Table saw buying advice

Table saw buying advice

TL;DR: *Somewhat new to woodworking (few years), I’m looking to buy a table saw. My price range is up to a couple grand if it’s worth it, but don’t know what “worth it” means. Below I wrote out in length what my thoughts and assumptions are, but will take any advice. *

I’m looking to buy a table saw. I’m headed to a woodworking expo in a week or so and will have time to talk to individual reps. Hopefully they’ll have some promotional pricing or add-ons, but I’d like to do my homework ahead of time so I have an idea of pricing, what to look for, and most importantly, what to ask.

I have carved out a burgeoning woodshop in my basement, making the transition from a repair/fix-it workshop to someplace I can do some crafting. I have a few projects under my belt and am confident in my abilities and totally aware of my newness. Among other things, my shop has a 14” Jet bandsaw, a sliding c. miter saw, drill press, sander, lots of small tools and plenty of space. I did all the electric and lighting, so if I need a 220 outlet I can put one in.

I’ve used just a few table saws, but don’t really have enough experience to go on. My most recent use was working on a Sawstop professional saw. There’s a Woodcraft Woodworkers Club a couple hours from here that I spent some time at building holiday projects, and their main table saw is a giant Sawstop platform. It was great to work on, but I don’t know if it’s fair to use that as a base for comparison.

I’m new to building things, so don’t have a preset idea of my needs. I have lots of dreams, though, so one of my inclinations is towards size. I added a riser to the bandsaw when putting it together and have already been happy that I did. So for starters, I figure the larger the surface/wings, the better. (Oh, if it’s not obvious, I’m writing all this out to check my assumptions).

Most table saws seem to range from 36” to 52”. Since I’ll mostly be alone in the shop, I figure the up-front investment in a 52” capacity will pay off in the long run. On the other hand, since I’ll mostly be alone in the shop, I doubt I’ll ever walk in the door with a whole plywood panel. And I can always build a side wing/table for supporting a piece if I need to, so am mostly, but not completely convinced the 52” is a smart move. My concern here is that I’ve unecessarily sold myself on only looking at a certain class of saw that really doesn’t come into play.

Stability is another priority. I have room, so I don’t need the mobility of a jobsite saw (although no matter what I do I’ll want a mobile base just in case I want to rearrange). But I don’t know how a frame-based contractor’s saw and closed-base cabinet saw compare in that regard. Eyes closed, would I be able to tell which is which (okay, maybe that was bad phrasing)? And even if I could tell while using them, is there a generally noticeable difference in the use/output of the two?

Or is a cabinet saw’s primary advantage in dust collection? I have a small Harbor Freight dust system, and I’m so far from retired that my chances to use it will be once or twice a month, so it’s not like there will be a steady stream of sawdust being kicked up. It’s a definite concern, but if the difference in models/designs is that one is robust enough to take hours of sawing every day, the difference will be lost by my use.

Precision and accuracy are other major factors. I’m just learning, so I assume that most saws will be well within my margin of error—for now. But as time and experience grow, it’ll become a much more important factor. Conventional wisdom is to avoid cheap tools, that the idea of buying cheap now and upgrading later is a mistake. But I don’t know how different manufacturer’s saws compare in this regard, and what the marginal return is. And similar to above, don’t know if part of what makes up a higher-end saw’s expense is that it’ll hold it’s precision for years of constant use, whereas I’m unlikely to wear out gears and other moving parts for quite some time.

I don’t really know what else to look for/consider. I see a lot of marketing information, but can’t say, for example, whether frame-mounted trunions are something to look for, whether they’re ubiquitous, or if they don’t make a difference.

Lastly, there’s the Sawstop question. I wear a seatbelt and have airbags, but I’m just as cautious as ever, so I’m not really swayed by the ‘it makes you complacent’ criticisms I’ve seen. I also know that the system isn’t perfect and won’t protect you from everything (kickback). A basic Sawstop 52” contractor saw with no add-ons runs about $2000. There is a lot of competition in that bracket, and I’m not sure how to approach thinking about it.

Is a $2000 Sawstop equivalent to a$2000 Powermatic, but with the Sawstop brake system? Or is the Sawstop closer to a $1500 Jet, but with the brake system? And on that note, what the hell *is *the difference between the Jet and the Powermatic? Given all of the above, would I be able to tell the difference between the two?

And for that matter, where does the $1000 Delta consumer-grade fit in (or Craftsman of Ridgid, I seem to see those three mentioned together all the time)? At the price ranges above I could go with the Delta (again, not their Unisaw) and a Grizzly 10” jointer/planer. So Sawstop brake system aside, for a hobbiest is the leap between the $1000 Delta and the $2000 Powermatic as great as the one from a $250 Skill to the $1000 Delta?

I’ve done a ton of reading, but would greatly appreciate any and all thoughts you can share.


