There are so many types of table saws on the market today that it can be confusing when shopping. When it comes time to buy a new saw or a replacement saw, it helps to know how to choose the right type. Every serious contractor, home renovator, or do-it-yourselfer needs a table saw at some point. While the sheer number of table saws on the market can make your head spin, we can break them down and show you the strengths and differences between each.
Editor's note: Check out our best portable construction site table saws article for more great recommendations. If you're just starting out, don't miss our guide to using a table saw.
Table of contents
- table saw fast background
- Bench or Portable Table Saw
- construction site table saw
- Contractor Table Saw
- cabinet table saw
- Table Saw Motor and Drive Configurations
- Accessories for all types of table saws
- Blade Size and Type
- wrap it up
table saw fast background
Most professionals use a table saw for precise cuts in wood and the occasional crosscut. For repeated crosscuts, you may want to use a circular or miter saw. Table saws include fence and miter gauges to measure and guide wood through the saw blade. They also include blade guards and kickback pawls for safety during use.
On the subject, no matter which type you buy, you'll want to practice how to use a table saw safely. More and more table saws are getting new safety systems—especially in jobsite and bench models. For some examples, check out the Sawstop construction site table saw and the DeWalt DWE7499GD table saw with guard detection. The plethora of table saw lawsuits should tell you that manufacturers take their safety features very seriously.
In the United States, most table saws run on 120V power, but there are now a handful of manufacturers making battery-operated models. Currently, this includes DeWalt, Milwaukee Tool, and Metabo HPT. Notably, only the Metabo HPT is a 10-inch model.
Bench or Portable Table Saw
While three or four basic types of table saws exist, we choose table or portable table saws for ultimate portability. These saws are most popular among those looking for the convenience of a table saw but want to spend as little money as possible.
As the name suggests, a bench saw can be placed directly above a bench or table. You'll often see these on a jobsite, set up on a pair of sawhorses. Sometimes you can buy separate folding stands, or they may even have legs that fold. However, portability remains their main feature.
The motors on these lightweight portable saws typically provide less power than contractor or cabinet table saws due to the reduced size. When shopping for a table saw, pay close attention to the quality of the fence.
You also want an easy-to-use blade lift mechanism as well as reasonable bevel control. Less expensive models have quick-adjust fences, but they can bend when you start feeding the board into the blade. With these types of table saws, look for fences that use a rock-solid adjustment system.
Construction site table saws are pretty much the same as table portable saws, except they usually have a beefier motor added. What's more, they often also add a rolling folding stand with wheels. This makes them the ultimate portable saw for the job site (hence the name).
These saws also tend to have higher quality fences for more precise measurements and better adjustments for cutting width. Look for sleek mechanisms, lightweight materials, and strong motor sizes to see which construction saw is best for you.
When investigating the many types of table saws, construction saws stand out because you have "room" to work with. It's about the size of a small cabinet saw while still emphasizing portability. The goal is to maximize power while allowing the saw to move from your truck or trailer to the job site.
Contractor Table Saw
There is a lot of confusion over the term "contractor saw". If you look at brands like Sawstop, Rikon, and Delta, contractor table saws usually have a rear mounted motor. They also include a sturdier stand with rollers.
These saws are the de-facto standard for professionals who work on large projects but may need to go from job to job. You may even see them gaining popularity among the serious do-it-yourself crowd, as they offer increased cutting power and convenience. They also offer some extra flexibility for stores with limited space.
Contractor table saws are heavier, but they have wheels on the bottom of their rigid legs. Of all the types of table saws, contractor saws offer the closest power to a cabinet saw while still being somewhat portable.
cabinet table saw
Cabinet table saws offer the ultimate in precision, control and power. While heavy, they tend to stay in place once set. Cabinet table saws have an enclosed base, hence the name "cabinet." These usually require more power and require a 220V or higher outlet.
Cabinet saws can be expensive, but probably won't stand still under the same conditions that portable or contractor-style table saws do. Since these are heavier saws, they usually have much less vibration. Combined with excellent fencing and build quality, this contributes to high precision when cutting.
