Last Updated on July 4, 2020
In its most basic form, a table saw consists of a rotary sawblade poking through the center of a flat worktable. Equipped with fences and guides, its primary purpose is to cut solid wood or manmade boards into more manageable sizes.
Given this simple function, why has the table saw become such a centerpiece of workshop activity? That is the question that we’re here today to answer!
More than just a stationary circular saw, the table saw has earned its place in wood shops everywhere because of its ability to perform essential cuts quickly, safely, and efficiently. Let’s look at each of these uses for a table saw in more detail, then finish up by addressing the all-important safety considerations for using a table saw.
The most common use for any table saw is to cut larger boards into smaller, easier to work with pieces. Ripping, or cutting wood to width, is performed parallel to the wood’s grain. You’ll always run the board directly against the rip fence (never freehand), so as to avoid the risk of twisting the board and jamming your saw.
Ripping’s counterpart, crosscutting, is used to cut wood to length. So named because you will be cutting across the grain of the wood, this sort of work can be accomplished most accurately with a sliding crosscut table guide.
If your project calls for an angled, or miter cut, you’ll need to use your table saw’s adjustable miter gauge. Adjust it to the required angle, double-check with an angle measure, then hold the workpiece firmly against the fence as you feed it through the blade.
Table saws are designed the ability to change the blade angle, allowing for bevel cuts. Tilt the saw blade to the required angle, and double-check its accuracy with an angle measure. Power on your saw, and you’ll be ready to feed as normal for rips or crosscuts at a consistent angle.
Both of these commonly used joint cuts are made much easier and more accurate with a table saw. Think of both cuts as a long, narrow channel in your board; rabbets are cut out of the far edge of the board, while grooves are cut more towards the center.
While a table saw will make these cuts quickly and conveniently, they are also somewhat riskier. This is because many table saws will require removing the blade guard and riving knife to make these precision cuts. Exercise extra caution and ensure that there are no distractions in your work area while cutting rabbets and grooves.
Your table saw is also capable of creating a wide variety of joint cuts outside of rabbets and grooves. As before, this can sometimes require removing the blade guard and riving knife; be extra cautious while cutting joints in these circumstances.
While a complete discussion of joint styles is outside of the scope of this article, here is a list of common joint cuts made easier and more accurate by using a table saw:
Almost severing a strip of wood with regularly spaced saw cuts can provide it with enough local flexibility to make a tight bend. Known as kerfing, this process of removing portions of a board can give a curve even to thick hardwoods. The closer the kerf spacing, the tighter the bend that will be produced.
Choosing the appropriate blade for each of the above cuts can mean the difference between a smooth, accurate cut and a ragged edge that won’t quite fit your project. There are four main categories of blades to choose from:
Among these four main categories, there are five blade types that most users know by acronyms.
Perhaps the most worthwhile feature of a table saw is its robust collection of safety features. Of course, these precautions and safety mechanisms will only do you any good if you familiarize yourself with the machine by reading the safety information in the manual!
No matter how experienced a woodworker you may be, it’s never wise to deviate from safe working practices – even to save time or money. Though not a complete list of workshop safety guidelines, always keep the following safety instructions in mind while working with your table saw:
Learning to safely use a table saw is the first step towards getting the most out of it. Capable of making a wide variety of precision cuts quickly and efficiently, they often become the heart and soul of the home and professional woodshops alike. Keep proper workshop safety and etiquette in mind, and you’ll come to love your table saw for its reliability and utility.
Kyle comes from a long line of woodworkers, craftsmen, and carpenters. When he’s not managing SawingPros, Kyle can be found in his workshop, testing and using every type of saw and power tool he can get his hands on. His favorite tool is a horizontal band saw and his favorite wood is maple.