What to Know About Table Saws (Basics)

If you’re getting interested in putting more of your resources towards woodworking, it makes sense to look at getting a table saw for yourself. Whether you’re thinking about buying one, or you have one and you’re trying to learn more, there are some basics you should know about table saws.

The most important features of a table saw that you should learn about are:

  • Saw Parts
    • Arbor
    • On/Off Switch
    • Elevation & Tilt Wheels
    • Dado Capacity
    • Riving Knife
  • Table Parts
    • Storage
    • Throat Plate
    • Dust Chutes
    • Stands
    • Table Extensions
  • Accessories
    • Crosscut Sled
    • Featherboards

When you read table saw reviews, these are the parts they’ll likely mention. They’re the basics you need to understand before you can start operating a table saw, and they’re also the factors you’ll read about in table saw reviews.

While other articles here discuss how to use table saws safely, types of table saw, and other information on table saw use, maintenance, and selection, this just covers the basics.

This article discusses the most important parts of the saw, parts of the table, and table saw accessories.

Saw Parts

cutting wood on the table saw

On/Off Switch

You can probably find your table saw’s on/off switch at the front of the saw. They come in different styles but should be quickly and easily recognizable, with the “on” and “off” positions clearly labeled.

It is especially important that the “off” button be easy to see and use in case of emergency. You should make sure that it is positioned where you could use your hand, knee, or even hip to quickly press it if something goes wrong.

On the other hand, the “on” button should be harder to push. If someone accidentally activates the saw, especially a person who doesn’t know how to operate it safely, that could be dangerous for themselves and even others in the shop.

For that reason, “on” buttons are usually smaller and recessed behind protections. That prevents an accidental bump from turning on this powerful tool.

One other kind of on/off switch is the magnetic switch. Some people choose to use magnetic switches to make sure that the table saw motor doesn’t overload. They can also prevent injuries by stopping the motor from restarting unexpectedly.


The arbor is also known as the motor shaft. The saw blade mounts to the arbor, so the size of the “arbor hole” determines what kinds of saw blades you can use on your table saw. Usually, arbor holes are 5/8” in diameter.

While the arbor is a simple mechanism, it’s important to keep it clear of obstructions. Regularly checking your arbor for any issues can help keep your table saw in good condition.

Riving Knife

The riving knife is a very important part of the table saw for your safety. The riving knife prevents the saw blade from kicking back by catching it before it can do any serious harm.

The riving knife also prevents the need for inferior, clunky table guards, although an overhead guard is still necessary.

Table Parts

getting ready to cut wood with on the table saw


Most table saws come with storage compartments. Many people use these to store safety glasses, a rip fence, blades, push sticks and other accessories.

These drawers and compartment can be tempting for curious people, especially children. As an additional safety precaution, some people will lock their storage compartments if they contain potentially dangerous equipment.

Throat Plate

To prevent issues with material being lodged alongside the arbor, the throat plate sits around the blade, flush with the table. It blocks material from entering the chamber below and gumming up internal mechanisms like the arbor.

If you want to replace the blade or make other adjustments, you’ll need to remove the throat plate. Fortunately, this is a simple process, and it’s just as easy to replace it back when you’re finished.

Elevation & Tilt Wheels

All table saws come with a pair of hand wheels: one to adjust the blade’s elevation, and another to change its angle.

The elevation wheel raises and lowers the blade, and you can usually find it at the front of the table saw. With the elevation wheel, you can cut wood of different thicknesses, and also cut to different depths. The elevation wheel can also make it easier to replace the blade.

The tilt wheel is usually to the side of the table saw. It turns the blade at up to a 45-degree angle relative to the fence, letting you make sharp bevel cuts or just slight adjustments.

As the main ways to adjust the way your table saw cuts, the hand wheels deserve their own discussion on how best to use them.

Dust Chutes

Dust chutes prevent dust from clogging up your table saw’s moving parts. They also collect dust away from your other equipment, keeping your shop cleaner and more orderly.

Dust chutes can also be important for your health. They stop you from breathing in as much dust and can prevent dangerous mistakes that happen when surfaces are covered in sawdust.


The stand holds the table saw above the shop floor. It may seem basic, but if you’ve ever used a tool with an uneven stand, you know exactly how important it can be.

While table saws likely aren’t the most portable equipment in your shop, stands also make it possible to move the saws from one place to another with relative ease. A quality stand will make all the difference if you’ve ever had to deal with a poor one.

Table Extensions

Like stands, table extensions are simple in concept but can make an enormous difference to your work. They make working with larger projects much simpler, and give you the flexibility to take on whatever you need to.

Table extensions also increase the saw’s rip capacity. The rip capacity is the distance from the furthest edge of the fence to the saw blade.

Most table saws allow you to add an extension to the saw’s right. This increases the rip capacity and makes it easier to work with larger pieces. It also adds stability to the table regardless of how much material you’re cutting.

Dado Capacity

A dado set is a table saw accessory that cuts grooves (also known as dadoes) into a material. They’re used for techniques like dado cuts, which use grooves to join two pieces of lumber two one another.

The dado capacity is the width of dado set that a table saw can accommodate. Some table saws have extremely short arbors, especially if the saws are portable. That can mean they don’t have any dado capacity, so it’s important to check yours before you go out and buy a dado set.


making furniture with the table saw

Crosscut Sled

The crosscut sled is a tool that makes it much easier to make 90-degree cuts with a table saw.

It attaches to a miter gauge slot, and a runner guides it forward and back. The material rests against the sled from the back and against the fence to the right. This creates a perfect, square cut every time, with no risk of the material slipping.

Crosscut sleds are especially useful if you need to make the same, precise, square cuts  repeatedly.


Featherboards make using table saws much safer. They’re simple, small tools usually made from wood or plastic. They are flat pieces with flexible, narrow strips cut into one side.

Workers use featherboards to push down on the material they’re cutting. That pressure keeps the material flat against the fence, so that it doesn’t ride up and make an uneven cut. With the featherboard, they can apply that pressure while keeping their fingers far away from the saw’s blade.

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

Leave a Comment