Buying a Table Saw

By Joshua Farnsworth

Saw Stop cabinet table saw 3 horse power

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.

Vintage table saw in a woodworking shop and wood mill

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.

Table saw

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.

Close up photo of table saw teeth on a 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 saw with mahogany winding sticks

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.

Joshua Farnsworth ripping a board on a sawstop table saw

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:

SawStop PCS31230-TGP252 3-HP Professional Cabinet Saw Assembly with 52-Inch Professional T-Glide Fence System, Rails and Extension Table

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.

Buying Table Saw Accessories

Various table saw safety tools including zero clearance inserts, push sticks, feather board, and saw guard

So what accessories do you need for using your table saw? Below I’ll mention these required and optional accessories:

Table Saw Blades

Close up photo of table saw teeth on a sawstop

Table saw blades come in a few different variations, which are similar to hand saws:

  • Rip: Rip table saw blades have teeth that are best suited for cutting with the grain, to rip a board to a desired width.
  • Crosscut: Crosscut table saw blades have teeth that are oriented in a way to make clean cuts across the grain.
  • Combination: Combination table saw blades make a compromise between ripping and crosscutting.

I use standard combination blades on my table saw because, though it isn’t quite as good as using a dedicated rip or crosscut blade, it makes pretty clean cuts while allowing me to not have to change out the blade every time I switch between ripping and crosscutting. Plus, I always use hand tools to clean up my boards after they have been milled up on the woodworking machines, so a little less perfect cut is a non-issue for me. By “standard combination blades” I mean: 10-inch blade with 40 to 50 teeth, which cuts around a 1/8-inch kerf.

Close up photo of table saw teeth on a sawstop

If you buy a SawStop, then you can certainly just use the 10-inch combination blade that comes with it until it seems to get more dull. However, it’s not an exceptional blade (it leaves ridges and machine marks). If you don’t mind doing more cleanup with your hand tools, then this isn’t a huge deal. But if you’ve got a little extra money in your budget, or if you’re ready to upgrade table saw blades then here are a few of the best table saw blades on the market:

Table Saw Dado Blade Set

SawStop dado stack blades raised above the zero clearance insert

A set (or “stack”) of dado blades is used on a table saw to cut dadoes, grooves, and rabbet joints. All three joints are essentially the same, except for where they are cut on the board:

  • Dado: Cut across the grain, to hold shelves
  • Groove: Cut with the grain, to hold tongues or cabinet backs
  • Rabbet: Cut on the end or edge of a board

With a series of blades, chippers, and shims the desired width of the dado, groove, or rabbet can be dialed in accurately.

Stack of Freud 8 inch dado blades

When choosing a set of dado blades, the first thing to remember is that you need to buy a blade set that is one size smaller than your normal blade. If your table saw uses 10-inch saw blades (the most common), then you would purchase an 8-inch dado set. Also look for a dado set that has a good number of shims, to allow for fine adjustment of dado size. Most dado sets on the market have carbide tips, so the main difference would be manufacturing quality. So rely on customer reviews to help you weed through differences in quality.

Here are some of the top 8-inch dado blade sets on the market…click on the name to compare prices & reviews:

SawStop dado cartridge inside retail packaging sitting on a table saw

If you will be using the dado stack on a SawStop table saw, then you will need to buy this brake cartridge for use with your 8-inch dado stack. Otherwise your SawStop won’t even turn on when a dado stack is added. The SawStop computer is pretty smart.

Dado blades stack inside a SawStop table saw with removed zero clearance insert

And when using a dado stack, you’ll also need to buy or make a zero clearance table saw insert to dedicate to dado blade use. I’ll discuss that below.

Zero Clearance Table Saw Insert

SawStop zero clearance table saw insert

A lot of table saws come with an insert that leaves space between the insert and the blade. This will allow you to change the blade angle, but it also leads to splintered cuts and also to small offcuts that can drop into the saw and come flying back at you. Not fun.

Table saw blade in a table saw

A zero clearance table saw insert is used for getting cleaner cuts on the table saw. The inserts come blank, and after securing it in place on the table saw, with the table saw fence holding it down, the table saw is turned on and the blade is carefully and slowly raised until a perfectly-sized kerf is cut into the insert. Then going forward, there is no space between the table saw blade and the insert. This helps prevent tearout and splintering.

Normal and dado zero clearance inserts on a sawstop table saw

If you’re buying a SawStop table saw, then you’ll need this standard lock down zero clearance insert, made especially to fit a SawStop table saw. It also has a space for your riving knife (which keeps a ripped board from closing down on a spinning saw blade).

If you plan on using a dado stack with a SawStop, then you’ll need to buy this dado lock down zero clearance insert, made especially for SawStop table saws.

