How to buy a table saw will largely depend on where and how often you plan on using it. A contractor will need a heavy duty but portable model whereas a DIYer could buy a smaller less powerful version.
When looking at building projects for a customer or for around your home, think about what you’re going to want to get done… first! How to buy a table saw, that will get the right job done, will begin to answer itself.
Most do-it-yourselfers are faced with two limitations, which keep them from filling their workshops with all the power tools they want. The first limiter is budget and the second one is space. For most of us, our workshops are sharing space with our cars, the kids’ bicycles, the barbeque grill and boxed up Christmas decorations. That makes it hard to have the workshop we’ve always wanted. Then there’s the cost. For some reason, the wish list and the money list never seem to match up. There’s always more on the wish list then there is on the money list. These two constraints make it hard to pick out the best tools for any workshop.
Of any shop tool, the average do-it-yourselfer needs a good shop saw, more than anything. It seems that every project starts by cutting up the wood that you’re going to work on. Even so, there’s no one saw that’s perfect for everything. Each type is different, designed for a specific use. It helps to know what those differences are for.
The table saw is probably the most common of shop saws. It gets its name from the fact that the saw blade is poking through a table. The material that is to be cut is run across the table top, generally guided by a fence or miter gage. Table saws are best for rip cutting. This means cutting along the grain of the wood. If you are cutting boards into strips, a table saw is the perfect choice. They are also about the best practical choice for cutting sheet stock, such as plywood. They aren’t so good for crosscutting or miter cutting, as the miter gage is usually too small for accuracy.
When selecting a table saw, the most important things to look for are:
• Motor and blade size – This will limit the size of material you can cut.
• Table size – A large table makes it easier to control the material, especially when cutting sheets of plywood. You can extend the size of pretty much any table saw’s table.
• A stable fence – In reality, the fence is the most important part of the table saw. You want a fence which is stable, even when not clamped. That ensures that when it is clamped, it will be straight and not at an angle to the blade.
Radial Arm Saws
These are probably the table saws biggest competitor. Radial arm saws are designed for accurate crosscuts and compound angles. If you are planning on building a geodesic dome, you’ll need a radial arm saw to cut the angles. While they can be used for ripping, they don’t perform rip cuts as well as table saws do. In addition, the material being ripped tends to “buck,” jumping back and damaging the material.
When selecting a radial arm saw, the motor and blade size are very important. If you want to cut 4” x 4” dimensional lumber or 6” crown molding, you’ll need a 12” blade. The other important factor is the stability of the motor’s mounting to the overhead rail. While you want the motor and blade to travel freely along the rail, you don’t want it to be loose and sloppy. Looseness eliminates any inherent accuracy in the saw.
While band saws aren’t a good choice for the only saw in your shop, they are especially useful as a secondary saw. Band saws are specialty saws, used for two purposes:
• Cutting curves – Other than extremely tight curves, the band saw is the best saw for curves.
• Resawing – When you need to cut standard thickness boards (3/4” finished thickness) thinner, band saws are the ones to use.
Band saws come in all sizes, from benchtop models to floor standing ones. The size you need is most determined by the size of material you will need to cut. This is determined by two things, the “throat” which refers to the distance between the blade and the other side of the band. This distance is determined by the size wheels that the saw is made with. The other important dimension is the distance between the table and the upper blade guide. This is called “resaw capacity,” because it determines the maximum width piece of lumber which can be resawed on the saw. If your projects will require a lot of resawing, this is an important dimension. Finally, check the fence height. Not all band saws come with a fence, but it is essential for resawing. The higher the fence, the easier it is to hold the material exactly vertical for resawing.
Scroll saws are an even more specialized saw than band saws. They exist for one purpose; that of creating intricate curved cuts. Of all the shop saws, these are the only one which can make an inside cut. What I mean by that is that you can cut out the inside of a shape, like cutting a keyhole into a board. They can do this, because the blade is short, and can be stuck through the wood, then attached to the clamps. Woodworkers who use scroll saws generally do so for creating decorative pieces and pictures for hanging on the wall. They are not designed for any heavy-duty cutting, but rather for intricate shapes and curves.