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.