Your Table Saw Buying Guide In 2021 (What You Should Know)

Are you someone that takes woodworking serious? I gather you do as you’re here reading this comprehensive guide.

So what will I cover in the table saw buying guide?

  • The Types of Table Saw: Portable (Benchtop, Compact, Jobsite) and Stationary (Contractor, Hybrid, Cabinet)
  • Basic Functions: Blade, Rip Fence & Capacity, and Miter Gauge
  • Motor & Drive Configuration: Belt vs Direct
  • Other Features: On/ Off switch, Amps, Storage, Arbor, Throat Plate, and Elevation & Tilt Wheels
  • Accessories: Dust Chutes, Stands, Table Extensions, Dado Capacity, Crosscut Sled, and Featherboard
  • Safety Features: Riving Knife & Splitter, Anti-Kickback Pawls, Push Stick, Blade Guard, Magnetic Switch, and Sensors

There is a lot of information to take in. I’ll also be placing links throughout the article to refer to specific topics in bite-size pieces.

Now onto the guide.

Without question, the table saw (saw bench) is the heart of any woodworker’s collection as you’ll be working with it – a lot. They’ve come a long way in recent years and I thought it would be a good idea to put this guide together.  

Unlike a conventional circular saw, a table saw allows for a precise cut. This because you move material towards the blade.

Features such as the rip fence and miter gauge allow you to cut material with extreme accuracy and ease.

But you may already be asking, what kind of table saw do I need?

Good question.

I’ve done my best to provide you with as much information as possible to assist you when looking for a table saw.

I hope you enjoy reading my guide.

Types of Table Saws

There are two types: Portable and Stationary.

Portable

Portable table saws are compact and designed to be lightweight and placed on a table. Models in this range consist of benchtop, compact, and jobsite table saws.

Benchtop

As their name indicates, you place these on a table or workbench. They don’t come with any support stand. They’re lightweight in construction and often used by homeowners, hobbyists, and DIYers. They’re powered by a direct-drive (blade driven) motor and present excellent portability. They also present excellent value for money.

Compact

Compact saws are larger than benchtop models and generally driven by small toothed belts. They’re similar in appearance to the contractor saws but offer a smaller table size.

Jobsite

Jobsite models on other hand come mounted on a stand. They’re larger than benchtop models and used by trade professionals. They’re also more rugged to withstand abuse on construction sites. And still designed with a light frame construction for portability.  

Stationary

Stationary saws are generally used by serious woodworking enthusiasts and cabinet makers. Models include contractor, hybrid, and cabinet table saws.  

Contractor

The original contractor saws were designed for the professional in mind, and are rare in today’s age. Many often confuse the contractor and jobsite models as the same machine. While there is a difference, the models of years ago were larger in construction.

I’ve written a detailed article discussing the different type of models here.  

Hybrid

Hybrid saws provide many features that are present in a high-end cabinet saw. In fact, they’re also like some older contractor models that were built years ago.

Most come with an enclosed cabinet design, yet some models offer an open leg style of design. This is to improve dust collection like that of the cabinet saws.

Cabinet

Cabinet table saws are my favorite. They’re also the most expensive!

They’re heavy, really heavy. They’re generally built out of cast iron and steel to prevent vibration and improve accuracy. Any woodworker would know what I’m talking about when it comes to precision.

They’re made for the serious enthusiast and professional. Period. Designed to be durable and robust, these models will last you for many years to come.

They’re built with an enclosed base for superior dust collection. They also feature an induction motor in the 3 to 5 hp (2.24 to 3.73 kW) range (single-phase).

I have produced another article to provide further insight into the types of table saws here.

Table Saws Basics

Table saws are built out of cast iron and built with a flat surface. I won’t go into detail below about the table, but it’s quite obvious it should be flat as well.

But they don’t have to be dead flat. Pay particular attention to the area of the blade. This should be flat, as this is what matters most.  

The blade, rip fence and miter gauge are the most important features of a table saw. I’ll go into more detail below.

Blade

The blade is one of, if not the most important aspect of a table saw. I would start with a quality blade, as this will be a telling feature that makes the difference. Trust me.

The specifications of the blade are defined based on the number of teeth. And also kerf size, arbor size, diameter, application, speed, material, and application.

The standard blade diameter is 10”, which will give you around a 3-½” cut capacity at 90 degrees. They also come in 12” blades forms as well.

