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TM reader Streets writes: “I’m looking to buy my first table saw, and I’ve run into the essential problem that comes with every new tool purchase: do I go cheap and eventually upgrade, or do I go big now and run the risk of paying for bells and whistles I don’t really need?   I’ve seen a lot of table saws for $100 — such as the Delta at Lowe’s with a stand, etc. — but the table is small and I know it’s not for me.  There’s also a Black and Decker Firestorm for $159 with a bigger table, but I don’t know if that’s a good buy.  Ideally, I’d just drop $500 to $700 on a big stationary model that I would never outgrow, but chances are it’s not the best buy for a guy who is an occasional weekend woodworker.”

What do you think?  Let us know in comments.

(Thanks, BarelyFitz, for the great cc-licensed photo.)

 

25 Responses to Reader Question: Cheap Or High-Buck Table Saw For First-Timers?

  1. benjamen says:

    It really comes down to what you plan on doing. If you need portability, and you are going to be doing things like framing or building a deck or a shed etc, buy a contractor or portable table saw. But if you now you aren’t going to be moving the saw and or you are going to do any kind of furniture making, cabinetry or other fine woodworking, buy the best stationary (cabinet) saw, or hybrid (which are a cross between cabinet saws and contractor saws you can afford.

    In all cases look for good dust collection, a good sturdy fence, and an arbor length long enough to use a dado, many portable saws have a shorter arbor.

    Other generalities are the bigger the table the better, the heavier the better,
    the more horsepower the better.

    If cost is an issue now, look for a medium price saw that can you can add a Biesemeyer fence later.

    I bought a portable table saw, a dewalt, because I though I wanted portablility. As I have used it over many years, I only have moved it from my shop twice and once was to let someone else borrow it. But I have been frustrated by its lack of accuracy, power, short arbor (remember dado blades), and small table top as I have started to do some finer woodworking.

  2. F451 says:

    Here’s the problem…you’ll love a full-size table saw—until—you start using it less, and less, and then it becomes the white elephant in the garage. If you have a separate shop then go full-size. If not, consider a model along the lines of the Bosch 4000-09 Worksite 15 Amp 10-Inch Benchtop Table Saw; there are other models and manufacturers.

    If you want to fall in love with your table saw, then purchase one from Laguna Tools. Laguna Tools manufactures heirloom quality tools.

  3. Fred says:

    Do you have to buy a new table saw? Look around and you might find a good used saw. Find a guy who bought too much saw and isn’t using it much. 😉

  4. ~eriC says:

    i agree with fred, I got a sweet deal on a craftsman saw from craigslist. 60 bucks for a full size saw.

    worse case you have a used saw you can resell for about what you got it for.

    ~eriC

  5. JamesBrauer66 says:

    I got started with a stationary contractors saw, and am still using it. Over the years I rewired it for 220v, moved both wings and the fence guide to one side to allow a 4′ cut, built a 4’x8′ extension table, put a router table base on the left side, flat polished the arbor washer on a piece of glass w/sandpaper and got a notched belt/machined pulley upgrade. With a $150 budget you might be better off with a handheld circular saw for long cuts and a router table for joinery. Looks like Delta has a contractor’s saw for $436 on Amazon, which is pretty similar to what I have used for the last ten years without regret. I used a benchtop saw at a buddies house recently, and the fence was too short for a long cut, and the motor too weak for a dado stack – even just cutting plywood and 2″x4″s.

  6. Chris Byrne says:

    Honestly, after having to do a whole bunch of cabinetry with a contractors saw… even a good one isn’t worth the hassle.

    If you are going to do ANY precision woodworking, you need at the very least one of the $500-$700 craftsman or low end Jet cabinet saws. Anything smaller, lighter, or less sturdy jsut wont be dimensionally accurate, stable, or precise enough; and you’ll end up with lots of little tiny errors, inconsistencies, and inconveniences.

    Oh and the small light saws cant really handle large panels at all, even with a jig.. and in fact don’t handle jigs very well because there isn’t enough true surface to reference them against, clamp them to etc…

    NOw, all that said, if the most complicated thing you’re ever going to do is build a deck and some picnic tables; get a reasonable quality contractors saw or on of the higher end of the craftsman semi-portable saw and you’ll be fine. Just expect it to be what it is, and nothing more.

