Buying a first decent table saw is one of the biggest leaps that most woodworkers ever make. Unfortunately, over the years the process has involved countless souls in an agonizing decision, and often a major compromise. Naturally, everyone wants the best tools on the market, but as we all know, the best costs more – sometimes a lot more. That’s especially true when it comes to table saws: Even when you rule out top of the line European-style saws, the price range in table saws tops out well beyond the reach of many hobbyists.
Until a few years ago, the problem was a matter of selection. In the past, the average woodworker had really only two types of saw to consider: "contractor" style saws and “cabinet” saws. The choice between the two was always an obvious one - if you take money and the ability to transport heavy equipment out of the question. Cabinet saws - with their larger motors, fully enclosed bases, and huskier, better quality moving parts - are easier to use, easier to hook up to a dust collector, generally more accurate, and certainly more powerful. But on the down side, cabinet saws typically fetch twice as much as the less advantageous contractor style. Along with that, they’re so heavy that moving one without help - or a forklift - is out of the question. Consequently, many woodworkers have ultimately “settled” for the less expensive option, ending up with a saw that’s arguably a huge step down from the most affordable in the cabinet saw class.
In recent years, however, manufacturers have taken notice of this gulf and formulated an admirable response: the “hybrid” saw. An entirely new category of saw, hybrid table saws capture some of the most valuable features of the cabinet saw at a price that's still in range for the hobbyist. They're lighter weight, and they’re equipped with motors in the 1-1/2 - 1-3/4 HP range (which means that they can be used with standard 110 volt service). For many, hybrid saws represent the wave of the future for home shops. And while they're not in quite the same class as their larger cousins, hybrid saws are sturdy and well constructed, and offer many advantages for the serious hobbyist.
Some hybrid saws have a cabinet type of base and others have a shorter base and legs, but in either case, the base is fully enclosed, with the motor mounted inside the base, instead of on the back of the saw, as with a contractor saw. Hybrid saws are equipped with more substantial trunnions and arbor bearings, often a more advanced drive belt system, and better gearing than most contractor saws. In addition, the trunnions of many hybrid saws are mounted to the base of the saw, making precision alignment of the blade with the miter slot and the blade much easier.
The hybrid saw concept is such a good one, in fact, that in only a few short years the selection has grown to the point where choosing the best one could constitute a sizeable research challenge. But right this minute, if you’re sold on the idea and just need a little help making a decision, help isn’t far away. There’s an excellent head-to-head comparison of six front runners in the November issue of Popular Woodworking. In “Compromise or Cure-All”, Troy Sexton covers all the important points at which a hybrid saw should do a decent job of emulating the cabinet saw design, including power, operating smoothness, the fence system, dust collect-ability, the guard system, and general usability features.
The article's worth the read, especially if you’re on the cusp of buying a new saw - so, we won’t spoil it for you. But we can tell you this: Jet Tools’ new Proshop (708482K) tied for first place as “Editor’s Choice”, with top scores in two of the most important table saw considerations: motor power and fence performance. And if you’re looking for a tie-breaker between the Proshop and the other top choice - Steel City’s 35601 - it isn’t hard to spot. The Jet lists for $200 less.