2. Table Saw Motor Power
As I touched on in the prior section, the power of the motor is a very important consideration because you need your table saw to be powerful enough to cut easily through the wood that you’ll be using. When buying a table saw, the term “horse power” is often used to express how powerful the motor is.
Although it’s not a perfectly accurate measure of the motor’s power, “horse power” (abbreviated “HP”) is a quick way to compare the power capabilities between table saw models. Well, at least the more powerful table saws. Amperage (or “amps”) may be a better way to compare power between table saws once you’ve narrowed down the best table saw options for you. It’s just a little harder to find that number. I’ll discuss Amps in a minute.
Cabinet Table Saw Motor Horsepower
For professional cabinet table saws, horse power ratings range from 1.75 HP to 7.5 HP. As a general rule of thumb, if you want to cut hardwood over 2-inches thick without your motor bogging down, then you should buy a cabinet table saw with a motor over 2 HP. I’ve found that my 3 HP cabinet table saw (see it here) is a perfect balance between performance and budget.
My table saw has never bogged down when cutting thick hardwood for furniture making. So it’s my personal opinion that a table saw over 3 HP is overkill for most furniture makers. However, I don’t usually work with super hard and thick tropical lumber, so a 5 HP cabinet table saw may be a good option for professional woodworking shops that cut a lot of thick tropical hardwood boards. It’s also important to note that table saws with powerful 3 HP motors or larger will draw more amps (again, I’ll clarify this in a minute), and will therefore require you to have an electrician install a 220 volt circuit and outlet in your workshop, if there’s not already one there. (note that 220V / 230V / 240V are the same circuit and plug. Learn more here).
And 7.5 HP table saws are for industrial use, and draw so much electricity that they require a 3 phase electrical connection, which most residential workshops and homes don’t have. So most woodworkers can probably rule out buying a 7.5 HP cabinet table saw.
In the past I owned a 1.75 HP cabinet table saw (pictured above), and while it worked well under most conditions, it did bog down when cutting hardwood boards over 2-inches thick. If you don’t plan on cutting boards that are abnormally hard and thick, then a 1.75 HP table saw may work well for you. That isn’t to say that a 1.75 HP table saw can’t cut hardwood over 2-inches thick. But the feed rate will need to be slowed down substantially, and you may find that the saw slows down. That can lead to a dangerous situation if you’re scrambling to push your board through a dangerous spinning blade that is struggling to get through the wood. If you decide to buy a cabinet table saw under 3 HP, just be extra careful when using thicker, harder boards. But there’s also something to be said about buying a table saw that you won’t have to “upgrade” in the future.
Contractor Table Saw Motor Horsepower
Contractor table saws can also have descent horsepower. You can find some contractor table saws with motors in the 1.5 HP – 2 HP range (like this nice one made by SawStop). This makes a contractor table saw a good option for a woodworker who needs portability, but still needs enough power to cut most hardwoods efficiently. As I mentioned earlier, a contractor table saw with horsepower in this range can still do a reasonably good job of cutting through hardwood boards 2-inches thick or thinner. And a contractor saw will not require you to have a new 220 volt circuit run, although you may need to install a 20 amp breaker if you don’t have one.
Jobsite Table Saw Motor Power
Jobsite table saw motors usually come with motors of 1.5 HP or lower. In fact, many of the more affordable job site table saw models don’t even specify horse power. They use “amps” to specify their motor’s power. That makes it harder to compare their power with higher end table saws. So this is where finding out the “amps” of a table saw is important.
Most jobsite table saws advertise 15 amp motors. This is roughly equivalent to a 1 HP motor. Why are many jobsite table saws made with 15 amp motors?
Because most household circuits are 15 amps, and the manufacturers likely wanted to make table saws that wouldn’t trip the circuit breaker when someone is working on a jobsite with limited outlet options. If a table saw draws more than 15 amps (like with a table saw with 1.5 HP to 2 HP) then it would trip the 15 Amp breaker, and you would need a circuit breaker with more amps, like a 20 amp breaker.
Table saws with 3 HP motor (or larger) will draw so many amps that you would need a special 220 volt breaker and plug, as mentioned earlier. You just can’t use a table saw that powerful on normal 120 volt household plugs.
So if you want to make an apples-to-apples comparison between table saws, then look up how many amps the different table saws draw. And the amps will also tell you what type of electrical circuit you’ll need for your workshop.