Ever wondered what the difference is between a contractor, hybrid, cabinet and jobsite table saw?
You’re not alone.
There are so many different types of table saws on the market today that it can get confusing – fast! And this is especially true when there are table saws out there that cross traditional definitions. This is particularly true now that table saw technology has progressed in recent decades.
As a general rule, we think that the differences are overplayed and overhyped in this day and age. But it’s worth knowing the difference so when someone is talking to you, you can follow along and be part of the conversation.
So here we go with our outline of the major types of table saw in this day and age.
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Types of Table Saws
Cabinet Table Saw
You will usually find cabinet table saws in large workshops and schools. They’re not designed to be portable so are less common in small contractor shops. Coming in at 250 – 500 Lbs, these saws are big bulky units. This is thanks in main part due to the belt drive motors and cast iron tabletops.
But they are also by and large the most powerful and precise saws you can come across. Their power and quality is not compromised by the need for a sleek and lightweight design. You will often find they come with 3 – 5 horsepower belt drive motors which far outstrips the standard 1.75 HP motor of smaller motors. They’ll usually have larger 12 Inch diameter saws and, at least in the US, arbors designed to fit dado blade stacks for joinery work. They also tend to have higher quality miter gauges included in the kit.
You will find most cabinet table saws also have long, sturdy bench tops for extra large rip capacity. Here, size and space isn’t nearly as much of an issue as smaller saws. The extension tables usually allow for the rip fence to extend out without sagging so precision and accuracy is maintained.
Most people who buy a cabinet table saw get one as a lifetime investment – due to the focus on quality, these beasts can last you decades.
If you’re interested in this type of table saw, you can check our review of the best cabinet table saws here.
Contractor Table Saw
Contractor table saws have by and large been superseded by jobsite table saws due to technological advances. However, you will still find a lot of them on sale today – and they’re a good (more) affordable option for a home workshop for someone who doesn’t want to fork out the extra few thousand for a cabinet table saw.
The original concept of a contractor table saw was that they would be more mobile versions of cabinet table saws. You’ll find that a contractor table saw has an outboard belt motor on the back of the saw, and the underside of the table is more exposed. The cabinet has been removed to make it a more lightweight, stripped-down version of a cabinet table saw.
You’ll often find these cabinet table saws are on wheels or come with a dolly so they can be rolled around.
Another thing you may notice about a contractor table saw is that the fence and table are extendable, rather than permanent. This means they can often sag when the table saw fence is fully extended and the rip capacity may be a bit shorter on average than a cabinet table saw.
While decades ago they were the revolutionary ‘lightweight model’, they have been outdone now by newer portable models. Nonetheless, you can still find a contractor table saw with an outboard 1 – 3 HP motor as an affordable alternative to a cabinet table saw. They’re no longer used as portable models, but are usually confined to workshops.
Hybrid Table Saw
Between a cabinet table saw and a contractor table saw is the obscure hybrid table saw. In reality, the definitions have been so blurred that the difference between a hybrid table saw and contractor table saw is negligible these days.
The most significant difference you will come across is that a hybrid table saw has the open base rather than a cabinet base; but also often has the larger 3 HP motor embedded in its own enclosure under the table. Hybrid table saws are usually immobile and used only in workshops.
Jobsite Table Saw
Today, these are the most popular types of table saw. They are small, lightweight and portable, allowing contractors to take their saw to and from the jobsite. They have superseded traditional contractor table saw because they can come with comparable power in a smaller package. You can get 1.75 HP jobsite table saws these days with 10″ blades and 30″ rip capacity that are as light at 60 Lbs.
You’ll also find jobsite table saws used in hobbyist shops all around the country. They are the most popular type of table saw for beginners as they are the most affordable type of table saw, can be easily transported from the store to home, and simply discretely placed on a bench ready for use. That’s why you might also see these saws interchangeably called ‘tabletop table saws’.
The one thing to keep in mind with these saws is that you’ll need a table saw stand to hold it up. Some come already set up on a dolly, like the popular gravity rise models from Bosch. Others require an aftermarket table saw stand (or, you can make one yourself).
Lastly, brands are now coming out with cordless table saws for the jobsite. There are currently two main options on the market – the Milwaukee and Dewalt cordless table saws.
Additional Table Saw Tools
A carpenter can get better use out of their table saw with two additional tools: a featherboard, and a push block.
Featherboards are used to help guide your lumber through the saw while preventing kickback. The featherboard is placed alongside the lumber to hold it snug between the table saw fence and the featherboard. It applies gentle but constant pressure to ensure your wood is fed smoothly through the saw. It’s generally more effective than a human operator who would constantly need to change hand positions. It also helps lower the chances of kickback as the feathers (also known as ‘fingers’ or ‘slits’) are designed to allow the lumber to only move smoothly in one direction. The best table saw featherboards tend to be made of durable materials and have either magnetic or t-slot attachments to hold them into a miter gauge.
Push Blocks are another device that can be used with a table saw. A push block replaces your hands for holding and guiding the lumber as you feed it through the saw. The best table saw push blocks are versatile and come in kits of multiple different shaped blocks to meet your needs. Overall, their job is to keep your hands well away from the blade to make your work less dangerous.
Overall, if you have a shop with plenty of space, you might want to consider a permanent cabinet table saw. It’s a big investment, but gives you the grunt and power to saw through just about anything (given you’ve selected the right table saw blade for the job). If you like the idea of mobility, or don’t mind stepping down to a 1.75 HP model in exchange for a better price and more agile tool, you might prefer to grab yourself a hybrid table saw.