Last Updated on November 24, 2022 by Barry Gray
When you look at power tools, one thing you must always consider is the power of that tool. Clearly, the lower the power, then the lower the capabilities or abilities of that tool. At times, it may mean you are unable to complete the tasks you want that tool to do, and nobody wants to run into that particular problem.
But there is another issue for you to be aware of: power requirements change depending on the tool. In this instance, I’m going to focus on just one tool, and that’s the table saw.
Yet when dealing with a table saw, I cannot simply focus on the power aspect. Instead, it would be best if you also looked at the drive type, as you have more than one option here. The two combined directly influence the ease with which the table saw can complete the necessary tasks, so I feel that this is helpful information to have available.
The Need to Understand Power and Drive Types
I see a real need for you to have an understanding of both the power and drive types associated with table saws. After all, both of these things affect how the table saw operates.
But some people are unaware that you even have two different drive types to consider. However, I’ll take you through both types below as it’s very easy to understand.
The basic concept here is that a lack of power means the blade on your table saw will struggle to cut through stock. It just won’t have the rotational speed to produce anything that you can then work with.
Even if it does end up cutting through the material, you will find that it rips at it rather than cuts it. That’s what happens when the speed is too low. The blade chews at the stock instead of slicing through it. The outcome? Your cut looks messy, and you may even feel you need to try again.
But that is where having this understanding of the power and drive types comes into its own. The information here will help you better identify the perfect table saw you need for your projects.
You will know if a table saw with 2hp will be enough for what you have in mind, or do you need to move on up to the next level to avoid running into problems?
So, now you know the importance of it all, what about those drive types I keep mentioning?
The Two Drive Types
With a table saw, you have two drive types available to you: direct and belt drive. Both are different in their approach and also the amount of power they can generate in the table saw itself.
You will also find a difference in the size of the machine and the cost when you break down these drive types. Honestly, the difference between the two can be amazing.
Direct Drive Type
This version tends to appear in table saws priced more to the lower end of the market and is also often linked to a reduced amount of power. This is thanks to these machines having a tendency to come with a smaller motor, which is then less capable of pushing out more HP as a result.
Here, the blade on the table saw is directly driven by the motor. There’s no belt linking the two actions, and I know that means there’s less to worry about in the way of maintenance. After all, if you have fewer parts where something can go wrong, then it does pose less of a potential headache for you.
But what I also find is that this drive type is not as smooth as the belt-driven option. The direct link between the two has a tendency to create more in the way of vibrations, and that does lead to cuts perhaps not being quite as good as you get with belt-driven models.
Yet that’s not all.
The direct drive version will generate much more heat in the motor as it’s right in the heart of the action. That is one thing you need to remember simply because you may run into problems with the motor overheating if you carry out larger cuts without stopping. This model is just not really designed to be able to cope with that.
Even though that is a potential headache, I find the direct drive version more than adequate for those quick and easy jobs. If you need to slice through some boards quickly, this table saw will manage to do that in seconds. It really is fantastic.
Belt Drive Type
The other primary drive type is known as the belt drive, and this is the version you tend to see on larger machines that you just cannot move around. Also, it does mean they appear on the more expensive versions, so most hobbyists may not even encounter a machine with this equipment.
What you have here is something that runs on a pulley and v-line system. A belt creates the line, and it’s the belt that is able to move the power from the motor to the blade itself.
Now, because it has a belt, it does mean that the belt needs to be changed from time to time, as it does wear down after extended use. That is why I said the direct drive type requires less maintenance, as the belt drive version does come with a few additional parts that will become old and damaged.
But you should also know that the motor that comes with belt drive table saws will be higher than with direct drive. However, that’s also partly because the parts that make up the entire table saw are designed to cope with higher speeds and more power.
Yet there are other clear advantages with the belt drive type.
Advantages of a Belt Drive
A belt drive table saw will produce less in the way of vibrations at the blade itself. That means you have a more stable and smooth cut, so you get a better end result.
This happens because while there is still some vibration from the motor, you find that the belt is the thing that absorbs that energy. It doesn’t transfer it over to the actual blade leading to that more productive cut.
But that’s not the only advantage.
The increased power, which I’ll get to shortly, does mean this type of table saw can cut through the thicker stock and do so in a fraction of the time.
Also, the gap between the motor and blade on a belt drive table saw is greater than you get with a direct drive, where the motor has to directly power the blade. The problem here is that dust is created at the blade, and a direct drive version will absorb the dust directly on the motor.
That doesn’t happen with a belt drive version. Instead, the dust stays away from the motor, so it’s less likely that the table saw will then burn out.
Dealing with Power
So I said at the outset that this was all about the power that you need for a table saw, and I know I’ve spoken about the two different drive types first. However, it will all make sense when you look at the power aspect.
Here is a slight problem you may face when looking at table saws. The main power reading you should look for is horsepower. That figure will then tell you everything you need to know about the ability of the table saw to rip through materials.
