Are table saws absolutely necessary?

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Forum topic by JDJ posted 05-19-2011 05:36 PM 4083 views 0 times favorited 42 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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14 posts in 2779 days

05-19-2011 05:36 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tablesaw

I am just starting my journey into woodworking and have decided to invest in proper tools. Like most people, I don’t have unlimited resources. I want to build furniture and have built quite a few projects from Ana-White. They all utilize pretty simple joinery and I want to move to the next level. I have been using a circ saw and home made guide for all my cuts and have used butt joints almost exclusively. I would like to try out dovetails and mortise and tenons and start integrating rabbets and dados. My plan is to get a router, router table, table saw, and good chisel set (and sharpening materials). The more I think about it though, the less it seems I absolutely need a table saw and chisel set. I will want them eventually but think I can get by for a while without it.

Is there anything I’m missing that I would obviously need a table saw for in small furniture projects? My next few projects are a bathroom cabinet, workbench, and possibly kitchen cabinets if I’m feeling brave

42 replies so far

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3357 days

#1 posted 05-19-2011 05:53 PM

You can largely do without a table saw if you have a combination of other tools. However, you’ll have a hard time ripping thin boards with a circular saw (just not a lot of room to clamp a guide). There are work-arounds, of course, but nothing beats a table saw in that regard.

-- jay,

View stevo_wis's profile


128 posts in 3226 days

#2 posted 05-19-2011 05:54 PM

After 30 years of power tool woodworking, I have moved a lot of my work to hand tools. For small furniture it is much more economical to buy hand tools to do things that just cant be done with power tools.
I have a great table saw and use it when it makes sense, but sometimes it really is out to kill me.
Many folks prefer a band saw over a table saw and I am starting to agree even though I have both.
If it was me, I would buy good chisels, a couple of planes, (stanley # 5 and #6 are around for $40), maybe a couple of good hand saws.
Go ahead with the routers if you like that, though I use mine less and less.
Just my opinion.

-- Stevo

View AUBrian's profile


86 posts in 2870 days

#3 posted 05-19-2011 06:01 PM

A table saw is absolutely not a necessity. In many cases it does make things easier, but if you think about it, people made very nice furniture for hundreds of years without a table saw. Personally, I use mine for ripping, and the occasional dado, but that’s about it. As long as you’re comfortable ripping using your circular saw (And a table saw is essentially just a fixed circ. saw mounted upsidown) I’d say you’re good. But you’ll need the chisels…If anything, to clean up corners after the router, or rabbets, or whatever. But trust me on the chisels.

View dbhost's profile


5767 posts in 3430 days

#4 posted 05-19-2011 06:05 PM

While a table saw isn’t a total necessity, they do make the job much easier, safer and more accurate than alternative methods…

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View Tedstor's profile


1678 posts in 2831 days

#5 posted 05-19-2011 06:13 PM

I never thought I needed a TS, until I owned one. Its a vintage craftsman 8” machine I bought for $40., But even this old beater convinced me that the TS is a “must have”.
SOOOOO much easier and more accurate for ripping lumber than any other machine.
I also like to use mine for crosscutting. I have a miter saw, but it only gets set-up when I have several cuts to make. Otherwise, I grab a crosscut sled that I made in about 30 minutes from scrap, and make my cuts on the TS.

If you enjoy woodworking, I think a TS is a good investment and a fun tool to use.

Do without chisels? Seriously? A decent set of Narex bench chisels will cost you $30. A honing guide, plate glass, and sandpaper to sharpen them will cost about $25. You’ll be glad you have them.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3846 days

#6 posted 05-19-2011 06:16 PM

The table saw is a very useful tool for cabinetmaking with sheet
goods. A track saw system or vertical panel saw can substitute.

The problem with the table saw is it hogs up so much space,
in my opinion. It’s really an old technology and the handheld
circular saw is more convenient in many situations.

Repeatability with portable track saw systems was something
of a problem for awhile, but now at least two have guides
for making accurate repeat rips and repeated square crosscuts.
The downside of such systems is they get costly. For pros,
they are great time savers on job sites.

A small table saw like the older Delta 9” tilt-table model is a
good thing to have for making furniture as they are very
accurate for joinery and can crosscut drawer sides, rip
small pieces and be set and used for grooving drawers
more quickly than a router table.

