Aren’t the terms “portable table saw” and “fine woodworking” mutually exclusive?
You might think so based on all the videos you’ve seen of woodworkers making furniture on big, expensive cabinet saws. And there’s no denying that a cabinet saw is the ideal tool for the job.
But if you don’t have the floor space or budget for a cabinet table saw, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Even a small saw like a portable jobsite table saw can allow you to do beautiful woodworking. You just need to be a bit picky about which model you choose and be realistic about its limitations.
I’ll list some of the best portable table saws for fine woodworking below. And I’ve got a bit more detail about what to look for when making your choice.
If you just want the bottom line, my picks are:
The Top 5 Portable Table Saws for Fine Woodworking
Let’s look at some of the top portable table saws and the pros and cons of using them for woodworking.
The 30” rip capacity is on the high end of the spectrum for portable table saws. The rip fence has a flip-down auxillary fence for ripping narrow workpieces. That said, the maximum cut depth of 3 1/8” is less than some competitors, but should be fine for most tasks.
The wheeled stand is one of the best designed of all portable table saws. Rather than lifting the saw to open the stand, you simply grab the stand’s handle and walk forward. This is a nice benefit if you need to store the saw out of the way but don’t want to deal with lifting it.
You can use dado stacks up to 13/16” wide using an optional throat plate. This is about as wide as dado stacks get. So you’ll have a wide variety of options when it comes to cutting dados.
The motor is fairly typical for saws in this class. It should handle most projects you throw at it. With particularly thick or hard wood, you’ll want to feed it slowly and steadily.
The miter gauge is adequate for basic home improvement projects. But you’ll want to upgrade to a third party miter-gauge to get the precision you’ll want for woodworking.
I think this is one of the very best portable table saws for woodworking. It’s not perfect, but every saw in this category has some shortcomings.
Read our full review of the Bosch 4100XC-10.
- Smooth, quiet operation
- Comes with auxiliary fence for making narrow cuts
- Huge power button is easy to find in an emergency
- Restart protection in case of power loss
- Heavier than its competitors
- Tends to collect dust inside the cabinet
The DeWalt DWE7491RS has been in DeWalt’s product lineup for a number of years now. Even though they’ve introduced several newer models, the DWE7491RS keeps on selling. It can certainly be used for woodworking, though it is outclassed a bit by some newer models.
It comes with a wheeled stand that makes it easy to move around the shop. This stand isn’t quite as fancy as newer stands from companies like Bosch. But it’s quite stable when locked into position, and pretty easy to raise and lower.
For woodworking, you’ll want a table saw that supports using dado sets. The DWE7491RS can accept up to a 13/16” dado set. But you’ll need to purchase an optional dado throat plate.
You’ll get 3 1/8” of cut depth with a 10” blade. That’s on the lower end of the range for this type of saw. But it’s more than you’d get with an 8 1/4” saw, and should be plenty for most woodworking projects. The motor is fairly powerful but does struggle a little on very hard or very thick materials.
The rip fence is DeWalt’s excellent rack-and-pinion design. Once it’s adjusted, it remains accurate for a long time. And it’s easy to get precise measurements with the adjusting knob.
One area where the DWE7491RS beats most of its competition is in rip capacity. You can rip up to 32 1/2” to the right of the blade and 22” to the left.
The miter gauge, as is typical of all these saws, is not very good. You’ll want to upgrade to a third-party miter gauge for serious woodworking.
I think this saw represents the best overall value for a portable table saw if you want to use it for woodworking. That doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest product on the market. But bear in mind that woodworkers are going to want some features and capabilities that the cheaper saws just don’t have.
Read our full review of the DeWalt DWE7491RS.
- 32 1/2” rip capacity is very large for the category
- Stand is stable and easy to operate
- High-quality rack-and-pinion fence is quite precise
- Power loss reset prevents turning back on accidentally following power loss
- Imprecise miter gauge (might be rectified by now)
- Secondary dust collection port can spew sawdust if not hooked up
The Skil SPT99-11 is one portable table saw that won’t struggle with hard or thick wood. Unlike most of its competition, it uses a worm drive mechanism to connect its motor to the blade arbor. The gearing of the worm drive produces much more torque than the direct-drive system used on most portable table saws. Worm drives are more commonly found on circular saws than on table saws. So it remains to be seen whether this becomes a popular choice for woodworking.
