Do I Need a Table Saw for Woodworking?

A table saw is a woodworking tool that many would say they simply cannot live without.

They are able to rip, cross-cut, and bevel without missing a beat.

However, they are big, expensive, and can be dangerous if not used properly. That being said, do you really need a table saw? 

Although a table saw is able to accomplish a wide array of cuts through only one machine, it is not a tool woodworkers must-have. There are hand tool alternatives for ripping, cross-cutting, and completing miter, bevel, dado, and tenon cuts. Still, they are highly beneficial if you can invest in one. 

It may seem unconventional to not have a table saw in your workshop, but this is a tool that can be easily replaced by hand tools if you are someone that prefers to work without one.

While most woodworkers would argue that table saws are a staple component in your woodworking shop, continue reading to discover different cuts that various hand tools are capable of completing if you are looking for a table saw alternative. 

Table Saw Functions and Hand Tool Replacements 

A table saw is a type of tool that can get it all done.

They are a tool that many woodworkers would say they could not live without.

However, this tool can be easily replaced by a few different hand tools which are more than capable of completing the same functions as the table saw itself. 

Even more, depending on the scale of your projects, hand tools can sometimes even out-perform a table saw.

This is not to say that you should toss your table saw and get on board with the “hand tools only” club, but it is important to note that a table saw is not an essential tool for every woodworker. 

If you find yourself hesitating with the risks that come behind a table saw or you simply do not have space in your shop, using a hand tool alternative for the different functions of a table saw is just as easy and effective.

Ultimately, this comes down to what you are most comfortable with or at least willing to learn if you plan to replace a table saw with a hand tool in your woodworking ventures.

Table saw functions and hand tool replacements include: 

Ripping

Without a doubt, ripping is one of the most often used functions of a table saw in woodworking.

Table saws are able to rip efficiently and in a way that prevents too much material from being spat out into the air and in your direction.

However, ripping is a forceful task and even with the sharpest blade, is one that requires quite a bit of power.

With that being the case, when using a table saw to rip, you may have a clean cut, but there is a certain amount of risk involved. 

If you do not want to worry about your table saw sending a piece of wood flying off the table, try reaching for a bandsaw to complete all your ripping needs.

With a bandsaw, force is applied in a downward motion rather than a circular one like the table saw.

This means less risk when in the middle of ripping and more control over the piece you are working with. 

A bandsaw offers more safety, solid ripping, and less power when compared to a table saw.

Keep in mind though, the cut with a bandsaw is not as clean as that of a table saw.

This means that you will likely need to sand, employ a hand plane, a shooting board, or even a chisel to make sure each cut is adequately smooth. 

So, you can see how getting rid of a table saw in your woodworking shop will require you to have a slew of other types of tools on hand to make up for the loss.

Cross-Cuts 

There is nothing quite like gliding across the grains of a piece of wood while your table saw cuts through it like it is a hot piece of butter.

Table saws are incredibly useful for this type of cut as they are able to go across the grain in a way that is precise, smooth, and will not leave the edges in shambles with copious amounts of chipping and splintering.

As good as a table saw may be for this function, there are a few hand tool alternatives that can hold their own. 

If you are one who is working with smaller pieces, a handsaw is a perfectly appropriate tool.

You can also pull in a miter saw for those narrower boards as well.

If you are working with a wider piece though, a circular saw is a great alternative to the table saw.

The functions are the same, however, a circular saw is a handheld tool which means that you have a bit more control while you are using it. 

Miters 

A miter cut is one that is angled along either across the face or the width of a board. Of course, a table saw can get through this cut in no time, but there is one tool that is made specifically for this cut: a miter saw.

The name may be obvious, but many people forget such a tool exists for such a specific purpose.

Because of the intent behind the creation of this tool, a miter saw is a perfect alternative to the table saw.

While there are ways that you can use a table saw to make a 45-degree (or another set angle) cut, using a saw that is specifically intended for this purpose will allow for greater precision and, consequently, reduced risk for you and the wood you are working with.

A circular saw is also capable of a miter cut, but it may be a bit more complicated than using a miter saw.

With the blade being angled, it can be difficult to follow a line due to your hand being the main operator rather than a saw that is stationary like a table saw.

Because of this reason, a table saw might afford you a more accurate cut, however, the circular saw is completely capable. 

Bevels 

Now we move on to a cut that is a bit more complicated than the rest- not in implementation, but in its general make-up.

A bevel cut is an angled rip cut, therefore, it is a mix of two different cut styles.

This may seem like a precarious position to be in when looking to find a hand tool alternative for this type of cut, surprisingly enough though, a miter saw is going to be the best option for beveling. 

Although a table saw is perfectly capable of creating bevel cuts, due to the design of a miter saw with the intention being an angled cut, it is able to tackle this cut with ease.

You can also accomplish a bevel cut through the use of a circular saw.

Either is a great alternative to a table saw and is capable of creating clean cuts without the worry of using big machinery. 

Dados 

Dados are another type of cut that a table saw can get done, but it may not be the best option when compared to other hand tool alternatives.

It is always important to remember that just because a tool is capable of any particular function does not mean it is the tool that will give you the best results.

For dados and table saws, this consideration rings true. 

When it comes to producing the cleanest dadoes in a good amount of time, a router is going to be your best bet.

Although a router may be a bit slower than a table saw, the cuts of a router are precisely sized, clean, and square.

This means that you no longer have to worry about the bottom being ragged and you are even able to complete a stopped dado if you so please.

Replacing a sloppier result for a slightly slower pace may be well worth the switch. 

Tenons 

A tenon cut is one that requires precision and can be relatively delicate depending on the size you are producing. Because of this, you may wonder if there is any comparable alternative to the table saw that can do just a well.

Just as with every other cut, the tenon also has a few alternatives that can get you where you need to go. 

Newer to the market is a tenon jig that is specially designed for such a cut.

If you are not in need of a tool that is so specific, you could look to using a dado blade for the initial cut and then fine-tune the cut to complete your work.

If you find the investment worthwhile for your shop, a joinery system is also a fantastic hand tool option. 

All of these offer another way to accomplish a tenon cut without having to employ the use of a table saw.

So, yes, a table saw is known to be pretty standard in a woodworking shop, but if you prefer to go without one, there are other alternatives that can help you to make more specialized and precise cuts on the beautiful wood you are working with.

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