What is a Table Saw?
Sawing is a construction method so old it is mentioned in the Bible, and it has evolved to an incredibly diverse spectrum of meanings as most things of that age have. There are saws for practically every material and application that you care to imagine. If someone has ever needed something cut smoothly and precisely, chances are there is a saw available to do the job.
There are a number of stereotypical images of a saw, from the large two-man saw of cartoons to the massive cutting wheel that threatens the hero in vintage action movies. Both of these are still in use today, but the real workhorse of a construction site or woodworking shop tends to be the table saw.
Although often stationary and far from being an agile or fine machine, the table saw creates a stable platform with a powerful circular blade that allows the woodworker to precisely control the cut by holding onto the material as opposed to the blade. The depth of the cut is also more precisely controlled as the height of the blade above the table is set, allowing for the desired exact height to be cut each time.
The first thing to learn about using a table saw is the proper safety procedures. The same machine that can slice pipe, lumber, and sheet metal can also amputate an arm just as easily. Taking proper care around a table saw is so important that many jurisdictions have instituted laws governing necessary safety training and procedures to be followed before using a saw.
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As a power tool, the table saw demands proper attire for safe operation. No long or baggy clothes should be worn, and long hair should be tied back or otherwise secured. Jewelry, especially loose items like necklaces or long earrings, should be removed.
Ear and eye protection are a must when using power saws of any kind, and that goes double when using the table saw. It is both louder and more powerful than most other tools on the job site and can emit louder noise and fling splinters faster than other tools. Even relatively soft materials such as PVC or plywood can do serious damage as they fly off of the saw blade.
One apparel guideline that uniquely applies to the table saw unlike other power tools is that one never uses gloves while using the table saw. Gloves provide a false gauge of where the hand is actually located and it interferes with the tactile feedback one relies upon from fingertips. Both are crucial elements in judging where the operator’s hand is and how to safely move around the saw.
Before firing up the saw, carefully check that nothing has been left on the table or is standing nearby that could get caught in the blade. When cutting long pieces of material, take a moment to walk as close to a full circle as possible at the outer edge of the material to ensure that it cannot possibly hit anything on the way during the sawing process.
When you are finished with the saw, make sure it comes to a full and complete stop. Then disconnect the power and apply a blade guard. This is the most crucial step in saw safety! People are careful enough when they know the saw is active but can begin to slip up if they think it is shut down when it is not.
Once you have shut the saw off, do not touch the unprotected blade for a while. The friction produced by a saw blade going through even the softest of materials can heat the blade to well over 100 degrees Celsius. Test the blade by putting a few droplets of water on the blade before direct handling.
Table saws, like many things used in construction, come with their own terminology. Knowing these particular monikers will make it easier to understand the proper terms when referring to the saw.
Underneath the table saw stands the cabinet, which is a sturdy housing for the motor and mechanism that drives the blade. Around the base of the table, one will find the power supply, either a cord that is affixed to the saw or an outlet to plug a cord into.
The table that gives the device its name is the sturdy platform that sits atop the cabinet. At one edge, you are likely to find the fence, a vertical metal strip that allows you to balance the material to be cut and slide it along the saw blade at different heights. The table may also support a miter gauge, which shows how far the blade is tilted one way or the other.
The blade will be a circular saw blade protruding from the center of the table. A variety of safety features may surround it, including a plastic blade guard, an electronic fence that detects if someone’s hand crosses a certain point during operation. Some even include a retraction mechanism that lowers it into the table when it is not in use.
Just below the table, there are often a variety of control handles. If your table saw has one, you will find the miter wheel that tilts the blade left or right to create an angled cut, as well as the height controls for the fence and blade. Many saws include a status panel to let you check on such things as blade speed and temperature, and the level of fuel, if the saw in question, is gas-powered.
Either on the side of the cabinet or under the table (if the table can be removed) one can find the access port. This is a door into the machinery that powers the saw, allowing for refueling the engine or repairing and replacing other components.
Never open the access port while the saw is running. If you have opened the access port for any reason, double-check that it is closed again before reactivating the saw. If any parts were serviced, run the saw at lower speeds to first check if anything is loose before revving to full speed.
There are a wide variety of table saws out there to choose from, and not all of them are made for the same project. To make sure you get the right one, consider your budget, needs, and anticipated work environment.
If you are looking to equip a woodworking shop, you will likely want a traditional standalone table saw. These look the most like an actual table and often run on electrical power, relying on a wall outlet from your shop. Some of the bigger table saws require a larger, specialized machine outlet to get the power they need. Make sure you are choosing a model that will work with your shop’s power supply.
The portable table saw can be mistaken for a generator sometimes. The two machines share the same boxy construction and yellow coloration more often than not. A portable table saw is built with a minuscule table and fence, often little to no miter, and many have an integrated gasoline engine to let them work in places where there may not be an available electrical power source.
Some table saws are not attached to a table at all but come as a separate machine that can be affixed with bolts or a vise to an existing workbench to effectively create an instant table saw. These tend to be electric as well, and relatively weak. Double-check what thicknesses and materials can be used before purchasing and operating it.
Regardless of what kind of table saw you decide on, make sure to learn proper cutting technique before using it. Stand to one side of the saw with no part of your body protruding across the blade, and move the material into the blade with a firm and steady grip.
While sawing, watch out for kickback, where the saw’s spinning motion and high speeds fling the wood or other material out of your grasp. Kickback can really injure someone or cause serious damage, so make sure you have a good hold on the wood and are not using curved or warped wood that gets kicked back easily.
Table saws, like most power tools, tend to be built to last, but even the sturdiest will eventually need maintenance. If you notice your saw slowing down significantly or the blade teeth becoming visibly shorter, it may be time to have your saw serviced.
When servicing a saw, make every effort to use parts from the same brand name as the saw itself to ensure compatibility. Always check to see that everything is the right size and thickness before using it. Even a few millimeters difference could be critical when servicing machines.
As a rule, if one part of your table saw needs servicing, the rest of them could probably use a check-up as well; after all, they are all aging at the same speed. Conducting a full inspection will let you catch other problems before they occur and keep your work from grinding to a halt over and over again.
Table saws are a great centerpiece for a workshop or job site, cutting cleanly, quickly, and precisely through whatever you need. Find one that suits your circumstances and make your project a cut above the rest.
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