Construction might mean putting things together, but anyone with the least experienced in the field knows that you need to be able to cut them as well if you’re going to get anything built. Whether you are a hobbyist trying to make a smaller woodworking project or a contractor in charge of putting up hundreds of new living units, anyone looking to build anything needs a cutting tool as well and a means of attaching the parts.
We use a lot of tools for every purpose around a construction site, at any stage of the building, and the need for a good cut remains pertinent throughout. Anything from foundation blocks to shingles and plaster needs to be reshaped to the exact size relevant to a specific aspect of the house, and not having the tools to do it can sink the entire construction effort.
The first thing that springs to mind for many when cutting is mentioned is a blade, slicing neatly through the material needed with no waste of time or sawdust. Unfortunately, it is only rarely that a straight blade is sharp enough or swung with enough force to cut through something either as thick or as hard as the materials that a woodworker or contractor needs to process.
This is hardly a new problem, though – people have for years needed to cut materials but have been limited to the thickness that cannot be handled with a blade. The solution since Biblical times has been the saw, invented by early man to take advantage of the mechanical properties of the serrated edge.
Where a straight blade uses the forward motion of the arm and the principle of the wedge to cut something, a saw instead uses a sideways motion, perpendicular to the surface being cut, with every tooth scraping away the material instead of trying to pry it apart. This offers far less resistance and can be repeated with less strain than a straight-edge, done fast or long enough, it will create a smooth cut through nearly any material.
For a while, saws were straight-edged, without a reasonable way of powering cyclical motion, the human arm’s push and pull is the only means of motion. As machines grew more advanced and powerful, the easiest motion to power became a rotational one, prompting people to create a serrated wheel instead of a blade. These wheels went into sawmills when they were still being turned by water power and were the foundation for modern circular saws.
The eventual descendant of these massive show wheels is the table saw, which uses the same rotating blade to cut, but is small enough to be brought from one workshop to the next and includes a flat work surface to allow for the wood to be laid in more positions than simply shoved straight against the blade. Table saws hold the blade perfectly true to the cutting line and allow a worker to use both hands to manipulate the material as it is being cut, making them a favorite of many in construction and the center of worksites and woodshops everywhere.
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Any discussion of what a table saw is used for needs, to begin with, a careful review of what it is not used for, and other things to steer clear of around a table saw. Although safety regulations and precautions can seem arduous, repetitive, and sometimes even insultingly simplified, they are an indispensable part of operating any power tool – after all, most accidents happen to people who were certain they were doing everything right.
Table saws should be set up in a clear, level area with nothing nearby to trip on or tangle up, for at least as far as the longest piece of timber or piping that is to be cut at that site. Additionally, directly along the cutting line should be cleared of people and items and labeled as an area in danger of kickback, the deadly phenomenon of the saw’s spinning launching a piece of material as it works.
Dressing for the job is guided by the sound policy when working a table saw and prevents outright gruesome accidents. As with many power tools, eye and ear protection are in order. Table saws are loud and can easily throw fragments fast enough to hurt an unprotected operator.
Baggy or loose clothing should be removed, as such things can get caught on the saw teeth and wrapped around the axle. For the same reason, dangling jewelry should be removed, and long hair should be secured well away from the blade.
Operating a table saw might be like other power tools in a lot of ways, but there is one apparel guideline for table saws that other tools don’t usually have: take off your gloves. Work gloves are essential for a good grip and hand protection in many places, but are a serious risk when operating a saw – they give a skewed impression of exactly where the operator’s hand is and how far it is moving, both unacceptable when in the vicinity of an active saw blade.
Operators should stand to one side of the blade and never extend any part of their body across the cutting line unless it has been fully powered down. If it becomes necessary to touch the other end of the material while the saw is in motion, a push stick or safety block should be used to keep the operator’s hands as far from the blade as possible.
When the saw is not in use, it should be kept powered off and disconnected if at all possible. Some will also have a blade guard or even allow you to remove the blade for added safety. A table saw that appears to be disconnected but is not can result in tragic consequences if someone activates it by accident.
Even once the saw has been fully turned off, take care not to touch the blade itself for some time. The friction generated by spinning the blade through hard materials at well over a thousand cycles a minute can get it hot enough to burn the wood it is cutting; even brief contact can be dangerous if the blade is not allowed to cool down first.
