Types of Table Saws – What Are The Differences?

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There are certain power tools that you would expect to see in any woodworking workshop and one of them is the table saw. The table saw is a highly versatile power tool that you can use to make almost any kind of cut.

This power saw is one of the most important investments that you will make as a woodworker or DIY-er. And if you are in the market for your first one or want to upgrade to a better model, you have to make sure that you are making the best choice possible.

One of the first things that you need to understand is the different types of the table saws and their pros and cons.

Types of Table Saws

There are many models of table saws in the market from different brands but it is possible to classify almost all of them under the following categories: portable, contractor, hybrid and cabinet table saws.

The Portable Table Saw

Portable table saws are designed with portability in mind just as their name suggests and they are meant to be easy to carry from one job site to the other.

The ease of portability makes these table saws a great choice for carpenters or contractors that are always moving from one worksite to the other.Also, they are a great pick for woodworkers that do not like being restricted to using their table saw from one location in the workshop or garage.

Portable saws will perform the basic functions that the larger table saws will perform but do it on a smaller scale. And instead of the hefty induction motor that you find on other table saws, they use the more lightweight universal brush motor.

The universal brush motor makes these table saws relatively less powerful compared to the contractor or hybrid saws that use the induction motors, and they also tend to be fairly loud. And as a concession for their lightweight, most portable table saws will have an aluminum top instead of the more rugged and durable cast iron tops.

Another important point to note about portable table saws is that they lack enough power to rip through hardwood and will also not provide the accuracy that fine woodworking tasks may demand.

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable. The lightweight and portability of table saws is their greatest advantage as you can carry and use them from almost anywhere. Also, their size means that you will not even need to dedicate a permanent spot in the workshop for them.
  • When compared to other types of table saws like the contractor and cabinet saws, the portable models like the benchtop and jobsite saws are more affordable. Most will cost just a fraction of what you would pay for the larger and more powerful table saws.
  • Great for beginners. Overall, portable table saws tend to be more convenient and easy to use than the other more powerful options. And if you also factor in their relatively cheaper price tag, you will find that they are a great choice for beginner woodworkers and hobbyists.

Cons

  • Strong vibrations. The less torquey motor and aluminum top are not only less durable but also means that the portable table saws will produce more vibrations when in operation, and are also less stable to use when compared to others like the contractor saw.
  • Less powerful and fairly loud. Universal brush motors are less powerful than the induction motor, and this means that portable table saws will not have the necessary power to cut through thick and hardwood stock.

Contractor Table Saw

Contractor table saws are one of the oldest types, and they used to be the go-to type for professional woodworkers that wanted something for heavy-duty use in the workshop.

These table saws will feature a belt drive and a large outboard induction motor. And they are often a great alternative to the larger and more powerful cabinet table saws.

Initially, they also used to be quite portable and many would and still come with wheels to make them easy to move around. But, as their design and features continue to improve, their weight has also increased significantly, and they will on average weight between 200 and 300 pounds.

Most contractor saws will feature a solid iron cast table top, and the extension wings can be made from either stamped metal of open webbed cast iron.

Another distinctive element of these table saws particularly the older models is that the motor hangs off from the back of the saw, a design feature that was originally meant to make it easier to remove it for transportation.

Contractor saws are relatively more powerful and with a higher rip capacity than the portable table saws. And they are often a great choice for small cabinetry projects, trim works, carpentry and basic furniture making projects.

Pros

  • Relatively more powerful. Because contractor saws use an induction motor to run the belt drive, they tend to be relatively more powerful than the portable table saws that use a universal brush motor. But, they are still not as powerful as the cabinet table saws.
  • Higher rip capacity. The larger actual table area of the contractor table saw and the more powerful motor give it a relatively higher rip capacity than the portable types. What this means is that it is more useful for cutting larger and thicker stock which in turn increases its versatility.
  • Quieter motor. The induction motor on the contractor table saw is relatively quieter when you compare it to others like the benchtop and jobsite table saws. However, they will still produce some significant amount of noise when cutting wood.

Cons

  • Although the contractor table saws were originally designed to be somewhat portable, the improvements and changes in design have seen their weight increase significantly over the years. And most models now weight anywhere between 200 and 300 pounds which is a lot heavier than the portable table saws.
  • Problematic dust collection. Dust collection can be quite problematic with a contractor table saw, and this is more so when using an older model that does not have a modern and more efficient dust collection. The problem arises from the fact that many of the old models will have the motor hanging off the rear of the saw on a pivot which makes dust collection harder than on a cabinet saw.

Hybrid Table Saw

Hybrid table saws are a more recent innovation, and as many professional woodworkers will tell you, they try to bridge the gap between the contractor and cabinet table saws.