For cutting the shoulders of tenons, a small, accurate table
saw is a very nice thing to have.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4204 days

#7 posted 05-19-2011 06:20 PM

If time isn’t an issue you don’t need one. But i don’t think i’ve ever met a woodworker where time wasn’t an issue.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View CharlieM1958's profile


16280 posts in 4417 days

#8 posted 05-19-2011 06:25 PM

There is no such thing as an essential power tool, but my tables saw is the last one I would want to live without.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Minorhero's profile


373 posts in 2803 days

#9 posted 05-19-2011 06:37 PM

When you say you have a homemade track saw, I am guessing you are using something as a straight edge and clamping it to the right part on the board then clamping the other end and then running your circular saw up against the straight edge.

That is a fine system and it is what I tend to use for breaking down large sheet goods. However, the main problem with that system is that 1) Its very difficult when you need to make small cuts on small boards, and 2) It takes a lot of time to setup in comparison to a table saw. I the time it takes to clamp up even a small board and then use your circular saw to cut the board I could set the fence accurately within a 64th of an inch, and make the same cut 10 times. If you are doing a lot of cutting the time savings alone pays dividends on owning a table saw.

A table saw with a tenon jig or a crosscut sled and a dado set is also an excellent tool for cutting tenons. Plus a table saw does not have to be super expensive. A good used contractor’s saw can be found for 200 to 400 dollars pretty commonly on craigslist. I would steer clear of the craftsman models if I were you, but otherwise there are lot of good deals out there.

View skippyland's profile


158 posts in 2890 days

#10 posted 05-19-2011 07:00 PM

Personally, I learned woodworking relying on my TS; but I’m sure that there are other alternatives. However, you will be hard put to do router work (squaring out the rounds) without nice sharp chisels. Good luck with your decisions.

-- Skip from Batavia, purveyor of fine and exotic sawdust & chips.

View knotscott's profile


8146 posts in 3574 days

#11 posted 05-19-2011 08:45 PM

Not an absolute necessity but it is the #1 tool of choice in the majority of wwing shops….maybe even vast majority (but I don’t have stats….).

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Jack_T's profile


623 posts in 3230 days

#12 posted 05-19-2011 08:55 PM

I agree that it definitely is not a necessity. Of course, I do have one and use it to do a lot of things. Certainly you can do everything that a table saw does with other power tools, you will just need a lot of other power tools.

If you don’t want to get a table saw because you want to do every thing by hand, then you just need to get some really good hand saws, chisels, planes, and of course a lot of sharpening tools. But that is a style choice.

-- Jack T, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 3016 days

#13 posted 05-19-2011 09:10 PM

I use a band saw as my primary saw and do almost all my ripping on it. For panels I use a circular saw and guide. For most project parts I hand cut for cross cut and joinery and clean up on a shooting board – but sometimes use the band saw if geometry permits. This requires a well tuned band saw but there is lots of guidance on how to do that.

All that said, I finally did break down and buy a small table saw about a year ago (the tiny DeWalt). I did it because I was building a roomful of arts and crafts furniture and there were so many parts and joints that I found I needed the saw to save time and improve repeatability. Since then it has been gathering dust.


-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3267 days

#14 posted 05-19-2011 09:11 PM

Far more furniture has been made without a table saw than with one. (They weren’t even invented until maybe 200 years ago – lol)

Since then, however, they’ve become one of the most indispensable machines in a woodshop. Do you ABSOLUTELY need one? Not really. Would having one simplify your woodworking life? Absolutely. (IMHO)

I’ve been watching the growth of CNC in woodworking and am pretty impressed with the “lunchbox” CNC machines. They’re pretty limited in what they can do, and they’re really expensive, but I’m betting that within 50 years CNC machines will be the “go to” woodshop machines.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15693 posts in 2817 days

#15 posted 05-19-2011 09:14 PM

Based on the path you want to go down (stationary power tools vs. hand tools), a table saw would make the most sense. You’ll appreciate the simple convenience over the tricks you’re performing with the circ saw. Perhaps a used machine that includes a router table on one of the extensions to save space and $s. And I predict you’ll reconsider the no-chisel decision in the not-too-distant future; electric or hand tool shop, at a certain point they’re indispensible. Good luck!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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