Like any other activity (or should I say craft) where tools are involved, woodworking can be expensive. But this fellow beginner wants to share some advice that might be helpful to others who also want to have money left over for things like food and rent. Or other tools.

So, what is the first tool you should buy? For 99% of the population it’s a table saw.  No doubt about it. It’s the tool that you use to cut wood and you can do it at almost any angle.  But while the choice of a table saw might seem simple there are some things to consider.

Table Saw Considerations

There are generally 5 types of table saws (as I see it).  At the bottom is (#1) a lightweight (almost) hobby-grade portable saw.  Many of these look almost exactly alike. They come in a plastic housing, have a cast aluminum top, and sit on a stamped metal frame.  They don’t cost much, either.  You can frequently find them at yard sales or thrift stores for less than $50.  If all you need to do is rip small sheets and pieces they’ll do the job.


But there’s not much of a fence on these saws so it’s hard to handle large sheets. Because they’re also shallow, the short fence length means they will lack precision when cutting long sheets. They also don’t have a lot of power so you’ll not be cutting anything thick or really hard like oak or hard maple.

In short, if you’re going to be doing anything that you will be seen by others these saws are probably not a good choice for developing in the craft. They serve some utility purposes and should be kept in that venue. They’re not a bad tool but their use should be kept in perspective.


Second is the true (#2) jobsite saw. These may be the same size as the hobby-grade saws but they’re built to take a beating. They are also meant to be portable and often come with a rolling or fold-up stand. Again, they’re for utility cutting and not for making fine furniture. They do well what they do. Just keep that principle in mind. Many tools are good tools but are also not universal tools.

contractorThird is the (#3) contractor saw. They’re solid. They have lots of power. They have a large working surface. They have everything going for them. For many doing woodworking they are very practical. They seem to do it all.

But the contractor’s saw lacks one important, though it does come closer than the first two. That is the capacity to be adjusted for a precise, straight cut. To do this the blade needs to be aligned perfectly with the miter slot so that they are exactly parallel.  On the contractor’s saw it requires agility.  Why? Because the system that drives the blade is attached to the underside of the table. That means it has to be loosened, adjusted, and then re-tightened.

It sounds like a lot of work and it is.  It’s a minimum of an hour job (took me 2 hours the first time), though once done it only needs checked maybe once a year. But when you have to re-do it, it’s another hour or so. So get out your ratchet and extensions to reach up under, and go to it.

There is an option which one should also examine on the contractor’s saw and that’s the availability of a riving knife. It’s a little blade that come up behind the saw blade. It keeps the cut piece from pinching. But why, you ask, is that a big deal?  The big deal is that, if the wood pinches together then that spinning blade will, and I repeat will, pick up the wood and throw it back at you.  It hurts.  (Experience hurts. Ouch.) And it can be dangerous if the piece hits the wrong person in the wrong way. It’s not safe. Get a riving knife, or at least a splitter (a different type of item that does basically the same thing).

Other than that the contractor saw does a fine job and will take care of most of your tasks. You just need to be much more cautious with it because it is so much more powerful than #1 or #2.

cabinetNext on the list is the (#5) cabinet saw (or cabinetmaker’s saw).  (We’re going to the top of the line for a reason that I’ll get to later.) The cabinet saw is generally fixed in place though some people do put wheels on them. The mechanism is all mounted in an enclosure (or cabinet) beneath the table and the table is often quite large. A large table can be used to both deal with large sheets and to do assembly of large items.

Unlike the contractor’s saw the mechanism is attached to the cabinet instead of the top. That means adjustment is much simpler. It’s often just a matter of loosing 4 external bolts and giving either the cabinet or the work surface a nudge in to position, and re-tightening the bolts.  Just a few minutes work. And because the equipment is seldom moved the system is not often out of alignment.

Add to this the other features such as riving knife and (frequently) a larger 12″ or 14″ blade and you can get big jobs done quickly and with great precision.

These saws can be quite expensive and are not often good for the beginner or hobbyist. But at times you might come across one on the used market and it might be worth considering.

hybridThe last item is called the (#4) hybrid. I left this for last because, to my mind, it seems the best option for the new-to-the-craft woodworker. It’s called hybrid because it takes the portability of the contractor’s saw and combines it with the cabinet-mounted mechanism of the cabinet saw.  You get that ease of alignment plus you get the portability.  Of course you don’t generally get the option of a 12″ blade.

These saws are the best of the compromise. Some of them look like a cabinet saw while others look like a contractor’s saw.  Don’t be distracted by apparent appearance.  It’s the insides that matter.

They do, of course, represent a compromise. If you can sacrifice some of the rigidity of the cabinet saw while gaining the movability of the contractor’s saw, this may be for you.

Don’t Skimp on Safety

With all of this there are still more considerations. There are solutions to protect your fingers and prevent their unplanned removal. Some are built into the saw while others are the wood handling tools that you will need. Good dust collection, even air filtration, is important as dust can be a dangerous lung irritant (sometimes even toxic or carcinogenic) so wear a respirator mask and not a simple water particulate mask.

The principle is this: Take care of your body (and others around you) in all respects. You need to learn and practice these things before something really bad happens.

Conclusion & Tips

For the hobbyist, if you can afford it, start with a hybrid. If you find that, even as a hobbyist, you are producing a quantity of items then consider a cabinet saw.  You may, of course, choose a contractor’s saw to begin your journey.  It’s not a bad choice at all. But you need to pay close attention to safety concerns.  (Anything that can cut you deserves the proper level of respect.)