header image

Recently I decided to buy a table saw. I had been driving over to a friend's house and using his all the time. In case you don't know, tablesaws can be really expensive. I did a little research before deciding on one and thought it might be useful to share.

The required features:

Cast iron body and wings
Iron is more rigid than stamped steel, the other metal typically used to make the table surface. It will remain perfectly level and not sag (like MDF covered wings on some Craftsman models I saw) or bend (like some stamped steel wings might if you put too much weight on them). It's also heavy so if you're interested in a "portable" saw you might want to steer clear of the iron.

Good fence system
A good fence system is key to the usability of the saw. You don't want to have to measure from the blade to the fence (twice to make sure the fence is parallel!) everytime you use it. It must have readable markings and a micro-adjustment control. It must be locked parallel when you pull the level down. Some fences have magnifiers; I found that I do not like these very much.

Think about voltage
I wired a 240V, 30A circuit for my tablesaw and it does make a difference. If you have the room in your breaker box and the inclination to do this, I'd recommend it. Some saws cannot be rewired to run on 240V. Some saws only run at 240V. This is something to think about when you are in the market to buy a saw.

Accessible On/Off
This is a safety feature... I want a power switch that I can operate with my knee. Ideally it would be user-positionable and have a very large, easy to use off switch -- in case my hands are busy holding a board that is jammed between the blade and the fence and I need to power the saw down. Some power switches on table saws are "magnetic". This is a good thing because if you blow a breaker the switch turns itself which saves you from launching a board across the shop if you turn back on the breaker without turning off the saw.

Overload / overheat shutdown
Another safety feature... overload protection turns off the saw if you are putting way too much load on the motor and are in danger of overheating it. Realistically on a 20A curcuit I expect for a breaker to pop before reaching this point, but it's a good thing to have on the saw.

Left tilt blade
Most saw blades tilt right (towards the fence). Some saws tilt left (away from the fence). Making a bevel cut with the blade tilting towards the fence is a bad move: the wood between the fence and the blade can jam and bind. So with right tilting blades you want to lower the blade and move the fence over to the other side of the table before making your cut. Making a bevel cut on a left tilting blade is more convenient; since the blade already tilts away from the fence, you don't need to move the fence to make the cut safely.

Good dust control
My wife yells at me when I get sawdust on her Harley.

Enclosed, internal motor
The motor driving the saw should be sealed to protect it from dust. Ideally it should be tucked away in the interior of the saw so that the saw doesn't take up so much room in the shop.

The Contenders:

~$500 "Contractor" Saws
Craftsman 22839$5001.5hp, 13A,120V+nice fence, -open motor, -steel wings
Delta 36-650$6001.5hp, 15A,120V+ok fence, -steel wings, -external motor
Jet JWTS-10JF$5251.5hp, 18A,120V
Rigid TS2412$4701.5hp, 13A,120V
Grizzly GO444Z$5252hp

~$850 Hybrid Saws

Powermatic 64A$8501.5hp, 15A,120V
Dewalt DW746X$8501.75hp
Jet JWSS$8501.75hp
Craftsman 22859$8001.5hp, 13A,120V

Also this review in American Woodworker magazine was really helpful and well worth reading.

What I bought:

I ended up buying the Jet JWSS "Super Saw". I've had it since November 2003. It's a good saw but I have had some problems. The handle of my fence broke off because of a defective bolt which sheered in half as I was locking the fence in place. The bolt in question is 1/2" thick and there is no way it should have failed. When I took assembly back to my local dealer, though, they said they had seen it before... hmm.

I waited approx 1.5 months for the new part (which was too long, in my opinion). Luckily I could still use the fence with vice grips for a handle.

The tail of the handle bolt was stuck in the fence assembly so I had asked the dealer to get me a new handle and a new collar piece too. Unfortunately they could only got me a new handle and I had to mess around with a screw extractor for an hour in order to get the old bolt remnants out of the collar before putting the new one on.

I appreciate the blade guards and splitter on the saw... for safety I'm determined to use these things. But when I built a cross cut sled for this saw I found that the blade guard does not lift up/back far enough and the anti-kickback rasps get in the way. I drilled through the rasps and stuck some stiff copper wire in them to keep them up when they aren't needed. But it sure would have been nice if they could be disabled/enabled enduser modification. It also would be much nicer if the blade guard got more out of the way when it is not needed.

The only other comment I have about the Jet saw is that I have already had to realign blade by adjusting the trunion. Doing so was somewhat of a pain because of the location of one of the bolts (the front-right one).

Also, I ended up running a 220V line for this saw and have to say that it makes a big difference. I strongly recommend doing so if you have a saw that can be wired to run on higher voltage.

tablesaw.html was last updated 19 July 2013 and is Copyright (C) 2002-2015 by Scott Gasch (scott.gasch@gmail.com).