Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
Also called a variety saw because of all the operations that can be completed on it, the table saw is the backbone of many wood shops. By far the most common blade diameter is 10″, but the saw itself comes in three common sizes. From largest to smallest they are: cabinet saw, contractor saw, and portable saw. If you really want to get picky, a fourth type – hybrid saw – has some characteristics of both the cabinet- and contractor saws. The cabinet- and contractor saws are very stable for ripping 4×8 sheets, are often equipped with long extension rails for ripping wide parts, but cannot be moved around. Portable saws can be divided into two sub-categories – benchtop and jobsite. Benchtops are the smallest saws, and slightly larger jobsite saws come with wheels and a stand to make setup easy. The difference between the three types of saws isn’t just size, but also how durable and robust the inner workings of the saws are constructed. The cabinet saw is the most robustly built saw and will provide many decades of use.
Weight: 50–500 lbs
Rip Capacity: 16–48″
Most cuts made on a table saw use the rip fence, so a solid, straight fence that doesn’t flex, locks square to the blade, is easy to adjust, and locks firmly to the table will pay off in the long run if you use the saw often.
Sawstop produces flesh-sensing table saw technology, which immediately stops the rotation of the blade the moment it comes into contact with conductive material; that is, skin. This type of saw is no excuse for unsafe operation, though.
For best results in solid wood, use a rip blade for ripping and a cross-cut blade for cross-cuts. When using sheet stock, there are other blades to help you obtain a clean cut. Dado blades are also very helpful. A good blade goes a long way to making a good cut.
After-market accessories and shop-made jigs can turn a table saw into an extremely useful piece of equipment that can tackle almost any cutting task. Learn about some of these accessories, and consider what type of work you want to do with the saw, before deciding on a model.
There are more serious injuries on table saws than on any other piece of woodworking machinery. If used incorrectly, the user is often in line of kickback and also has his or her hands near the blade, resulting in loss of fingers, or worse. Learn how to use a table saw safely before making the first cut.