Table Saw Buying Guide

 

What the best table saw has

  • Smooth, accurate cutting. The blade should go through any type of wood easily. The fence and miter gauge should be accurate, allowing you to make rip cuts, crosscuts, and beveled cuts with precision.
  • Good safety features. Most current table saws include such key safety features as riving knives instead of splitters, anti-kickback pawls, and clear, flexible blade guards. Because safety features are only effective if they're actually used, it's also important for the blade guard system to be easy to install and remove without using tools. Models with flesh-sensing technology, which stops the blade when it touches skin, are safest of all, but they are pricey compared to other table saws of the same type.
  • Easy adjustment. Blade alignment needs to be accurate for the best cuts. It should be easy to align the blade and the riving knife assembly when you first set it up, and realign it as needed. It should also be easy to adjust the blade height, bevel, and fence position. Wheels and levers should work without heavy friction and should be easy to lubricate, and it shouldn't take several dozen revolutions to raise the blade a few inches or tilt it 10 degrees.
  • Good dust control. Table saws manage dust in two ways. A port on the back, hooked up to a vacuum can corral the dust that accumulates below the table surface, while a shroud over the blade can redirect the dust that collects above. Many good saws have both, hooked up to the same dust-collection hose. A slanting chute help redirect dust toward the main dust port.
  • Sturdy construction. Most reviewers believe that metal components for all parts of the saw are more durable than plastic. Cast iron provides the most stable surface, minimizing vibration, but it's also a great deal heavier than steel or aluminum. A good table saw should have a smooth, flat table surface and sturdy legs, making it rock steady when set up. The durability of the motor and other moving parts is harder to check by looking, but a good warranty – at least three years – is a sign that the saw is built to last.

Know before you go

Check the power requirements. In choosing a table saw, be sure to consider the available electrical power. Wood Magazine explains that many 120-volt tools, such as table saws, need a 20- or 30-amp circuit all to themselves, and running multiple tools at once – for instance, a table saw plus a dust collector – can overload the circuit. However, switching the same tool to run on 240 volts means it draws only half as much current. That's why cabinet saws, with their heavy-duty motors, usually run only on 240-volt power. Many contractor saws can run on either 240- or 120-volt power, with 240 being more efficient. Portable saws use 120-volt power, so they're especially useful for job sites or home workshops.

Check the space. Available space is another big consideration in selecting a table saw. Most cabinet saws are stationary, designed to be located in the middle of the workshop. If you regularly make large furniture pieces, you'll need at least eight feet of clearance in front of and behind the saw blade and 36 inches around the bench on all sides. Saws on mobile bases can be moved against a wall when they're not in use, and of course, portable table saws take the least space of all. Some saws on rolling stands, such as the Best-Reviewed Bosch 4100-09 (Est. $560), fold up compactly for storage.

Match power and capacity to your needs. The amount of power you need depends on what you're cutting. A motor with 1 to 2 horsepower is capable of ripping hardwood 2 inches thick, while cutting through 3 or more inches requires a 3- to 5-horsepower motor, found only on cabinet saws. Size also matters; a larger table makes it easier to cut large sheet of plywood, but it also takes up more space in your shop. One solution is to add on an extension table, which mounts to the side of the saw and can be removed after use. Finally, consider the dado capacity. If you want to cut dadoes – slots across a board for joining pieces – make sure the saw's arbor (the shaft that holds the blade) is long enough to accommodate the dado stack you want.

Consider portability. If you need to transport your saw to jobsites, a portable saw is your best bet. Some contractor saws are small enough to be transported, but they're unwieldy. Check the saw's dimensions to make sure it will fit into your vehicle, and try lifting and moving it to get a sense of how easy it is to move. If the stand has wheels, check to see how smoothly they roll and whether they can handle stairs or rough terrain.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

To get the most out of your table saw, you should check all its adjustments periodically, particularly the alignment of the blade assembly. Most reviewers say you should also upgrade the blade as soon as you buy the saw, since the stock blades that come with most saws are adequate only for rough cutting. Other common upgrades to consider include building a new fence, replacing the miter gauge, or building a crosscut sled – a movable contraption that slides along the saw's miter gauge slots, allowing for safer and more accurate crosscuts. Finally, when using your saw, keep an eye on safety. Don't remove the blade guard unless you have to, and use a push stick, rather than your hand, to move your lumber past the blade.

What's to come

Until recently, SawStop was the only brand of table saw to include flesh-sensing technology, which stops the blade automatically if it comes in contact with your skin. However, that changed in June 2016 with the introduction of the Bosch REAXX GTS1041A-09 (Est. $1500). Instead of stopping the blade instantly like the SawStop, the Bosch uses Active Response Technology that drops the blade rapidly below the table surface.

This new portable saw hasn't been included in any professional tests yet, and it's won't be widely available from retailers until August 2016. But by breaking SawStop's monopoly on this safety feature, Bosch has opened up its availability and increased the chances that we'll be seeing it on more table saws in the future.