Buying a Table Saw
By Joshua Farnsworth
After taking a board through the jointer (to flatten & square up a face and edge) and thickness planer (to obtain a uniform thickness), the last machine that I use to square up my boards is a table saw. First I run the board lengthwise between the fence and saw blade to “rip” the board to the desired width. The jointed edge rides along the fence. Thus, the rip cut gives a uniform width to the whole board. Then I can make crosscuts on the tablesaw using a miter gauge or shop-made crosscut sled.
I have owned several table saws over the years (and used many others), and until a few years ago I was scared to death every time I used them. I was especially scared using the older table saws that had a lot of power and no safety features. Not because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because the least bit of inattention can cause a serious injury. There are more major injuries in woodworking shops on a table saw than on any other machine. I’ve known very experienced woodworkers who have cut their fingers off at the table saw when someone walked into their workshop to say hello. Taking your eye off a table saw blade, even for an instant, can be catastrophic. And I know other woodworkers who switched almost fully to hand tools because of other table saw scares.
Don’t get me wrong. Most table saw manufacturers have made a long stride with safety features. But only one company holds the patented technology to prevent the table saw from cutting your gingers off. So this guide to buying table saws is going to be really easy. At this time I’m only going to recommend that you buy a table saw from one company (and I don’t have any affiliation with the company): SawStop.
SawStop holds a patented technology for stopping a saw blade in 1/1000 of a second when it senses human flesh. The saw blade is forced down into a brake, leaving only a minor scratch on your finger, rather than cutting your fingers off. Yes, the saw blade and the SawStop brake have to be replaced, but that cost is minuscule compared with a trip to the Emergency Department and a lifetime without fingers. And the same comparison can be made when trying to save a thousand dollars by buying a cheaper table saw. The risk isn’t worth the savings. Here’s a video that the Discovery Channel did on the SawStop years ago:
But please remember that even though a SawStop table saw will stop you from cutting your finger off, it can still cause kickback of wood, like with other table saws. So you still need to use safety practices.
SawStop table saws come in a few different sizes, from a jobsite contractor saw all the way up to an industrial table saw. This is the model of SawStop cabinet tablesaw that I purchased, which is available with free shipping on Amazon. I find that the 3 horsepower cabinet saw has enough power to cut through thicker hardwood boards than a lower horse power table saw. I’ve owned a 1.75 HP table saw, and it worked in most situations, but bogged down on thicker wood. And after talking with a friend who owns the Industrial SawStop (comes in 3HP and 5HP) I felt that the industrial SawStop wasn’t worth the extra cost for me, as my 3HP cabinet saw can handle anything that I can use on it.
So a 3HP table saw is ideal for most woodworkers. However, my friend loves the larger table size of the Industrial SawStop. In order of most expensive to least expensive, here are the different models and feature combinations for you to check prices on (the links lead to the product pages on Amazon):
And you can compare prices on table saws here at Rockler Woodworking:
I really like having the model that comes with the larger 52-inch fence and long extension table because both allow me more versatility. The 52-inch T-Glide fence gives me more support and accuracy when ripping longer boards, and the extension table is amazing because it gives me a lot of room to stack lumber waiting to be cut. It keeps the wood right at my side, which leads to increased safety and speed.
My SawStop model also came with a really nice mobile base, which is better than any other mobile base that I’ve ever used. It doesn’t slam the machine down, like some other mobile bases do.