Cabinet saws, hybrid table saws, contractor saws and portable table saws. You'll find the
perfect saw for your woodworking style and budget at Rockler.
A table saw or sawbench is a versatile woodworking tool consisting of a
circular saw blade, mounted on an arbor, that is driven by an electric motor (either directly, by belt, or by
gears). The blade protrudes through the surface of a table, which provides support for the material, usually
wood, being cut.
In a modern table saw, the depth of the cut is varied by moving the blade up and down: the higher the blade
protrudes above the table, the deeper the cut that is made in the material. In some early table saws, the blade and
arbor were fixed, and the table was moved up and down to expose more or less of the blade. The angle of cut is
controlled by adjusting the angle of blade. Some earlier saws angled the table to control the cut angle.
There are four general classes of table saws:
benchtop table saws, contractor table saws, cabinet table saws
and hybrid table saws.
Benchtop table saws
Benchtop table saws are lightweight and are designed to be placed on a
table or other support for operation. They commonly have direct drive (no v-belt or pulleys) from a universal type
motor. They can be lifted by one person and carried to the job location. These saws often have parts made of steel,
aluminium and plastic and are designed to be compact and light.
Benchtop table saws are the least expensive and least capable of the three major types; however,
they can offer adequate capacity and precision for many tasks. The universal motor is not as durable or as quiet as
a brushless AC motor, but it offers more power relative to its size and weight. The top of a benchtop table saw is
narrower than those of the contractors and cabinet saws, so the width of stock that can be ripped is reduced.
Another restriction results from the top being smaller from the front of the tabletop to the rear. This results in
a shorter rip fence, which makes it harder to make a clean, straight cut when ripping. Also, there is less distance
from the front edge of the tabletop to the blade, which makes cross cutting stock using a mitre more difficult (the
mitre and/or stock may not be fully supported by the table in front of the blade). Benchtop saws are the smallest
type of table saw and have the least mass, potentially resulting in increased vibration during a cut.
Contractor table saws
Contractor table saws are heavier, larger and have an attached stand or base, often with wheels.
The motor hinges off the rear of the saw and drives the blade via one, or occasionally two, belts using a 1 to 2 hp
(750 to 1500 W) induction type motor. This is the type often used by hobbyists and homeowners because standard
electrical circuits provide adequate power to run it, and due to its low cost. Because the motor hangs off the rear
of the saw on a pivot, dust collection can be problematic in comparison with a cabinet saw.
Cabinet table saws
Cabinet table saws are heavy (using large amounts of cast iron and steel) to minimize vibration
and increase accuracy. A cabinet saw is characterized by having a closed (cabinet) base. Cabinet saws usually have
induction motors in the 3 to 5 hp (2 to 4 kW) range. For home use, this type of motor typically requires that a
heavy-duty circuit be installed (in the US, this requires a 220V outlet). The motor is enclosed within the cabinet
and drives the blade with three parallel v-belts. Cabinet saws are heavier and offer the following advantages over
contractor saws: heavier construction for lower vibration and increased durability; a cabinet-mounted trunnion (the
mechanism that incorporates the sawblade mount and allows for height and tilt adjustment); improved dust collection
due to the totally enclosed cabinet and common incorporation of a dust collection port. In general, cabinet-mounted
trunnions are easier to adjust than table-mounted trunnions.
American style cabinet saws differ in design from European style cabinet saws. American style
saws generally follow the model of the Delta Unisaw, a design that has evolved since 1939. Saws of this general
type are made in the USA, Canada and China. These saws are characterized by a cast iron top on a full-length steel
base, square in section, with radiussed corners. Two 3/8" deep by 3/4" wide miter slots are located parallel to the
blade, one to the left of the blade and one to the right. The most common type of rip fence mounted to this type of
saw is characterized by the standard model made by Biesemeyer. This very sturdy, steel T-type fence mounts to a
steel rail at the front of the saw. It has replaceable laminate faces. American cabinet saws are normally designed
to accept a 13/16" wide stacked dado blade in addition to a standard saw blade. The most common size of blade
capacity is 10" in diameter. The blade arbor has a diameter of 5/8". American saws normally include an
anti-kickback device that incorporates a splitter, toothed anti-kickback pawls and a clear plastic blade cover.
American style saws have an easily replaceable insert around the blade in the table top. This allows the use of
zero-clearance inserts, which greatly reduce tearout on the bottom of the workpiece. It is common for this type of
saw to be equipped with a table extension that increases ripping capacity for sheet goods. American style table
saws are commonly available with the option of left or right tilt blade capability. While relatively simple in
design, these saws are highly evolved and capable of efficient and precision work.
European style cabinet saws are often more complex and modern in design compared to American
types. They often are equipped with a sliding table to make cross cuts easier and safer than by the use of an
American style mitre gauge. Unless modified for the American market, European table saws are not equipped to allow
the use of a stacked dado blade set (this is due to safety laws in European markets). Rip fences on European saws
tend to be of lighter construction and less smooth in operation compared to American cabinet saws. European cabinet
saws are often available in multi-purpose tool configurations that can offer jointer, planer, shaper or boring
features. The blade arbor typically has a diameter of 30mm, though for the American market a 5/8" arbor is commonly
available as an option. Note that American woodworkers are likely to use a stacked dado blade to cut dados (square
sectioned grooves) where European woodworkers might use a shaper or other tool for this task. European cabinet saws
often incorporate a riving knife to prevent kickback. Riving knives differ from American style splitters in that
they rise and fall with the blade (splitters are fixed in place without regard for the height that the blade is
adjusted to). European cabinet saws often offer as an option a scoring blade, which is a second, smaller diameter
blade mounted in front of the regular saw blade. The scoring blade helps reduce splintering in certain types of
stock, especially laminated stock.
Hybrid table saws
Hybrid table saws are designed to compete in the market with high-end contractor table saws.
They offer some of the advantages of cabinet saws at a lower price than traditional cabinet saws. Hybrid saws on
the market today offer an enclosed cabinet to help improve dust collection. The cabinet can either be similar to a
cabinet saw with a full enclosure from the table top to the floor or a shorter cabinet on legs. Some hybrid saws
have cabinet-mounted trunnions and some have table-mounted trunnions. Hybrid saws tend to be heavier than
contractor saws and lighter than cabinet saws. Some hybrid saws offer a sliding table as an option to improve cross
cutting capability. Hybrid saw drive mechanisms vary more than contractor saws and cabinet saws. Drive mechanisms
can be a single v-belt, a serpentine belt or multiple v-belts.