Table saws make the most accurate cuts
Table saws support and guide lumber and wood panels as they pass over the spinning blade, making it easier to make accurate repeat cuts than with a circular saw. Most table saws use a circular blade 10 inches in diameter that cuts as the blade spins. This is not unlike the way a handheld circular saw slices through wood. The difference here is that the blade spins in one place, sticking up through a gap in the table. The operator moves the wood against the blade instead of moving the saw.
Table saws range from small portable saws that move with ease from the jobsite to the workshop and start at less than $200, to contractor saws that aren't as portable but that more easily handle larger lumber and sheet material such as plywood, to precision cabinet saws with price tags of $2,300 and up found in woodworking and cabinet making shops. The main differences lie in the saws' power and accuracy. More powerful saws can handle thicker or denser wood, cut faster and run all day without wearing out the motor. Accuracy depends on a variety of factors: low vibration, precise build and an accurate fence and miter gauge that are easy to set.
Table saws are getting safer
Table saws pose serious risks of injury since part of the spinning blade on a table saw comes up above the surface of the table and the user's hand is guiding the wood toward the blade. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), table saws are the most dangerous power tool in common use. Thanks to voluntary safety standards formulated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), most table saws now come with blade guards that minimize the risk. The new guard systems are easier to remove and replace as needed, and include true riving knives (which ride up and down with the blade when its height is changed).
These improvements are important because inconvenient blade guards are apt to be left off the saw, even though the spinning blade can kick back a piece of wood toward the user with tremendous force, causing serious injury to any part of the body that's hit. Most table saw injuries aren't due to kickback, however, but instead involve contact with the blade (cuts or amputations) -- and most happen to hobbyists and homeowners.
A July 2011 report from the CPSC concludes that even an excellent riving knife and blade guard system, as found on the portable Bosch 4100-09 (Est. $570), can't prevent serious cuts from contact with the blade, but the Power Tools Institute (PTI), a trade group representing most power tool makers, counter-claims that there are no reports of contact injuries for current-model table saws with UL-compliant blade guards installed.
Technology that senses the presence of tissue, such as a finger or forearm, and stops the spinning blade exists, but there is controversy over whether it could be or even should be made mandatory. A company called SawStop holds the patents for that technology, and currently makes some well-rated table saws and cabinet saws that include it. There are indications that the CPSC would like to make this system mandatory, and it is preparing a user survey to learn more about the frequency of contact injuries, but industry and contractor opposition has been strong. Worry from the PTI comes from the virtual monopoly that SawStop would enjoy if its technology became mandatory, and it estimates that it could add $100 or possibly much more to the cost of even basic table saws. As detailed at Tools of the Trade, adding to the controversy are charges by the PTI that alternate and less-expensive technologies than the one offered by SawStop have been developed, but have not been offered to the public over fears of patent infringement suits by SawStop.
Finding the best table saw reviews
It's been a few years since we've seen much in the way of comparative reviews of table saws, but older reports remain relevant as many of the models tested remain current. To make our recommendations for the best table saws, and the best table saw bargains, we consulted reports and reviews at Popular Mechanics, WoodWorker's Journal, This is Carpentry.com, Fine Homebuilding, Tools of the Trade and elsewhere. Owner-written reviews are also useful in evaluating portable and contractor table saws, often over longer periods of time, and we looked to Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and Sears.com for those.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Portable Table Saws
Need a table saw that's light weight and low cost? These portable table saws are easy to lug from your workshop to your job site.
Contractor Table Saws
Contractors saws -- including saws that are mainly best for homeowners -- are bulkier than portable table saws but are better able to handle large lumber and sheet material. Top choices and top bargains are discussed.
If woodworking is your profession, you need a professional grade cabinet saws. We look into the details and make our recommendations.
Not sure what you need to consider before buying a table saw? This guide will help you cut through the details to find the best choice for your needs and budget.
These are the expert and user reviews we used to find the best portable, contractor and cabinet table saws. We rank them in order of helpfulness.