Table Saw Basics – What You Need To Know Before Buying One

When it comes to large machine tools for woodworking, the table saw comes in at number one. If you are going to buy the first large power tool for your wood shop, this is the one to go for.

It’s among the most versatile and most commonly used tool, if you have one that is.

You will want and need some of the large wood working tools in your woodshop eventually, especially if you are running a business. It becomes essential to get the speed, accuracy, and the cleanliness of cuts that only these tools can give you.

For example, once you try a table saw, you will not even think of using a portable saw for making your cuts. You will not find the same kind of precision, neatness, and edge.

A table saw is perfect for cutting, ripping, making joins and repetitive cuts will fly off your blade.

buying and using a table saw

Buying Your First Table Saw

Like we said, table saws are perhaps the most widely used and bought power tools. Therefore, it’s natural that a wide variety is available, different models with different features, and from many makers.

However, buying your first table saw (and many subsequent ones) isn’t a complicated affair. There are 3 main types of table saws:

  • Table Top Models
  • Contractor’s Model
  • Enclosed Cabinet Saw

To start out buy a contractor’s model table saw. It is large and powerful enough to be able to handle most of your projects. The different between this saw and full-fledged Cabinet Table Saw is that the base is open, the part where the motor is.

Therefore, it’s cheaper and lighter than a cabinet saw but also nosier. The price different between the contractor’s model and cabinet saw can actually be quiet a lot. So a contractor’s model is a good place to start.

However, there are other factors that determine a good buy for a table saw. Here they are in short and sweet.

Table Surface

The accuracy and ease of cut on a table saw is only as good as the surface of the table. This is usually made out of cast-iron and should be absolutely flat. Typically, the specifications of the saw will give you a number like ‘milled to 1/1000th of an inch’.

But experience will tell you that this is not always the case. If the surface is not flat, you can forget about making an accurate cut. In some cases the discrepancy might be too small to notice till you are actually trying to make a precise cut in your wood shop.

The question then is, how do you avoid such effects when buying? The best way to do it is to stick to well known and quality brands. If nothing else you will most likely have a solid returns policy on the tools in case of manufacturing defects.

Now this surface we are talking about is the area surrounding the blade. But it only measures about 24 inches. The rest of the table is called ‘wings’ or ‘extensions’. 

These ‘wings’ are made out of a variety of materials like iron, wood, hard plastic etc. the choice of material of the wings determines the cost of the table saw to a large extent.

So weigh your options carefully. It’s alright to go with ‘wings’ that are adequately serviceable and cost effective because this is a replaceable component of your table saw. You can always buy better ones later.

The quality of the table surface and extension will automatically be better on the more expensive cabinet table saws. However, the contractor table is also good enough.

Fence

The second component of the table saw determining the smoothness and accuracy of the cut is the ‘fence’. Fence is the part that you put the side of the board against when running it through the blade. It runs parallel to the blade and shifts sideways, varying it’s distance from the blade.

There runs a measuring scale on the saw which allows you to adjust the fence according to the width you want to cut.

A few things to notice are:

  • It should be easy to adjust the fence. The movement should be smooth.
  • The locking mechanism must be solid. When locked into place it should not budge.
  • The material and surface of the fence should be high quality. The wood should move against it smoothly and there should be any wear and tear.

The fence is also a replaceable part of a table saw. You can buy a better one later. Remember, a good fence and it’s mechanism is vital to an accurate and clean cut.

The Blade

Well, here we are.

It’s a no-brainer how important a blade is to a table saw. It’s what actually cuts the wood. A 10 inch circular blade is the most common size.

Apart from that you can get blades made out of different material, like carbide Teflon coated, hardened steel etc.

Similarly, you get blades for cutting, ripping, a combination blade that does both, and even to cut other materials like metal, plastic and ceramic.

A table saw is capable of performing a wide variety of woodworking jobs including making joins. We will take more about that in another post.

Speaking of table saw blades; a quick note of their maintenance and up keep is necessary.

Keeping Your Table Saw Blade Clean and Sharp

Shapening table saw blade
Sharpening a table saw blade on a tool sharpening machine. Sharpening saw blades is a tedious process so it's a good idea to give it to a professional who does this work. It is a advisable to store and use them properly for longer life, and to buy high quality carbide blades that last much longer than steel blades.

 

If you take some basic care of your table saw blades, they will last you longer and save you money on sharpening or buying new ones. The simplest thing to do is keeping them clean.

It’s very common for sap from the wood to build up on the blade after prolonged use. This can lead to difficulty in cutting and an assumption on your part that the blade has become dull.

First check if the blade has become unclean. You will be surprised how much difference it makes to clean the blade. Every blade will probably come with instructions on how to clean it.

They might differ from one manufacturer to another mainly due to the different material of the blade. For example, a Teflon coasted blade might only need soap and warm water with a non-abrasive scrubber.

For other kinds of blades there is a large variety of cleaners and sprays available in the market. Once again check the manufacturer’s instructions before using one.

The second thing for blade maintenance is proper storage. While using one and putting away the extra blades, be sure to not mix them up with other hard metal objects. They can spoil the edge on the blade.

Do not jumble up the blades together in a drawer. Keep them separate by putting it in the cover that it came with or by wrapping them separately in a piece of cloth.

best techniques for a table saw

Right Techniques For Using A Table Saw

These are the basic steps of using a table saw.

  • Set the width you want to cut by adjusting the fence along the ruler in front of the saw.
  • Adjust the height of the blade. This adjustment mechanism will either be under or in front of the saw. Lock the blade securely often making the adjustment. The height of the blade producing above the table surface should be slightly more than the height of the wood you are cutting.
  • Put the board on the table. Keep one hand behind it to push it forward towards the saw and one hand on the side to press it gently but firmly to the fence.
  • Turn on the power saw.
  • Push the blade slowly till it touches the revolving blade. Keep applying gentle pressure to start making the cut. Nothing more than a gentle pressure is required. If you need to exert force, please check your blade. You might need to clean or replace it.
  • When nearing the end of the cut, stop using your hands to push the board. Use a couple of push sticks, one to push and one to press to the fence, to see through the board completely beyond the blade.
  • Ensure there is enough extension on the side and beyond the table saw to support the cut pieces. Turn off the table saw.

There’s going to be a bit of difference in the process if you are sawing a full board sideways. You will probably need to use a tool called the mitre gauge. You might also need bigger extensions or someone to hold the board and help you move it through the blade.

That’s a table saw for you for starter’s. The normal rules of the game apply. Your safety comes first. Read the manual carefully and practice all recommendations for safe and secure operation.

We would love to hear your experiences with using a table saw and any tips you would like to share. You can also use the comments section to post any queries.

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