A portable table saw is a great machine. Take it wherever the work is inside the house or outside to keep dust and noise in the yard. The vast majority of these saws are equipped with a 10-inch blade that provides more than enough height above the table to cut thick lumber. That big blade is backed up with a big motor, typically running on 12 to 15 amps, so you’ve got enough power to do basic ripping and crosscutting in hardwood, softwood, and plywood. Ripping and crosscutting unclear to you? That’s okay. Scroll down to our table saw explainer at the end of this article. Also, many of these machines have either a slide-out table extension or a fence extension mechanism (or both) that increases the saw's support area, enabling you to cut to the center of a 4-foot wide sheet of plywood.
No single blade will handle all types of lumber and all types of cuts. A blade designed for rough-but-fast cuts in solid wood is a very different blade than one that will leave a perfectly chip-free edge on a piece of hardwood plywood. Therefore, you need a selection of blades to help the saw reach its potential. Chances are pretty good that the machine will come with an inexpensive general-purpose blade that can rip and crosscut, but won’t do either one particularly well. So you need several more blades to ensure that you can readily cut with and across the grain in hardwood, softwood, and plywood. The total cost of your blade assortment will likely add up to as much or more than the saw itself. But to invest in blades is to invest in workmanship and safety. Nothing will cut as well or as safely as a blade designed specifically for one job.
If your saw came equipped with something like a relatively coarse-cutting general-purpose blade (a 10-inch 42-tooth is common), then supplement it with a 60-tooth blade. One of the primary functions of a table saw is to rip (cut with the grain), and nothing rips as efficiently as a blade designed for that purpose. A 24-tooth rip blade is fast and rough cutting, but for quickly sizing stock, especially thick stock, it’s hard to beat. To rip lumber so that its sawn edge is smooth enough to glue another piece of wood to it, use a 30-tooth glue-line ripping blade. For cutting melamine and cabinet-grade plywood, an 80-tooth saw with its teeth ground to what is called “high alternate top bevel” would be a good choice.
Finally, an inexpensive outfeed roller will increase your productivity—and also your safety—by providing a smoothly rolling support surface to receive the board as it leaves the saw table. Lacking such a roller, you need a helper who can deftly take the board and carefully support it without interfering with the cut—not a job for the squeamish.
How We Tested
We gathered three of the four saws here and put them to work, ripping and crosscutting maple, pine, oak, and pieces of plywood. We used the saws on their stands (when so equipped) or supported on a pair of sawhorses. We used them indoors and outdoors, and built simple projects with them like fastener trays and sawhorses, and we also ripped shelving to width. We didn’t test the fourth saw listed here; we hope to do that shortly. For now, we see enough technical merit in the machine that we wanted to include it.
Rip Capacity: 30 in. | Weight: 60 lb.
Few saws have the lineage of this product. When we tested nine portable table saws back in 2001, we commended the forerunner of this product (the Bosch 4000) for its power, soft start that brings blade speed up gradually, and an arbor lock that locks the blade in position (allowing you to remove the spindle nut without having to jam a stick behind the blade to keep the blade from turning while you loosen the nut). Bosch has wisely not altered any of those praise-worthy features over the decades, along with its large (27-inch x 32-inch) cast aluminum top with a slide-out extension. Now it equips the saw with a gravity-rise wheeled stand; that’s more of a benefit to finish carpenters who have to wheel the saw around on site, but we can also see it as a benefit to someone with a crowded home shop that doesn’t have room for a saw with a fixed position.
Metabo HPT C3610DRJQ4M
Rip Capacity: 35 in. | Weight: 60 lb.
The Metab0-HPT was a 2020 Tool Awards winner, as the first 10-inch saw to cross the multi-voltage threshold. You can operate it on either 120 volts with an adapter or a 36-volt battery designed for the saw (and other Metabo power tools). As shown, the saw is equipped with neither the adapter nor the battery; figure the cost of the adapter, battery, or both into your purchase. If you plunk down the extra money (a little less than $300) for both the battery and adapter, you have one of the most versatile saws in the industry, with the capability to be operated anywhere. But you get more for your money than versatility. You also get a soft start that ramps up motor speed slowly, increasing motor life in the process, and oversize rip capacity—33 inches to the right of the blade and a slide-out outfeed support (no, it’s not as much support as a dedicated outfeed roller, but it’s still good). We also liked its electric brake that brings its blade to a stop in a fraction of the time that other saws blades are stopped merely by the drag created by their direct drive with the motor.
Rip Capacity: 20 in. | Weight: 45 lb.
This is the same saw we have in the PM shop, so we can vouch for it. If you’re okay with a slightly reduced rip capacity relative to other saws, the DeWalt has a lot to offer. First is its compact foot print and extremely light weight. It stores out of the way very easily and its telescoping fence rails are a tremendous asset in that respect. Retract the blade, slide in the fence rails, and you’ve got yourself a little cube of a saw that can sit on a shelf or tuck neatly into the back of a truck or van. Second is its outstanding rack-and-pinion fence. It’s dead accurate, and we haven’t seen any need to adjust or tinker with it, despite the fact that, by now, the saw has seen quite a pounding as its been moved from among something like four different shops and taken on the road numerous times. Finally, it’s got guts. Its full-size 10-inch blade powers nicely through a variety of materials thanks to a relatively low-speed (3,850 rpm) 15-amp motor. We’ve ripped hardwood and softwood nearly up to the maximum blade height of about 3 inches, and we haven’t experienced a problem yet. In all, it’s a great little saw.
