows for a larger saw, such as a contractor’s saw, to be mounted on a mobile base. These bases, which cost a few dollars more, make it simple to move a tool weighing hundreds of pounds about without harming set-ups.

When you get at the location where you must operate, simply raise the wheels with a step-on lift and you’re ready to go. If a contractor’s saw can be stored at all, a wise woodworker will choose it over the best of bench top saws. The accuracy is higher. The durability is improved. The cut depth is higher. The amount of noise is reduced.


For those who already know how serious they are about woodworking, dipping into their savings account for at least $1500 will get them a cabinet saw. While a cabinet saw is not required for high-quality jobs, it has become a goal for many expert woodworkers.