Cabinet or Contractors Tablesaw?

People often ask: "Will I be happy with a contractor's saw or should I buy a cabinet saw?"
The answer is: you can be happy with either.  You need to make the decision based on your own personal needs.

I saw my first Unisaw when I was young and always dreamed of owning one.   I also dreamed of owing a Porsche.   When I bought a my first car it was a Honda Civic, then a Toyota Corolla.  When I moved into my first house and had space for a workshop, I bought a Delta contractor's saw.  That's what I could afford at the time.  Since then I've upgraded to Unisaw.

There are obviously some differences between these saws.    Here are some things to think about.

First difference is cost. A cabinet tablesaw will cost about double a contractor's saw.  Some will argue that you can buy a cheap cabinet saw for little more than an expensive contractor's saw, but for the sake of arguement, I'm comparing saws made by the same manufacturer.

Another difference between these two tablesaws is power.  Today, a contractor's saw will typically have a 1½-HP motor and a cabinet saw will have a 3-HP motor.  Does it make a difference? Yes. Do you need 3-HP? Depends.  When you lack power you will find that the blade slows down when you're cutting thick hardwood like 8/4 maple (2" thick).    One way to overcome that, obviously, is to feed the wood more slowly, but that can occasionally cause problems.  Another solution is to use a more efficient blade.   The blade is thinner so it's removing less wood.  Using a thin kerf blade makes a contractor's saw feel more powerful.  I felt there wasn't anything I couldn't cut well with my contractor's saw and a thin kerf blade.

One good arguement in buying a cabinet saw over a contractor's saw is it's dust collection ability. Because of it's open back design, it's very hard, if not impossible, to collect the dust produced by a contractor's saw.   A cabinet saw, on the other hand, is completely sealed and you can get extremely good results removing dust with a good dust collector connected properly to a cabinet saw.   Most people don't appreciate how much irritating dust is until they use a contractor saw for a while.  It's not just the sawdust that falls to the ground, it's the fine sawdust that floats in the air.

This is not something that everyone realizes at first, but a cabinet tablesaw takes less room than a contractor's saw.  Because a contractor's saw has a motor that hangs off the back, it can't be placed up close to a wall.  A cabinet saw has it's motor under the table inside the cabinet.  The footprint of a contractor's saw is actually larger.

A good quality contractor's tablesaw has plenty of heavy cast iron.  Heavy cast iron dampens vibration.  Less vibration means truer cuts.  A cabinet saw has even more cast iron, less vibration and truer cuts.  A cabinet saw is also slightly quieter than a contractor's tablesaw, but choice of blades will have more to do with the level of sound than anything else.

What does "lasts a lifetime" mean? You will often hear that a cabinet saw will last a lifetime. People often assume that to mean that a contractors saw won't.... that it will wear out someday. That's not the case. A well built contractors saw could last just as long as a cabinet saw which should be several generations. "Lasting a lifetime" really refers to an owner's long term satisfaction. A contractor's saw will most probably physically last a lifetime or more, but it may not last an owner's lifetime if at some point down the road the desire for a cabinet saw causes them to upgrade. .

For some people the pride of owning a cabinet saw, like a Unisaw, is a real factor. People own all sorts of things including cars, boats, and homes for more than just simple neccessity. Not everyone feels that way about tools, and that's fine for them. But don't discount what seems to be a trivial point. Pride of ownership can be a valid reason for buying a cabinet saw. It was for me.

Plenty of people can make better furniture than I can, with a contractors saw.  Did I need it?  I'm a weekend warrior not a professional woodworker using a saw every day.  I could have functioned very well with my old contractor's saw.  There wasn't anything I couldn't cut well with a thin kerf blade.

Size was a big factor. I've got all my machines crammed into a 2 car garage that must also fit a van and a golfcart.  Every tool is on wheels and get's pushed into the corners and against the wall.  I really appreciate the smaller footprint of my Unisaw.  And it's much easier and healthier to have good dust collection on a saw.

But the main reason I upgraded from my Delta contractor's saw to my Unisaw is....... because it's my Porsche!

© 2008 Mark Goodall