What's a good table saw for a beginner woodworker?
December 19, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Woodworkers of Metafiler: give me your table saw recommendations.

I am starting to do some woodworking and am looking to acquire a table saw. I read the reviews on this older question, but it's a few years old and many of the model numbers seem to have changed since then.

The projects I'm looking at dovetail (har!) with beekeeping, so small-ish wooden boxes, rabbets and box-joints. Most of the plans I'm looking at require dado cuts and ripping small boards into smaller boards (like cutting 1x2 down to 1x1.33...the bees can be particular).

The garage shop is small, so something on wheels would be good. 120V power is also something of a requirement.

The reviews of this one by Sears seem pretty good. At the other end of the spectrum (costwise) is this Bosch 4100, which features ecstatic user reviews and an adjustable riving knife. I just watched a video on riving knives, and I think I really want that feature.
posted by jquinby to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Check Craigslist and/or Kijiji for a used saw. You can save quite a bit if you find one in good shape.
posted by synecdoche at 6:19 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was going to recommend that Bosch.

My Dad gets all the woodworking magazines and I read their review of the compact table saws when I was in the market. The Bosch won out in every category, except power, where it got #2. They sawed a 2" slab of solid maple through it, they said it worked perfectly fine, but sounded like it was straining, but they gave it a #2 rating, so take that for whatever you want. The Craftsman was rated last in almost every category. Second was the Dewalt. The middle of the road was the Rigid in that style.

In my opinion this is the sort of thing where buying a higher end machine will save you a lot of headaches down the line. The accuracy on the Bosch, right out of the box was in the thousands of an inch, and that will make your life so much easier.
posted by sanka at 6:20 PM on December 19, 2012

Seconding the Bosch. After some expensive failures, I have slowly started buying only Bosch power tools. The quality more than makes up for the price. I have been very happy with my miter saw, drill, oscillating saw, various routers, etc... You can do things with a good tool that lesser tools cannot do.
posted by Nackt at 6:31 PM on December 19, 2012

I was going to recommend that Bosch, too! I have it and LOVE it.
posted by HotToddy at 6:38 PM on December 19, 2012

Riving knife is a must. It'll help you make cleaner cuts along with reducing kickback.

I've got a Porter Cable contractor's saw that is currently carried at Lowe's. It's good for simple projects, and you can get an 8" dado set for those rabbets and box joints.

On used saws....I'd stay far away from contractor saws. The older cabinet style (usually called unisaws) are worth looking at if you're even a little handy and can fix up one that's been sitting a while. They'll last forever, and usually have a much, much, nicer fence than the big box store tools will have.

The next thing I'd get would be a miter sled. That'll increase cut accuracy and reproducibility greatly. It's not difficult to build your own, but Incra's sled is by far the best I've used.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 6:50 PM on December 19, 2012

Since you didn't say expense was a deal breaker, I would recommend a SawStop, not because of experience with it but because I am a worrier.
posted by InkaLomax at 7:05 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd get a SawStop. They cost more, but how much are your fingers worth to you?
posted by w0mbat at 7:06 PM on December 19, 2012

Also came in to recommend a SawStop. It is the only thing we use now in college woodworking courses. Home models (on wheels, even) start around $1500. It is totally worth it to protect your fingers. The only real 21st century tool so far.
posted by seasparrow at 7:30 PM on December 19, 2012

Woodsmith had a tip wherein you mount a Marine Swivel on one side of your saw stand and two wheels just up off the floor on the opposite side. Then when you crank the swivel down, it hits the floor and tips the saw up onto the wheels. Now you can wheel your saw where you want.
posted by plinth at 7:33 PM on December 19, 2012

Go bigger than the Bosch if you can. That fence is on the flimsy side and the table is small enough to be really limiting if you decide to build something a little larger, work with sheet goods or start using jigs and sleds. The SawStop contractor saw is a decent starting point; I'm not entirely sold on the safety technology built into it but they produce a solid product. Riving knife is an excellent feature, I'd really be looking at the contractor saw style for a small home shop.

On the small shop issue you can help with that by using a mobile base. My 1-car garage shop is very tight for space; a contractor-style saw on a mobile base is just fine in there. For me the table saw is pretty much the central tool for woodworking; having to roll the table saw out of the way occasionally and squeeze around it with full sheets of plywood is completely worth the added benefit I get from having a real fence and a big, flat cast-iron table.
posted by N-stoff at 7:52 PM on December 19, 2012

If you anticipate doing any serious work with your saw and you don't need to load it into a truck a used cabinet saw in decent shape is a better deal than new contractors saw.

A cabinet's saw main table without wings will be about the same size as the contractor's saw but it'll handle wings a lot easier on either side so you can adjust the size to suit your layout. It'll handle things like router table wings.

Because a cabinet saw is so much heavier than a contractor's saw it is more stable to work with.

And any cabinet saw will either come with or be adaptable to a assortment of mobile bases.

The only time a cabinet saw is a poorer choice is if the operator is too short to work with it comfortably. You will however need 240V power to run most cabinet saws.

And yes the SawStop saw is a good choice if you can afford it.

PS: Unisaw is a Delta brand name for a very popular home shop cabinet saw in no small part because until recently the saws hadn't changed significantly since the first one produced in 1934. I've got one with only a 1.5 horse motor and it's a very nice table saw.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2012

Seconding Mitheral, if you have space a cabinet saw on a rolling base is worlds better than a contractor or bench top saw. The heavy table and induction motor give much smoother, stabler cuts. It seems like overkill for a beginner, but I'm a believer in having the best tools you can afford and accommodate, so you know your limit is your skill not your equipment.
posted by nicwolff at 10:00 PM on December 19, 2012

SawStop if you can afford it. Safety first, especially if you're new to table saws.

Other than that, it's possible to find contractor's saws with cast iron tops (often called builder's saws), and these can be tuned up almost as solid as a cabinet saw for about half the price, though you won't be ripping three inch thick oak with it.

Be sure to get rid of the rubber drive belt and use a link belt instead -- vastly reduces vibration, which is the biggest issue of non-cabinet saws.

Also recommend a t-square fence rather than the cheaper clamp style.

Mine is a General 50-185 with a cast iron router table wing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:45 AM on December 20, 2012

Excellent advice from everyone, thanks. I hate to put a price tag on safety, but the SawStop is a bit out of my range. I'm super paranoid around power tools anyway, and doubt I'll be using it enough to become complacent.

I ended up choosing the Porter Cable model listed above (Model PCB270TS, for those who may read this in the future), and spent today assembling and adjusting it. The folks in various and sundry reviews who called out PC on less-than-stellar instructions were right on, by the way. It seems pretty darn solid when the caster set is disengaged, and is easy enough to schlep around the garage for storage.

I took a look at the Bosch on the floor at Lowes and the fence did seem a little flimsy. The miter they had in it didn't move very freely at all, though that might be floor-model issues. Next step will be ordering the dado plate for it.

Again - much obliged to all.
posted by jquinby at 4:41 PM on December 21, 2012

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