If you need to buy a new table saw the first thing you have to think about is your budget. This will usually help you to narrow down which brands you can actually afford. It is better to do things this way around rather than looking to see whether you can get a Makita table saw for example, that you may not be able to afford. By starting with the amount you have to spend you can look around at all the brands and then see which ones you will have to strike off as possibilities.
A table saw is one of the most indispensable and versatile machines which should be considered by any woodworker, but what exactly is one?
What is a table saw?
A table saw is an electrically powered circular saw which is mounted underneath a table or bench so that the blade projects through a slot on the table’s surface. With the table acting as a support, the material being cut (usually wood) is fed through the blade on the top of the table. Table saws are used to crosscut, rip, mitre and bevel pieces of wood and can be used for a variety of woodworking projects.
Why not just use a circular saw?
Simply put, because a table saw makes life easier. An ordinary circular saw, being hand-held, can be difficult to control and so delivers less accurate cuts. Particularly when dealing with more complex projects or smaller pieces of wood, the fact that a table saw is static means that all you have to do is concentrate on guiding the wood to achieve the perfect cut.
Are table saws portable?
Yes, some table saws are portable, and depending upon how you are going to use it, you can either choose a portable one or a stationary one. The portable variety is ideal if, for example, you are installing decking in your garden and need the machine close by for convenience. Being smaller, they are also a great option if your workshop is restricted in terms of size.
Although portable table saws are fine for most jobs, if you need something with slightly more power, or if you are regularly involved in projects which require a larger range of accessories, a stationary model may be your best bet.
What are the components of a table saw?
A table saw is basically made up of a smooth, heavy work surface, a saw which is operated by a motor, a handle for raising and lowering the saw blade, a handle for adjusting the angle of the blade, and a connection for collecting the debris produced whilst cutting.
The central section of the tabletop on most table saws is made from cast iron, and it is this part of the machine which will determine, to the greatest degree, the accuracy of your cut. The rest of the table consists of ‘wings’ which could be made of cast iron or a variety of other materials and the price of your table will largely depend on which material is used. In terms of the size of the table, bigger is always better, as more table means greater support.
The Blade and Guard
When you hear people talk of a 10 inch table saw, what they are actually referring to is the diameter of the saw blade itself. Whilst 10 inch blades are the most common, 8 and 12 inch blades are also available. Clearly, the larger blades will give you the extra cutting depth that is needed to achieve angled cuts in thicker pieces of wood.
Most table saws are supplied with a general purpose blade which will be perfectly satisfactory for most jobs. The blade in a table saw is, however, interchangeable, and you can choose coarser blades or finer blades, depending on the type of wood that you are working with, as well as from a wide range of different designs. They also come in a range of materials, with steel blades being the cheapest and least hard-wearing, and carbide-tipped the most expensive and durable.
Every table saw should come supplied with a blade guard, which protects the user from the exposed saw blade.
The Rip Fence
The rip fence, or fence, is the rail which is fitted to the table, along which you slide the wood on to the saw blade. Not only is this part of the machine also vital in determining the accuracy of the cut, but it too will help to determine the cost. Essentially, the better the fence, the more you will pay. What you should look for is a fence which is parallel to the blade and which adjusts smoothly and accurately.
The On/Off Switch
This control should be large and mounted at the front of the machine so that the user can knock the switch to the ‘off’ position with his knee, without taking his eyes from the saw blade.
Blade Elevation Control
This controls the blade height and so the depth of the desired cut.
Blade Tilt Handle
This allows you to tilt the blade of the saw in order to cut angles. Some machines tilt to the left and others to the right, and some also allow you set 45 and 90 degree stop points precisely.
How are table saws powered?
Although they are all electrically powered, table saws can have different kinds of motors – either direct-drive or belt-drive. Direct-drive motors link directly to the saw blade and so the blade receives all of the power of the motor. Belt driven motors, however, have a belt, or a series of belts, which transfer power from the motor to the blade.
Although some believe that belt driven motors tend to be more robust and longer-lasting, direct-drive motors have come a long way and are, in most cases, no more likely to burn out than their counterparts. Belt drive systems do require slightly more maintenance though, and you will need to check the belts from time to time for signs of wear and to ensure the correct tension.
Are some table saws more powerful than others?
Yes, table saws are available with a range of different horse powers. Generally speaking, greater horse power allows you to make deeper cuts through harder woods.
Can you buy accessories for table saws?
Yes, there is a range of different accessories available for table saws, and of course the more accessories your saw accepts, the more applications it can be used for. Some of the more common accessories include:
- Dado heads – especially useful for joinery and shelving projects
- Sliding mitre tables – for highly accurate mitre cuts
- Extension tables – for a larger and more stable work surface
- Out feed extensions – to give additional support for long rip cuts
- Accessory tables – allow you turn your table saw into a router table, shaper or scroll saw and so make your table saw much more versatile
- Mobile bases – to allow to you move a stationary table saw. Most have locking castors so that the saw will not move when repositioned
What to bear in mind when buying a table saw
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for with table saws. Although most table saws will provide you with similar features and functionality, the higher up the price scale you go, the greater the stability, accuracy and safety of the machine. In addition, as you go up in price, the size of the table is generally increased and the smoothness of the mechanism, especially on start-up.