In the family basement, Craftsman, Dewalt and Ryobi table saws wake up for the weekend to cross-cut 2x4s, ready to contribute their part to the new living room shelf assembly. Huddled over a crowded table somewhere, the model-makers, toy-makers and musical instrument-makers long for the ease and precision of the common table saw. Sometimes, a standard portable or benchtop table saw made for a 10” blade is just too big. Other times, a 10” blade is just what we need. Finding the small table saw that meets your personal needs takes a little research. To make your search a little easier, we’ve gathered some specifications and attributes of popular brands (and some not-so-popular brands) of power micro table saws, power benchtop table saws, and portable wheeled power table saws.
Table of Contents
Micro Table Saws
Unfortunately, the “common” 10” table saw doesn’t easily meet HO scale requirements for trains, planes and automobiles. Likewise, the common table saw has no consideration for the intricacies of a Victorian doll house or the delicate wood that fancies a ship builder’s dream in a bottle. To the instrument maker, size equals sound. To the model-airplane crafter, weight equals drag. Small has power. Thankfully, micro table saws are ready to oblige those people that find joy in the little things.
“Small” projects can be far more time consuming than large projects. But unsteady hands, aging eyes, and imprecise cuts can quickly destroy a small-scale project. Hand tools have their place, but powered tools give our limited hands a big helping hand. Micro table saws, portable table saws and benchtop table saws give woodworkers and crafters the power they need to produce with precision the scale of their project.
Micro table saws take up no more flat space than the original case your power drill came in, and are no taller (and are often smaller) than a small home printer. Micro table saws are lighter than an old-school TV, and easier to work than a sewing machine. Skilled metalworkers and mechanics sometimes find themselves making their own 4” micro table saw so they can cut to their specifications while fabricating specialty parts, but not everyone wants to make their own small table saw. Fortunately, micro table saws can be bought online or by phone and delivered to your home. If you’re lucky, your local hobby specialty store may be a distributor for a popular brand.
Manufactures & Brands
The primary manufacturers of micro table saws are currently Jarmac, Proxxon, Byrnes, Micro-Mark and Harbor Freight’s Chicago Electric brand. These are brands more familiar to crafters and model-making hobbyists than they are to power tool users. (With the exception of Harbor Freight of course.) If you’re lucky, you might find a used Inland Craft or Dremel. These stopped being produced because of company changes.
Jarmac is based in the United States and has been around for 30 years, and now leans to serve the stained glass industry. Jarmac Tools claims to be the originator of the 4” table saw, and they make a sturdy saw. Jarmac’s small table saws run between $200 and $350 and have a range of options and accessories.
Also in the United States is Byrnes Model Machine (Florida) where you can get a quality precision micro table saw for just under $500. If you’d rather buy from the guy next door than a big company and get a quality precision product, this is where you should buy your small table saw from. Both the Jarmac and Byrnes model are solid metal machines.
Like Jarmac Tools, Germany-based Proxxon has been around for over 30 years. However this company has captured some of the the micro table saw customers that would have otherwise gravitated towards the popular Dremel 580 table saw which is no longer manufactured. Proxxon’s small hobby table saw runs in the $300-$400 range and you can even find one at Sears online. Micro-Mark has grown from a model-parts company to a model-tool company, and has made its mark in the world of small table saws. You can find a low-end model for under $200 or venture into the $300 range.
Harbor Freight, as expected, has the cheapest model mini table saw for about forty bucks. If you only want a mini table saw for occasional use where precision and durability aren’t critical and you aren’t using specialty materials or thick materials – the Mighty-Mite is for you. Why is it so cheap? Cheap blade (which you can change), no blade tilt, and slow motor (.9 amps) are a couple reasons. You’re also very limited on the material you can cut with this mini table saw. It weighs about as much as a gallon of milk, which means not a lot of material is there to keep it sturdy.
Byrnes’ small table saw on the other hand, is solid metal, very precise – and very expensive. If you’re a serious hobbyist, or just appreciate well-made power tools, it’s worth every metal penny. One look at the miter gauge and you know the guy is obsessed with accuracy. For durability and precision you won’t find a better mini table saw than Byrnes.
