If you’re looking for a contractor table saw, you’re probably pretty serious about the quality of your work. There are a lot of options on the market, and some of them are from lesser-known brands. I’ve put together this guide to some of the best products out there, with an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
My overall pick for the best combination of features and value is the Powermatic 1791230K. But any of the tools below would make a great choice. Read on to find out why!
Why a Contractor Table Saw?
If you’re like me when I first started thinking about a contractor table saw, you might be upgrading from a smaller portable jobsite saw. You might even be wondering what exactly makes a contractor table saw different from a portable saw. They’re both used by contractors, right? Well, yes, contractors use both kinds of saw, but the term “contractor table saw” has a more specific meaning.
Contractor table saws are typically a single unit comprising both the saw table and support legs, as opposed to portable saws which have a separate optional stand.
The tables are typically made of cast iron rather than aluminum or other lightweight material. This makes them much heavier (200-300 pounds) but that extra mass greatly reduces vibrations, resulting in more accurate cuts. Contractor table saws are still light enough to move from jobsite to jobsite, but for the most part they’re meant to be stationary. Once you get it set up, you’ll want to bring the work to the saw rather than the other way around.
There are plenty of videos like this one that show you how to easily build a rolling base for your contractor table saw. This can be a nice addition if you’d like to wheel it around your shop as needed.
Motor and Drive Mechanism
The motor and drive mechanism also set contractor table saws apart from their portable cousins. They typically have induction motors rather than universal motors. Without getting too deep into the technical differences, induction motors are generally both quieter and more powerful. The induction motor is connected to the blade shaft via a system of belts, rather than connecting directly as on a portable saw. This provides for greater torque, but adds a number of moving parts that need to be properly maintained for safe operation.
The motor on a contractor table saw typically bolts on to the back of the unit. This lets you remove it for easier breakdown and transport, but means the saw isn’t quite as self-contained as a portable model.
Most portable saws have a rip capacity that tops out at 24 to 30 inches. That limits the size of material you can safely saw on them. By contrast, you can expect a contractor table saw to accept more than 30 inches, typically at least 36. And many have extension tables or wings that extend that to 52” or even more.
Most portable saws have an enclosure around the blade to enable dust collection. That’s not typically the case on a contractor table saw—they’re usually open at the bottom, so sawdust drops right out onto the ground. Not a problem on a jobsite, but in a shop setting you might not like that so much. There are ways to rig up enclosures to improve dust collection, but your luck may be a little hit-or-miss depending on the model.
Finally, as alluded to earlier, these saws are more precise overall than the smaller portable saws. They vibrate less, and they’re generally machined to tighter tolerances. Unlike most portable saws, you can expect rip fences and miter gauges to be accurate and tight, without a lot of play. If you plan to do fine woodworking with your saw, a contractor table saw will repay your investment.
Be sure to check out our complete guide to choosing a table saw for more in-depth discussions of some of these topics!
The Top 5 Contractor Table Saws
Now that we know the basics about contractor table saws, let’s take a look at my favorite table saws on the market.
The Powermatic 1791230K is an efficient machine that tends not to leave a mess when you’re done with it. Unlike some other models on the market, the Powermatic has a dust collection container that actually manages to collect dust and wood chips without springing any leaks. Plus, it comes with a rolling base which makes it easy to maneuver around the shop or the job site.
Unlike many other saws, the Powermatic comes with a riving knife that can be used for non-through cuts. That means you get the safety of a riving knife even if you’re not cutting all the way through a piece of wood. (You’ll want to put the regular through-cut riving knife back on once you’re done.)
With a total 50” rip capacity using the included extension table, it’s hard to go wrong with this table saw. Although it comes in at a higher price point than some of its competitors, it makes up for that with its superior build quality and a comprehensive five-year warranty.
