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A table saw, also known as a sawbench or bench saw is a power tool for producing high quality and accurate cuts. It is one of the most coveted wood cutting tools that any woodworker desires to have in his or her workshop. One of the simplest definitions of a table saw is simply a mirror-smooth table with a circular saw assembly mounted underneath and a miter gauge on the top surface. The circular saw blade protrudes vertically through a slot at the center of the table, allowing you to make cuts by sliding workpieces through it. The miter gauge assembly, on the other hand, rotates horizontally relative to the table surface to set the angle of cut of the workpiece.
A table saw has many additional features and parts to complement its primary purpose. These extra features make it one of the best tools for making accurate cuts on wood and other workpieces in your woodshop or jobsite. To understand even better, this article looks at all the parts of a table saw and functions. By the time you are done reading, you will be able to identify various table saw parts and at least differentiate their uses. Moreover, the understanding of the parts of a table saw will help you make a good buying decision.
Basic Table Saw Parts
These are parts that any bench saw worth your money must have.
1. Tablesaw table/top/bench
This is what gives the table saw gets its name. It is the work surface and also the part where most of the basic functions and features of a table saw are located. Most tables are made from cast iron or heavy duty steel. The table should be flat, extremely smooth, and durable. A good table surface should be made of aluminum and must have a non-friction coating.
Extension wings from either sides, left or right help in increasing the surface area of the table saw so as to help support wider materials. The materials used to construct the extensions depend on the size of the table saw. In heavy duty table saws the extensions are usually made of cast iron while on smaller table saws they are made of lighter stamped steel or the lighter style of cast iron. The disadvantage of lighter table extensions is increased vibrations during operation due to their less mass. Heavier extensions decrease the vibrations and this helps in making the saw stay in calibration.
2. Table saw base
This is the part that houses the working parts of the table saw. This includes the arbor assembly, the trunnions, the sector gears, and at times the motor. Some bases in table saws are ‘cabinet’ types that extend all the way to the floor. Others are ‘open base’- have an open metal box that surrounds the internal working parts of the saw. Open bases have legs that extend from the bottom of the base to the base of the floor.
3. Table saw blade
The table saw blade is the part that does all the cutting. It is a circular saw of any size, ideally between 10 to 12 inches. It mounts on an arbor and secured with an arbor nut. The mounting arbor gives the saw blade a proper placement and angle while at the same time keeping the saw firm and steady. You can move the saw up and down using the blade lowering and raising handwheel depending on the task at hand. You can also tilt the blade on one side (up to 45 degrees) to make bevel cuts.
Types of table saw blades
Different cutting blades are available for different applications. The major difference between them is the number and shape of their teeth. For instance, a rip cut blade has few teeth and larger gullets between them. In contrast, a crosscut blade has more teeth and shallower gullets. You cannot interchange these two types of blades, otherwise, you will end up with a bad quality cut. You might also damage the blade. Therefore, you should always ensure that the table saw has the right type of blade before you start cutting. You should also ensure that the cutting blade is sharp enough so that you can get clean cuts without overburdening the table saw
For more details about knowing when to sharpen or replace a saw blade, read how to tell if a circular blade needs sharpening or replacement.
Circular saw blades also differ in the design and shape of their teeth. Some blades have teeth with a flat-top shape while others have bevel shape. Other blades have teeth with more acute hook angles than others. All these different teeth configurations help to determine the efficiency of a saw blade at cutting different materials and the quality of cut you get. Some of the most common sawtooth profiles include flat-top grind (FTG), alternate top bevel (ATB), hybrid alternate-top bevel (HiATB), triple chip grind (TCG) and combination tooth. Each of these tooth configurations is perfect for specific applications. For instance, the FTG sawtooth configuration is best for making rip cuts while ATB makes very clean crosscuts.
The sawtooth design also determines the durability of a saw blade. Some blades have carbide-tipped teeth, which happen to be more durable.
4. Rip Fence
The rip fence is the part that guides the work piece when you are making a rip cut. It ensures your safety and the accuracy of the cut you want to make. The rip fence runs parallel to the blade ensuring that the workpiece is straight hence more accuracy. You can adjust the rip fence to the left or to the right. The distance from the blade to the rip fence is known as the rip capacity. It indicates the size of a work piece that can be properly placed within the sawing area. You should not, however, use a rip fence as a stop block when making crosscuts. Doing so can result in violent kickbacks.
5. Miter gauge
Every table saw comes with a miter gauge. This table saw part is essential for making accurate angle cuts and cross cuts. In other words, a miter gauge is used to set the angle of miter cuts on a table saw. It sits on the top of the table and has a fence against which workpieces are placed. The miter gauge fence lets you set the angle of cut for your workpiece. In its default position, the miter gauge points to 0 degrees, which sets the workpiece perpendicular to the cutting blade. If you want to change the angle of cut, all you need is to set the angle on the miter gauge. This will in turn set the miter fence to the desired angle so that you will achieve the desired angle of cut on your workpiece. You can adjust the miter gauge horizontally from 0-90 degrees.
