Thinking about getting a table saw? Read this buying guide first

Table saw buying guide

Regardless of the woodworking project, there is a good chance that you will need one of the most versatile power tools in any workshop: the table saw. But not all table saws are created equally nor is every table saw right for the same job. The question is: what table saw should you buy?

This guide will provide useful advice to navigate the table saw market and find the right model for any job.

Ask These Questions First

What to look for in a table saw

10-Inch vs 8-1/4-Inch Table Saws

The main difference between these two sizes of table saws is exactly how thick of wood the saw can cut through in a single pass. A 10-inch table saw will allow you to cut with a maximum depth of around 3-1/2-inches at 90 degrees. With an 8-1/4 inch table saw you will be limited to 2-1/5-inches of maximum 90-degree cut depth.

You can get around maximum cutting depth limitations with proper measurements and cutting the opposite face of the workpiece. However, this method takes more time, is prone to human error, and generally just does not produce as consistently good results. Also, tilting the blade for a bevel cut also has the consequence of shortening the total cutting height

Another thing to consider is that getting a table saw with the same size blade as other saws in your arsenal can cut down on the number of blades needed as they can be switched from one saw to another. The blades of an 8-1/4 table saw can be used on an 8-1/4 or a 10-inch miter saw, for example.

Finally, note that 10-inch blades are generally more expensive than 8-1/4 quality-equivalent blades so this is yet another consideration if you have tight budget constraints. Read more about table saw blades here.

Overall Build Quality

While this quality will not help you determine the table saw based on the type of job it is needed for, it will ultimately play a huge role in its overall value. This is especially important when considering that a solid table saw can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple of thousands of dollars depending on its type.

The main quality to look at when comparing a table saw’s overall build quality are the materials as they impact both durability and performance. From a performance perspective, the materials reduce vibration which can lead to imprecise cuts. The main materials used for table saws are plastic, stainless steel, aluminum, and cast iron.

Of the group, cast-iron provides the best vibration reduction but is excessively heavy and more expensive. Plastic, while the least expensive, is also obviously the least durable and vibrates more than the other materials. Stainless steel and aluminum are both solid with stainless steel reducing vibration better but aluminum being lighter and more portable.

Power

This quality often gets the most advertising space and is important, but it is not nearly as important as brands and inexperienced DIYers would have you believe. Of the various qualities, horsepower or amps tend to be the most important in terms of cutting power as they directly impact the torque.

RPMs, or rotations per minute, are another feature often advertised, but this is generally less important for cutting wood. That said, if the table saw will be used to cut other materials, like metal or fiberglass, being able to significantly reduce the RPMs is paramount. Conversely, too many RPMs can burn the face of the wood if you do not increase the feed rate.

Generally, one needs to worry about the power of a table saw more if you tend to cut dense hardwoods or materials other than wood. If the table saw will only cut soft and medium density hardwoods, then average motor power and blade speed are more than enough to accomplish the task. Read this article to better understand table saw power specs.

Size and Portability

The size and portability are important for all kinds of woodworkers but for different reasons. A professional contractor will probably be more concerned with how easy it is to transport the table saw from job site to job site. In this instance, weight is not nearly as important as a capable cart stand.

For master woodworkers and weekend hobbyists alike, the size of a table saw will come down to the size of the workshop. Benchtop table saws are the smallest type with cabinet table saws being significantly larger. However, even hybrid table saws, fairly large in their own right, often have caster wheels for movement within a workshop.

Maximum Rip Capacity

The maximum rip capacity puts a ceiling on the size of your projects but should otherwise not be the defining quality. If the table saw is needed for light commercial work, make sure to get a cabinet table saw with an extension that allows for rip cuts of at least 32”.

Moving further down the line in terms of importance, the minimum rip capacity can occasionally be important– especially for experienced woodworkers. Finally, some table saws allow for a decent maximum rip cut to the left of the blade which is useful for left-handed users or those who do not want to have to invert measurements.

Rip Fence Quality

Table saw fence

This is definitely one of the more important factors when using a table saw, but it may not measure up quite as much when purchasing one. More important when choosing a table saw is how the fence connects to the table in terms of its accuracy and how fine of adjustments it can make.

The materials are somewhat important as aluminum and certain types of plastic allow the workpiece to slide along the fence easier. Also, how easy it is to read the measurements, whether on the table or the fence, can be important as well. One thing to look out for is how a fence locks onto the table.

The two main methods are bolting the fence directly onto the table, usually on a rack and pinion, or with a cam lock. While the cam lock is generally the easier and more convenient of the two, you need to make sure that it locks on tight. Beisemeyer is considered the pinnacle with cam lock fences, but many others can be flimsy.

Safety Features

Given how dangerous a table saw is, safety is a paramount concern, but most models come with a wide range of safety features. The blade guard is the most obvious with most consideration of this feature falling on how easy it is to remove when you need to change or adjust the blade.