- A quick and straightforward assembly process
- Minimal kickback thanks to the sturdy riving knife even for non-through cuts
- Impressive 50" rip capacity
- Pricier than some comparable models
This beast of a table saw provides a host of safety features that makes it a great addition to any entry-level woodworker’s shop. SawStop is known for its patented safety system, which involves built-in sensors on the saw’s blade that detect contact with skin. If the blade happens to make contact with the operator’s skin, the blade stops immediately.
In my opinion, the CNS175 model provides smooth cuts and precise measurements, although the wings are a bit flimsy. If you don’t need a massive rip capacity, you can get away with the SawStop CNS175, especially if you’re a beginner who needs a table saw with additional safety features.
- SawStop flesh-sensing safety mechanism
- Fast setup time
- A sturdy and smooth cutting surface
- Slightly flimsy and slanted wings
- The rip fence doesn’t clamp squarely to the blade
This table saw boasts a 13-amp motor which is capable of over 3400 RPM. In my experience, this is more than enough power to rip through even the densest hardwoods for home improvement projects. The aluminum rip fence and construction makes it relatively lightweight, which allows the machine to be transported to job sites with relative ease.
One great feature of the RIDGID R4512 is that it comes with built-in accessory slots that allow you to attach additional rip fences. If you need a larger rip capacity, simply install a wider rip fence.
Read our full review of the Ridgid R4512.
- Accessory slots for installing auxiliary wings
- Cast iron top for precise cutting
- Retractable wheels for easy moving around shop
- May require alignment out of the box to ensure blade is straight
If you want stability and reliability, it’s hard to beat this model from Delta Power Tools. This machine features tubular legs on the wings, which helps prevent the wobbliness and instability that some cheaply-made contractor table saws are sometimes known to have. Plus, it comes with a heavy-duty Biesemeyer rip fence.
Longevity and durability are the main selling points with this machine. The 36-5100 is made with cast iron throughout the tabletop and features extension wings that are also made of cast iron. This way, you never have to worry about denting or bending your table surface.
- Excellent cast iron fence and rail system
- Smooth and precise cuts without breaking the bank
- Some purchasers report not receiving all the parts and needing to wait to receive replacements
The low-profile and lightweight W1837 by Shop Fox is one of the best contractor table saws to run on a single-phase 120V motor. This saw can cut through just about anything short of two-inch hardwoods. Even though it comes in smaller than some of the other machines I’ve recommended above, there’s still plenty of rip capacity, with 30” to the right and 15” of room on the left side.
What I like most about this unit is that it features a hidden 4-inch dust cabinet underneath the table surface. The “hidden” dust receptacle makes it easy to catch wood chips and sawdust without making a mess of the shop. That’s why I always drag out the W1837 if I need to get a quick job done without wasting a ton of time on cleanup or sweeping.
Although the setup process is a little finicky, there’s little to criticize about this woodworking tool. It’s sturdy, it’s durable, and it’s small but mighty. I recommend checking out this woodworking saw if you’ve got a small shop and need a lightweight solution for your woodworking projects.
- Lightweight constructions and small frame make it portable and versatile
- Cast iron wing extensions provide extra rip capacity
- Solid rip fence that won’t budge
- The casters make sure there’s no rolling or movement during cutting
- The rear rail is a little too flexible and sometimes moves around while ripping
- It’s hard to get the table wing extensions level
- The table surface isn’t perfectly flat without making adjustments
If you’re serious about woodworking, you’ll want to consider a contractor table saw. As the centerpiece of your shop, your table saw should be safe, durable, and capable of cutting through just about anything you throw at it.
Before investing in a contractor table saw, make sure to read up on table saw safety tips so you don’t wind up injuring yourself due to a preventable mistake. Although contractor table saws are incredible tools, they pose health and safety risks unless you know how to properly operate one.
I recommend picking up my favorite contractor table saw—the Powermatic 1791230K. This highly efficient machine collects all the dust and wood chips you can throw at it, has plenty of rip capacity (50”), and provides a sturdy surface for deep and precise cuts. For these reasons, I recommend it to just about anyone with a woodshop.