How To Choose The Right Table Saw For A Beginner
An article by Mark Minnishbach
Stepping up into the league of table saws is something that is on the minds of most serious woodworkers. What would take excruciatingly long periods of time with a circular saw, or even longer with a handsaw, is done in lightning speed, and with more precision than a Swiss Army Knife when you have the right table saw on your side.
Where to start though?
Well, there isn’t just one brand that produces great stuff, while some other brands produce hog’s breath. You have to be able to differentiate between them to learn what separates the good from the bad.
Table Saw Styles
For a beginner, you will most likely be wanting either a portable saw (think under 40kg, but still powerful enough for most residential tasks), or a contractor saw. Contractor saws are not very portable and are often kept in a shed or garage where parts are made.
The other two main styles are cabinet saws and hybrid saws, which often have bigger motors, better dust extraction and will do an overall better job. But they are bigger, heavier, far more expensive and often run on 3 phase power (which most houses don’t accommodate). For a closer look at, and comparison of, the top table saws in various categories, make sure to check out Table Saw Choice and the reviews over there.
What To Look For In A Contractor Or Portable Table Saw?
A table saw without safety features is a trip to the A&E department. The most important one is some form of kickback prevention - most commonly a riving knife. These are safer than splitters, and unless you make dado cuts frequently, it will stay in place longer and be more likely to prevent injuries. Flesh sensors are becoming a feature seen on more expensive saws, but is slowly trickling down to become standard on lower budget models. This feature enables the blade to sense flesh, and bring the machine to a standstill within 1/100th of a second. Kick switches and magnetic “Off” switches are also an addition that is common on quality saws.
Drive Belt Style
Poly-V style belts will cause less fine movement and vibration in the saw, which all add up to more accurate cuts and less chance of screw ups - so choose a saw with this style of drive line if possible.
Table saws are not known for their quality dust control systems, so if you can find one that has a decent system, chances are good that the rest of the saw will be designed well also. If you don’t opt for a quality dust control system, consider hooking up an extraction system, especially if you are in a confined space.
Bigger is not necessarily better - because the bigger you go, the more likely it is that it’ll blow your
household electrics into next week. Most saws under 2 hp will be more than adequate for a beginning woodworker, and you will be able to cut solid hardwoods up to a couple of inches thick without any worries. Motors bigger than 2 hp are often overkill for a woodworking journeyman, and also come with more dangers, higher power draw and an increased chance of kickback.
A Square Fence
The fence is the part that will frustrate you the most if it isn’t of decent quality. The “T” style fences are hard to beat and this will assist you to perform the most accurate of cuts. You’ll find inexpensive saws won’t have the best quality fence, but this is a part you can upgrade at a later stage if it starts to hinder your progress.
A table saw is an investment that will be with you for 10+ years. If you want to get into woodwork in a serious manner, there are plenty of good options for home use, and spending a little extra is always worth it in the long run.