Buying a Table Saw? Read this Guide First!
Buying a table saw can cover a lot of bases. You have everything from DIY models to professional production level cabinet table saws. In this article, we’re looking at the most popular—job site table saws. They’re on the less expensive side and are highly portable compared to their shop counterparts. That makes them go-to tools for framers, job site carpenters, and Prosumers.
Features aside, it’s the blade that does the work. So no matter what features you need, start with a quality blade and you’re much more likely to get a quality product in the end.
Buying a Table Saw for Job Sites
As you might imagine, table saw power increases from benchtop through cabinet models. Looking specifically at job site table saws narrows things down considerably. Buying a table saw for job site use, you’ll want a 15-amp motor. There’s plenty of ripping power and you only need 120V AC power.
The first cordless table saws are making their way into the industry. However, we don’t have a viable replacement for the 10″ table saw just yet. You’ll still get the best performance with corded power.
The vast majority of job site table saws use a direct drive motor. You’ll typically only find belt drives in more powerful cabinet saws. There is a twist on job site models, though. Skilsaw has two models that use worm drive motors – a 70 series lightweight model and a 99 series heavy-duty model.
Standard table saw blade diameter is 10″. These will give you somewhere around a 3-1/2″ cut capacity at 90°. The cordless saws running around have blades in the 8-1/4″ range and require you to give up some cutting depth. You’ll get more versatility out of a table saw with a 10″ blade.
For benchtop and job site saws with direct drive motors, the motor RPM is the blade RPM. If you’re considering a contractor or cabinet saw, it’s a different story. In any event, Pro table saw RPMs generally range from 4000 – 5000. Don’t let numbers on the lower side dissuade you. There’s a limit to how much power you can draw and each manufacturer has to decide how they’ll channel it between blade speed and torque. So higher isn’t necessarily better.
If you’re on the carpentry side of job site table saw use, a lower RPM can actually help you. High speeds can burn hardwoods as the blade cuts through. Lower speed helps alleviate that.
The arbor and trunnion hold the blade and allow it to move up, down, and at angles. Their quality increases with saw power and price. The arbor – the shaft that holds the blade in place – is almost always 5/8″ on a job site table saw. Just double check the size before buying blades.
Table & Fence
When buying a table saw, tools made for job sites use an aluminum table. The lighter weight makes them much more portable than shop saws with a cast iron table.
If you’re going to have a quality product, you need a fence system that’s perfectly square to the table so your cut is perfectly parallel to the edge. Obviously, framers have a bit more leeway than job site carpenters and there’s plenty of variance in fence quality. Cheaper saws have fences that can easily move out of square as they slide along the surface of the table. Avoid these if you want quality results. The fence system needs to be easy to keep square to the blade.
One of our favorite systems is the rack and pinion design of Skilsaw’s heavy-duty model. A couple of other brands also use the same concept. Since the fence locks in place and the table does the moving, you don’t get the slight misalignment that comes with fences that clamp onto the table.
Rip & Outfeed Capacity
When choosing the best table saw for job sites, you’ll need a rip capacity of more than 24″. Why? 24″ is half the width of sheet material. Some models will give you as much as 35″. Since you ideally want to have the waste edge opposite the fence, the larger the capacity the better. But again, jobsite table saws are designed for Pros with a little more inherent forgiveness in the job, so the assumption is that you can cut the waste edge against the fence if necessary.
Outfeed capacity is almost always the depth of the table. Pros using a jobsite table saw can opt to put a sawhorse or other support to hold the material after it passes the blade. There are a few models running around that give you some extra outfeed support, though. Most of the time, you’ll just have a buddy help guide the cut through from a safe stance on the behind the saw.
Throat Plate & Dado Capacity
The throat plate is the removable piece surrounding the blade that sits flush with the table. Removing it gives you the ability to access the blade for removal or riving knife adjustments. The narrower the blade clearance the better for two reasons. First, it helps keep material from falling into the blade area or lodging between the blade and throat plate. Second, it gives you material support very close to the cut to help reduce tear out as the blade exits the cut.
Framing work is full of rougher cuts that rarely makes use of more than one blade at a time. But occasionally you might need dados for an onsite custom build in. If that sounds like you, be sure to find out the saw’s dado stack capacity. It requires a longer arbor and you won’t be able to use your normal throat plate for it. Some manufacturers offer a dado throat plate if they have the capacity for it.
You’ll make most of your miter cuts on a miter saw. But when the material you’re cutting exceeds a miter saw’s cross-cutting capacity, you turn to your table saw miter gauge. These usually aren’t quite as precise, but some manufacturers put more thought and robustness into it than others. If you make a lot of long miter cuts, be sure to pay attention to this accessory.
Dust collection can seem like an afterthought when buying a table saw for the job site. The fact that you’re outside, often on an unoccupied site, negates the need to collect your dust. But breathing that stuff doesn’t do your lungs any favors. That’s why dust collection is so important. Of course, if you’re working inside or in an occupied structure, collecting all that dust will make the cleanup part of your day easier to deal with. Since we’re not talking about concrete dust regulations, even a standard shop vac will be a good bet to help contain the mess.
You’ll find a riving knife on every modern table saw. This helps prevent kickback that occurs when the material pinches along the back of the blade. You’ll also get a push stick to help keep your hands away from the blade.
One of the first things many Pros do is permanently (and intentionally) lose the blade guard and anti-kickback pawls. While they are a pain to install and store onboard, their ability to reduce the risk of injury is significant. Table saws are responsible for thousands of injuries every year and there are plenty of guys running around with stories of how they got injured. So practice installing them until it feels natural and then actually use them onsite.
Another safety feature to look for a blade brake. You’ll know if yours doesn’t have one – the blade will continue spinning for what seems like forever before it finally stops. Having a blade brake gives you an extra layer of protection, although it still take s few seconds to completely stop.
And finally, there are a couple of job site table saws running around with flesh detection to drop the blade out of the way if it detects a strike. There’s a significant premium in cost for these saws and there has also been plenty of litigation regarding whether it should be required on every table saw and whether more than one company has the right to manufacturer the mechanism. But they’ll save you a much worse injury in the event of an accident.
Now that you’re armed with more knowledge in buying a table saw, go out and buy one – just remember to check back in and tell us which one you got! Did we miss anything that you look for? Let us know in the comments below.