The table saw is, in a lot of ways, the heart and soul of any woodworking shop. As a woodworker, you want to make sure you get the most out of the money you invest in this critical tool. Whether you’re shopping for your very first saw or looking to upgrade your existing equipment, you’ll find some useful guidance here. This article will explain the different forms and types of table saw on the market today, the key features you need to look for, and how to pick out the saw that best fits your needs and financial resources.
Different Types Of Table Saws – Your Choices
Virtually all of the table saws being sold today fall into one of the following four categories: portable (“jobsite”) saws, contractor saws, cabinet saws, and hybrid saws. You need to have a thorough understanding of the advantages and limitations of each type before you go shopping for new saws.
* Portable Table Saws
As you would expect from the name, a portable table saw is one that’s designed to be easily moved from one location to another.
This makes them the ideal choice for carpenters and other professionals who work on many different job sites.
A good portable saw delivers all of the same basic functionality as larger models in a more compact package.
Portable table saws usually use universal motors rather than the heavy induction motors fitted to stationary models. This makes them a little less powerful and also quite loud. Another common design decision made to reduce the weight of the portable table saw is to use aluminum rather than cast iron for the top.
These basic design choices aren’t bad per se, but they do result in a table saw that’s generally less durable. Portable table saws vibrate a lot and they tend to feel less stable when you’re using them.
The good news is that “jobsite” saws have gotten a lot better thanks to technological improvements in the last few years. They’re particularly good at common carpentry jobs. The Bosch 4100 Portable Saw, for instance, has a 25″ rip capacity and a 15-amp universal motor. That’s more than enough to handle most sheet material cutting jobs in the field. Ripping thick hardwoods is still beyond the capacity of most portable table saws, though, and they simply aren’t as precise as saws designed with fine woodworking in mind.
* Contractor Table Saws
Like the portable models discussed above, contractor saws are designed to be moved from job to job. They feature open bases, affordable prices, and straightforward designs.
They’re somewhat lightweight (typically ranging from 250 to 350 pounds) and sell at prices that put them within reach of the hobbyist and homeowner. They were, for a long time, the only practical option for use in smaller woodworking shops.
There are a few compromises made in the design of contractor saws to make them lighter and cheaper. They usually have cast iron tops, but extension wings are often made of stamped metal or “open web” cast iron. Less material and care go into the construction of the trunnions, gearing, and arbor assemblies of these saws than into models designed for permanent stationary use. The motor of a contractor saw is intended to be removed for transport, so it hangs off the rear of the table. Power is usually delivered to the arbor assembly by means of a V-belt.
A contractor saw is still your go-to choice for equipping a home woodworking shop. It will capably perform carpentry jobs, small cabinetry work, basic furniture making, and trim work. In recent years more and more contractor saws have appeared on the market with premium fence systems. The capabilities of contractor saws can be enhanced significantly by using quality saw blades designed for specific tasks. With the right blade installed, a contractor saw is capable of handling a lot of advanced woodworking jobs. If you’re looking for a contractor saw that you’re not going to move around, try for a model that has solid cast iron extension wings. These will improve stability and put less stress on the saw’s trunnions and gearing.
* Cabinet Saws
Cabinet saws derive their names from the fully-enclosed base they’re fitted with. These saws are designed specifically for professional woodworkers.
Every aspect of a cabinet saw’s construction tends to be more substantial and more durable than a contractor saw. Cast iron and steel are the materials of choice, motors are more powerful, and the trunnions, arbor assemblies, and gearing are all heavily built.
What this all translates into is a saw that’s capable of handling the thickest, toughest hardwoods for hours at a time. The stability of cabinet saws minimizes the negative impact that vibrations have and deliver a smoother, hassle-free operating experience.
The cabinet saw’s motor is installed inside the closed base of the tool, making it quieter when it’s operating. The enclosed base also simplifies dust collection quite a bit. Because the motor and arbor assembly are attached to the base instead of the table (using heavy trunnions), lining up the saw blade with the miter slot and fence is a lot easier. Cabinet saws typically feature very high standards of manufacturing quality. Tables are perfectly flat, pulleys and bearings are heavy and durable, and the fence systems are usually both versatile and reliable.
Buying a quality cabinet saw is a definite long-term investment. The motors on cabinet saws are more powerful than those used on contractor saws, being in the three to five-HP range. This means they need proper 220-volt AC power. Cabinet saws are definitely not portable, with most models weighing over 600 pounds. Their precise and reliable performance easily justify their greater weight, cost, and electrical requirements.
* Hybrid Saws
Saw manufacturers have long been aware of the significant performance gap between contractor saws and cabinet saws. In the past few years, they’ve endeavored to fill this gulf by introducing a new class of tools known as “hybrid” table saws. Hybrid saws seek to deliver some of the best features of professional cabinet saws at prices that put them within reach of hobbyist woodworkers.
As a general rule, a hybrid saw will feature a fully-enclosed base just like a cabinet saw, although some models have a shorter base. The motor is always mounted inside the cabinet. The powertrain of a hybrid saw is much more robust than a contractor saw, usually featuring substantial arbor bearings and trunnions, advanced drive belts, and better gearing. The trunnions of these saws are attached to the base rather than the table, delivering the same precise blade alignment as cabinet saws.
In essence, hybrid saws are simply scaled-down cabinet saws. They have motors that deliver 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 HP, and thus they can be operated on a standard 110-volt electrical line. Hybrid saws are clearly designed for use in home shops, and many woodworkers think they are the ideal tools for that role. Although they’re not capable of matching all of the features offered by a full cabinet saw, they’re very sturdy and deliver a lot of advantages to hobbyists who want the capability to tackle advanced woodworking projects.
Next article will discuss how to figure out the table saw that you need for your shop. So be sure to stay tuned!