The capacity on the saw is on the high end of the range for this category. It has a maximum cut depth of 3 5/8” with the blade vertical, and about 2 1/4” at a 45° angle. You can rip up to 30 1/2” to the right of the blade and 16 1/2” to the left.
The SPT99-11 allows the use of dado stacks, which is an important feature for most woodworkers. You’ll need to purchase an optional dado throat plate that supports a dado stack up to 13/16” thick.
The stand that ships with the SPT99-11 is quite rugged and has oversized 16” wheels for getting over obstacles. Without the stand, the saw weighs in at just under 53 pounds.
The rip fence is a rack-and-pinion design and is easy to dial in precisely. It’s solid enough that you shouldn’t need to re-measure its setting once you get it properly aligned. The miter gauge is pretty sloppy, just like the other saws I’ve reviewed here. For woodworking, you’ll want to invest in a third-party miter gauge instead.
There aren’t any major shortcomings to this saw, but it’s not perfect. The riving knife can be awkward to adjust or remove due to its tight space. And some customers have reported that the various adjustment knobs and levers are made of a plastic that might not stand up to heavy use.
Overall, these negatives aren’t that worrisome to me. I think this is a great portable jobsite table saw for woodworking, especially if you’ll be dealing with very hard wood.
- Very powerful worm drive cuts through thick and hard material
- 16” wheels for easy transport over uneven ground
- Solid, accurate rack-and-pinion rip fence
- Some customers report flimsy construction causes knobs, levers to break with use
- Inaccurate, sloppy miter gauge
- Riving knife is hard to remove
If safety is your number one concern, you’ll want to look at the SawStop JSS-120A60. SawStop’s patented technology can sense when your finger contacts the spinning saw blade. It stops and retracts the blade in a matter of milliseconds. This can leave you with a small nick rather than a catastrophic injury.
The saw itself is a decent—but not quite excellent—choice for woodworking. It’s quite a bit heavier than the competition at 84 pounds without its cart. That can make it a bit more awkward to move around but also gives it much greater stability when cutting large pieces.
Dado stacks are an important tool for woodworkers. The SawStop supports stacks up to 13/16” thick and 8” in diameter. You’ll be glad to know that SawStop’s braking technology works on dado stacks as well as regular blades. But consult the manual for specifics since some types of dado stacks work better than others with the brake mechanism.
The saw’s rip capacity is pretty average at 25 1/2”. And the depth of cut is on the low side at 3 1/8” with the blade vertical and 2 1/8” at 45°.
The rip fence is a T-style fence where you tap the front into position and then lock it down. The rear of the fence remains free until you lock it. That can make it a little harder to dial in precise measurements than a rack-and-pinion fence where the front and back stay aligned as it moves. You can get the precision you want, but be prepared to take a little more time than with some other saws.
One handy feature is a storage compartment for accessories hidden right beneath a flip-up cover built into the table. An auxillary dust port on the blade guard helps to catch sawdust right at the source.
The SawStop is no different from the other saws in this list in having a sub-par miter gauge. For any sort of precise woodworking, you will want a third-party miter gauge.
To be honest, this saw might not make my “best” list based solely on its cutting ability. But it’s the stopping ability that sets it apart from the competition. Especially if you’re new to using a table saw, it’s hard to overstate how important safety is. You can rest easier knowing you’re protected from severe injury with this saw. Just be prepared for it to be a little more fiddly when setting up your cuts.
- Intuitive blade elevation mechanism makes it easier to lower the blade
- Blade guard captures all table dust
- SawStop sensors protect against fingers contacting the blade
- Low-profile and lightweight design
- Pricier than other models
- The miter gauge is a bit wobbly
The Milwaukee 2736-21HD is the only cordless table saw in my list. It’s only recently that battery technology has gotten sophisticated enough to make cordless table saws a truly viable option. And this Milwaukee saw is one of the best in the category. It takes 8 1/4” blades rather than 10” blades, so its maximum cut depth of 2 1/2” is a bit lower than the others listed here.
Now, let’s be honest. Cordless table saws are most appealing to contractors or DIYers who might be working far away from a power outlet. You gain that flexibility in exchange for needing to keep batteries charged and on hand. Most woodworkers will be doing their thing in a workshop that’s probably already fully wired for electricity.
