I received the following message a while back and I wanted to take some time to answer it. This, of course, is only my opinion based on my own experience. I’ve learned that woodworking opinions are as varied as east is from the west, so I’m sure there is bound to be differing opinions. ;D But I was asked to give my opinion on a very good legitimate question that a lot of new woodworkers might have. The message:
I was looking through your blog and noticed you are considering getting rid of your table saw in anticipation of a move to a smaller shop. I’m on the opposite side of things; I’m in a smaller shop and I’m trying to figure out how to manage without a table saw, and was hoping you might share some of your thought process on woodworking without a table saw. I currently have a Festool track saw, which is doing most of my table saw type work, and got me thinking I don’t need a table saw. That being said, I’m having a heck of a time doing small cuts, or doing a lot of consistent cuts. I also don’t have a band saw, which would make this easier. I’m thinking maybe I get a smaller job site saw (Dewalt 744x, or the like); since I only need a table saw for small cuts. I’m curious if this is something you’ve considered, and what you think about that. Ultimately a band saw is in my future, as I have a ton of thick, rough maple and oak that will need resawing, but since I need it for resawing, I probably need to go with a larger band saw, so more $$$. And of course, a bigger band saw means it takes up more space in my small shop…
Anyways, I apologize for the long message, but I’d appreciate any guidance you might be able to offer.
Thank you for your message. You’ve made some really good points and I believe you’re line of thinking is right on. The first thing I would tell someone like you who is just starting out, is take what others are going to tell you with a huge grain of salt, even me. I can give my opinions until I am blue in the face and at the end of the day it doesn’t mean the same to you as it does me, because you may work differently or approach a task differently than I, or anyone else for that matter, would. You’ll have to decide what best will suit your particular needs. As I reread your message I think you already know which way you’re leaning, which is great! However, I think you’ll find I have a unique perspective on this issue. Because I am a semi-professional furnituremaker I have to constantly balance speed and efficiency when making my pieces for shows, galleries, custom commissions or even personal. That said, for a majority of my years spent woodworking, my cabinet saw has been the most important and central tool in my shop. It’s been only in the last year or so that the workhorse for my shop has dramatically shifted from the table saw to the band saw. I think two of the main reasons for the shift are my comfort level using hand tools and a concerted effort to find consistent ways to use my band saw for cuts that typically were made on my table saw. As I started to realize that eventually I need to have a dedicated shop space I also realized that if we are going to stay in the house we’ve been in for any length of time I am going to be limited on the size of shop I could have and most likely smaller than the three car garage I currently enjoy. It would be physically impossible to move all that I have into a smaller space, so I need to decide what tools will make the move and what is just nice to have. So what tools do I have that are just convenience tools? For example, the easiest cuts to make on a table saw are rip cuts. I’ve never just made a rip cut on a saw and called it good regardless of what saw I used. I always follow up with something whether power jointer or hand plane. So do I need a full size cabinet saw to do it? The answer is no, a cabinet saw is convenient but not necessary for me. For that operation my band saw will work just fine, end cuts can be made on a miter saw or using my Festool saw on my MFT, sheet goods can be cut on a sacrificial foam pad with the Festool saw, etcetera. You’ll need to just go through the operations you do the most to determine what tool best suits the cuts you make most often. Because you are already using your Festool track saw, you’ve already somewhat supplemented what a table saw has to offer.
But since you are curious, the shorter answer is yes I will replace my cabinet saw with a smaller contractors saw like the sawstop version or an even smaller tabletop version like the Bosch 4100, as it is the only one in that size that can take a small dado blade set. As a matter of fact the only reason I still use my table saw these days are when I work with sheet goods and for using the dado blade. Could I manage to do the same things without it, well yes, but I’ve been so used to having a table saw I would definitely notice a drop in speed if I didn’t have one, however I think it is more likely just a convenience factor. But you are in a better position than I am to forgo a table saw because you’ve not gotten used to using one in your shop over the course of several years. So I guess if you’re asking me and if that is the way you are leaning, I would highly recommend looking at the Bosch for your particular needs, as I think it will give you the best all around solution. That is probably the direction I will go when the time comes, although I really like the Sawstop contractor model. Hopefully they will come out with a table top model soon!
As far as the rest of your question. I am very fortunate to have two band saws. One is a more industrial 21″ saw with a 3HP motor and the other is a more typical 14″ saw found in a lot of small shops with a 1HP motor and a riser block. I keep a 3tpi 1″ blade on the bigger saw and a 6tpi 3/8″ blade on the smaller one. Both are Grizzly tools and both I really like. If cost is an issue for you, they are ones I would recommend looking at. If I had it to do over again I would get the most saw I could afford without breaking the bank. I’ve spent the last ten plus years with just the 14″ band saw and it has done everything I have asked of it, that is, everything within reason. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I probably would have gone with their 17″ saw if I knew I could only have one. It seems the best bet for the balance of capacity, power and cost (I think you can get them for less than $1K). Also if I was limited to only one band saw, I would use a 4tpi 1/2″ blade for it like a woodslicer blade or a timberwolf blade (which is what the brand I use currently), as it is the best all around blade size I’ve used, and that is what I would recommend for you. Unless you like changing blades, then get as many different sizes as you want!
One suggestion I could give to you is to start looking at how others make and to start practicing making jigs, jigs, and more jigs. I think that figuring out how to make and use jigs and fixtures for the tools you have is your biggest challenge right now. Once you’ve made a jig or fixture to help you make consistent cuts or smaller cuts, you will find your desire for something else will subside. But that sense of frustration that we all get when we can’t figure out a better, easier or faster way to make a cut is something that plagues us all. It’s one of those things that will come with time and experience, so you’ll have to be patient and just work through it, just don’t get so consumed with making jigs and fixtures for projects that you forget to make projects, which happens more often than not! And don’t be shy about asking others if you have questions! There are several of us out there that are professional or semi-professional that are more than willing to help spread our knowledge and experience. That’s the great thing about social media and the internet; experts are always at your fingertips.
I know that is a very long-winded answer and I hope it helps some, but there is a lot to be said regarding the subject and I only covered some highlights. Let me know what you all think about the subject as I think this could lead to a great discussion. Also if you have any questions or need advice about an issue you are having, feel free to contact me! Thanks for stopping by.
P.S. I wanted to throw in a photo, so here is a project I worked on Memorial Day. It is a set of plaques I made for the USMC Command I work for as my “day job”. It included making a 1/4″ pattern, a 3/4″ template, cutting and prepping 11 plaques for finishing (the two on top had already been pre-made)….Oh and no I did not use my cabinet saw. Only hand saw to break down the rough material, small band saw to cut them out, spindle sander to sand the edges and smoothing plane to finish the faces. All told less than 4 hours start to finish, including clean-up time.