Are you wondering whether your next purchase should be a cabinet saw or a table saw?
Cabinet saws are a type of table saw. Table saws come in various shapes and sizes, from small portable ones to large permanently static workshop-based saws. What people usually mean when they say ‘table saw’ without knowing the exact differences is a ‘contractor table saw’.
Cabinet table saws and contractor table saws are the two most well-known types of table saws. They’re fairly well-known pieces of equipment that feature a large flat work surface with a blade that sticks up through the middle. Timber is pushed along a guide and onto the blade as it’s cut.
The key difference between cabinet saws and contractor table saws is that cabinet saws are better made and are more expensive machines. They both do the same job, but cabinet saws are very well-engineered machines designed for professionals and the most advanced hobbyists.
To find a more detailed overview, check out the comparison below.
Cabinet Saw VS Table Saw Overview
- Table saws are powerful and adaptable saws that are easy to use. They are used in a huge number of types of woodwork.
- Most woodworkers will benefit from having a good static table saw if it suits the work they do and if they have space to keep it
- The decision about whether to buy a cabinet saw or a contractor table saw depends on how much and how heavily a person will use their saw, and on their budget.
- While many people will go one way or the other, nowadays there are many good hybrid saws available that are halfway between a cabinet saw and a contractor table saw.
What is a Cabinet Saw Used For?
To justify buying a cabinet saw you’ll need to work in a workshop for long periods of time doing work that demands a powerful and robust machine. You’ll also need to have the budget as they usually cost thousands of dollars.
Cabinet saws look like the classic workshop saws that people know well. They feature a flat work surface with a guide rail (known as a fence) for positioning timber as it’s pushed onto a blade which is located in the middle of the table. The engine is located under the table along with all of the other working parts.
The thing about cabinet saws is that they are expensive, powerful and well-engineered machines. They’re only something that would be bought for luxury or by someone who does woodworking for a living.
Cabinet saws are called ‘cabinet’ saws because of the cabinet that encloses the engine and working parts. Where this area is left open on a contractor table saw, on a cabinet saw it is enclosed.
As well as featuring a cabinet, cabinet saws also usually have powerful engines (3 horsepower or over is common), larger and heavier cast iron work surfaces with cast iron wings, heavy duty and well machined internal mechanisms, robust and accurate fences, reduced vibration, reduced noise levels, enhanced dust collection and enhanced safety features.
Cabinet saws are the best table saws. They’re easy to use and can cut through the thickest and hardest wood for long periods of time.
Benefits of a Cabinet Saw
- High powered, well-engineered and robust
- Reduced vibration and noise
- Accurate and consistent
- Best table saws available
Downsides of a Cabinet Saw
- They’re expensive
- May require an electrical upgrade. Most require 220 volts on a 30 amp circuit
- Repairs can be expensive
- Difficult to move around
What is a Contractor Table Saw Used For?
Essentially, contractor table saws are large classic-style table saws that are just more basic than cabinet saws.
Contractor table saws do the same thing as cabinet saws (and usually look similar and are around the same size), it’s just that they aren’t so well engineered. That said, many are still quite advanced and they’re very useful pieces of kit.
Many woodworking professionals manage to do fairly large volumes of work, including some demanding work, with just a contractor table saw. While they’re not as powerful, robust, and easy to use, they’re still very useful. As the word ‘contractor’ suggests, they are perfectly suitable for professional use.
On a contractor saw, the engine and working parts are left open, rather than being enclosed in a cabinet.
While high spec contractor table saws are available, they’re usually lower spec than cabinet saws. The engine is usually less powerful (1.5 – 2 horsepower is normal), only the main work surface is usually cast iron with the wings being made of aluminum, open webbed iron, or stamped metal, the fences are often slightly less durable and made of less quality materials and the internal mechanism is usually less robust and well made.
On top of this, noise levels are likely to be higher, with the increased vibration and less efficient dust extraction.
While they’re great pieces of kit, contractor table saws aren’t quite the luxury pieces of machinery that cabinet saws are.
