The Table Saw is undoubtedly the most versatile machine in any shop and should be the woodworker's most important machine purchase. A good table saw becomes the centerpiece of the workshop, as the woodworker uses it to rip, square, miter, groove, shape and join pieces. A quality table saw will make completing nearly any woodworking project easier.
As such, when planning your shop layout, and in particular, when budgeting to buy new tools, you should consider buying the best table saw that you can reasonably afford. This one tool will handle so much of your shop tasks that you really don't want to scrimp on your most important woodworking machine purchase.
Table Saw Features
Every table saw should have a smooth, heavy work surface, typically made of cast iron, that will provide the saw with some heft for keeping the saw stable. The saw should have a handle for raising and lowering the saw blade above and below the surface of the table, a separate handle for adjusting the angle of the blade and connections for dust collection. The saw should have a strong motor that starts smoothly with little vibration and enough horsepower to make deep cuts through harder woods. Additionally, a quality table saw will have an arbor long enough to be able to accommodate a full stacked dado blade set and a removable throat plate that can be replaced by zero-clearance inserts for protection when using a stacked dado blade set.
Every table saw should include a blade guard, to protect the woodworker from the exposed saw blade and a large, easily accessible on/off switch. Most modern table saws utilize a large paddle switch that is pulled to turn on the saw and pushed to turn it off. As such, when the woodworker's hands are busy steadying the material being cut, they can turn the saw off merely pressing their knee against the switch. Additionally, the saw should be equipped with anti-kickback pawls to keep the wood from kicking back into the operator's body, and a riving knife to keep the wood separated as it passes the blade and keeps it from pinching onto the blade.
Perhaps the most important feature to look for when researching which table saw to buy is the fence. A quality fence should remain consistently parallel to the saw blade no matter where it is positioned along the length of the saw table, and it should have fine tuning controls for when the fence needs adjustment if it becomes misaligned. Most larger table saws have a T-style (sometimes referred to as a Biesemeyer-style) fence that is sturdy enough for ripping large stock very smoothly and is strong enough to let the woodworker securely clamp a sacrificial strip or feather board to the fence.
Most table saws include a miter gauge for making angled crosscuts. Better quality saws will utilize a T-groove in the saw's table to help keep the miter gauge from coming out of the groove when in use. The miter gauge should glide smoothly without feeling loose and the be clearly marked for setting the proper cutting angle.
A number of additional tools and jigs are available for the table saw, including tenoning jigs, stacked dado cutting sets, tapering jigs, panel-cutting jigs and sliding tables. These accessories all can be used to make the table saw the one machine tool that no workshop should be without.
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