If you see wheels on a cabinet saw, your idea is to move it around the shop, not load it into a truck or trailer. Often, these powerful tools feature prominently in the woodworking shop space.
Sliding or European Table Saw
Sliding table saw, also known as European table saw, is an industrial saw. They are huge. Much larger than a cabinet saw. The advantage of them is that they can take whole sheets of plywood and push them past the blades on the moving table. This makes them the ultimate saw for accuracy and efficiency. If you have the space (and budget), a sliding table saw can rock your world.
That being said, they come with a pretty high price tag. Even the average sliding table saw starts at around $5,000. We've seen them run as high as $25,000 or more.
Table Saw Motor and Drive Configurations
When you look at the many different types of table saws, we are always surprised to see that there are only two main types of motors. Let's take a look at both and see if they affect which type of desk you end up buying.
Direct drive motor
Most portable and benchtop models use direct drive motors. This connects the motor directly to the blade. Some guess that this wears out the motor faster due to the motor being close to the sawdust produced by the saw. However, with proper care, you should be able to use any saw designed this way for many years.
It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that most battery-operated or cordless table saws use a brushless motor to drive the blade. This falls under the category of direct drive motors.
belt drive motor
These systems, commonly found in cabinet and contractor table saws, have a belt that transmits power to the motor. This lets the saw position the motor away from the actual blade. This keeps the motor free from dust for better protection. It also makes the motor easier to remove (in the case of a contractor's table saw) for portability.
Accessories for all types of table saws
- Sliding Table Extension – As you can imagine, this is any kind of extension that attaches to a table to expand its width and allow larger sized lumber to be cut more easily.
- Dado Blade Kits – A dado blade kit is actually a series of blades that fit on a special dado board to make wide cuts instantly. These can be used with sacrificial fences to create notch cuts.
- Smooth Ripping Fence – This is a piece of metal that sits on top of the table and slides parallel to the blade to guide the wood in a straight line for an even cut.
- Flexible Miter Gauge – The miter gauge sits in one of two grooves on either side of the table saw blade. Bevels can be set so that precise bevels can be made to a piece of wood.
- Crosscut Sled – The Crosscut Sled is an excellent tool to make yourself that will make the process of repeating fixed length cross cuts much easier. It also adds a level of safety to the table saw as it helps prevent kickback by providing a very straight and accurate cut as well as ample rear support to stabilize the wood as it approaches the blade.
- Tenon Jig – This is a jig (metal or wood) that holds a piece of wood vertically so that the table saw can cut the end.
Blade Size and Type
The two most common table saw blade sizes are 8-1/4 inch and 10 inch blades. You'll typically see 8-1/4-inch blades on portable and construction saws, as well as most cordless models. This size is good for 1X and generally lighter work. The 10" blade allows you to reach a professional level for thicker 2X stock and miter cuts when necessary.
Of course, all bets are off when you move to a commercial-grade cabinet saw that can be equipped with a 16-inch or larger blade. Note the following regarding blade type:
- Blade Tooth Angle and Slope – How the manufacturer positions the carbide teeth on the blade determines the type of wood you'll be cutting. It also determines the maximum cutting speed and how the blade interacts with the wood. The correct blade tooth configuration creates a nice, clean cut.
- Blade Teeth Count – Fewer teeth on a saw blade generally result in faster cutting speeds and rougher edges. A "finishing" blade typically has 80 or more teeth and produces a more "sanding-like" finish on the end of the wood you're cutting. Also, the larger the blade, the more teeth are needed to provide the same level of cut.
- Vibration Damping – You may want to pay attention to vibration damping that occurs in your favorite blade. Blades that don't vibrate also tend to cut cleaner — not to mention quieter.
Editor's Note: You may also want to check out how various saw blade angles affect the cut in our best thin-cut miter saw blades article.
wrap it up
Hopefully this guide has given you enough information to help you choose the right table saw for your needs. While most people will opt for the less expensive benchtop models, we know quite a few woodworkers who opt for hybrid or cabinet models.