  7. Tom says:

    The Ridgid Contractor saw has gotten some really good reviews from Wood Magazine, and also from the site below. At $550 it’s not a cheap contractor saw, but it’s really nice. The wood review decided that the Ridgid Contractor saw was the best reviewed and and the benchtop Ridigd was the runner up.

    http://benchmark.20m.com/reviews/RidgidTS3650/RidgidTS3650Review.html

    The other option is to get festool saw/table combo and an extended guide for sheet goods. You can use the table and mitre gauge for smaller cuts. It also takes up much less space.

  8. Pete Hartman says:

    Do not buy a cheap table saw from a big box store. You will regret it.

    My story may be atypical, but I don’t think so.

    I got a Pro Tech table saw at Menards. It was fine when I started, I was doing basic household carpentry stuff. But I got the bug and started wanting to do real woodworking.

    At which point I learned that the Pro Tech line of tools do not conform to industry standards. Like it has 5/8″ miter slots rather than the standard 3/4, so no standard jigs, say from Rockler, or from plans without making adjustments, worked with it. It has a short arbor, so you can’t put a full dado stack on it. Etc.

    I found a Craftsman table saw being thrown away, spent as much on it as I would have to buy a slightly better used one on craigslist, but it’s my baby, and I made it work. And it works beautifully. A real motor and a proper top make a huge amount of difference.

    Buy the best you can afford, and start with used saws. There are a lot of good ones out there.

  9. Chris Murray says:

    If you want a big table, Ridig TS3650 If you want a table saw that you can tuck away, Ridgid TS4500. I own both and I use both of them a lot. The TS3650 is my goto saw, I use the TS2400LS when I need to be mobile.

    I’d also recommend a portable Bosch saw, very good quality.

  10. Mike Ortega says:

    I’m a college student looking to start a workshop of my own. As a result I usually don’t have the big bucks to spend on the fancy expensive tools. I year ago I bought a 10″ Taskforce (Lowes Brand) table saw for $89 and it has worked perfectly and flawlessly for the little around the house things ever since. Unless you will use it frequently for extremely precise cuts I don’t think the expensive ones are worth it.

  11. BJ Clark says:

    I’m in the camp of, “If you buy a cheap one, and actually use it enough that it wears out or you really understand why you need a better one, then upgrade, otherwise, if you don’t use it as much as you thought, you didn’t buy too much saw”. I do that with all tools. I buy the cheapest junk from Harbor Freight and if I actually wear it out, then I buy a name brand quality tool. I did the same with a road bike, truck, etc.

  12. ToolDork says:

    I’d recommend waiting until the new Bosch 4100 is available….the guys at Popular Woodworking have been all over this.

    Here is a recent review:
    http://blogs.popularwoodworking.com/editorsblog/Bosch+Riving+Knife++No+More+Excuses+For+Woodworkers.aspx

  13. Mike lee says:

    I brought a used full size craftman for $75 dollars all steel. This model was made in the 70’s and works great. They don’t make them like this for home use anymore.

  14. Rick says:

    ToolDork:
    The Bosch is apparently available now..
    http://www.amazon.com/Bosch-4100-Worksite-Table-Saw/dp/B000S5Q7AE
    $499 at Amazon and qualifies for this morning’s buy one get something free promotion at Amazon (and free shipping)

  15. ToolDork says:

    Dammit — For a buck more I could get the 10.8 instead of the sander. I don’t need no stinkin’ sander.

    Thanks Rick.

    Fine Homebuilding has a video:
    http://www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/videos/index.aspx?id=71528&c=3

  16. TL says:

    As others have said, what saw depends entirely on what you want to do. If storage isn’t your number one concern, skip the portable saws and go with something belt driven.

    If your budget is REALLY tight, hit CraigsList or the local classified adds and grab something used. My father accomplished amazing things with a 1950’s era Craftsman tablesaw. If you budget for a replacement fence you can end up with more accuracy than a begining woodworker can use for a couple hundred dollars. Just don’t be surprised when you spend more on the fence than you did for the saw.

  17. Chad says:

    If you are looking under $200, just get a circular saw, an aluminum straightedge, and some clamps. If you got a little more to spend, get the Eurekazone system.

  18. Bobby says:

    Like everyone else, it comes down to what you plan on using it for. I bought the firestorm table saw you mentioned because all I do is some small scale “puttering around the house” jobs and love it. I did mount it on a piece of plywood with some lockable caster wheels to move it around my little workshoo.

