Even if you are brand new to construction, woodworking, or home repair, it has probably not escaped you that there are seemingly endless tools to power any given project. Techniques and materials are similarly diverse. Any given item or action on a job site probably has several different variations, each of which will be indistinguishable to an outsider but are indispensably distinct to the worker.
While construction might be mainly about putting things together, there’s sometimes a need to take them apart or cut them to size, which is why most construction sites include saws of one kind or another. Many sites will center around a table saw, a machine designed to easily and accurately create smooth, straight cuts through anything from plywood to steel beams.
Like any power tool on a job site, the table saw comes in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and purposes. Nearly every major manufacturer of power tools have at least one on the market, and many have more to meet the full spectrum of needs that a construction site presents.
Knowing what each tool is and does can make a serious difference in your choice, even in a relatively homogenous category such as the table saw. Grabbing the wrong one could stall your project or even endanger your workers. So it’s worth getting to know the differences and similarities before you buy.
Getting it right may not seem like such a big deal – after all, they all look alike and slice things that come across the blade, but the exact class of your table saw will be a deciding factor in determining what parts and services it needs as well as its application. An improper repair job or cutting assignment will leave your saw damaged or the job delayed, and this is an easily avoidable setback.
There are three basic categories of the table saw that is commonly used in today’s construction market – the contractor saw, the hybrid saw, and the cabinet maker saw. Each has specific distinct characteristics inside and out that will help the informed worker easily differentiate between them, reducing the risk of choosing the wrong saw for the task at hand.
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Cabinet Maker Saw
Cabinet maker saws are built along the traditional lines of a table saw, with the inner workings entirely enclosed and topped with a large, flat cutting table with a picket along one side. Control levers or wheels are arranged along the sides and adjust the saw height, tilt, and position along the cutting line. More expensive models may also feature a digital assistant that helps direct the blade or hold the wood still for increased precision as you work.
Some cabinet maker saws take advantage of the extra space along the table to support such things as a miter saw arm or extra tool racks. This puts even more of the steps needed to prepare the wood in one place, making the cabinet saw a default centerpiece for many woodworking shops.
Due to the enclosed chassis, cabinet saws tend to be larger and heavier, making them more a piece of furniture than a tool. Since they are only rarely moved about, manufacturers take advantage of their size to add more powerful motors and larger saw blades, giving them a decided advantage when there is a need to cut larger or denser materials.
Cabinet maker saws can also support extras, such as a laser sawing guide to keep the wood straight or the all-important shop vacuum that keeps the sawdust out of the operator’s eyes and mouth. Wood dust can be irritating enough, but a table saw can realistically wind up creating metal or plastic dust that can lead to serious respiratory complications if inhaled.
Cabinet maker saws often come with table extensions, or at the very least support them. These added cutting surfaces function like leaves in an ordinary dining room table, allowing the operator to accurately align larger pieces of material and keep any other items needed close at hand.
High-end cabinet maker saws can cost a considerable amount more than other options, especially when factoring in the added cutting power and superior motor. Cabinet maker saws start between $500-700 USD and get steadily more expensive as the need for a particular strength, blade size, or table surface grows.
In contrast to the cabinet maker saw, where most manufacturers try to add as much value as possible to the machine, the contractor saw is generally manufactured as small and light as possible to make it easy to move between one construction zone and the next while still fulfilling the need for a table saw.
There are few, if any, external controls, and they tend to be limited to speed and height modulators and a temperature readout.
Contractor saws are generally powered by gasoline motors. Because they are intended for construction sites, they cannot readily access an electricity source. Most have the generator built into the body of the saw, making it yet more compact and convenient to move around the work zone as construction progresses.
Because they tend to be employed where there is not yet a building, contractor saws rarely have a vacuum hookup, relying instead on the open-air setting of the work to ventilate the area while cutting. This approach proves doubly useful in the gas-powered contractor saw, as the exhaust fumes from the motor would accumulate and asphyxiate the user in an indoor worksite.
Physically speaking, the contractor saw tends to be fairly boxy in nature, occasionally framed with folding legs that allow the workers to raise and lower the saw to a comfortable height for the terrain and task at hand.
Another feature found unique to contractor saws is the roll cage, a thick steel bar that wraps around the main chassis of the contractor saw to absorb impacts if knocked over or in the event of a collision. The cabinet maker saws tend to be firmly fixed in place with little need for the roll cage. However, the contractor saw, surrounded by busy workers and other heavy machinery, should not be without it.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two can be found at the checkout. Contractor saws rarely cost more than $400 USD, an incentive for some people to choose this saw even when a cabinet maker saw would have been a more appropriate selection.
Hybrid Table Saw
Now that we’ve looked at the two extremes of table saws – the powerful, but immobile cabinet maker saw and the lightweight and portable contractor saw – there is the middle ground between them, and are aptly named hybrid table saw. This saw is aimed at fulfilling the needs of both kinds of table saw users and can often be the smart choice if someone is unsure about investing in one of the other two kinds of table saw.
Hybrid saws are distinguished by the externally mounted mechanism and the quality of their construction. By not needing a cabinet to enclose the entire motor, the hybrid saw remains light and easy to disassemble and move around as needed.
A hybrid saw preserves a lot of the best features of both the contractor saw and the cabinet maker saw. Staying affordable and versatile while being compatible with high-power cutting machinery and the larger blades that characterize the cabinet maker saw. They tend to sport either a partial cabinet or a metal frame that allows easy access to the machinery behind the blade, allowing for easier maintenance and the inclusion of a shop vacuum if the setting requires it.
As mentioned above, choosing the right parts with which to service a table saw can be the difference between a successful repair and the saw breaking so badly it becomes dangerous or impossible to use. The hybrid saw allows you to choose from a far wider range of potential replacements. Most of them are deliberately adjustable to take more parts and from more manufacturers, so they will be easier to maintain and often cheaper as well.
All kinds of table saws have earned themselves a well-deserved reputation for being the focal point of construction sites, often the last stop for materials to be included in the finished project. By holding the blade at a predetermined height and keeping it absolutely true as the cutting goes on, the table saw ensures that every cut comes out precisely as desired.
Although they are not always the right choice, the hybrid table saw makes a solid effort at it, giving users the best of both the contractor saw and cabinet maker saw alike. A versatile and mobile saw that can still produce enough cutting power to slice through anything put in its way.
It is always worth considering the needs of your particular job before you purchase any tool, but if you find yourself undecided about what saw you need, the hybrid saw is specifically designed to be a safe bet.
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