What You Need to Know about Tablesaws

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what you need to know

The first choice for a workshop machine is usually a bandsaw, but a tablesaw comes a close second, here are some things to consider

A decent quality tablesaw is incredibly useful. Just being able to do accurate rip cuts to exact widths, repeatedly if needs be, is fantastically useful. If the saw arbor runs true without any hint of play, putting a decent fine-tooth blade on can give a near ‘planer finish’. If the blade is set dead upright then you can ‘square edge’ stock with no difficulty and, if necessary, run a handplane over the edges a couple of times for a super-smooth finish. It is a truly ubiquitous machine.
Cheaper lightweight saw tables are made of thin pressed steel with a cast, ground or extruded aluminium table. They will also have a direct drive brush motor, which is noisy. Not necessarily a problem, but a tablesaw priced at a mere £86 in a discount supermarket cannot be expected to be as solid, long lasting or reliable as a premium professional brand site saw such as Makita or Metabo and priced in excess of £500 – quite a difference. 

A well made small site saw like this DeWalt model can produce repeatably accurate results

The controls on a tablesaw should run smoothly and should lock securely i.e. the blade height and cut angle. The default position should be exactly perpendicular to the table surface, which should be flat and the table insert around the blade should be flush, not sticking out of the surface.
Better machines have stronger, longer lasting bearings on the saw arbor. This is really important as the wear and wobble on a tablesaw renders it unusable. Likewise a powerful enough motor is essential. Expensive machines are more likely to have quieter induction motors that drive through pulleys and a belt meaning a more constant speed and power under cutting load.
Don’t buy a big 305mm diameter saw table if you don’t need it. Most work can be handled by a 255mm blade, bearing in mind cut height is about one third of the diameter – about 80mm, which will cope with 75mm thickness softwood. Blade choice is critical, more than you might think. The blade supplied with a cheaper tablesaw may not be very good quality. Ideally you need two or three different types of blade, plus a spare of the standard rip blade because of heavy usage. If you buy a premium brand such as Irwin or Freud, the cost of blades can easily outstrip the cost of a medium price tablesaw, and yet you should use the best you can afford because the difference in cut finish, lack of overheating, increased power at the blade edge, low noise level and long service life make them a must have. Good access to change the blade is also important.

Three different sizes and types of circular saw blade: (L–R) rip/crosscut/triple tip board cut

Easy blade changing on a sliding table saw. Note the wedge to hold the blade fast, some machines use a arbor
locking rod

The parallel rip fence needs to lock securely before cutting, and be adjustable so cuts are parallel and the wood doesn’t get trapped during a cut. For solid wood you need a sub-fence you can withdraw to the front of the blade so as the tension in the wood is released, it doesn’t bind between blade and fence. Keep a slim wedge handy for tapping into the cut to spread it slightly once it has passed the riving knife should binding occur.

When ripping solid wood withdraw the rip sub-fence to the front of the blade to reduce the chance of timber binding

Safe sawing is essential, do not remove the crown guard or riving knife for any sawing operation. It is illegal in the UK even for one-man businesses to do so and the same should apply to domestic users. Use pushsticks, so hands are always well away from the blade. Extraction is vital as finer, unseen wood dust penetrates the skin and lung tissue. A drum extractor is an effective way to remove most dust at the source. Always wear PPE – an FFP2 category dust mask, ballistic eye protection and ear defenders as
a minimum. Make sure you have enough ‘in-out’ space for feeding timber through the saw and if necessary, have a roller stand for out feed support. A workshop or shed with end windows or doors may facilitate handling extra long lengths. Crosscutting requires a medium 42 tooth or finer blade for a decent finish. Use the mitre protractor with an extended sub-fence screwed to it, and check it runs smoothly and set perpendicular to the blade. Do not attempt unsupported crosscutting running against the rip fence as the wood can become jammed between it and the blade causing a devastating kick-back. 

You can make your own sub-fence, which can be located in any position or turned over to give support to small section

Drum extractors are powerful and fit neatly beside a machine or under a workbench

You can do repeat crosscuts to length either with an extended sub-fence fitted to the mitre protractor and a stop block added, or use a block fixed at front of the rip fence to set the length. Then slide the protractor forward to make the cut so the component moves into free space, but not getting jammed between blade and fence.

An adjustable and accurate mitre protractor, the arrow has been used to a zero position for the sub-fence

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