Benefits of a Contractor Table Saw
- Less expensive
- They’re good pieces of kit and can still do the same jobs
- No electrical upgrade needed
- Cheaper repairs
Downsides of a Contractor Table Saw
- Less powerful and robust
- Louder and increased vibrations
- Slightly less accurate and consistent
- Less able to withstand long periods of heavy use
What should you never use a table saw for?
Table saws are very useful saws and they can handle most cutting tasks. They excel at doing fast and accurately repeated straight cuts in timber. They can also do bevel cuts, dadoes, and rabbets easily, and with some adaptation can do other cuts as well. On top of this, they’re also really good for short and delicate cuts.
What they’re not good at is doing long straight rip cuts or angled cuts in large pieces of sheet material. It’s difficult to feed large pieces of timber into them for straight cuts and it’s difficult to set them up to do a long angled cut. Even some shorter angled cuts can be difficult with a table saw. Additionally, curved cuts are usually impossible with them as well.
When it comes to doing long straight rip cuts and angled cuts in sheet material, a track saw is a better choice. And, when it comes to doing curved cuts either a jigsaw or a bandsaw is the one to get.
When to Use a Cabinet Saw Over a Table Saw
Ultimately, the decision about whether to get a cabinet saw or not depends on your budget and requirements.
Some people who’ve been doing woodwork for a long period of time or who spend a large amount of time in a workshop like cabinet saws because of their reduced noise and vibration and ease of use.
In many respects cabinet saws provide luxury.
If you don’t necessarily have to have one, but have the budget and would like the luxury of having a cabinet saw then it may make a good choice.
For other people, a cabinet saw is a necessity. People who are planning prolonged or demanding use may need to consider buying a cabinet saw out of necessity.
When to Use a Contractor Table Saw Over a Cabinet Saw
Most people, particularly most hobbyists, will be able to get by with a contractor table saw. While comparing them to cabinet saws makes them sound bad, they’re actually many woodworkers’ favorite pieces of kit.
Contractor table saws, as long as they’re made by a good manufacturer, are powerful, advanced, and adaptable pieces of equipment that can be used in a huge variety of ways.
If you just want a functioning table saw, but don’t need expensive luxury or don’t need a saw that can cope in the most demanding workshop then a contractor table saw will be fine.
One simple piece of advice when it comes to getting the most out of a table saw is to use a top-of-the-range blade. A good blade will help a less powerful contractor table saw to perform more like a cabinet saw. Buying one with a full cast iron work surface and good quality working parts will also help a great deal.
Looking for a table saw? Check out our under $1000 table saw purchasing guide.
Is a Contractor Table Saw Safer Than a Cabinet Saw?
In many cases, cabinet saws have more advanced safety features than contractor table saws.
While they’re more likely to be improved in terms of safety this is not always the case, particularly with cheaper versions. On top of this, in many cases, the safety features that are available on the more advanced cabinet saws are also available on contractor table saws.
Before you leave to buy a table saw there are a couple of useful pieces of advice to share.
One great piece of advice, particularly for hobbyists, is to take a look at hybrid saws.
Hybrid saws offer a halfway between cabinet saws and contractor table saws. Usually, part of the mechanism is enclosed in a cabinet and some of the advanced features available on cabinet saws are available as well.
The increased power is attractive to many people and they are easier to use than contractor table saws with reduced noise and vibrations and simpler methods of dust extraction.
Another important thing is to always look at the actual features on any saw before you buy it.
While cabinet saws should be the most advanced table saws, this isn’t always the case. Make sure that any saw you buy actually has what you need and that the price matches the specification.
Key things to look at in a table saw are the engine, the working parts and the work surface. Weightier cast iron work surfaces, for example, are longer lasting and help to reduce vibrations significantly.
Make sure whatever saw you buy is as good as the manufacturer says and that it does what you need.
Looking for more saw guides? Check them all out below:
- Miter Saw VS Circular Saw
- Track Saw VS Circular Saw
- Jigsaw VS Circular Saw
- Track Saw VS Table Saw
- Reciprocating Saw VS Jigsaw
- Miter Saw VS Compound Miter Saw
- Chop Saw VS Miter Saw
- Scroll Saw VS Band Saw
- Scroll Saw VS Jigsaw