• Friday, February 05th, 2021
table saw

A reader who recently sold his table saw asked about managing without it.

If you have been reading this blog over the years, you probably know my opinion. Of the five major small shop machines – table saw, bandsaw, jointer, planer, and router table/shaper – the most dispensable is the table saw.

Don’t get me wrong, the table saw is certainly helpful and I don’t want to give up my Saw Stop. It is great for clean, accurate ripping and crosscutting among other tasks. But you can still build everything you want without that cast iron landing pad with an emergent blade, just not as fast or conveniently.

I suggest the following tools as keys to working efficiently without a table saw. The links give lots more information. 

1.  Bandsaw! This takes up much less shop space than a table saw, though you still need infeed and outfeed space. 

You can rip quite accurately on a well-tuned bandsaw. Decent crosscutting can be achieved with or even without the miter gauge though you will need outboard support. And, of course, the bandsaw is much more versatile than the table saw. 

No bandsaw either? I could still do just about everything by hand (but I really, really don’t want to) with my Disston ripsaw, wide and narrow-blade bowsaws, an inexpensive crosscut breakdown saw, large and medium ryoba saws, a Gyokucho “05” crosscut kataba, the wonderful Bad Axe hybrid backsaw, and a few more. 

2. Cross-grain shooting board with an appropriate, ideally dedicated, plane. Here’s how I made my current one. This will clean up your crosscuts like no other tool on earth, hand or power.

3. Long-grain shooting board. This underutilized technique is great for accurately and conveniently cleaning up short to medium length rip cuts. My current board accommodates work up to about three feet. This is very easy to make and does not really require a dedicated plane, though I prefer my Lie-Nielsen #9. 

4. A jack plane, or better yet, a jack and a jointer, round out the essentials for the shop without a table saw. 

This is all in addition to the usual complement of hand tools and machines that you would want to have with or without a table saw.

By the way, my longstanding recommendations for machinery remain: for your first machine, get a thickness planer. Then get a bandsaw. Then get a jointer, 12” or wider, if you can. Build a router table. And, yea, get a table saw too, if you can. 

Category: Tools and Shop
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10 Responses

  1. 1
    Phillip Huber 

    I sold my table saw a year go to save room in my home shop. I’m happy with the increased space and have used it as an opportunity to increase my skills with other tools.
    I agree with the points you made here. About the only thing that I’ve missed about the table saw is the ability to cut larger plywood panels to size.
    Now I use a circular saw with a shop-made edge guide. Like all tools, there is a skill to using them well. And this setup is no exception.

  2. 2
    Peter Oster 

    I think the track saw is a game changer. Table saws are essential for processing sheet goods (plywood). The track saw replaces them. Even before a bandsaw the track saw can be used as a “kerfing saw” to keep a handsaw straight. A router used with a track can do the rabbets and dados of a table saw. Throw in a handheld electric planer to “joint” one side of a board and then follow your suggestions for stationary machines.

  3. 3

    Thanks for the comments, Phillip and Peter.

    That makes perfect sense, Phillip. I almost never use large sheets of plywood (unless I making a jig or doing a household DIY) so I didn’t think of that. Peter, yea, your good ideas take it further. I’d still have to say that the bandsaw’s versatility (resawing, curves, tenons, etc.) keep it my favorite.


  4. 4

    I could live without my tablesaw for my nice woodworking projects, but not for the various home projects. Of course I could do without but I like it for that stuff the most. Had I bought a bandsaw first my opinion likely would be different.

  5. I like your overall recommendations but being unemployed, I have a few points to add. I have found that the tablesaw is the ultimate ripping machine; hence its utility with plywood and sheetgoods in general. It’s also the best tool that I have found for ploughing grooves. A tablesaw can put grooves in components with knots and alternating grain that would be impossible with a plough plane.
    I’ve just had an experience with using a jointer/thicknesser (12″ bed) and so I want to know whether their emergence on the market changes the order of your machine purchase priorities.

  6. 6

    That’s a good question! 12″ j-p combos have been around a while. If a woodworker developing a home shop could afford a decent one for at least $2K as a first machine, then yea, go for it. But for many, that’s a big commitment early on. Otherwise, I’d still suggest a DW735, now about $650, for a first machine. Then build from there.

    You won’t outgrow the DW735 and if that’s the only planer you ever have, you’d be doing very well. I still use mine though I upgraded to the Shelix cutterhead 10 years ago. The Shelix may be the single best tool in my shop of any kind, hand or power. I wrote a series of posts on it, which you can find in the Series tab on this blog.


  7. 7

    I made a table saw from plywood & and upside down circular saw when I started. When I decided I was serious, I was going to buy a sawstop.

    I got into hand planes and interested in milling my own lumber. When I saved up, I bought a 14″ bandsaw instead. I took apart my table saw. I later bought a track saw but have rarely used it.

    Dust & noise in my basement are an issue. A dust collector to upgrade from the shop vac was the next big purchase. I have much less dust around the bandsaw after a cut now.

    I think there should be consideration for dust with power tools.

  8. 8

    Sounds good, Tom. As you probably have read, my suggestions for a small shop bandsaw are: steel frame with at least 12″ resaw height and 2 1/2 HP motor. Oneida’s Mini Gorilla cyclone collectors now look better than ever, though I’m still liking my older model Mini Gorilla.


  9. 9

    Doc, great to meet you in person today!
    When I downsized a few years ago I gave my tablesaw to my son. I’ve missed it at times but as I showed you my Kreg ACS tracksaw-table, with a quality dust extractor, really does everything I need at this point in lieu of a “cast iron landing pad” tablesaw. Excellent accuracy and almost more importantly repeatability.
    Good to note that you and some others are not necessarily tied to a tablesaw as a must have, although still nice to have.
    All the best in woodworking, Bill

  10. 10

    Thanks, Bill, pleasure to see you too.

    There are several posts on this blog that you can find through the search box or under the Series Topics tab about table saw issues especially vis a vis the bandsaw. In my opinion, there is no question that a good bandsaw is the machine that can do the most to expand a woodworker’s range of work. I suggest: steel frame (forget the classic 6″ iron frame saws), >=12″ resaw height, and at least 2.5HP motor. Powermatic, Laguna, etc, make good saws.

    Happy woodworking!