The blade is made out of either carbide, carbon or diamond-tipped teeth. These days, they’re able to cut through materials other than wood.

The topic of blades is extensive but a very important aspect to understand of the table saw.

For an in-depth look into what makes up a table saw blade, I’ve written this article here. It will provide you with all the essential knowledge you need to know.

Don’t skip past it. It will get you to understand the kind of adjustments required. This incorporates blade types (rip and crosscut), materials, sizes, and RPM.

Rip Fence & Capacity

The fence, also known as a rip fence, provides a cutting guide that runs from the front of the table to the back. This is parallel to the cutting plane of the blade.

This provides it the unique advantage over other types of saw models – such as the circular saw.

It’s important to have a reliable fence that locks down the material and doesn’t move out of position. It should be nice and straight to ensure a clean cut.

Most saws are fitted with a standard rip fence known as a T-square fence. It provides good accuracy and is adequate for the average user. Without the fence, any form of rip cut would be impossible.

Adjusting the fence aligns where the blade is set to cut the material.

On some high-end cabinet saw models, some don’t include a fence. It instead provides you with the opportunity to customize your setup.

The rip capacity is another important spec. First, you measure the distance from the saw blade. Second, measure the greatest distance the fence travels to the right of the blade. That’s your rip capacity.

For any jobsite saw, you’ll need a rip capacity of more than 24″. The simple reason for this is because it’s half the width of the sheet material.

For further information to understand the uses of the rip fence, please read my guide here.

Miter Gauge

The miter gauge holds and guides material at a specific angle to make a precise cut. The locking mechanism pivots from 45 to -45 degrees and slides into a slot (miter slot).

A quick note. Ensure the miter slot is standard and not proprietary. That way you don’t have trouble fitting accessories, such as a sled.

Whether you want to make clean right-angled or compound cut, the key is to adjust the miter gauge. This consists of two angles – miter and bevel/ blade tilt.

More information is here where I discuss the characteristics of the miter gauge.

Motor & Drive Configuration

These come in one of two configurations: Direct-drive or Belt-drive.

Direct-drive

Direct-drive are often found in the portable table saw range. They feature a universal motor that directly drives the blade, and produce a lot of power – but often quite loud.

They operate on 120V circuits and produce up to 2 hp. This is enough for the DIYer and professional on the job site.

Belt-drive

Belt-driven saws are more powerful and feature in the stationary range of models. An induction motor and belt transfers power to the blade, as the name suggests.

The motor produces anywhere from 3 to 5 hp (2.24 to 3.73 kW) single-phase, or 5 to 7.5 hp (3.73 to 5.22 kW) three-phase. The latter would have to operate on 240v.

The motor can be offset to prevent dust trapped in the mechanism. They’re also a lot quieter than direct-drive and made to cut through dense material.

I’ve prepared a guide on both types of motor drive configurations. This guide here will help you understand them in more detail.

Other Features

On/ off switches

Generally, all on/ off switches are located at the front of the table saw. The on switch is usually small and recessed. The off switch is generally larger and more prominent in the case of an emergency.

To take an extra step in safety, you could invest in a magnetic switch to protect the motor from overload. Best of all, protect you from serious injury.

Amps

The amps (current) refer to the power output of the table saw. The higher the amps, the more power the saw has to cut dense material.

I won’t go into much detail here as it’s not required for you to know, but you can read more about what amps are here.

Storage

Many table saws offer a storage compartment.

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

Arbor

The arbor or shaft locks is a motor shaft where the blade mounts to. Usually, the arbor hole is 5/8″ in diameter.

Throat Plate

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

You’re able to remove it also to gain access to the blade for replacement or riving knife adjustments.

Elevation & Tilt Wheels

The blade elevation hand wheel allows for control of the blade height. This accommodates a variety of cutting depths. You turn the wheel to either raise or lower the blade.

The hand wheel is generally located to the front of the saw, while the tilt/ pivot wheel is the side.

The wheel also pivots so you can tilt the saw to allow for straight or bevel cuts. It provides a range from 0 to 45 degrees from the fence.

Some extra information is here to gain a greater understanding of the other features.

Accessories

For the enthusiast, you have so many options to upgrade your table saw. You can even turn it into a one-stop-shop device for your woodworking needs.

Accessories can include, but not limited to, upgrading the blade, or mount a dado blade set. I recommend upgrading the blade. Other options include adding a crosscut sled.

Here are some accessories listed below, and I’ve gone into further detail here for those who wish to.

