Table saws are extremely useful, but a good table saw is expensive. Even a cheap table saw can be rather expensive. So it’s very tempting to make your own, using a circular saw. But here’s why making a table saw from a circular saw is dangerous.
A homemade table saw lacks the safety features of even the most basic saw, including the riving knife, kickback pawls, and blade guard. Although frequently overlooked, kickback is the most common cause of injury from table saws, and building your own saw leaves you susceptible. It’s much safer to buy an inexpensive table saw.
Dangers of making a table saw from a circular saw
The greatest danger from making a table saw from a circular saw comes from the lack of safety features. On a makeshift table saw, there’s no place to mount a riving knife or kickback pawls. Rigging up any sort of blade guard is also difficult, and could potentially cause binding, making matters worse instead of better.
There is also danger of a cut piece of wood getting hung up in your makeshift fence. Assuming you have a fence. Cutting freehand without a fence is dangerous too, because the offcut can bind against the blade.
While most people assume cutting themselves is the most common table saw injury, it’s actually kickback that’s more common. Kickback occurs when the board gets stuck and then the blade catches it suddenly and shoots it back in your direction, at speeds over 100 miles per hour. You won’t have time to duck or jump out of the way.
Other disadvantages of making a table saw from a circular saw
Besides the safety issues, a circular saw motor just isn’t as powerful as a table saw motor. You’ll still be able to make a lot of cuts, but when you’re cutting thicker or harder lumber, you’re more likely to get burn marks instead of a clean cut. Clean, smooth cuts are part of the point of having a table saw.
Alternatives to making a table saw from a circular saw
Rather than make a dangerous, underpowered makeshift table saw, you’re much better off buying an inexpensive saw. You don’t have to spend $400 on a saw. There are advantages to the saws that cost several hundred dollars, and even more advantages to the saws that cost a thousand dollars or more, but even an inexpensive saw gives most of the benefit.
Get a clamp-on edge guide for your circular saw
You already have a circular saw. If you get or make an edge guide, you can make long, straight cuts and some cuts are safer that way than even with a proper table saw.
Get a track saw
A track saw is another alternative to a table saw. Similar to a circular saw, you clamp a track onto your workpiece, then cut along a guide. But you can easily spend as much on a track saw as you would on a circular saw, so if money is the issue rather than space, a track saw doesn’t help much.
Get a Harbor Freight table saw
If you use a 20% off coupon, you can get a table saw from Harbor Freight for around $90. It’s underpowered and has a sloppy fence, so it’s not an ideal solution, but it’s better than improvising with a circular saw and some plywood. Now, for some people, $90 is still a lot of money, and I get that. But $90 is cheaper than an emergency room visit. It’s also less painful.
You can buy the Harbor Freight saw and use it, keep it in good condition, then sell it when you can afford something better. You probably won’t have much trouble selling it for $60 or $70. In that case, it’s like renting the saw for $20 or $30.
Get a used table saw
If you want something slightly better than a Harbor Freight saw for potentially less money, get a used saw. Used tools are one of my favorite ways to save on power tools. Watch Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and your local estate sales for table saws. Frequently you can pick up an old Craftsman or similar 10-inch saw for less than $90. These saws sell new for around $160, so they’re a step above Harbor Freight’s model. They aren’t as smooth or as easy to work on as a $400 model, but they’ll get the job done on a budget. And they cut very nicely when you put a moderately good blade on them. I have a Craftsman saw with a fairly new DeWalt blade on it. If I had to guess, the previous owner bought a DeWalt saw and had a nicer blade, like a Diablo, in the Craftsman, so he swapped them.
When buying a used saw, make sure it’s new enough to have some safety features like a riving knife and blade guards, and that it includes the fence and the miter guide.
Also, of course, make sure the saw works. If you’re confident you can fix it and can get the saw at a steep enough discount that you’re willing to take on that risk, go ahead and buy it. The power cord is easy to replace and the power switch isn’t much harder, and those two parts are more likely to fail than the motor.
Who knows, if you can find more than one broken-down saw and fix it, you may be able to flip them for extra money to finance other purchases.
Other ways to save cash
You may be able to finance a saw by saving on materials. Check out your local home center’s cull lumber pile. Take advantage of having a saw and use it to cut cheap 2×4 boards into other, more useful-sized boards for your projects. Yes, that approach means working with pine for a while, but pine is far more durable than particle board.
If nothing else, set a financial goal for yourself with the saw as a target. Think about everyday expenses you can cut down for a while to pay for the saw. Do you drink coffee every morning? Making it at home instead of visiting a coffee shop could finance it. If you already do that, look for other ways to save. Maybe you can give up soda, or pack a lunch instead of eating out.
Most of us have habits we can change or suspend to save money, even if we only change for a short time. This was how I financed several of my hobbies, and it’s worked well.