Before shopping for a table saw, take a moment to ponder two important things: 1) how you will use the saw, and 2) where will you use it.
The first consideration is what you plan to do with it. Sure, you’re looking for a DIY saw, but there are all types and levels of DIYers. Are you a home-improver that just wants to make basic cuts like ripping boards to width and cross cutting stock to length? Or, are you into making furniture and will use the saw to make bevels, box joints, dadoes, raised panels, and the like? You should buy a saw that is adequate for the most complex operation you plan to perform.
Then, consider the location and space available for the saw. Will it be in a spacious dedicated home shop? Will it be stored away in the garage after use? Do you want it to be mobile, e.g., take it to remodel a lake home?
Now that you know how and where you’ll be using the saw, you can review the main categories of table saws to determine which one meets your objectives. There are three main categories: benchtop (or job site), contractor, and cabinet.
Table top saws often called portable saws or job site saws, are the smallest and lightest, and are most often used by DIYers who are making construction-type cuts, and who want portability and easy storage. Most won’t overtax home electrical systems and can be operated on a portable stand or workbench. These saws are used by DIYers with limited working space. They are not as powerful as saws in other categories and can labor while cutting thick stock. The tables are smaller and don’t support larger stock, as well.
Contractor table saws are a popular choice of DIYers. Most come with 1 – 2 horsepower motors that provide enough power for nearly all tasks. At 200 – 300 pounds, they feature heavy-duty parts that provide durability and accuracy. The tables are spacious and provide good support for larger projects. Many come with superb fences as a standard feature. They also can run off standard residential 120V voltage.
Cabinet saws are the “King Kong” of the shop and preferred by the DIYer who is into serious woodworking. Simply put, these saws can do it all. They are powerful (typically 3 -5 horsepower) and highly accurate. There are many choices for large table extensions and outfeed tables. These machines require a substantial amount of dedicated space, because at 450-plus pounds, it’s not mobile. You should check to see if you can handle the amp and voltage requirements.
If you’ve selected the category of saw you want, it’s now time to choose a specific saw. This all boils down to product features and personal preference. Here’s a run-down on the most common features to consider: