All Kinds of Table Saws

When I became serious about pursuing woodworking, the first major piece of machinery that I purchased was a table saw. The table saw is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have in your woodworking shop. A table saw can cut dados, rabbets, tenons, box joints, and, yes, even ripping and cross cutting boards to width. I end up using the table saw at almost every stage of a project.

When you go shopping for a table saw, you'll quickly discover that there four types of saws on the market, which I've listed here. As you go down the list, you typically go up in quality, power, weight, and precision. Of course, the price increases accordingly.

These are saws you will often see at construction job sites. They're intended to be very portable and thus, fairly lightweight. The table is typically aluminum or some other lightweight alloy. The shaft holding the saw blade is typically a connected directly to a universal motor, similar to what you would find on most portable power tools (drills, routers, etc). This tends to introduce a lot of vibration in the saw and the blade.
Contractor Saw
These typically have a cast iron top with either cast iron or steel stamped wings on either side. As their name implies, they are often found on job sites as well, though their portability is somewhat questionable. Contractor table saws have a one to two horsepower motor which hangs off the back and drives the saw blade via a single belt. Dust collection is usually poor, since the entire back of the saw is open to allow for the motor and belt. However, some manufacturers are starting to introduce contractor table saw models with integrated dust shrouds around the blade. The trunions are usually attached directly to the underside of the table, which makes adjusting the table relative to the blade somewhat difficult.
In recent years, a new class of table saw has come on the market. These hybrid saws are close cousins to the contractor saw but with some of the features of a cabinet saw. The motor is in the one to two horsepower range and is enclosed by the saw cabinet, so dust collection is usually on par with cabinet saws.
Cabinet Saw
These are professional quality saws and are what you'll find in most cabinet shops. Cabinet saws typically have three to five horsepower motors and drive the saw blade with three belts. On cabinet saws, the trunions and the table are independently attached to cabinet. This makes it much easier to adjust the table parallel to the blade. Since the motor and trunions are completely enclosed by the saw cabinet, dust collection is typically good. These are usually the heaviest saws, which translates into less vibration and smoother cuts.

So which kind of saw should you get? If you can afford it, a cabinet saw is the way to go. It actually takes up less room in a shop compared to a contractor saw, with it's splayed legs and motor hanging off the back. If you can't afford a new one, consider a used cabinet table saw.

If you just can't swing the cost of a cabinet saw (I know I couldn't when I started), then look at the hybrid and contractor saws. If I was buying in this category today, I'd be lookin seriously at the hybrid saws (they weren't on the market when I bought my contractor saw) since they tend to have better dust collection.

While there are some bench top table saws out there that are very good, I wouldn't seriously consider one for fine woodworking. They're great if you're ripping two-by-fours or plywood when framing a house, but they just don't seem heavy enough to make the accurate cuts needed for fine furniture and the like.

So what kind of table saw do you have? Are there features of a particular class of table saw that you like? Would you buy that type of table saw again?

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