Although Proxxon is based in Germany, not all of the parts for the table saw are made in Germany, and you should not expect “German engineering” quality. That said, there are many people happy with their Proxxon mini table saw. Each person has their own list of pros and cons they need to take into consideration when buying a power tool.
Power Benchtop Table Saws (without wheels, or wheels extra)
If you need a standard table saw for 10” blades, but don’t have the room for a standing cabinet table saw, you can always ask your kids to give up their room. If they object, or lack of space is truly an issue, a benchtop table saw (also called a compact table saw) should suit your needs. Whereas the micro table saws are under two feet, small benchtop table saws start at two feet. A benchtop table saw without wheels will take up about as much room as a desktop computer setup with an old bulky monitor.
A benchtop table saw is considered a portable table saw because a physically fit person can pick it up and move it from job site to job site. The most consistently available brands for benchtop table saws are Dewalt, Bosch and Makita. The Makita brand is the most expensive, but it does have an extension that allows you to rip a full sheet of plywood and it has more blade options, particularly for Dado makers.
Which Compact Tablesaw is right for me?
If you use a Dado blade, you can cut the Dewalt DW745 off your list. Many reviewers were disappointed to find out that they could not use their Dado set with the DW745 Dewalt benchtop. (Dewalt confirms this.) If Dado blades are a necessary part of your work, the Makita is likely your benchtop saw of choice. The Makita can adjust for through and non-through dado cuts, and can take up to a 13/16 dado blade. Even the $130 Harbor Freight benchtop table saw has a dado spindle and can do 1/2” cuts. Dewalt made a great benchtop table saw, but disappointed the Dado makers.
If you’re a beginner, or you don’t do any serious woodworking but like to dabble, the Harbor Freight benchtop table saw is a surprisingly good choice. Although not great on accuracy, it does have an automatic shut off for the motor if you start to burn it out from improper use. You can’t rip through any heavy exotic heavy hardwoods or build exquisite cabinetry with the cheap Harbor Freight table saw, but you can do those once a month weekend projects without breaking the bank (and hopefully without burning out the motor). Surprisingly, the Central Machinery Industrial benchtop table saw by Harbor Freight received some good reviews from around the web.
Small Powerful Portable Table Saws with Wheels
When you’re doing your table saw shopping, expect to see some heavy-duty professional portable table saws. But if you’re not working 80 hours a week on a construction site, you can still be assured you’ll find a good small portable table saw with wheels to meet your needs that’s in a reasonable price range.
Product Comparison: Which Saw delivers?
Craftsman, Porter-Cable and Ryobi all have small portable table saws for under $300. You can get a Bosch or Dewalt portable table saw with job site quality in the $600-$700 range. The small power table saws in the chart below all come with wheels, they all have collapsible stands, they are all capable of ripping a 3” thick oak board, and they all run with a 15-amp motor. Each allows you to rip a conventional sheet of plywood in half. They all have a riving knife, anti-kickback pawls, and a blade guard for safety. They also all have ports for dust control, although only the Craftsman and Ryobi come with a dustbag.
The Ryobi RTS30 has been reported to struggle a bit with thick boards, but it does cut 3/4” boards just as well as the others in its price range. The Ryobi has its qualities, you can keep the blade guard up for visibility (that feature is lacking on the Craftsman JT2502RC and Porter-Cable PCB220TS), but if you’re cutting thick wood, opt for another brand.
The Porter-Cable PCB220TS is very similar to the Craftsman JT2502RC, but it stands ahead of the others because it has a blade-tilting handwheel – a power saw trait the Craftsman and Ryobi are without. If bevels are the beloved part of your woodworking and you are on a limited budget, the Porter-Cable power table saw is a good choice for you. Not only do you get a blade-tilting handwheel, but the motor mount is reportedly sturdier on the Porter-Cable than it is on the Craftsman or Ryobi. That translates into points for durability. If you have the extra money, and cutting bevels are a frequent and crucial part of your work, keep in mind that the Dewalt and Bosch portable saws listed here have a lever mechanism that makes it easy to tilt from 90 degrees to 45 degrees.