Yet if you look at some listings, you will notice they mention voltage and amps as other power attributes. Well, I wouldn’t worry about all of that.
So, what kind of horsepower are we talking about here for powering your table saw? Well, it all depends on what you intend to cut with the machine and to then ensure you have the correct level of power to allow you to complete your intended task.
The Outcome of 1hp and 2hp Motors
Let’s say you are looking at a table saw with either a 1hp or 2hp motor. Now, I know you will see those readings and may have no idea as to what it then relates to.
Generally speaking, a table saw with that sort of power will have no problem cutting through stock that is 2” thick. However, that’s about the limits of a saw with that kind of power coming through the motor.
Cutting Larger Materials
If you intend to cut larger materials, then I would suggest going up to something in the region of 5hp. However, a table saw offering 3hp would undoubtedly manage to cut through wood thicker than that 2” maximum.
With that sort of power, you often look at an induction motor, and it appears on the belt drive version. It’s rarer to see a table saw that’s portable and with a direct drive churning out that sort of power. It’s just largely incapable of coping with that amount of drive.
The Maximum Power You Get with Both Versions
I’ve given you a few stats regarding power and two different drive versions, but you probably want to know the maximum power with the two types.
If you either own or are thinking about purchasing a direct drive type of table saw, then you will only have something with a maximum power of 2hp. I know that may not sound like much, but I feel it’s ample power for your average hobbyist.
Also, keep in mind that this drive type tends to appear on portable versions. You would always expect the portable version to have less power than a stationary machine, so it should come as no surprise.
But I also feel that this table saw is ideal for a professional out on a job. After all, it’s not that common for you to cut things thicker than 2”, and this 120V motor will have more than enough power to handle what you are throwing at it.
The belt drive type is completely different. It ranges in power from a low of 3hp up to a maximum of 7.5hp. However, most models will fall between 3 and 5hp.
But there is another difference related to the power here, and it’s the circuits the machine works on.
In the case of the direct drive, they all operate on single-phase circuits. However, the greater power with the belt drive version results in them having to use a single-phase circuit for up to 5hp and then switch to a three-phase circuit for the most powerful machines.
This is all designed to ensure you get the correct power sent from the motor to the blade, or there’s no point in the machine even existing.
But you should know that a three-phase circuit would tend to run on 240V rather than 120V. That could very well influence the way you view the machine and whether or not you could run it safely in your workshop.
It Takes More Power to Start than Run
Yet here is an interesting fact regarding your table saw. Let’s take a model that runs on 2hp for a moment. In general, that 2hp motor will require somewhere in the region of 1800W to run. But that’s not the whole story.
You see, a table saw needs a burst of energy to allow it to explode into life, and the difference is vast. That 1800W to run can easily translate into that same model requiring 4500W for it to start up.
Of course, that figure will only climb even higher still when you encounter models with even more power coming from their engines.
How a Drop in Power Affects the Material You Can Cut
I mentioned earlier how a 2hp table saw can cut material up to 2” thick, and that’s certainly a good guide. It’s often the case that the number you see for power relates to the maximum thickness of material that it can cut. I do admit that’s not an exact science, but I feel it’s close enough to give you a general rule of thumb.
That does mean that smaller table saws offering 1 1/2hp would only be able to cut through stock a maximum of 1 ½” thick. That figure then drops to 1” for a 1hp motor and so on. However, the opposite is also true when you move into those belt drive machines complete with a whole lot more power.
But that doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
You see, my own experience of table saws tells me that you cannot simply take that measurement and apply it across the board with every type of wood. That 2” size off a 2hp motor only relates to what you would call softwoods.
I feel that a 2hp would really struggle to cut 2” thick mahogany boards. Actually, it really would not be able to do it at all, and if it did, then the cut would be rough, and you would have a lot of work to do to straighten everything up.
That is why you need to think about the projects you will be working on and the materials you will be using. If you know there will be a tendency to work with hardwoods, then I would certainly encourage you to increase the horsepower, or you will run into a whole host of problems.
There is so much more to understanding the power you need for your table saw than simply looking at the number. An awareness of what you intend to cut with the saw, how often, and even just the space you have available will all have an impact.
Keep in mind that the higher the horsepower, the higher the cost. But for the average hobbyist, a table saw with up to 2hp should suffice, apart from only some extreme cases.
The power directly relates to the thickness of the material you can cut. Also, keep in mind that the belt drive model creates a smoother cut thanks to less vibration on the blade itself.
Overall, I would always stress you should pay close attention to the blade and power. Don’t just look at the size of the blade and think that’s the all-important part. You can have the largest blade possible, but if the motor behind it is lacking in the power department, then that blade is just not going to work.
But get the balance correct with the power aspect, and you can look forward to your table saw ripping through that stock in no time at all, allowing you to make some real progress with your project as a result.