In between usage, make sure to care for and maintain the saw fully. Replace worn out parts, top off lubricant and fuel, and check that all electrical connections are still firmly attached. Taking good care of any tool can prolong its lifespan, and the closer you keep it to optimal condition, the closer it will perform to the predictable factory expectations. If regular maintenance is not implemented, what you have is an unpredictable, ineffective, and unsafe tool.
Types of Table Saw and What They Are For
There are still further distinctions to be made once one has chosen a table saw. Different kinds of table saws are suited to the particular needs of different jobs and should be interchanged as little as possible. Using the wrong tool for your project might work, but will generally be slower, put more wear than necessary on the tool, and yield a less satisfactory outcome than if you purchased the correct saw for the task from the start.
The traditional table saw is mounted on a closed cabinet that houses all of the workings and is for this reason referred to as the cabinet saw by many professionals. Their main strength is their stationery nature, which allows the designers to add larger and more powerful machinery without fear of making it too big or heavy to carry. No one is carrying this saw anyway, making both of those factors negligible.
Cabinet saws sport a larger work surface than nearly any other class of table saw and often have expansion rails as well, allowing you to use a bigger or smaller table as the project demands. This larger surface area gives plenty of room for adding additional features like a vise, tool rack, or lights, and of course, the shop vacuum to keep harmful sawdust out of your eyes and respiratory tract.
Underneath the table of a cabinet saw are the control wheels that move the saw higher or lower, a miter gauge for adjusting the angle of the cut, and speed or blade position controls that move the blade along the cutting slot. Cabinet saws tend to be electric, using an industrial plug as opposed to the standard household outlet to supply the considerable amount of power they draw.
Most people use their cabinet saw as the centerpiece of an established workshop, taking advantage of its large working surface and the reliable, precise cuts that it yields to aid in the creation of furniture and showpieces. Because it holds the blade steady and includes a picket to keep the wood sitting exactly where the operator wants it during the cutting, table saws allow users to make exceptional products over and over without the need for added measurement and tricky precision sawing with a different tool.
At the other end of the spectrum is the smaller contractor or job site saw, a compact, blocky affair that can often be mistaken for a portable generator from a distance. Job site saws have only a modest work surface and no cabinet at all. If they are raised off the ground, it is due to its folding legs or a wheeled cart that makes it portable as construction progresses.
Controls on a contractor saw are often minimal, with a power switch and speed and height knobs being all that one will see on many models. Although there are electric contractor saws, the usual fare for such a machine is an integrated gas motor that allows it to be operated on construction sites where electricity has not yet been hooked up.
Because it is moved around so much, many job site saws will include a roll cage, a heavy steel or iron bar that wraps around the body of the saw to absorb impacts from all sides before they can damage the central machinery. An unnecessary feature for a cabinet saw but critical on a construction site, where heavy tools and machinery are in continual motion around the saw and the saw itself will need to be repositioned often.
Contractor saws have fewer accessories and add-ons than the cabinet saw but tend to make up for it with a more versatile blade mounting that is easy to modify to make them safe and effective on anything from soft plywood to steel piping and girders. Because time, space, and costs are all limited on a construction project, having a single saw that can process all of the many materials to be used in the finished building can mean significant savings since there is no need to purchase another type of table saw.
Though they can cut nearly any kind of material, contractor saws have a uniform standard of one flat rip cut. More intricate jobs are few and far enough between that most construction crews opt to do them by hand with an angle grinder rather than tie up the job site table saw.
A final type of table saw is called the hybrid saw, intended to take the power of a cabinet saw and fuse it with the mobility offered by a contractor saw. These machines are distinguished by open frames and occasionally externally mounted engines; this makes them easy to break down and reassemble elsewhere, creating a full-size table saw with the portability benefits like a job site saw to go where it is needed.
Hybrid saws are used in situations where there is no need for a permanent table saw, but the smaller contractor saws are either too small or too indelicate for the cutting required. Many hybrid saws include some kind of crash protection and can support the additional features that one often finds on a cabinet saw.
As a whole, table saws of any description are used for their reliability to repeatedly create smooth cuts through any material one needs to be resized. Which saw will do all depends heavily on the exact parameters of the job at hand.