Table Saw Basics (What You Need To Know)

When you compare table saws to other power tools, they’re quite complex to get your head around the basics.

There are many options and features you must consider before jumping in and buying one.

So, what are the some the table saw basics you should know about?

  • On/ off switches
  • Amps
  • Storage
  • Arbor
  • Throat Plate
  • Elevation & Tilt Wheels
  • Dust Chutes
  • Stands
  • Table Extensions
  • Dado Capacity
  • Crosscut Sled
  • Featherboard

I took quite some time researching the subject of table saws many years ago. I was clueless about what I needed to get started.

I tried to do some research and found information here and there. But it was a long and drawn-out process after speaking with industry insiders for years.

I’ve written a table saw buying guide for you to get your head around what they are. But I also thought it would be a good idea to compile the list of the basics of a saw in one article.

More important features such as the type of saws, rip fence, miter gauge, blades, and safety have their own dedicated articles.

Here are most of the features that will come with the purchase of a table saw or bought as an accessory.

On/ off switches

On/ off switches are generally located at the front of the saw. This is to ensure they’re easy to access when the need arises.

Most “off” buttons are made to stand out and be visible in case of an emergency. They’re usually positioned so that your hand or knee can be used to quickly press the button.

The “on” button would usually be smaller and recessed for safety precautions. The last thing you want happen is someone to accidentally turn on the table saw – especially children.  

For an added step of safety, you can invest in a magnetic switch to protect the motor from overload. But more importantly, to protect you from serious injury. The last thing you want to happen is the motor to restart without expecting it to.

Magnetic switches are generally found on cabinet saw models. You can upgrade to these on other professional models if you wish.

Amps

Simply put, the higher the amps (current), the more power a table saw has to cut dense material.

Further information about the power and motor types is located here.

Storage

Most table saws offer a storage compartment.

This allows you to store all your items such as safety glasses, rip fence, blades, push stick and plenty of other accessories.

Arbor

The arbor or shaft locks is a shaft where the blade and motor mount on to. You’ll find the arbor hole is generally 5/8″ in diameter.

Throat Plate

The table insert, or throat plate, is a removable piece that sits flush around the blade. It prevents material being lodged between the blade and inside the arbor.

You can remove it and gain access to the blade for replacement or riving knife adjustments.

Elevation & Tilt Wheels

The elevation and tilt wheels are generally located to the front and side of the saw.

The elevation adjustment allows you to control the height of the blade (depth of cut). They’re located at the front of the table saw. With a standard 10” blade, your blade should be exposed to a maximum height of 3-5/8″.

You can also tilt the blade (tilt of arbor) with the hand wheel. They’re located to the side of the saw. It may be on the left or right, depending on the which way the arbor is made to tilt. This will angle the blade for straight or bevel cuts.

Portable saws won’t usually feature the elevation and tilt wheel adjustments separately. They often combine these adjustments in the one hand wheel.

Dust Chutes

When you’re working with your table saw, the last thing you want is sawdust all over your equipment and workshop.

When many enthusiasts start out, they forget about the reasons for having one. I understand why many think this way as I too didn’t care much about it.

Until I started sawing.

There was a mess full of sawdust.

Consider investing in the correct dust chute. Not only will you be breathing in nasty dust particles, but also making your job much more difficult. Especially when your work surface is covered in dust.

Stands

Table saw stands provide portability. This is a prerequisite if you’re on a job site.

This allows for a table saw when you’re trying to make precise cuts.

As hybrid and cabinet table saws can weigh in excess ~600lbs, they’re not made to move often. Mobile bases do provide added mobility around the workshop though.

Table Extensions

When you’re used to a larger tablespace, it’s quite hard to go back to your limited portable saw.

For this reason, table extensions become an option on many models.

They allow for a greater rip capacity. The rip capacity is the distance from the saw blade, to the maximum distance the fence can travel to the right side of the saw blade. Common distances are 28, 30, and 50 inches.

Table extensions allow for a greater rip capacity and stable work surface. This is true when trying to cut wider stock such as 4 x 8 sheets of material.

Most table saws allow for an extension to attach to the right of the saw. This depends on the model you buy though.  

Dado Capacity

Something you may want to find out before buying your first table saw is the dado capacity.

A dado set can be an excellent accessory to cut dadoes or grooves in materials.

A dado cut is a wide groove made into the timber to join one piece of timber with another.

Be aware that most portable saws have relatively short arbors. They that don’t safely accommodate a full stacked dado blade set.

Dado sets cut wide slots in a single pass and is very useful in cabinet making. Sets are available in 6”, 8” and 10” diameters.

Crosscut Sled

A crosscut sled is a movable device that is guided by a runner and attaches to a miter gauge slot.

These are helpful to assist you to fix material at a 90-degree angle to the blade.

The material rests against a wooden fence at the front of the sled. This keeps the material from slipping. It ensures a clean, perfectly square cut every time.

They provide repeatable results where precision is required.

Featherboard

A featherboard is a safety device that is a flat piece of wood or plastic. They have a series of flexible narrow fingers cut into one side of the board.

It’s used to apply pressure against the material and keep it flat against the rip fence to ensure a smooth cut. They’re attached with clamps or similar in the miter slot.

Using a featherboard is safer than trying to hold material against the fence by hand during rip cuts.

Summary

Make sure to understand all the basic workings of a table saw before jumping into it.

I’ve covered many essential features and accessories that you may come across. I may have missed some but will endeavor to update it when others come to mind.

If you think I’ve missed something or want something added, reach out by leaving a comment below.

I’d love to hear any feedback on how to make this as comprehensive as possible.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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About The Tool Square

James Thomas

Hi, I’m James. I created The Tool Square to help as many understand and know how to use Table Saws, and many other tool-related products. About Me.

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