Table Saw Guide Part 2 – Choosing the right saw

Published on by Mike  (Leave a comment)

This is can be topic of huge debate, and has been discussed many times over.  Reading through the various woodworking forums and chatrooms, I see reoccurring themes along the lines of “You get what you pay for” and “I can’t afford to buy cheap tools!”  While I don’t disagree with these statements, I have noticed that a lot of those who say that tend to own very high end tools that sell for top dollar.  The reality is that most people starting out with woodworking as a hobby would run away screaming if they saw how much some of those machines sell for.  On the other end of the spectrum I have seen more than once, myself included in this, where a low end machine is purchase and a high degree of frustration due to the machine not performing as expected.

However, I do believe that was proper planning and research, the right table saw can be found for your needs.  With my conversations with others, I often hear “I am just starting out so I don’t want to start out with something too expensive” or “I am just a beginner, I am going to get a cheap machine.”  I shudder a little bit every time I hear something like that.  Instead of looking at your current skill, look at the skill level you want to achieve.  Next think about what you will be primarily using  the table saw for.  For example, is it primarily going to be used for repairs around the house, building furniture, or even going into more fine woodworking.  Next look at your power availability.  Many higher end table saws require 220 volt outlets.   This may or may not be a big cost depending on the location of the circuit panel, and the number of open slots.  If it is not feasible, there are still many good table saws that run off of 110.  Finally, (and this was intentionally left for last) your budget.  It is very tempting to to put budget first, but the issue is that you may end up buying too much or not enough of a machine to meet your needs.  If you determine that you need a higher end machine but have a limited budget, perhaps waiting a little longer to save more for the machine you need, or looking at used saws.  I personally use an old table saw I bought used via Craigslist, and while I made some upgrades to it, has proven to be a very good saw for my needs, and didn’t bust any budgets.

So, the question remains what table saw is best to buy.  When walking through your big box stores you see a lot of the bench top/job site table saws.  If you are doing anything other than home construction and/or repair, I would stay away from them.  Based on my experience from owning one myself, at first, you will have a decent saw.  Can you learn from this type of saw? Yes absolutely.  In fact I have seen where some old timers use these saws and do beautiful work  on them.  However, it does take a considerable amount of patience with these saws to achieve this.  The issue is the materials used to make these saws just do not hold up well over time.  The trunnions are thin aluminum, the table is cast aluminum, and the body is made from plastic.  With my old saw I was constantly fighting it to keep everything square.  What finally did it in for me is the table itself went out of flat, which made getting the blade square to the table near impossible.  For furniture and fine woodworking, this makes it very hard to use this saw well.    If you are planning on making this a serious hobby, possibly planning doing some commission work then I would start looking at the high end of table saws.  Look at the high end hybrid or even cabinet saws  You will want a machine that keeps up with your demand.  For folks, such as myself, who are primarily weekend warrior woodworkers, look at the contractor and hybrid saws.  Any of these saws, which come with either cast iron or granite tops, well allow you to achieve a much finer degree of woodworking.  Obviously the higher you go on machine quality the better cut you will get.

Lastly, whatever table saw you decide to buy, along with it, buy a good blade.  The blades that come with table saws are awful.  They aren’t very sharp and will dull pretty quickly, which will leave you with a poor quality cut.  A crappy blade will even make the best table saw perform crappy.

Table Saw Guide Part 1

Published on by Mike  (Leave a comment)

Depending on where you are from and the type of woodworking you want to do the table saw is arguably the most important power tool you can have in your garage or shop.  Some alternatives include a good band saw or a track saw, and like the table saw each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  This post will be focusing on the different types of table saws available.

Bench Top / Job Site saws:  This type of saw is the most common saw you will see as you walk through Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Sears.  They are all shapes, sizes, and have a wide range in pricing from around $100 up to $600.  The main characteristics of these saws include plastic bodies, aluminum top (some of the higher end saws have an anodized top to prevent marking up the wood), and a direct drive universal motor.  Because of their light weight, a lot of these saws come with stands that can be collapsed so that they can be stored off in a corner.  The drawback to this saw is that they are light weight which results in a lot of vibration.  The fences are usually not very good, and often the tables are small.  Precision can be achieved with these saws, but I would recommend frequent checking and tweaking of the saw to make sure everything is aligned and square.  These saws work well for doing rough work.

Contractor sawsYou can see a minimal number of these in the box stores, but because of the higher price point, they typically don’t stock a lot of these, if any.  These can priced from $400 (if you find a good sale) to over $1000.  These saws you will see the cast iron top (some brands offer a granite top as well), with a belt driven induction motor, usually external to the saw body.  The motors usually run between 1.5hp to 2hp, and can either be run on 110 or 220 volts, depending on how the owner wants it wired.  The body is typically made from stamped steel.  Like a Bench Top saw these still sit on a stand that saw is bolted on to, but these are heavier stands and will not fold down.  These are heavy enough that vibration is greatly reduced but still can be easily moved around if the stand is on wheels.  The fences that are typically included are step better, but still not great.  The good news is that the fence on these saws can be upgraded, and many manufacturers offer options for better fences.  With a good fence precision can much more easily be attained, and because most of the parts are bigger and made from metals the saw will hold its alignment much better.  Occasional checking is still recommended.

Hybrid saws:  Except for maybe Sears, you won’t see these in box stores.  You will need to look for these at woodworking specialty stores such as Rockler and Woodcraft.  They can be priced anywhere from $700 to nearly $2000.  The motors are configured similar to the contractor saws, except for that they are usually inside the saw.  Amother difference is the body of the saw is one piece and goes all they way to the floor.  The greater weight reduce vibration even further.  I believe some hybrid saws, if not all, the trunnions that hold the motor and blade assembly attach to the body of the saw rather than to the top.  This saw provides a lot of the same features as a cabinet saw, but with a smaller motor and a lower price point for the budget conscious.

Cabinet saws:  This is the type of saw you see Norm use on the New Yankee Workshop.  These are priced from $2000 up to $5000.  The body is bigger than the Hybrid saw, and the trunnions are attached to it.  The motor is also bigger, typically starting out at 3HP.  Also, these must be ran with 220V.  These are typically very heavy tools, and very rarely fall out of alignment.  These are typically the choice of the serious hobbyist and professional woodworker.

My next post of this topic will include my experiences on table saw purchases, and my recommendations for getting started.