Table saw under $500 – what to expect?
Table saws under $500 can be extraordinary for their prices, but they do have some limitations compared to more expensive saws. Inexpensive table saws will generally be portable or contractor-style saws, with relatively small and lightweight tables and saw blades that are smaller in diameter. Compared to hybrid or cabinet table saws that typically cost thousands of dollars, these table saws will have less powerful motors – typically 15 amps – and produce slower blade speeds of only a few thousand rotations per minute. The smaller tables will also limit the size of rip cuts, and the saws may lack helpful features like bevels and miter gauges.
That said, these are not necessarily bad traits for most beginning woodworkers. Slower, less powerful table saws are still more than capable of ripping through softwood boards and producing highly accurate cuts. Plus, the small size and portability can be an advantage for contractors and woodworkers with a small home shop.
Reasons to purchase a table saw
Table saws are capable of making a wide range of simple cuts through lumber, which is why they are one of the first tools added to every woodworker’s shop. Table saws can be used for running simple rip cuts through large boards, trimming a piece of wood down to exact dimensions, or making precisely angled cuts that can be used for fitting wood to a corner.
Another reason that many contractors and woodworkers like compact table saws is that they are portable. Table saws can easily fit inside a home workshop or be transported and rapidly set up at a job site, making them one of the most versatile tools for hobbyists and professionals alike.
Must do – woodworker’s guide to safe sawing
Table saws are inherently dangerous – they involve a fast-moving blade in close proximity to your hands and body. So, it’s extremely important to follow a few safety guidelines whenever you are working with a table saw.
First, approach the table saw with respect. Wear appropriate safety clothing, including eye protection and thick gloves for handling wood, and remove any loose clothing and jewelry. Also be sure to clean the area around the table saw so that there are no tripping hazards and no sawdust from your last project. Be sure that the saw has been maintained and that all safety features are working properly.
When it comes time to start the saw, never turn the power on with the blade engaged. Likewise, you should never find yourself reaching over the saw blade for any reason. When beginning to make cuts, you should always push wood through the blade rather than pull it through, maintaining a strong stance over the saw to help absorb any kickback.
Importantly, you should never free-hand a cut. Always use the fence or miter gauge to guide your wood, and use an additional stand when making rip cuts that are larger than your table. If you need to, use a push stick rather than your hands to push wood through the blade.
Features to consider while buying the best table saw under $500
When it comes to choosing a table saw, the number of different features can be overwhelming. Here, we’ll explain the features you need to know about in order to get the right table saw under $500.
Never enough – safety features
Table saw manufacturers take safety seriously, and it’s important to take advantage of all the available safety technology when choosing a table saw. The most basic safety feature to look for is a blade cover, which retracts just enough to allow your wood to pass through the blade. Blade covers should be clear so that you can see your work clearly. Remember that while most blade covers are removable, you should leave them on your saw at all times.
Another important safety feature found on most modern table saws is a riving knife. This is essentially a splitting knife that sits behind the main blade and helps to prevent kickback by grabbing wood after it passes through the blade. As for blade covers, many table saws offer removable riving knives, but these should always be left on the saw. Some table saws, like the model from Ryobi, also come with an anti-kickback pawl to further reduce kickback.
Finally, some table saws like those from Wen and Ryobi come with integrated push sticks. These can be very helpful when making large rip cuts, since they allow you to guide the wood through the saw without putting your hands anywhere near the blade.
Using the fence
The rip fence is, in the eyes of many woodworkers, the most critical component of every table saw. The fence is there to guide wood through the blade, whether you’re making small and precise cuts or large rip cuts.
However, not all fences are designed equally well, so it’s extremely important to look for a saw with a durable and accurate fence. A straight fence not only means accurate cuts, but also less kickback when making rip cuts. Plus, since you’ll constantly be moving the fence around the table to adjust your cuts, it’s important that your saw has a system that allows you to easily and accurately change the fence positioning.
Cutting precision and capacity
Precision is, not surprisingly, critical in any table saw. If you saw isn’t precise, you’ll end up with boards of different dimensions any time you try to repeat a cut. In the context of a table saw, precision means that you should be able to adjust the fence and miter gauges to the same measurements and get the same exact cut every time.