Dust Chutes

Dust chutes are something that many DIYers forget about, and a feature that gets overseen.

You mightn’t worry about the dust your saw produces (you should, as it makes it hard to work around). But you should also consider the nasty particles you could be breathing in. Make sure you hook up the dust chute to a vacuum. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Stands

Rolling table saw stands provide portability, especially if you’re on a jobsite. They’re well designed allowing for stability on the go.

As hybrid and cabinet table saws can weigh a whopping ~600lbs, they’re not exactly easy to move. Mobile bases provide stationary saws an added mobility around the workshop.

Table Extensions

Table extensions allow for a greater rip capacity and a stable work surface. This is true when trying to cut wider stock.

Most table saws allow for an extension to attach to the right of the saw. Though this all depends on the model you buy.

Dado Capacity

Various table saws allow for the ability to stack a dado blade set. You’ll have to check with the specs of your chosen model first if this is something you want to do.

It’s one of the most useful accessories you can buy. Be sure to check that the arbor is long enough to fit a dado stack though.

Dado sets cut wide slots in a single pass, and are especially useful in the joinery business. Sets are available in 6”, 8” and 10” diameters.

Crosscut Sled

The crosscut sled holds the material at a fixed 90-degree angle to the blade. It’s guided by a runner fastened in a miter slot and allows for precision and repeatable results.

It’s used usually by trade professionals such as cabinet makers. A big reason why is because it’s where it involves precision cuts daily.

Featherboard

A featherboard is a safety device and used to apply pressure against the material. This keeps it flat against the rip fence and attached with clamps or similar in the miter slot.

Safety Features

Safety is something that gets overlooked by many hobbyists.

I don’t know why?

It’s so important not to overlook this part of the guide as table saw can be very dangerous.

I’d be doing you a disservice and feel obligated to make you aware of safety precautions. So I’ve written an article located here, and suggest you read it when you have the time.

Now onto some of the safety features.

Riving Knife & Splitter

The riving knife and splitter provide safety for the user when cutting material. I’d consider the riving knife superior to a traditional splitter.

A riving knife sits behind the blade and travels up and down with the height of the blade. It’s effective in preventing kickback. They can be detached if required, and replaced for the safest cut possible.

It can also take away the need for a clunky guard around the table. Instead, you can use an overhead guard alongside the riving knife.

The traditional splitter on other hand sits near the back of your table saw. It remains at a fixed height and doesn’t move with the blade. These often allow for greater kickback because of the distance it is from the blade.

Anti-Kickback Pawls

Like the riving knife, anti-kickback pawls are an accessory to reduce kickback. You’ll know this if you’ve cut material before.

They’re attached to either side of the splitter and use their claws to grab onto any stray material. This is what people refer to as the kickback during a cut.

It’s not a good feeling.

Push Stick

A push stick or push block is a safety device used when you’re moving the material towards the blade.

Using your hands near a spinning blade that will slice you like butter.  Instead, using a push stick is a great idea to maneuver any material you’re working on to prevent injury.

Blade Guard

The blade guard protects you all sorts of debris. First though, is the blade itself. It also shields you from dust and kickback.

Many woodworkers now resort to a riving knife and overhead guard combination. It’s a lot easier to see when you’re cutting through material.

Magnetic switch

The magnetic switch is useful when there is a power outage. It shifts the power to the off position and protects it from overload.

This is an important feature in my view, as the last thing you want when the power turns back on is the saw to turn on again.

Sensors

A brand such as SawStop provides a unique safety mechanism. It a sensor that stops the spinning blade immediately if human skin comes into contact with it.

Crazy right?

I hope that other brands later will follow suit. Such technology in the SawStop range makes it is worth their asking price.

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want any fingers missing.

Summary

I’ve written this guide to provide you with comprehensive knowledge of the table saw.  Best of all, it will save you time with your buying decision.

Bringing all this information together in one spot was time-consuming, but fun at the same time.

I enjoy providing information that others can use. I hope you enjoyed reading it too.

Don’t forget to view my in-depth articles on each topic. I’ve linked to them throughout the guide so you gain a better understanding.

Good luck with your table saw buying journey.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

2 thoughts on “Your Table Saw Buying Guide In 2021 (What You Should Know)”

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your message. I personally haven’t got one myself, nor sell anything as such as this is a hobby and passion of mine. If something pops up, I’ll be sure to let you know here though 🙂

      Cheers,
      James

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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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