Table saw parts diagram
Photo: Anastassios Mentis
The Essentials

Blade
Most saws come standard with a general-purpose 10-inch carbide-tipped blade, which can crosscut a 4x4. Replacing it with a better, 40-tooth combination blade (about $60) dramatically improves the quality of cuts. Specialty blades handle particleboard and other materials.

Anti-kickback pawls
Two sharp-toothed arms that prevent the workpiece from moving backward. They'll work even better if you sharpen them using a smooth-cut file.

Splitter (riving knife)
Vertical metal piece directly behind the blade that keeps the blade from binding in the workpiece if the saw kerf starts to close up. An essential anti-kickback device, it should mount on the motor assembly so it rises and falls along with the saw blade. Some splitters also adjust to match the width of the kerf.

Rip fence
Controls the width of the rip. Must lock parallel to the saw blade at every setting. Look for a fence that grabs onto and rides on front and back rails and that can be adjusted for parallel.

Table size
More table means more work-support surface, so bigger is always better. An optional right-side extension can increase the saw's capacity to reach the center of a 4x8 sheet. Most saws come with a rear bar, which helps support the workpiece as it exits, but you should still rig up outfeed support—a stand, sawhorses, or a table—that's ¼ inch lower than the saw itself.

Table insert (throat plate)
The plate that fits around the blade. It must be level with the table surface—in some cases it needs to bea shimmed—and fit closely around the blade or else small pieces will drop through.

Support at the right height
To make your saw as sturdy as possible, screw it through the holes provided (or at least clamp it) to a wood table with wide-spaced legs that's tall enough to put the worktop at 36 inches. Anything higher will raise the saw too high for comfort and safety, unless you are very tall.

On/Off switch
Should be front-mounted and easy to swat or knee to "off" position without looking. Most saws have either a plastic safety key, which must be inserted before you can switch the power on, or a way to padlock the switch.

Collapsible stand
Some saws come with a folding stand, or they are offered as an option. While convenient, few stands are as stable as a sturdy wooden bench.

Elevation wheel
Controls blade height and depth of cut. On a 10-inch saw, the blade should be about 3 inches high when fully raised, to let you saw 4x material.

Blade tilt handle
Angles the blade for bevel cuts up to 45 degrees left (away from the rip fence). Look for an adjusting screw or bolt that lets you set the 90- and 45-degree stop points precisely.

Total weight
The heavier the saw, the more stable but the less portable. Most bench-top table saws weigh between 40 and 90 pounds.

Miter gauge
Removable fixture for square and mitered crosscuts. Must fit snugly and move freely in the saw's table slots. Look for one that can be calibrated at 45 and 90 degrees.

Blade guard
Protects the user from the spinning blade, and must never be removed. Look for one that rises up parallel to the table so it stays on top of the workpiece.

Exhaust duct
Exit point for debris on back of saw. Look for one that fits a wet/dry vac or use a trash can under the duct to catch the material.

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