It sounds like you already know what you need to know. A Saw Stop costs a little more because of the stopping mechanism. After that the top brands give you what you pay for. A bigger table is better, don’t count on any old extension tables to stay flat and level. Your fence is a big part of the package, some people are never satisfied with the fence they get. Through a set of circumstances I now have a Porter-Cable contractors saw and a Sawsmith 2000. The Porter Cable is very good quality, and convenient to use for stuff around the house because I can move the saw near to where I’m working. I’m just setting up the Sawsmith now, it has huge very solid extensions and came with a rock solid Excaliber fence. I’ll also point out there are a lot of used Deltas out there for very good prices.

Go to the show, go to stores, look at the models, you’ll know what you like.

ETA: After a bit of reflection I’ll suggest something like the Grizzly Hybrid. After using it for a while you can decide if you need more saw.

I’ve only owned contractor style saws but do know that cast iron table and extensions are what I’ve found best.

I’m guessing that saws in your price range have those.

Looking at products hands on is going to tell you a lot.

I haven’t used the SawStop products but they look like good quality and are being used by a lot of professional shops now and are used at the local trade school. From what I have seen the mechanism seems to add about a $500 premium. I don’t think the extra safety is going to make you complacent.

I agree that the fence is a big deal, it is the part you interact with the most, but it is also easy to upgrade on a shop saw. A good solid base is really important if you are going to be working with panels, an out of plane or unstable extension or runout table can leave you with a bad cut or saw burn. If you are working with smaller material this becomes less important. Bigger cutting capacity is nice, and a little safer for solo cuts, but I’ve managed with my smaller capacity jobsite saw many times. Cutting panels is always better with a friend anyways (and way best with an actual panel saw). A lot is going to depend on the space you have for the saw and what you plan to work with.

I use a 10" General with a 10 x 6 runout table when at the shop, but the vast majority of my table work is on a little Rigid jobsite saw. I’ve used portable saws from Dewalt, Makita, and Bosch also, but I find the fence on the ridgid is better.

You can still get some parts of your project cut somewhere else. I am not ashamed to get panels ripped to a more manageable size at the supplier, or to get more difficult jobs done at a big shop with the right tools. I much rather fabricate a hardwood mitered column from panels perfectly mitered with a shaper than a table saw.

It’s more like comparing an economy car to a luxury performance car. If you are looking to get from point A to point B any car will get you there but the luxury car can probably get you there faster and more comfortably. If you are doing this as a hobby time and comfort may not be the best basis for your decisions.

The progression is portables-contractor saws-cabinet saws.

If you don’t plan on moving it around there isn’t much reason to consider a portable, a good portable is only slightly cheaper than a contractor saw which will perform better all around.

So what you are really looking at is the difference between a contractor saw and a cabinet saw.

In general a cabinet saw is more robust, they are more solid in almost every aspect. This means they will maintain accuracy after many cuts where on the contractor saw you may need to stop to readjust on occasion. However if you aren’t doing production work it’s unlikely your going to be repeating the same cut 50 times so that difference can be meaningless.

The fine tune adjustments are easier on a cabinet saw, on a contractor saw you might need to spend more time screwing with the fence or blade angle/height to get it right. If it’s a hobby the extra time might be meaningless. A professional needs to make money so that time is important.

The cabinet saw is better for dust collection. No question there. Again it’s a question of need. If you are doing a single project it’s unlikely you’ll need any dust collection. If you are turning out a hundred table legs at a time you’d be buried in saw dust on a contractor saw. A cabinet saw usually needs dust collection to keep running right, on a contractor saw you can work fine without it and clean up the mess after.

Cabinet saws almost always run heavier motors and that energy is better applied. The only real difference is how fast you can feed things through. A contractor saw is easier to bog down with thick cuts.

Cabinet saws are more stable. They are heavier and better balanced with the motors in the cabinet. Usually the only time you’d notice this is cutting sheet goods. Because you can feed a sheet of plywood through a contractor saw faster than the blade can handle you can push the saw right over. If you take it easy it shouldn’t be a problem.

When you are making decisions based on how many $6k tables you can turn out in a day the high end saws start making a lot more sense. For your typical home owner shop I’d stick with the contractor saws unless you really plan to take the hobby up a notch. I’d recommend starting with a contractor saw and only step up to a cabinet saw if you really get into it. There are plenty of other tools you can spend money on.

The Saw Stop saws have relatively good ratings but you do pay more for the saw stop feature. If you have the money I don’t see a good technical reason to avoid them.(I’d still avoid them due to the smarmy owner of the company)

I use a Rigid portable as well. I’ve had it a pretty long time now and have done a number of projects on it. Next house I’ll look into something more permanent. I can set up the portable at my warehouse when I need it. Woodworking has nothing to do with my regular work so I don’t want to clutter my warehouse with a saw. My current basement is not workable for anything.

In between contractors and cabinets saws are the hybrids like this Grizzly. Sturdy, but not huge, and better bang for your buck than a larger cabinet saw.

Also, a number of large tablesaws need a 220V supply.

I agree with the comments above. I have a 10" DeWalt portable because I’m so restricted for space. It works fine for what I do, but cutting sheet goods can be a dicey prospect at times, so I usually cut full sheets down to manageable chunks with a circular saw first. The shop where I took classes had large Sawstops, which were beautiful machines.