After that, the big factor comes down to a splitter or a riving knife, with the riving knife being superior since it moves up and down together with the blade. Anti-kickback pawls that can hook into the workpiece and prevent kickback are also common and important. Finally, some table saws like the SawStop have blade brakes that stop the blade almost instantaneously if it comes into contact with skin.

One thing to consider when purchasing a pre-owned table saw is that models made before 2008 had different safety standards than they do today.

How Good is the Dust Collection System

This is more of a convenience factor for most people, though professionals or those with allergies may rate it more important. The main issue is that poor dust collection allows sawdust to build up on the workpiece. This in turn reduces the blade’s cutting effectiveness and can dull the blade quicker than normal.

Most table saws allow for the hook-up of a vac system, though those with multiple connections perform the best. The size of the dust vac port is a major factor, though its effectiveness will heavily depend on the quality of the vacuum. A dual dust collection system with a vac port on the blade guard is currently the best option.

Dado Blade Compatibility

If you intend to cut a lot of dadoes and grooves, having the ability to add a dado blade becomes a necessity and should not be overlooked when shopping for a table.

Most contemporary table saws accept at least one type of dado blade, though the size of the dado cut varies significantly. The stacked dado blade uses two blades with several chippers spaced in between. In this instance, the table saw will need a longer arbor to handle the additional blades and spacers.

The wobble dado blade allows for finer adjustments but cuts rougher with a greater chance of tearout. That said, either type of dado blade will require additional length with the arbor. Just make sure not to forego the washer or arbor flange as this can be dangerous, but needs to be factored into the arbor length as well.

Direct Drive vs Belt Drive Motors

This is one of the more obscure qualities of table saws, and it often takes an experienced user to understand the impacts of each. Generally, the choice between a direct drive and belt-driven motor, with all other factors being equal, comes down to cutting power vs cutting precision.

A direct-drive motor connects directly to the arbor and spins with the maximum power output, but also introduces far more vibration into the cut. As such, whatever time might be saved from more power will have to be spent on making sure that the cut remains true when feeding the workpiece into the blade.

A belt-driven motor, on the other hand, produces less vibration– do not let anyone tell you otherwise. The only reason some say belt drives produce more vibration is that they tend to use significantly more powerful motors. But when comparing equivalent motors, belt drives generate far less vibration.

More about direct-drive vs belt-drive motors here.

What table saw should you buy?

By now you should already know what you should look for in a table saw. When it comes to actually buying one, know that there are essentially 5 types of table saws to choose from. Each table saw type is explained below.

  • Bench Top – This is the smallest type of table saw, but that does not mean it cannot keep up with the big boys. Granted, you have to sacrifice a bit in terms of power, but you can set up a benchtop table virtually anywhere, and it tends to be inexpensive which is perfect for the DIYer.
  • Job Site – This is the next step up in terms of both the size and the capability of a table saw with job site models often able to generate significantly more cutting power than benchtop models. Even better, a job site table saw almost always comes equipped with a handy rolling stand to make transporting it easier.
  • Contractor – Contractor table saws were once an incredibly popular type of table saw due to their increased cutting power without having to pay an arm and a leg. However, as technology progresses, the limited mobility combined with “lower grade” table saws able to compete in terms of cutting power is pushing this class to obsolescence.
  • Hybrid – This is the newest class of table saws with a lot of contradictory information out there, but the hybrid table saw is closer to a cabinet table saw. While less mobile than even a contractor table saw, the hybrid still occupies less space while packing quite a punch with cutting power.
  • Cabinet – This is the “big daddy” of table saws with both their performance and their price proudly displaying that fact. If you need professionally cut wood, few table saws will not require plenty of finishing work outside of a high-end cabinet table saw– just make sure you have the workspace to fit it.

Learn more about table saw types here.

Where Can You Buy a Table Saw?

Depending on the type and quality of table saw, as well as the potential return policy, there are plenty of places to buy one. For those who prefer to see what they pay for ahead of time, department stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Harbor Freight always have a wide range of different models to choose from.

On top of that, buying a table saw at a brick-and-mortar store also has the advantage of allowing for a significantly easier return should the need arise. Whatever you can find at a brick-and-mortar store, you can usually find on Amazon as well. While Amazon is a great place to find good deals, the return process can be a bit expensive as you often have to pay for shipping.

For anyone who does not mind buying used, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and occasionally Amazon are all decent options. Of course, purchasing a used table saw generally comes with either a no-return policy or an extremely small window. As such, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace might be better options to get a look at the tool before paying for it.

Summary

It should be pretty easy to find the right table saw for virtually any task or position following the guidelines set out here. Remember, the most important thing when choosing a table saw is understanding what it will be used for and what specs are necessary to finish those projects.

Outside of occasional DIYers, it often pays more in the long run to spend a bit more upfront and get a table saw that will last for years. Either way, there should be no issues comparing all of the models now.

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