Importantly, the accuracy of the saw should remain consistent over time. This is where having a saw with a durable fence and miter gauge comes into play, since cheap versions of these parts can bend over time with heavy use.
Rip capacity is another important measure of how table saws operate and refer to the widest possible cut that you can make with the table and fence. Rip capacities on portable and contractor saws will generally be smaller than those for cabinet saws – the 30-inch rip capacity of the Rockwell saw, the largest rip capacity of saws we reviewed, is still relatively small for woodworkers who take on large projects. Keep in mind that rip capacity isn’t completely limiting, since you can use a stand to cut larger pieces of wood that extend beyond your saw’s table.
Speed and power
Most inexpensive table saws have a 15-amp motor, which offers enough power to cut through most softwood boards. However, these saws may struggle with thick softwood boards and many hardwoods.
Blade speed is an important consideration because it affects the smoothness of your cuts and the likelihood of kickback. In general, a faster blade speed will reduce kickback and produce cuts with smoother edges. There is relatively little difference in the blade speeds of the saws we reviewed – any blade speed between 4,500 and 5,000 rpm will offer relatively smooth cuts.
The dust port is technically an accessory feature to a table saw, but it’s one you’ll want to have. The dust port allows you to connect a shop vacuum directly to your saw so you can suck up any sawdust produced during cutting. Using a vacuum with your dust port is the single best way to prevent sawdust from piling up in the guts of your saw, where it can cause problems, and from filling the air in your workshop.
All of the table saws under $500 that we reviewed use 10-inch blades, in part because this is an extremely common diameter that makes it easy to switch out blades. That said, blade diameter can vary and 12-inch blades are also quite common.
Keep in mind that the stock blades provided with most table saws are relatively cheap – replacing the blade is one of the best upgrades you can make to your saw.
Size, weight and table extensions
The size and weight of your saw is a major consideration if you plan on carrying it between jobsites or have relatively limited workshop space. Most table saws under $500 are relatively compact, especially compared to hybrid and cabinet table saws, but some are smaller than others. For example, the Ryobi saw is designed to be extremely lightweight and portable, but have smaller rip capacity because of this design.
Keep in mind that many portable table saws reduce their size during transit by using table extensions. These can be folded out or telescoped during table use. However, keep in mind that many woodworkers find that these types of tables are not perfectly level and they take some extra work to set up.
Many portable table saws like the Bosch and Dewalt saws have on-board storage that allows you to stow miter gauges, dado blades, and other useful accessories inside the saw. While this storage isn’t strictly necessary, it can be nice to have all your table saw tools in a single place.
There is a huge variety of accessories available on table saws, some of which come standard on specific saw models. For example, saws like the Rockwell have integrated laser measures, while the Wen and Ryobi saws come with push sticks for making rip cuts. The most important accessory to have is a stand, although this is integrated into most of the saws that we reviewed. If you’re looking to upgrade your table saw, consider purchasing a better blade, a set of dado blades, an extension table, or jigs.
Table saws should last for years if maintained properly, but it’s nice to have the peace of mind that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty. Many manufacturers including Dewalt, Ryobi, Rockwell, and Skilsaw offer three-year warranties, and Dewalt and Ryobi even offer 90-day money-back guarantees on their saws.
Table saw maintenance tips
Maintaining your table saw is extremely important for ensuring that it runs smoothly and safely for years to come. There are a number of things you can do to keep your saw in excellent condition.
First, you need to deal with sawdust buildup. Sawdust that accumulates inside the guts of the saw can be cleaned away with a brush and shop vacuum. You can also use compressed air to remove any stuck sawdust.
Once the sawdust is gone, you should lubricate the gears and adjustment knobs on your saw with spray lubricant. The blade and riving knife should be cleaned with pitch, and you should use an oil lubricant to wipe down the saw’s table to ensure that wood continues to slide smoothly.
It’s also important to maintain the alignment of your saw – this should be done after every five hours of use. Be sure that all of the screws holding the blade and throat assembly in place are tight, and use a level to ensure that the rip fence and miter gauge slots are parallel with each other. Finally, make sure that the blade is parallel with the rip fence and with the riving knife.