But you might want a table saw that can serve both purposes. And this is one of the few cordless table saws on the market that I think will really satisfy a woodworker as well as a DIYer. DeWalt, for instance, makes an excellent cordless table saw, but it doesn’t support the dado stacks that are so useful for woodworking.
This Milwaukee saw supports up to 3/4” thick dado stacks. That’s right around the maximum for portable table saws.
The battery life is surprisingly good. You might be able to go a whole day on one charge unless you’re really putting the saw to constant use. Either way it’s a good idea to have a second battery charging and ready to go just in case.
The rip capacity is fairly average at 24 1/2”, just enough to rip a 4’ wide piece of plywood. You will need to calibrate the fence out of the box. But once that’s done, it stays accurate for quite a while.
You should always wait for a spinning blade to come to a complete stop before putting your fingers near it. But it can be frustrating to wait for it to spin down in order to clear debris or set up your next cut. The blade brake on this saw brings the blade to a stop quite quickly, removing the temptation to stick your fingers in prematurely. Note that while this is a nice feature, it’s not an automatic flesh-sensing brake like on a SawStop saw.
No stand is included in the box. You can either use the saw on a benchtop or purchase an optional stand.
Consider whether the freedom of not needing a power outlet is worth needing to keep batteries charged and available. If it’s worth it to you, this is an great choice both for home improvement projects and woodworking.
What to Look For
Woodworkers have a few specific requirements when choosing a portable table saw. For a whole lot more on table saw features, you can also check out our complete guide to buying a table saw.
Many home improvement or construction projects involve cutting either sheet goods like plywood or “two-by” lumber like 2x4s, 2x6s, etc. None of these materials are more than 1 1/2” thick, so almost any table saw blade will work. Woodworkers often find themselves dealing with unusual sizes of wood, often considerably thicker than that.
Ideally, you want a saw that accepts 10” blades, which is the most common size of table saw blade. Just about every blade manufacturer offers their product line in the 10” size. With a 10” blade, you can typically get between 3 1/8” and 3 5/8” of cut depth.
Related: The 9 Best Table Saw Blades
Unfortunately, it’s getting trickier to find portable jobsite table saws that can handle 10” blades. That’s due to recent changes in safety guidelines that limit how large a blade can be relative to the table saw itself. So before too long, you’ll probably be limited to larger table saws if you want a full 10” blade. But not just yet. There are still a number of 10” portable saws on the market, as you’ve seen above.
The 8 1/4” blades that are now becoming standard on portable table saws can be used for woodworking. You’ll still get 2 1/2” to 2 3/4” of cut depth, which is plenty for most projects. If you do need to work with some thicker wood, you might end up needing to make two cuts, one from each side. In that case, you might want to cut it just a little bit long, so you can clean up any unevenness with a hand plane or sander.
Dado Stack Capacity
Dado stacks are a special type of blade used by woodworkers to create dados (long grooves cut partway into a workpiece). These stacks are composed of a number of blades sandwiched together to achieve a specific width of cut.
Not all table saws can support dado stacks, because the saw’s arbor must be long enough to hold the entire stack in addition to the nut that secures the blade. Portable table saws are particularly iffy when it comes to dado stacks, since their engineers need to trade off features like a longer arbor against the goal of making a small, lightweight saw. The maximum width of dado stack that can be mounted varies from about 1/2” up to 13/16”.
If you can’t use a dado stack, you can often achieve the same result with different approaches such as making multiple cuts with a regular blade or using a router. But I’d recommend staying away from table saws that don’t support dado stacks at all, unless you’re 100% sure you’ll never need to use one.
Rip capacity refers to how far you can move the table saw’s fence out from the blade. That dictates how wide a piece you can cut when using the rip fence.
Contractors typically need at least 24” of rip capacity to let them rip a 4’ wide piece of plywood down the middle. The type of woodworking projects you’ll be doing really dictates what sort of rip capacity you need.
For small projects, including smaller pieces of furniture, it’s unlikely you’ll need any more rip capacity than 24”. But large pieces of furniture or cabinetry may require ripping large panels, either of sheet goods or of glued-together lumber. There are a wide variety of portable table saws that’ll give you 24-30” of rip capacity.