―WORM GEAR DRIVE TRAIN―
Rip Capacity: 30½ in. | Weight: 94.3 lb.
To be transparent here, we didn’t test this saw, but we’re big fans of the Skilsaw brand and its various products, and we see a lot in this machine to recommend it. First, the saw has outsize rip capacity; that’s always helpful, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t make those wide cuts accurately. That’s why it is equipped with a rack-and-pinion fence system and one that has gone on to be widely favored by finish carpenters taking these saws to the job site. And speaking of that, the saw is equipped with 16-inch wheels to help it better ride over bumpy surfaces and traverse stairs, if need be. Other features that we like are the accessories which expand the saw’s capability well beyond others in this class such as a precut throat plate for running dado blades and a zero-clearance throat plate (also for dados)that you custom cut to suit the size of the dado you want to run. And the saw should have more than enough power to handle typical dados, thanks to the 15-amp worm gear motor that powers it. Finally, most owner’s manuals today are not well done. They’re usually an afterthought handed off to be produced by someone who could care less about them. As an indicator of the manufacturer’s care with this product, we present its owner’s manual as Exhibit A. It’s long and it’s detailed. It’s filled with technical illustrations that are well done and make clear the saw’s ability to be adjusted and dialed in for precise cutting. An owner’s manual of this caliber is just about unheard of in this class of product. You can have a look at the pdf yourself at the Skilsaw website.
Table Saw Terms and Explainer
There a lot of confusing terms when you enter the world of table saws, their blades, and various wood-cutting operations. We offer this explainer to help guide you through.
ATB: Alternate Top Bevel is a tooth configuration on table saw blades where the bevel on every other tooth alternates from the left to the right side (of the blade). ATB teeth are used on all-purpose blades that offer satisfactory ripping and crosscutting performance but don't excel at either.
Crosscut: A cut made across the long-axis of the wood’s grain direction. The primary grain axis in solid wood is parallel (along) the board’s length–the same direction that the tree grows. A cut made perpendicular to this axis is a crosscut, such as occurs when cutting a 2x4-foot wall stud to length. In plywood and composite panels, typically 4x8-foot sheets, crosscutting refers to cutting across the panel's 4-foot width or perpendicular to the direction of the grain direction of its face veneer.
Dado: A wide, U-shaped and flat-bottom notch cut across the grain (across the width) of a board or workpiece. The nomenclature is tricky in this respect: A similar cut made along the length of the workpiece, such as in the edge or face of the board, is known simply as a groove, not a dado. Further confusing matters is that both a dado and a groove may be made with the same accessory, a dado blade (see next entry).
Dado Blade: A multi-blade assembly. It consists of individual dado blades and spacers. A dado blade (even though it consists of multiple blades and spacers) is used to cut a dado or a groove.
FTG: Flat top grind. The simplest shape on a table saw blade tooth where the top of each tooth is ground to a flat tip. This tooth configuration is typically used on ripping blades.
Hook Angle: The angle that the table saw blade tooth leans forward. As seen from the side, each table saw blade consists of a series of wave-shaped cutouts made in the body of the blade. The saw tooth is either ground directly into the wave or, more often than not today, the tooth consists of a piece of carbide brazed in place. The forward-leaning angle of the tooth (where it contacts the wood) is its hook angle.
Rip: A cut made along the long axis of the wood grain. In solid wood lumber, this is along the length of the board, the same direction that the tree grows. With panels and plywood, it is along the length of the panel or parallel to the long axis of the face grain veneer.
TCG: Triple chip grind. A grind geometry that shapes three surfaces of each saw blade tooth–the top, the left side, and the right side. This tooth geometry is used to reduce chipping, tearing, and splintering when sawing plywood, panels made of composite materials or panels with a surface of soft plastic veneer, such as melamine.
Throat Plate: The removable oval-shaped piece of metal or plastic set into the table of the saw through which the blade projects. A table saw will come with a throat plate that will accommodate a single blade. The manufacturer may or may not offer accessory throat plates that allow the user to operate a dado blade; see the next entry.
Worm Gear: A two-gear assembly consisting of a spiral worm and a worm gear. The output of the two gears reduces the speed coming from the motor, but increases the torque (turning force) delivered to the blade.
Zero-Clearance Throat Plate: A throat plate that is an accessory that is specifically meant to be used with dado blades. The plate will come with a slot in it wide enough to accommodate a dado blade or the user installs the dado blade in the saw, lowers the blade below the surface of the saw table, then installs the zero-clearance throat plate as it would be normally installed. The user will then turn the saw on and slowly raise the spinning dado blade up through the plate. When the blade is raised up to its operating height, it makes a cut through the plate that corresponds exactly to the width of the dado. The lack of an air gap on both sides of the dado blade provides increased support to the workpiece being cut, improving cut quality and safety in the process.
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