Many who are in the process of buying a table saw for the first time are surprised to learn that some professional woodworkers insist that a contractor saw is the only acceptable entry level saw available today. You’ll find such table saw “purists” all over the Internet and they feel bench top table saws and portable table saws are nothing more than circular saws mounted upside down on flimsy pieces of metal.
If you’re on a tight budget that isn’t what you want to hear. So are these guys right? Is there that big a difference between contractor table saws and their less expensive bench top and portable cousins? Let’s look at some of the advantages of contractor table saws that might lead one to make such a tough statement. We’ll also examine some of their disadvantages.
Perhaps the best way to highlight this debate about table saws is to start by thinking about exactly what happens as a table saw cuts wood. First wood varies in size and in the density and porosity of its grain, making some woods tougher to cut than others. The operator takes a piece of wood and feeds it through a 10 inch metal disc with teeth rotating between thirty five hundred and five thousand times a minute (RPMs).
The blade cuts a path through the wood and as it does so the wood resists, reducing the RPMs. In many cases this resistance leads to the blade and the table itself vibrating and shaking. The safety issues stemming from such resistance are many but there are performance issues as well. Resistance means less accurate cuts as well as more frequent fence adjustments.
The biggest performance and safety benefits offered by contractor table saws come from their belt driven induction motors. Bench top and portable table saws use noisier, less powerful universal motors that can stall with tough wood and do not last as long as induction motors. The blade is rotated directly by the motor as opposed to the belt system of an induction motor which attaches the motor to the blade. The result is less resistance at the point of direct impact between the wood and the rotating blade.
Contractor saws also use heftier materials in their construction, leading to greater stability of the saw and safer operation. They have cast iron tables and trunion assemblies and many have cast iron extension wings, allowing the cutting of wider pieces of wood.
Many first time table saw buyers don’t consider contractor table saws as an option due to their cost and the inconvenience of storing and moving them. It is true that you can get a low end bench top saw for around $100. But if you start looking at the higher quality portable table saws, the price benefit begins to blur a bit. A top rated portable in the Bosch 4100 series can cost between $500 and $800 dollars.
If $500 sounds pricey, spend some time on the Internet woodworking discussion forums where you’ll find many users asking for advice on how to improve the performance of their lower end bench top or portable saws. A frequent suggestion is buying aftermarket rip fences and miter gauges.
When you add these to the original purchase price you can see it may be less costly in the long run to buy a better saw in the first place. The performance and safety benefits of contractor saws are so significant that many experts prefer to make their own “portable” dollies to move them from jobsite to jobsite rather than purchase a lower quality portable.
If you decide to go with a contractor table saw make sure you are actually getting a contractor saw, not a bench top on steroids the manufacturer chooses to call a contractor saw. The Makita 2705 “Contractor” saw is an example. While it has many great safety features and is at the high end in terms of performance, it’s a portable table saw, not a contractor saw. It uses a direct drive motor and its table and extension wings are made of die cast aluminum, not cast iron.
** All prices are subject to change without prior notice