A good miter gauge assembly should slide back and forth easily and must be steady and well supported. To achieve this setting, the miter gauge must be attached to a guide that fits into the groove on the table saw. The groove is parallel to the saw blade to ensure that the miter gauge also slides parallel up and down. Another feature of the miter gauge is a pivoting angle guide. It makes it possible to make compound cuts.
6. Miter gauge slots
The miter gauge slots on the table saw are the grooves on the surface of the table that run parallel to the saw blade. These grooves serve three main purposes. One, they help to set the miter gauge fence to a fixed angle. The miter bar fits into the grooves snugly allowing you to pivot the miter gauge to the desired angle. Two, the slots allow you to slide the miter gauge assembly back and forth in a straight line while maintaining the angle of the miter fence. Three, the miter gauge slots help in the alignment of the circular saw blade. They also allow you to slide your table saw sled back and forth in parallel to the saw blade. You can also use the slot to align the rip fence.
7. Blade plate/ throat plate
A blade plate covers the wide area around the slot. It has a thin slot through which the blade raises and lowers. When you want to change the saw blade or a riving knife or splitter, you take out the blade plate first. The throat plate is easy to remove and put back on, allowing you to change the saw and its assembly easily from the top.
8. Table saw blade guard/cover
A table saw blade guard protects the blade and the user during cutting operations. It is usually pivoted on the splitter or riving knife. When making cuts, the stock pushes the blade cover up to expose the spinning blade. The cover blade guard then sits on the stock to provide protection as you feed the stock through. The side of the blade guard blocks your fingers from the side of the blade while the top prevents material from falling onto the cutting blade. A blade guard also prevents the fence from coming into contact with the blade especially when making very thin cuts. That is why it is also referred to as a fence guard.
Most blade covers are made of transparent material to allow you to see the cut as you push the stock. So, removing the guard to see the cut is not an excuse to cut without a blade guard. However, there are some instances when it may be impossible to use a blade guard such as when making dado cuts or other non-through cuts.
9. Anti-kickback claws
When using a table saw, an accident can occur whereby the spinning saw blade causes the stock to fly back at you violently. This is known as tablesaw kickback. Table saw kickbacks are very dangerous and can cause serious bodily injuries. They can also cause damage to equipment. This is why table saws come equipped with a pair of kickback claws that are also known as kickback pawls. This safety pair mounts on the rear side of the blade cover onto the splitter knife. It has angled spikes that rest on the workpiece allowing you to feed the stock smoothly in the forward direction. However, in the event of a kickback, the teeth of these anti-kickback claws grab and hold the stock down to prevent it from accidentally flying back at you. This is a very important safety part of a table saw.
10. Push stick
A push stick makes it safe to push the workpiece during the cutting process as opposed to pushing using hands, which is obviously dangerous. A good push stick should have a good grip to push the stock without sliding over. Moreover, you must also use the push stick safely to avoid causing a violent kickback scenario. For example, you should place the push stick at the center so that you can feed the stock to the cutting saw evenly and straight. You should also use the push stick only when the edge of the workpiece is one the board. Otherwise, you may twist the workpiece upwards resulting in dangerous kickback.
11. Dust collection port
A table saw dust port or chute allows you to connect the table saw to your shop dust collection system. This helps to keep your workspace neat and clean and air free of dust and debris. Most tables saws have two dust ports; one on the side and another one overhead. The dust port on the side allows you to connect a vacuum hose to the underneath dust collection hood. The overhead port, on the other hand, catches dust and debris from the back of the blade. Overhead dust ports are usually on the blade guard or part of the overarm dust collector. Most dust ports measure 4 inch in diameter but not all table saws have a standard size dust port. The ports are made of plastic and play a very important role in providing a connection point for your shop vacuum to the tablesaw dust hood.
12. Bevel angle gauge
When making bevel cuts it is important to have a mechanism that will show you the angle that you need to set your blade. Bevel angle gauges are located below the table and perpendicular to the saw cage. The bevel angle gauge has a handle for making adjustments to the bevel angle.
13. Blade height adjustment lever
This handle is located above or below the bevel angle adjustment and is usually in the form of a hand crank. Adjusting the crank causes the blade to rise up to match the required cutting height of the work piece in place. When the height is too low, there is a possibility that the work piece will not be cut all the way through. When the height is too high, the cut may not be clean and there are chances of kickback happening.
A stand is required for table saws that are mounted on a bench. Collapsible stands are used in table saws that are geared towards being more portable which table saws that are not meant to be moved from place to place will have heavy duty stands that are bolted/clamped to the saw.
15. Motor, Trunnions and Arbor assembly
These are the most essential mechanical parts of a table saw and the choice of each of these components plays a vital part in the durability of a table saw as well as the capacity of the table saw. The induction motor is the most common motor in table saws apart from the jobsite and bench top models. Some table saws have the Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled (TEFC) induction motor. The advantage of TEFC induction motor is –the motor is sealed and hence safe from dust and other contaminants.