The Bosch 4100-09 and Dewalt DW744XRS each have a soft start motor, which decreases the harsh wear and tear on active motor parts and makes those models more likely to last longer. (And also contributes to the higher price.) When you pay more for a portable power table saw, you tend to get a smoother cut and a better machine. The “value” question is – do you need it? How often do you really use your table saw? If you’re just a weekend wood-sawing warrior having fun with new projects for around the house, the Porter-Cable power saw listed here will probably meet your needs. If money isn’t an issue, take a look at the Bosch and Dewalt portable power saws. These two power saws are well worth their investment and both have consistent rave reviews from multiple sources.
One trait that sets the Bosch apart from the Dewalt is height. At full height, it’s almost 40” – a blessing for the backs of tall people. The Dewalt is about half a foot shorter. (Short people may prefer the Dewalt.) For sturdiness though, Dewalt wins the prize. Dewalt smartly made this portable power saw stand with splayed legs flat to the ground and wheels uplifted on the side. (Ryobi has sturdy legs and a similar design, however the legs are thinner than the Dewalt’s.) That sturdy design also means (at least between the Bosch and Dewalt) that the Bosch 4100-09 is easier to set up. The Bosch has also been commended for having the best wheels, and has an easy flip-switch setup for the legs. If you’re frequently bebopping from site-to-site, you might prefer the Bosch over the Dewalt. If you’re pretty much at the same site all day and you’re throwing heavy wood and full sheets of plywood up to rip, you might prefer the Dewalt.
The rack-and-pinion fence on Dewalt’s DW744XRS has been praised by perfectionists for staying perfectly parallel to the blade. Similarly, the Bosch 4100-09 fence has been praised for its consistently firm lock-down. Bosch gets bonus points though for having a T-slot for featherboards – a feature this Dewalt doesn’t have. Dewalt also doesn’t have a T-track for the miter gauge bar, and neither does the Craftsman JT2502RC. If you do a lot of wider cross cuts that could be an issue unless you make your own or add one on. It’s also reported that the Ryobi RTS30 and Dewalt DW744XRS are lacking the standard miter gauge slot, which limits what accessories can be used. For extensive miter work, the Bosch 4100-09 is your better choice.
Shopping for a small table saw takes time. By eliminating the table saws that don’t have the features you need you’ll be able to whittle away your choices until you find the perfect portable small table saw that fits your interests, preferences and lifestyle.
Books on Table Saws
Although the Internet has more information on small table saws than there are particles of sawdust in a cabinet maker’s home, good old-fashioned books still provide a great resource for information – and don’t require electricity or an Internet connection. Popularmechanics has a book authored by Rick Peters on the fundamentals of table saws – appropriately named: “Table Saw Fundamentals: The Complete Guide”.
It has clear visuals and instructions for the beginning woodworker to help build expertise on not only using a table saw, but also how to refine their skills making joints, dadoes, miters and other fundamental techniques woodworkers aspire to master. It also includes a section on how to troubleshoot and maintain your table saw, along with a few woodworking projects you could challenge yourself with. This a great addition – or great beginning – for your workshop library.
Taunton Press specializes in fine homebuilding and fine woodworking books and magazines. They have an illustrative book on table saws authored by Paul Anthony, titled Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Table Saws.
If you’re a visual person just learning how to use a table saw, you’ll appreciate the beauty of the step-by-step directions in easy to follow sequential pictures. The book is not without expertly written words, and you’ll find plenty of information on how to upgrade your woodworking techniques and even what jigs are best for your woodworking project.
You can buy these table saw books online at amazon for a quick delivery, or you can visit your local library and browse through the books at home without paying a dime. It is better to own them though to have them at hand if need be.
Owning your first table saw is a big step towards taking your woodworking and model making hobbies more seriously, and a big step towards productivity and professionalism. Whichever table saw you choose, it’s sure to become an indispensable part of your shop, and you’ll wonder how you ever survived without one. Just be sure to step away from the sawdust every now and then and get some fresh air.
You always need time to daydream about your next project.
PS: Click here if you want to know how table saws compare to band saws!