Table Saws

by The Carpenter

The table saw is without a doubt the most important piece of equipment a woodworker will have in their possession. Depending on your particular needs, there are three basic types available. The smallest are the portable job-site table saws. They are portable and designed with lockable wheels and push rods for those who need to work on a construction site. The most common table saw is the contractors table saw. This type stands on four legs but has an open undercarriage to decrease weight and cost. Cabinet table saws are the largest available and, just as the name implies, have a cabinet framework build onto them and are generally situated in a permanent position. Both the larger sized table saws can handle large pieces of wood while the job-site saw requires more careful handling to manage larger pieces.

As well as table size, the motor size is important to investigate. Most jobs, and most contractor table saws run a 1-1/2 to 2 horsepower motor. The cabinet saws usually come with a very powerful 3 to 5 horsepower motor. Even if you are not planning on moving your table saw once it is installed, you need to make sure the power cord is long enough to reach the wall outlet without having it off the floor and creating a trip hazard. Eight foot is considered a good minimum length.

The most critical part of the table saw is the actual tabletop. For accurate work the top must be absolutely flat. The central part is made of cast iron milled to within 1/1000″ flatness and is usually about a 2 foot section. Tabletop extensions can then be added for greater surface area. Depending on your budget, the extensions can be made of either more cast iron, steel, or wood-cored plastic laminate material.

The rip fence, the raised bar beside the blade you use to slide the wood along into the blade, needs to be smooth and easily, yet firmly and accurately adjusted. Avoid rip fences that are hard to line up or cannot be firmly tightened as a loose one will throw your cut off. This same principle applies to the miter gauge. This bar is used to guide the wood through the blade for angled cuts. Since this fits in a slot rather than having tightening bolts, you need to make sure the fit is snug and has no wobble or play in the miter gauge bar.

Another feature you may want to investigate for your specific needs is a tilting blade. The tilted blade adjustment allows angled cuts along the long axis of the wood. Most table saws with tilting blades only allowed a right-tilt. While it may be a bit more expensive, table saws can now be had with a left-tilt adjustment. Since the left-tilt leans away from the fence, it is considered a safer angle to cut thin strips. Test the blade guard and make sure it is strong enough to withstand kickbacks but still manages to easily slide up over the wood as it contacts the blade.

The saw blade, despite being a replaceable part, is also critical for good service from your table saw. While most table saws use a 10″ diameter blade, some cabinet models are designed for a 12″ blade. There are specialty blades made to cut specific materials, be it plastic laminate, plywood, or other synthetic materials. While you can get blades specifically for rip cutting or cross cutting, a good combination blade that is designed to do both functions adequately can save some time by not having to switch them out constantly. Keep your blades sharp and replace as needed.

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