In sticking with last week's Toolbox Tuesday theme of saw power tools, this week I'm going to cover the #1 tool people ask me about when they learn that I'm into woodworking...my table saw.
I don't know how many times I've been at a party when I get into a conversation on woodworking. I usually mention how much I enjoy it, and that we have what I loosely call a "woodshop" in our basement. (I say loosely because it's more of an disaster area, containing everything from tools to storage to our laundry facilities.) I would say that about nine times out of ten, anyone who prides themselves as a woodworker has their next question in their head as soon as I mention the basement. It's usually something along the lines of "Oh really? That's cool. What kind of table saw do you have?"
I'm not sure why, but the table saw is one of those big time tools that people feel qualifies you as more that just a run of the mill DIYer. It is the home improvement equivalent of the "what kind of car do you drive" or "where did you go to school" type of a question in other settings. In the grand scheme of the conversation, the answer isn't nearly as important as the fact that you 1) actually have a table saw, and 2) used some level of process in purchasing the saw that you own. There are also the handful of conversations where people are actually talking about a circular saw, but believe it to be a table saw. Those people are silently judged and most typically retreat from the wood shop pow wow to refill their beverage and find a conversation they feel more comfortable in. Survival of the fittest in the DIY hobbyist world, it's not for the meek.
But I digress...
Long ago I learned something that I live by and that I've repeated many times over the years. I'll probably repeat it many times on this blog too. This is one of the most important things that we've done since we've lived in our house.
Toolbox Tuesday Golden Rule: For every major project you take on, make that project an excuse to buy a significant tool that you don't have but will surely benefit from now and in the future.
Long ago we were working on a project where I needed to rip (cut lengthwise) a piece of 6' baseboard to reduce the width by about 1.5". This was a relatively simple thing to do, and I'm pretty sure I could have hacked it up with my jigsaw, cut it with the circular saw, or used some other clever method of reducing the width of the board, but this was an opportunity that had to be seized. I realized that this was the first of what would be many projects that required the ability to, among other things that table saws are useful for, rip a piece of lumber.
Research: I started my research as I usually do, with a quick Google search. I began by looking at various reviews of all of the most common options. Similar to most non-specialized tools on the market, there are more options than you can imagine, and you need to prioritize your purchase decision based on the items that you find most important for your needs. I was actually quite overwhelmed when I first started shopping. No wonder people ask what table saw you own like they ask about your car. A table saw is a fairly major purchase with many options, but a good one that suits your needs will last much longer that most cars will stay on the road.
Size: The first significant decision I had to make had to do with the size of the saw. The four most common sizes that you will see are a benchtop saw, a mobile contractor or jobsite saw, and workshop saw (essentially a contractor saw with a fixed base for stability), and what are often called cabinet or "deluxe" saws. There are obviously far more than just these, and I even came across the "100 tools in one" model, European monsters with built in dust collection that run you about $12,000 and cook you dinner while assembling a mortise and tenon workbench. But they need as much room as four of our basements, and as much money as 4,000 of our wallets, so the four sizes I mentioned were my focus.
I knew we would be using the saw on a weekly basis as we worked our way through the house, so we decided that the saw could live in the basement as its permanent home. As a result, my focus narrowed to workshop saws and "deluxe" saws. As much as benchtop saws save on space, and jobsite or contractor saws allow mobility, the attraction of the higher quality fences and larger work tables, as well as the stability the full size saws offer, won out in my book.
Now, as much as I wanted a deluxe model saw, what with their giant fences and sexy outfeed tables, their size and inability to easily be mobile on casters killed it. These are the saws you often see if you look into a professional wood shop or true contractor shop. If we had a large basement where the tablesaw could stay in a fixed position with plenty of room around it, I would have seriously considered the larger fixed saw, but it wasn't in the cards. So I settled on a workshop type saw.
Brand: The next major decision for me was the brand of saw to buy. This might sound strange given all of the various other options I talked about, but I decided that each brand had their mix of strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, I was going to look at a brand of saw that people spoke highly of, and then look at the options that the reviewers liked. I knew that quality of construction, solid build materials, a good and accurate fence, and the ability to make blade adjustments without jumping through hoops were my primary points of interest.
Through my research I repeatedly came across many different people saying positive things about the items I was interested in, and they kept saying them about the same brand. Now, I was looking at DeWalt, Delta, Skil, and other names I had heard about for many years, but they were all talking about a brand I had not previously considered, JET. Every review I read had great things to say about this brand and their saws. After a couple weeks of shopping I decided on a Jet 10" Workshop saw. I also picked up a universal mobile base for it so that I could easily move it around the basement since it is about 300+ lbs. So I pulled the trigger and I ordered it from Amazon. The price was a little steep (though less expensive in 2003 than the comparable saw is now), so it was a major purchase that I wasn't taking lightly.
The shipment showed up a few days later from a freight shipper and was split into three boxes. I struggled to get them all into the basement and then immediately started my assembly.
The overall assembly took about 3.5 hours. I still remember it being much more difficult than I had expected. The instructions were good but I had to figure a few things out on my own. Once all was said and done, I had won and was the proud owner of my first real tablesaw.
Note the laundry right behind the saw, I told you our basement was small.
Since my saw assembly day, which was filled with euphoria and blinding fear that I would immediately cut my fingers off (no joke, I have a completely irrational fear of losing appendages through gory accident, pretty awesome that I bought a tablesaw, huh?), I've used this saw consistently on just about every major or minor project. I'm still thrilled with the saw and have no serious complaints with its function. And best of all, I still have all 10 fingers (knock on wood).
The fence is easily the best part of the saw. It is easy to use and very accurate. This is the the primary item that I repeatedly read while going over the various reviews. Over the years the saw has stayed true with no need for adjustments. Blade changes are easy and the saw's sturdy table has doubled as a bench many times in our cramped basement. I would easily recommend this saw to anyone looking to purchase a high quality and reliable saw.
Now a note from my own neuroses: If you are buying a saw, or have a saw and don't know the safety protocols, do yourself a favor and watch the video below.
Although I'm completely happy with the saw that I purchased, if I were buying a saw today I would probably seriously consider one of the "SawStop" brand saws. I first learned about them roughly one year after we purchased our saw, and I was a bit upset they weren't available when we were looking. The selling point of these saws is the blades ability to sense an electrostatic change in the blade if it comes in contact with something charged, like human skin. The blade then immediately stops, only slightly damaging whatever unlucky body part it came in contact with.
The SawStop saws are high quality and always receive excellent reviews. They are more expensive due to the technology involved in the blade stop ability, but well worth the extra cost if you are ever unlucky enough to need it. The following is a video of the SawStop creator actually putting his own finger in the blade of one of his saws. I got nervous while watching it, but it convinced me. Actually, to the point that I'm thinking I could put my saw on Craigslist. Hmm...
So there you have it, a little insight into my "woodshop" and paranoia. If you have a saw that you love, let me know. Or if you want to know any specifics about my saw, ask away. I always love to share.