Life Without A Tablesaw?
Article - March 17, 2012
After reading this article from Fine Woodworking today about California possibly being the first state to enforce “SawStop-like technology”, I started to wonder about the future of tablesaws. Even before this whole SawStop debacle, the tablesaw was seen as one of the most dangerous tools in the shop. Now that our government is very close to forcing manufacturers to implement a new safety device, you can’t help but think about what life would be like without the tablesaw. Perhaps SawStop’s fear-mongering campaigns (see left) worked a little too well and you decide that owning a tablesaw just isn’t worth the risk, flesh-detecting or not. After all, even SawStop can’t stop what seems to be the most common tablesaw injury: the kickback. Curious about how dangerous a kickback can be? Watch this! Or perhaps you are a “Don’t tread on me!” type and you’d rather go without a tablesaw than to use one with new government-mandated safety features. Either way, there really is no better time than now to think about how one might survive in a post-tablesaw world.
Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE MY TABLESAW, and mine isn’t going anywhere any time soon! I use it on just about every project. It also has a flame paint job and as a result, it is probably the coolest tool in my shop. But given the current state of things, it would certainly be an interesting exercise to think about how we might otherwise accomplish some common tablesaw tasks. And before you knuckle-dragging Neanderthals (said with love) start throwing rocks at me, I do realize there are hand tool equivalents for every tablesaw task. I can also ride my bike to New Jersey and back but I’d rather take a plane – RIMSHOT! So what I’m really looking for are alternative methods that are just as fast, just as clean, and just as easy as their tablesaw equivalent (and that doesn’t exclude hand tool methods). So I’ll throw out some ideas below as a discussion starting point, but what I really want is to hear from you guys. What tasks would you find hard to do without your tablesaw? Or maybe you have some obvious solutions that might benefit others. Share ’em with us!
Nothing rips a board quite as easily and cleanly as a tablesaw. And nothing in the shop can launch a board into outer space with as much gusto as a tablesaw! Consequently, this is something I already use my bandsaw for. Far too often while ripping long boards, I notice the board cupping in on itself. If it weren’t for my riving knife, I certainly would have experienced numerous kickback events. At the bandsaw, the cutting force is applied downward into the table surface, so even if the wood warps and pinches the blade, it will NOT fly in your belly or face. The safety benefits here are unquestionable. But what about cut quality? Most bandsaw blades will leave a rough edge. The blade may also drift during the cut drawing your workpiece away from the fence. Any thoughts on how we might overcome these two issues? For sheetgoods, look no further than the circular saw. Outfitted with a good quality blade and a nice clamping tool guide, you can make some seriously high quality rips in plywood. You could also take it to the next level and pick up a tracksaw!
Whether you use a miter gauge or a cross-cut sled, the tablesaw is incredibly well-suited for cross-cuts. But what else could we use? For smaller boards (and if you don’t have a lot of cuts to make), a hand saw seems like a perfectly reasonable alternative. You might need to clean up the edge afterwards, but if you own a decent hand saw you probably also own a hand plane and a shooting board. Of course the miter saw is a good alternative for cross-cutting narrower boards too. A circular saw and a track or other guide could certainly be used for wider boards. If you don’t mind a rougher cut, you could also use a jigsaw. And while the bandsaw will work in some cases, I have never been a fan of using it for cross-cuts……maybe it’s just me.
The only reasonable substitute I can come up with for dados is the router. Even in a fully outfitted shop that includes a tablesaw, the router may very well be the preferred dado-maker. But when you are making cabinets and you have a bunch of dados and grooves to batch out, is there anything faster than a dado stack in the tablesaw? I am really curious to hear your thoughts on dados and grooves.
The tablesaw is my go-to tool for tenons. Even as the proud owner of a Festool Domino, I still tend to make my tenons with a dado stack and a miter gauge. So one obvious alternative here would be the various “joinery systems” like the Leigh FMT, the DowelMax, and the Festool Domino. These are most definitely a “pricey” alternative but they work quite well once you live within their ecosystems. A more basic alternative might be to simply use the router table.
For miters, which are essentially just angled cross-cuts, the miter saw is a perfectly reasonable alternative. That is, assuming you have a good quality blade and a well-calibrated saw. Bevels, or angled rip cuts, are a little trickier. We might be able to use the bandsaw with the table tilted at an angle, but we would still have all the same ripping concerns mentioned above. Additionally, we have the challenge of fighting gravity due to the tilted table. A circular saw and a guide can be used to cut a long bevel too, but on narrower workpieces this can be a precarious affair.
I am really interested to hear your thoughts on these common tablesaw tasks. What alternative solutions can you come up with and could you actually live without your tablesaw?