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. They cut more or less the same way as a circular saw: a round blade, usually 10 inches in diameter, spins as it works its way through the wood. The main difference is that the blade is fixed in place, sticking up through a gap in the table, and the operator moves the wood past the blade instead of moving the saw itself.
Table saws fall into three basic categories:
- Portable saws are best for small shops or jobsites. Reviewers recommend these models for easy transport to jobsites and for easy storage in a small workshop. Portable saws come in two types. Benchtop saws sit on top of a workbench and are light enough to pick up and carry; jobsite saws are mounted on folding stands, usually with wheels for easier transport. The main drawbacks of a portable saw are its lower power and smaller table, which makes it tricky to cut larger lumber and sheet material such as plywood. Prices for portable saws start at less than $200.
- Standard table saws are better for sheet stock and plywood. Sometimes called contractor table saws (even if intended for the home do-it-yourselfer), these table saws have open, fixed legs. These saws take up more space than a portable or benchtop table saw, and they're also heavier - as much as 200 to 300 pounds. It's still possible to move one, but it usually takes two people. On the plus side, their tables are often larger, making it easier to cut 4 by 8-foot panels. Prices for cabinet saws range from under $300 to nearly $2,000.
- Cabinet saws are best for the woodworking professional. These are the heaviest, sturdiest and most precise table saws, with powerful motors that require a 220-volt electrical outlet. Cabinet saws require a large, dedicated space because of their guide rails and large tables (often with big extension wings). Then also tend to have the best safety and dust-control features. Woodworkers with enough space (and money) usually make a cabinet saw the permanent centerpiece of the workshop, though a few cabinet saws have mobile bases. Cabinet saws cost $1,700 and up.
The main differences between saws of the same type lie in their 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, meticulous build, and an accurate fence and miter gauge that are easy to set.
Table saws are getting safer
Table saws can pose a serious risk of injury, since part of the spinning blade comes up above the surface of the table where it can come into contact with the user's hand as it guides the wood toward the blade. Thanks to voluntary safety standards introduced by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in 2007, most table saws now come with blade guards that minimize the risk. Modern guard systems are easier to remove and replace as needed – an important feature because inconvenient blade guards are apt to be left off the saw.
Today's table saws also include riving knives, which ride up and down with the blade when its height is changed, rather than splitters that are fixed in place. The problem with the old splitters was that they had to be removed for certain types of cuts, and users might forget to put them back on before making rip cuts. This increased the risk of kickback injuries, which occur when the spinning blade kicks back a piece of wood toward the user with tremendous force, causing serious injury to any part of the body that's hit.
Blade guards and riving knives can't prevent all injuries, though. A 2011 report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that 20 percent of all table saw injuries were caused saws with riving knives, and 25 percent were from saws that had their blade guards in place.
The latest advance in table saw safety is a feature that senses the presence of tissue, such as a finger or forearm, and either stops the spinning blade or drops it below the table surface. A company called SawStop was the first to offer this technology, and in June 2016 Bosch introduced a portable table saw that includes it as well. However, saws with this safety feature are much more expensive than others in the same category. Even portable saws with this feature start at $1,500 – nearly three times the price of our Best Rated portable table saw.
Finding the best table saws
To make our recommendations for the best table saws, and the best table saw bargains, we consulted comparison tests and single-product reviews in tool-related publications such as Woodworker's Journal, Popular Mechanics, Tools of the Trade, and Fine Homebuilding. Many of these reports are several years old, but most of the models tested are still available. Most professional reviews focus on portable table saws, but we found a few for cabinet saws. To find information on contractor saws, and to learn about how table saws perform in real people's homes, we consulted owner-written reviews at sites like Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, and Sears.com. We then named our top picks for portable, contractor, and cabinet table saws based on cutting performance, accuracy, ease of use, features, and durability.