Plywood zero clearance table saw insert with 45 degrees written on top

I have made plywood zero clearance table saw inserts, but they are more difficult to make for a SawStop table saw due to some machine screws that are in the way. The SawStop-made inserts are manufactured to fit over the screws, but homemade inserts require some carving out on the bottom of the plywood insert to get it to fit. It’s doable, but it takes quite awhile to get it to fit properly. Making plywood inserts may be the way to go on other table saw brands. But there are a host of affordable table saw inserts that will fit many table saws:

Push Sticks & Push Blocks

Joshua Farnsworth pushing a poplar board across a SawStop table saw with a wooden push stick next to him and a yellow feather board

One of the most vital table saw accessories is a push stick. A push stick keeps your hands at a distance from the table saw blade or jointer cutterhead. I always cringe when I see someone pushing wood through a machine without a push stick. Even though a SawStop can protect your fingers, I don’t want to trigger the flesh-sensing brake. There are a lot of options for push sticks, and I use a few different push sticks on my table saw.

Woodworking push sticks at a woodworking store for table saws and jointers

The main push stick that I use on my table saw is a homemade wooden push stick (see below). I just cut these push sticks out of plywood or scrap 3/4-inch lumber. When I feel like I need more support on rip cuts, I’ll also add a longer plastic push stick to keep the board against the fence. These plastic push sticks come with most table saws, but if you don’t have one, then you can purchase one at a very reasonable price. You can also make one out of wood.

Joshua Farnsworth pushing a poplar board across a SawStop table saw with a wooden push stick

For my previous birthday my wife bought me this GRR-RIPPER table saw pushblock. I have found it to be hugely beneficial for ripping narrow pieces on the table saw, that I’d normally feel nervous ripping with my homemade push stick. It also works well for ripping normal sized boards.

Joshua Farnsworth pushing a poplar board across a SawStop table saw with a yellow GRR-RIPPER table saw pushblock

The table saw blade rides under the pushblock, so you don’t have to worry about getting your push stick to fit between the saw blade and fence. Just make sure that you set it up properly, and that your table saw blade isn’t higher than the bottom of the block!

Upgraded Miter Gauge or Crosscut Sled

Incra miter gauge on a table saw with saw blade in background

Most table saws come with a standard miter gauge, which allows a woodworker to make 90 degree crosscuts and angled crosscuts, as the miter gauge slides forward in the slots of the cast iron table saw table.

A longer piece of wood is usually screwed to the miter gauge to provide support and to provide cleaner cuts (it acts like a zero clearance insert for crosscuts). I usually use that simple method, and it works fine.

[Photo: crosscut sled]

However, some people who make a lot more crosscuts on the table saw prefer to have an upgraded miter gauge or a shop-made crosscut sled. Click here for a good article on making a simple crosscut sled.

Incra MITER1000SE Miter Gauge retail box on a woodworking store shelf

Probably the most popular manufactured miter gauge is the Incra Miter line. It assists with making accurate, repeatable crosscuts on the table saw. The telescoping fence gives extra stability to ensure accurate cuts. This is definitely not a required table saw accessory. You can get along without it. It’s just one of those “nice to have” woodworking tools.

Featherboard

Yellow Magswitch magnetic feather board on a SawStop table saw

A featherboard is a safety jig that attaches to a table saw, either in the miter gauge or magnetically to the table top. When ripping a narrow board it keeps the board pushed up against the fence. The little “feathers” are flexible, so they can bend as the lumber moves through the blade, but won’t bend back, preventing the wood from kicking back. Featherboards are also very useful when cutting small pieces on a power router.

A featherboard can be made in your shop or purchased commercially. I like the featherboards that use strong rare earth magnets to attach itself to the table saw top, so I don’t have to be limited to using it in the miter slots. This also makes it easier to use on a router. Here is my featherboard, and some others:

I also own this cool double featherboard, which is very useful for cutting raised panels on the table saw, and other tall pieces.

Rockler Double Featherboard holding a raised panel that was just cut on a table saw

Wooden featherboards can also be made in your workshop. They just take some time to make and to fit into your miter slots. Whichever type of featherboard you choose, just make sure that you keep it a few inches behind the table saw blade, or else it will push the work piece into the blade, causing a kickback. Another cool table saw safety accessory that looks like it would work great with a featherboard is the “Board Buddies” by Woodstock (see it here). I haven’t tried it yet, but would like to.

Outfeed Table

SawStop folding outfeed table cutting purple heart board

One thing that I haven’t built since moving into my new workshop four years ago is an outfeed table for my new table saw. I’ve been using metal rollers, which I don’t like as much as my old outfeed table. An outfeed table makes it easier to push boards through the table saw blade without having the board drop off the edge. It also supports a crosscut sled. Limited workshop space is my reason for not building an outfeed table in this workshop. When classes take place, I have to push all my woodworking machinery to the back of the workshop, so there isn’t enough space for an actual outfeed table.

Solutions to this problem, which I have yet to address, are building or buying a folding outfeed table. SawStop makes this folding metal outfeed table, which attaches to SawStop table saws. You can watch a quick video about the metal outfeed table here:

YouTube has a lot of videos on how to build a folding outfeed table.