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Band & Table Saws

Band and Table Saws: a buying guide

Band and Table Saws: Bigger Tools, More Power

Hand tools can play an integral part in a project, but band and table saws are the workshop workhorses. When you're undertaking serious projects on a continual basis, you need the extra power and durability of a band saw or table saw. These saws are valued not only for their speed, but their accuracy when it comes to complex cutting tasks.

Band Saws

A band saw is the ideal tool for cutting curves and slicing through thick stock. Smaller band saws should be able to slice though lumber 4" thick, with bigger saws being able to handle 6" cuts. Band saws are also capable of ripping, cross cutting, bevelling, and cutting aluminum, plastic and other materials.

For a saw with this much cutting capacity, you might expect a tool with an immense motor. But the band saw's efficient cutting action means it can get its muscle from a surprisingly compact source. Even on some of the biggest band saws, you'll rarely see a motor larger than 3/4 horsepower. Band saws come in both stationary models with cast-iron frames, and portable saws that can be moved easily and placed on a workbench or tabletop.

Band Saws: How they work

The blade guide system is a key component of a band saw. The upper and lower guides minimize sideways movement of the blade, and prevent the blade from deflecting backward when feeding wood for a cut. Carefully check this system before you buy. Look for one that is easy to adjust, but will hold a setting despite vibration. It should be substantial enough to resist force but small enough that it doesn't obstruct your view of the cutline.

Two additional considerations are depth of cut and throat. Depth of cut refers to the distance from the table to the upper blade guides. This determines maximum cutting thickness, and can range from 6" to 12" with an optional riser for lengthening or shortening cuts. Throat, meanwhile, is the distance from the blade to the saw frame, and determines width of cut. It can range from 12" on some models, to more than 18" on larger band saws.

Choosing a blade

Band saws produce a continuous cutting motion, but such efficiency depends largely on choosing the right blade for the job. Generally, it's best to use the coarsest and widest blade your project allows. Most beginners tend to opt for fine-toothed blades, not realizing that virtually every cutline will need sanding anyway. A coarser blade will get the job done faster. If cuts you make that should be straight turn out wavy, use a wider blade. A wider blade will give you straighter results because the metal behind the cutting teeth stays in the saw cut (kerf) longer, keeping the blade on a straighter track.

Band Saws: What to Look For

Tilt table

A tilted table helps make angled cuts. Make certain the table on the band saw you want to purchase tilts easily and locks positively. Also check that it doesn't flex out of square when locked in its 90-degree normal position.

Cast-Iron Table and Stand

A cast-iron table and stand helps minimize vibration when cutting. They are an absolute must for larger band saws, and helpful for smaller ones. If you need to buy a stand, also consider the advantages of adding a mobile base beneath it.

Riser Blocks

Some band saws will allow you to increase their capacity to slice a board through its width by adding an accessory riser block. This cast-iron block bolts into the middle of the saw's column. Depending on your saw, you may be able to add 4" to 6" of capacity.

Dust collection

Some bands saws incorporate a plastic turbine blade to their lower wheel to create a suction that pulls dust into a bag, while others have a built-in port that you can connect with a hose to a shop vacuum or a dust-collection system.

Table Saws

Table saws are the traditional centre of most home and professional woodworking shops. Table saws can perform a variety of cuts, including cross cuts to rip cuts, to dado cuts, and can cut straighter, smoother lines, and larger workpieces, than other types of saws.

How they work

A table saw consists of a circular saw blade mounted on an arbour that's powered by an electric motor. The blade protrudes through the surface of a table, which helps provide support for the material being cut (typically large timbers). The depth of the cut is varied by moving the blade up and down, and the angle of the cut changed by adjusting the angle of blade.

Types of Table Saws

There are several types of table saws to choose from, and the choices you make should be largely determined by how you plan to use your saw. There are three general types of table saws: stationary/cabinet, contractor and portable table saws. Each offers different degrees of mobility, power and performance, and comes with a different price tag.

A table saw is a significant investment, so if you anticipate your use may change or increase, you may want to spend more now to ensure you get the capabilities you might need for the future. For lighter use, a basic saw with moderate power may be sufficient.

Stationary/Cabinet Table Saws

Stationary/cabinet table saws are ideal for frequent and demanding use. They generally feature high-performance parts and design; an enclosed base; 3 to 5 horsepower induction motors; an extra-large work surface, and 10" to 12" blades that can handle thick cuts. These table saws typically weigh between 400 and 800 lbs., and require installation of a heavy-duty circuit for power. They tend to offer the greatest in cut capacity, stability and workpiece support.

Contractor Table Saws

Contractor table saws will provide enough power to handle medium-to-heavy-duty tasks, and are often used by hobbyists and homeowners because they can be plugged into any standard electrical outlet. They generally feature an open, attached stand or base with wheels; 1-1/2 to 3 horsepower induction motors; a spacious table to support large timbers, and 10" blades for accurate, precise cuts. These table saws typically weigh between 200 and 300 lbs. and may require the assistance of another person when moving them. The RIGID table saws come equipped with wheels in order to facilitate easier transport.

Portable Table Saws

Portable table saws are designed for light-to-medium cutting tasks, and tend to carry the lowest price tag compared to other table saws. They generally have 3 to 15 amp universal motors; 10" diameter blades; a folding mobile base for easy transport between jobsites, and steel, aluminum and plastic parts for a compact, lightweight design. Portable table saws have a more narrow table surface than stationary and contractor saws, so the width of stock that can be ripped is somewhat reduced. They can cut through softwoods easily, but may strain on thicker boards, or hardwoods like oak or walnut.

Saw Type Power Recommended Application Key Benefits
Stationary/Cabinet Table Saw 3 to 5 hp or more Frequent, demanding professional or home use
  • Durable, high-performance parts and design
  • Greatest cut capacity, stability and workpiece support
  • Cabinet contains dust, protects motor and muffles noise
Contractor Table Saw 1-1/2 to 3 hp Medium-to-heavy-duty home or professional use
  • Can be transported to jobsites
  • Power, stability, cutting capacity and support for big workpieces
  • Durable, long-lasting performance
Portable Table Saw 3 to 15 amps Light-to-medium-duty home or professional use
  • Easily portable, compact, space-saving
  • Less expensive
  • Standard voltage for homes, shops and jobsites

Table Saws: What to Look For

Mitre Gauge

The mitre gauge is a removable guide used for fast, accurate mitre cuts and crosscuts. Look for a table saw with positive stops at 45 and 90 degrees. Also, check the mitre gauge slot on the saw table; it should be perfectly parallel to the blade or your mitre cuts won't be accurate.

Bevel Capability

Most table saws allow you to tilt the blade to the left for angled cuts, though some right-tilt models are available to accommodate personal preferences. Look for easy adjustment and positive stops at common angles, so you can make fast, accurate bevel cuts.

Rip Fence

A rip fence is a guide for cutting parallel to the edge of the workpiece. Longer fences offer better control. The fence should fit snug, slide freely, lock down solidly, and be perfectly parallel with the blade at every setting.

Dust Port

Table saws produce a lot of sawdust, but those with cabinets keep dust fairly well contained. On other types of table saws, look for a dust port if you want to connect to a dust collection system as you cut.

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