Thanks so much for the input. I’ve really been dwelling on this, not only from the (relatively) huge investment but also from the ‘choose your rut carefully’ perspective—I’ll have this for years so want to be as sure as possible. And, who am I kidding. Of course it’s a toy so of course I like thinking about boy-oh-boy-a-finally-a-table-saw!

In talking with my wife I found a way to visualize a good chunk of my decision—see this crappy Paint image here or open any econ 101 text and it’ll be there. Since I have so little experience with table saws I have no idea what the shape of the curve is. If it’s like my crappy example, the quality improvement between the $200 and a $1000 saw kind of dwarfs the improvement between the $1000 and the $2000 saw—and my presumed skill levels and needs (not making 100 of the same cuts every day) makes the $1000 saw the ‘right’ choice. It’s a vast oversimplification and the lines are arbitrary, but it’s really the gist of my wondering if I’d be happy with the ‘mid’ range.

On the one hand, it really sounds like I’ll be very happy in that mid-range. Grizzly loves sending me their giant catalogues, so for a long time I’ve read/drooled over every one of their table saws. On the other hand, I have a six year old who loves working with me in the shop. Someday he’ll be a sixteen year old and will be using the equipment too. If I [del]amortize[/del] rationalize the added cost of the Sawstop over time, it’s not that much of an added cost to have that added bit of safety for him too (and, of course, myself). I’ve read tons of reviews and again with a focus on the question of the saw’s quality. General perception is that it’s a great saw that holds its own in the $1500 range, so the safety break is right at the beginning of the grey area—paying an extra $500 isn’t such a bad long-term insurance premium.

First choice is contractor or professional.
I’m concerned about “the fine tune adjustments are easier on a cabinet saw,” in that one of the (presumed) differences from the $200 saw is the ability to make those adjustments and to keep true to them. I don’t mind if I have to crawl under the saw to get to something once in a while, but am hoping that it’s not a matter of being able to set a precise angle on one but only kind guess, test, re-guess, test, set on the other.

The 52” contractor model comes with a “T-Glide” fence, which their marketing department says is better than the standard’s aluminium fence. It looks like the T-Glide is what they use there, too. Given the brand’s reputation, I’d bet I’d be good with even the basic fence, so there’s that. (The 52” model is ‘only’ a $300 premium. It’ll probably be relatively rare that I’ll use it, but I figure those times when I need it having the extra capacity will be well worth the upfront cost.)
I have a 4” dust collection system and a 2.5” shopvac, so between the dustport blade guard and the under-saw dust port adapter, I should be good. Since I tend to binge down there I might use it heavily over the course of a few days, but it’s far from a production shop. The cost saving benefits go to the contractor saw. I also love cleaning up in the shop, so after-project sweeping isn’t an issue.

The motor choice is tough, but the number of thick cuts I’ll be making is probably pretty small. And for the most part, that means taking time to do it slowly or making multiple passes. The cost leap from their standard 1.75hp to 3hp is pretty steep, so it’s outside the marginal benefit. Again, this leans to the contractor version.
Stability-wise, it’s 405 pounds if I add the cast iron wings. The cabinet model is only about 25 pounds heavier, so I’ll take the assumption that they should be fairly close in that regard. The cast iron adds a couple hundred dollars, but seems worth it (for stability and otherwise, too).
So a basic 52” Sawstop contractor saw with cast iron wings and dust port additions runs about $2100. The closest Grizzly with those specs is about $1600, making the brake feature a $500 ‘upgrade’. (The Grizzly is also a cabinet-style, has a larger motor, and a few other things going for it). In that grey area, but I’ll sleep on it some more.
(I do baulk just a bit at the companies tactics over legislation and suing competitors, but they’ve successfully put themselves in the position of having the monopoly over the concept, so it seems like pragmatism is winning over.)

In terms of purchasing, is there any reason not to go mail order to save the couple hundred bucks in tax? There’s a Woodcraft a couple hours from here I could deal directly with if there are advantages to buying in a store (e.g. is it like a car dealership where they’ll be more useful if you purchase from them).

General advice: err on the side of paying more for higher quality - you won’t be sorry.

About 10 years ago I was able to buy an older 3-hp Delta Unisaw. It was around $1000, which exceeded my budget. Best tool purchase I ever made.

The alternative not mentioned is to buy used. Any thoughts?

I’ve got a left tilting blade, from Grizzly, that’s been in the shop for over 10 years. The left tilt is really a nice feature. It seems much safer to me when cutting anything on an angle.

And I’d go for the Sawstop, especially with the little wanting to play.

I mentioned that there a lot used Deltas out there at good prices. You need the time to examine it carefully and try it out before you purchase. I’ve restored a number of old (and new but abused) tools, so I’d go for used without a problem. YMMV

One problem with used is that there may be nothing but the saw with a dull blade and a fence (and sometimes no fence). For any saw you really need a riving knife for splitting. If you have a good saw guard over the blade it prevents most of the situations where a SawStop would help. If you’re going to leave your blade exposed all the time, like the vast majority of tablesaws in the world, then the SawStop makes more sense.