Professional cabinet makers use saws with rip capacities of 50” or more that can handle the huge panels they work on. To be honest, I don’t really recommend using a portable jobsite saw for such large projects. You will be spending a lot of time and energy just trying to support the workpiece on the smaller tables. And you may end up in an unsafe situation where the saw is unstable and prone to tipping over. I think if you foresee working on that kind of project, you would do well to consider a contractor, hybrid, or cabinet table saw.
A miter gauge is an essential tool for woodworking with a table saw. You want one that fits securely in the miter slots of your saw, without any side-to-side play. And you want the head to stay at the precise angle you’ve set, cut after cut.
Unfortunately, no portable table saw comes with a miter gauge that I’d consider acceptable for woodworking. They do fine for many construction jobs and home improvement projects. Being half a degree off might not be the end of the world for some of these tasks.
It’s a little bit understandable why manufacturers package these sub-par miter gauges in an effort to keep prices down. But for woodworking, these miter gauges are just too sloppy to get precise, repeatable cuts.
This is one area where you’ll definitely need to look beyond what comes in the box with your saw. There are basically two solutions: crosscut sleds and third-party miter gauges. You may end up wanting both.
There are hundreds of plans on the Internet for different kinds of crosscut sleds. These (partially) replace a miter gauge by providing a large base and fence to secure your workpiece as you pass it through the blade. You can make them as simple or fancy as you like. They’re especially handy for cutting small pieces that would just be too dangerous to cut otherwise.
Even with a sled, you’ll probably find occasions where a miter gauge is the more convenient option. The first thing you should do after buying your portable table saw is put its miter gauge in your junk drawer. Or use it once to convince yourself how sloppy it is, then put it in the junk drawer (we all have one). Upgrade to a third-party miter gauge that will fit snugly in your miter slots and let you dial in precise angles.
Related: The Best Table Saw Miter Gauges
Trust me, upgrading the miter gauge will make a night-and-day difference when doing woodworking on your portable table saw.
All portable table saws come with an adjustable rip fence to help you make rip cuts. Unlike with miter gauges, most of these fences are actually quite good these days.
They’re often made of aluminum to save weight. This does make them a bit more prone to flexing than more expensive steel fences. But most of them are not long enough that this becomes a major problem.
One feature to look for is a flip-down auxillary fence. This lets you more easily rip thin pieces of wood while still keeping your fingers clear of the blade. Not all portable saws have this. It’s not a deal-breaker if yours doesn’t, because you can always make your own. But it’s a bit of a time-saver if it comes built in.
It’s just a reality that the motors on portable jobsite table saws aren’t as powerful as those on larger saws. They’ll struggle on hard or thick material that a cabinet table saw would cruise right through.
You will find a bit of variation in how powerful a motor portable table saws have. But really none of them will be completely immune to this problem.
Your best bet is to make sure you have sharp, clean blades appropriate to the material you’re cutting. Feed the material slowly and steadily through the blade, but not so slowly that it burns the wood. Listen to the motor and be alert for any change in pitch or other sounds that indicate it’s straining. Ease off in that case, or you risk the motor stalling altogether, which could lead to an unsafe situation.
Almost all table saws on the market these days have a port for connecting a vacuum or other dust collector. That’s especially important for woodworking, where you’ll probably be in an enclosed shop where dust can hang in the air and accumulate. Breathing sawdust over the long term is unhealthy, so you should do what you can to keep it out of your eyes and lungs.
Most portable jobsite table saws have either 2 1/4” or 2 1/2” diameter dust ports. Those are common sizes for shop vacuum hoses and connectors. A shop vacuum can do an adequate job of collecting dust from a single tool like a table saw.
If you want to collect dust from more than one tool simultaneously, you’ll want a higher-powered dust collector made for the job. These dust collectors often use a 4” hose, so you’ll need an adapter to connect them to the smaller port on a portable table saw.
Whether it’s to save space or save money, a portable jobsite table saw might appeal to you. But that needn’t stop you from pursuing woodworking using your table saw. A saw like the Bosch 4100-10 will let you tackle just about any woodworking project short of huge cabinets or furniture. And no matter which portable saw you choose, don’t forget to upgrade its miter gauge.