  19. Andy says:

    I currently own a Firestorm circular saw that, due to its design, is physically incapable of making 90 degree cuts[1]. Some work with a Dremel got it from ~83 degrees to ~87, but that’s it. Can you believe that? I’m sure that design flaw’s been rectified, but the fact that it made it to the shelves at all really soured me on the whole product line.

    ____________________
    [1] I might mean 0 degree cuts here, but you know what I’m talking about. Just standard straight cuts.

  20. Pat says:

    I just bought a firestorm table saw as I am far from being a woodworking expert. So far, it has worked flawlessly for me. I imagine if I really get into it, I will buy a more expensive one. Right now it’s just remote control holders and birdhouses. Pat

  21. Ryan says:

    10″ 15amp firestorm on sale for $100. It has worked flawlessly for ripping lumber on my projects around the house(bath remodel, new deck, framing new door, making shims, makeshift mitersaw stand)…The fence is sturdy enough, and the motor is powerful enough that was my only two requirements. My bath remodel recently required 2 x 2 7/8 studs, so I ripped them with he table saw. I re-did a deck on the cheap a few weeks ago for a friend who wanted to reuse lumber he had for reinforcing the framing so I ripped the sizes I needed. It is small enough to sit in my small garage and it serves as a makeshift table when not in use 😉 It is light enough to be portable and cheap enough for me to live with its downfalls (plastic body, flimsy deck). I plan on reinforcing the deck with some brackets and braces. If the thing eventually falls apart in 10 years because it is plastic…oh well it was only $100 bucks and it has already gotten me through a lot of projects where I would have been in a pickle without it.

  22. Kelly says:

    If you’re going to use your tools, buy the best you can afford. I have a UniSaw and a Bosch. I wouldn’t part with either. Obviously, the cabinet saw doesn’t travel well; however, it makes all things possible. I use the Bosch out on the road.

    I cut large panels and such with the Bosch, but it takes experience to do so. Setting up an out-feed and side extensions can be worth while, if you’re going to make a lot of sawdust. If you’re going to go portable, the Bosch probably walks all over most others. Get the latest model though. It comes with a riving knife. I put a Merlin splitter on my cabinet saw and love it, but wish for a riving knife system so I didn’t have to remove the splitter for dados and such.

    If you can afford the room, the cabinet saws, even a lower end model, will spoil you. They power through wood and run smooth.

    A fence can make or break a saw’s value. A cheap saw with a good fence is still worth its weight in gold (though you may have to go cook dinner while you’re trying to power through a 4x of maple. Looking at the Craftsman units, it looks like their fences have improved markedly over the past decade or two.

    On a final note, I still have all my fingers. I don’t merely respect my saw, I’m afraid of it. Very afraid. I use custom push sticks and let the saw eat all of them it wants to. I use a splitter and I try to use the guards.

  23. Dejure says:

    To make your money goes twice as far, consider looking for a good used cabinet saw. I know of forty year old Unisaws that are still going strong, after having spent their entire life in a cabinet shop. I would rather have a good used cabinet saw, regardless of make, than the best contractors saw. But then I would rather have a contractors saw with a good fence than a cabinet saw with an old style fence, unless I knew I could afford the two to four hundred dollars it was going to cost to upgrade.

  24. Grady Turner says:

    I just bought an old Craftsman 113.298xxx with a cast-iron table for $50. I’m buying a few parts, like a safety guard on E-bay. I’ve been using a Pro-Tech 10″ from Menards (about $100) and it is still OK. Previously, I used a portable saw, mounted under a steel table, from Sears. Any of these will cut wood and if you know how to use them well, you can get good results.
    The advantages of a cast iron table are that it’s easier to get consistently accurate cuts. The weight damps out vibrations and a second-hand unit can be far better than a new, economy model. The main disadvantage of iron, is weight. Whenever you need to move it, you’ll need help and a truck!
    So why did I buy the $100.00 saw? I’m not a pro, so I didn’t have the $$ and I still can’t afford a new top-notch model.

  25. Henry says:

    Speaking of the Ridgid contractor’s saw (as Tom mentioned)…if you can find a Direct Tools (or is it Tools Direct?…why am I up at 5am??) in a Prime Outlets mall, you can get a refurbished Ridgid contractors TS2410 for $225, and the bigger stationary one for $275. I saw these at the outlet malls in Calhoun, Ga and St. Augustine, FL and almost fell over! They also sell all kinds of Ridgid, Ryobi and Milwaukee refurbished tools at 50% off original retail…and no, I don’t work there…

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