The arbor assembly- consists of the arbor and the sector gear. The arbor holds the blade while the sector gear is used to raise and lower the blade. The trunnions, both the front and rear, are what hold the motor and arbor assembly in place with the help of the yoke (the yoke is what joins the front and rear trunnions). Trunnions play a vital role in absorbing vibrations from the motor and blade hence fewer disturbances on the workpiece. Trunnions also hold the blade and rip fence in alignment and the miter. The wider the trunnion of a table saw the more the stable is the arbor assembly.
16. Riving knife
A riving knife is the most important safety part of a table saw. It is a curved steel plate attached to the saw arbor at a fixed gap with the blade. The knife prevents the stock from pinching back and causing kickback. The advantage of a riving knife over a splitter is that its gap remains constant even as you lower or raise saw blade. This ensures that whenever the workpiece tries to pinch at the back of the blade at whatever height, it does not come into contact with the blade teeth. Instead, the workpiece strikes the riving knife hence preventing violent kickback from happening.
Types of Table Saws
Table saws have a general basic design and autonomy but have varying sizes. These are the common types of table saws.
- Benchtop table saw
Also referred to as compact table saws. These are the smallest types of table saws and very portable. They can be mounted on a benchtop. However, most benchtop table saws have a collapsible stand on which you can mount them if you do not have a working bench.
- Jobsite table saw
These one are larger than the benchtop models. They incorporate a larger capacity and are also portable. As their name suggests, they are meant to be taken to a job site and back. Most have collapsible stands and also tires/wheels for movement purposes.
- Contractor table saw
Also known as open-stand saws are heavier and larger. They have greater rip capacities, larger saws and more powerful motors and have little vibrations making them suitable for a workshop setting.
- cabinet table saw
These are large and heavy, not portable from one place to another. They provide huge rip capacities, very powerful saws with strong rip fences. The chances of kickback happening are minimal. Most of them are made from heavy cast iron and steel to minimize vibrations thus improving accuracy.
- Hybrid table saw
These are a mix of cabinet table saws and jobsite table saws. They incorporate the design of the cabinet table saw hence better stability and the low weight of the hybrid is due to its jobsite nature.
- Mini and micro table saw
These have a blade diameter of 4-5 inches and below for the micro table saws. They are mostly used in crafting models.
Top Table Saw Uses
A table saw is one of the most useful woodworking power tools. You can use it to make dozens of different cuts for your woodworking projects. It is actually one of the most desired power tools by woodworking enthusiasts and professionals. Some of the best uses for a table saw include:
- Making crosscuts with a table saw
Table saws are known for making accurate crosscuts. Cross cuts are cuts you make on a stock by slicing across its grain. A table saw is good for crosscutting both large and small workpieces. Cutting across the grain important when you want to make straight edges of your stock or when you want to chop smaller pieces. Normally, you will use a miter guide and its fence to slide workpieces smoothly through the cutting blade However, if you want to make more accurate cross cuts quickly, you will need a crosscut sled. Crosscut sleds also increase safety by minimizing the chances of table saw kickbacks.
- Using a table saw to make miter cuts
A miter cut is a cut you make when you feed a workpiece at an angle to the cutting blade. You use a miter gauge to set the angle of a miter cut. One of the most common miter angles is a 45 degree cut. Professional woodworkers use a miter sled to make quick angled cuts. Miter cuts are useful for making miter joints such as those on picture frames.
- Table saw rip cuts
Rip cuts are cuts made along the grain of stock. On a table saw, you use the rip fence to set the rip capacity and to guide stock on a parallel path to the blade. Rip cuts are common when you want to slice lumber such as when you want to make 2 x 4s from a 4 x 4.
- Cutting bevels
Bevel cuts are cuts made on the edge of stock by slanting the blade at an angle. Unlike miter cuts whereby you slant the workpiece, bevel cuts require you to slide the saw. A table saw has a bevel angle lever and gauge that let you set the saw blade angle between 0 and 45 degrees. Bevel cuts are most useful for giving workpieces a decorative finish on the edges.
- Table saw rabbet cuts
Rabbet joints are cuts made along the edge or at the end of a workpiece that accepts a mating piece. You can also refer to the as the non-through cuts on the edge or end of a workpiece. You make rabbet cuts using a dado set or more setup. Rabbet joints are useful when building shelves.
- Dado Cuts/joints
Dado cuts are flat-bottomed grooves on a piece of wood or workpiece. You can make dado cuts either in a crosscut or rip configuration. Dado joints make some of the strongest woodworking joints. To make them you need a dado blade.
- Compound Cuts
A compound cut is a cut that combines both a miter cut and a bevel cut. You can set the angles of a table saw’s miter gauge and bevel gauge to make compound cuts. You can use compound angles to build decorative wood for the ceiling.