These table saws will have features of both the contractor and cabinet table saws, and many models will try and address some of the shortcomings of both.

Hybrid table saws will come with an enclosed cabinet to improve the dust collection. And it can be fully enclosed (from the table top to the floor) like what you get on the cabinet table saw or shorter on the cabinet legs.

Some will have cabinet-mounted trunnions and others will have table-mounted trunnions. Also, hybrid table saws tend to be heavier than the contractor-types but lighter than the cabinet table saws.

Besides having more substantial trunnions and arbor bearings, these table saws will also have a more advanced belt drive system, and also better gearing than most contractor table saws.

Hybrid saws look like a scaled-down version of the cabinet saws and they will be equipped with motors with between 1-1/2 and 1-13/4 HP. And this means that you can use them with the standard 110-volt household outlet.

Pros

  • Relatively cheaper. Despite being scaled down versions of a cabinet saw, hybrid saws are relatively more affordable when compared to the latter. Most will cost around the same price as contractor saws and some models can even be cheaper.
  • More efficient dust collection. The enclosed cabinet style improves the dust collection on a hybrid saw. Just like with a cabinet saw, dust collection is easier and more efficient than when using a contractor saw.
  • Larger rip capacity. Generally, hybrid saws are more powerful than the contractor saws and also more functional. But, the most impressive element about them is that they are fitted with better fences to deliver more precise cuts and have a larger rip capacity to ensure they can handle thicker and harder stock.

Cons

  • Less portable. Although hybrid table saws are not as large and heavy as the professional cabinet saws, they are still quite bulky. And so most tend to be harder to move from one job site to the other

Cabinet Table Saw

Cabinet table saws are the most powerful of the bunch. In most instances or for most models, every single one of their features is superior to what you get in all the other table saw types.

Each component of the cabinet saw is designed to be more durable and robust than what you get in any other table saw type to withstand regular and heavy-duty use.

The performance and durability of these saws make them a great pick for professional woodworkers. Most will be made with more cast iron and steel and heavier trunnions and gearing to ensure they last for decades.

When it comes to individual components like the fences, they are more accurate and robust than what you get on other table saws. And so once you make the necessary adjustments, you will not need to make continuous readjustments like you would with the other table saw types.

But, the massive power is still what gives the cabinet saw an edge over the other types and makes it stand out. The cabinet table saws will have more powerful motors that run on 240V to produce between 3 and 5 HP.

Needless to say, there is probably nothing that the cabinet saw cannot cut, from pressure-treated lumber and hardwood to pine, plywood and almost all large material sheets.

Pros

  • Powerful motor. Cabinet saws use more powerful motors that will deliver between 3 and 5 HP which is quite a lot when compared to the contractor and hybrid types that will produce between 1 and 1-3/4 HP only. The massive power means that they can cut through any kind of wood and many other materials.
  • Highly durable. If durability is your main concern, you will never regret buying a cabinet table saw as they are designed to last for many decades. A good quality cabinet saw will be made from heavy and highly durable materials like steel and cast iron and with heavy trunnions and high-quality gearing and arbor assemblies.
  • Quieter operation. The motor on a table saw is enclosed inside the cabinet base to make this a quieter table saw. Also, the base is fully enclosed to make the dust collection more efficient and easier than when using a contractor saw.
  • Minimum vibrations. Although the robust and heavy-duty components in the cabinet table saw make it less portable, they also have a great advantage which is reduced vibrations. If you were to rank power saws with the least vibrations, the cabinet saw will probably be at the top of the list.

Cons

  • More expensive. The massive power, durability and quiet operation that the cabinet saw delivers all comes at a cost. And so if you want to own one, you should be ready to pay the extra cost as they are the most expensive table saw type.
  • Not portable. Cabinet table saws are not portable by all means, and they are also not designed for use from one job site to the other. A typical cabinet saw can weigh up to 600 pounds, and everything from the cabinet that houses the motor to the table is quite large and laborious to move around.

Conclusion

The kinds of project that you do often, your budget and level of expertise, should guide you when it comes to deciding the table saw type to add to your collection of tools.

Also, it is important to consider other things like availability of space in your workshop or garage and need for portability or functionality.

If you are a carpenter or contractor that spends a lot of time in different job sites and want a saw for cutting relatively thinner and softer stock, a portable table saw will be a good buy.

A contractor table saw is a more affordable option for your home shop, and it will do a lot more than the portable saws while the hybrid and contractor saws are a great buy for professional woodworkers and serious armatures.

The bottom line is that a table saw is a major investment that requires careful consideration, and so it is important to make sure that you understand your needs before deciding what to buy.

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