At that price you won't get much. Look for used. There are saws in the $250
range that will probably do what you want. Serious saws start at $800 and
go to $3500 or so. Local shopping papers often have five or ten saws listed
for sale. If you find one that has not been abused you may get a very good
deal. Belt driven saws are quieter and smoother running that direct drive
saws. The Ridgid saws at Home Depot are decent but more than your budget.
No matter what you end up with, take some time to learn how to use the saw,
how to use a push stick, learn to use the fence and miter properly and never
use them together or you can get kickback that is very serious.
The blade that come with the saw is OK for hacking a 2 x 4, but not so good
for serious trim cutting or plywood. Good blades start at $50, very good
blades are $100 and up.Freud is a good brand for the modest priced ones.
I bought a Ryobi at HD for $99 to cut laminate flooring. I figured if it
would streamline and simplify the job, it would be well worth it. It did.
Now, I put the saw to use quite frequently. Frankly, it's one of those
things that, once you get it, you wonder how you ever lived without it. If I
need a 2x2, I grab a 2x4 and rip it. If I need a 1x1, I grab a 2x4 and rip
it twice. If I need a 1/2 x 1...
The saw comes with a stand, but you'll probably want to fashion a shelf.
Also, Harbor Freight has a sawdust-catching canvas bag (I think it's $8)
that you can attach to the underside with snaps for easy removal.
While you're at HF, get a stock support gizmo. It's an adjustable tripod
with a roller top. The table on the Ryobi was not designed for cutting 4x8
sheets of plywood.
I have a small table saw. The first thing I learned is that the supporting
table is more important than the saw. You can take a cheap $150 table saw,
and if you build supports around it, it will do a lot of things a good one
will. When you run into trouble is trying to do big sheets of plywood, etc.
I built a metal frame around mine that is 4' square and flat with the table
saw top. It closely fits around the table top so that the saw cannot shift
or tilt. It does most of all I have asked it to do. If you notice, with
table saws, the bigger the table, the more the saw costs. Yes, the fences
and other accessories are more accurate, and you get a better motor, but
essentially the difference is table size. If you don't feed it more than it
can chew, you won't kill it.
For what you want (rip ply, cross cut 2x4)...
1. Buy/make a couple of wood saw horses
2. Buy a sheet of 1/2" or 3/4" and have the store rip you off a piece about
10" wide. Mark the factory edge,
3. Buy a couple of clamps
4. Buy a Speed Square (alternately, a chop saw)
Use the speed square or chop saw for cross cutting. For ply, lay the sheet
you want to rip on the horses, clamp your 10" piece of ply on top, use the
factory edge you marked as a fence for your hand saw. Set the saw's depth
of cut so that it is only a bit more than the thickness of the ply so you
don't mess up the top of the horses too badly.
You could improve the fence by having the 1/2" thick strip cut narrower -
around 6", say - and gluing a piece of masonite to the bottom. The masonite
should be wide enough so that you can run your saw along the fence and trim
off a bit of masonite along the full length. You now have a rip guide that
shows you exactly where you will be cutting and you don't have to include
the saw's shoe width as an offset when you are measuring. You could also
make a 4' rip guide for cross cutting sheets of ply. With either - if you
want to be fancy - you could add a "T" at one end to help square the guide
to what you are cutting.
Believe me, rip guides like these are easier to use than trying to manhandle
full sheets of ply through a table saw. Especially through a small,
For $150 you can get a decent circular saw. You need $90 for a
quality 10" tablesaw blade. High quality table saw brands include
Powermatic (USA) and General (Canada). Avoid Made in China, save up
For 20 yrs I had a radial arm saw as my 'shop saw'. When it died I
got a table saw. After missing the ease of making angle cuts for
about 10 yrs I got a 12"chop saw last summer.
I'd say spend your money on a decent 12" miter saw- make sure it
swings left and right and has some good solid locking. buy a
foldable stand for it. The first time you cut 1/2" off a 4x4 with
one clean swipe you'll have to sit down and smoke a cigarette.
Make a fence like a couple people have described here for ripping and
Craigslist is worth watching- but after watching for several months I
got a better deal right from Bosch on a reconditioned saw- 1 yr
BTW- the saw I bought after shopping for months for the best bang for
my buck was the 3912. I paid $317 for it--- now it is $229.
Still a bit over your budget [and you'll want a stand for it at some
point] but in the long run you'll be glad you splurged. Make the
Mrs. a nice octagon shadowbox frame & she'll love the saw, too.
Ryobi and Craftsman are not "good choices" but may be okay for your
use. Don't expect to get into precison work without a lot of fuss.
The fence is a very critical and important part of a table saw. You
will want a circular saw to cut 4x8 ply sheets, not a small table saw.
It's much easier and more accurate to use a properly set up table saw to cut
full sheets than to use a circular saw. If you don't care that the cuts are
1/8" off then you can use a circular saw. You still need to support the
section that is going to fall off or you can end up in a precarious
A decent circular saw w/ a guide will do as well and far easier than a
small table saw w/o sizable extension infeed/outfeed tables on ply.
For a casual/occasional user, the space to dedicate to a tablesaw and
it's supporting outfeed table in order to be able to make a good,
straight cut safely is generally not available and by the time one gets
it out and sets it up unless there's a whole lot of work the cut-to-size
could have been done already w/ the circular saw.
It's no mean feat to wrestle a full sheet of 3/4" ply over a table saw
and definitely not recommended w/o sufficient table to support it.
It's one of the prime reasons I keep the radial saw in the long bench --
it makes ripping 4x8 sheets child's play from whence they can then be
taken in reasonably-sized pieces to the next stage.
But, that's not an option for most w/ limited space, resources and, even
more importantly, interest to have such resources invested in shop
imo, ymmv, $0.02, etc., etc., etc., ...
I've the PM Model 66 and the setup, too, but I still use the RAS for
ripping ply to width since it has the full-length (20+ ft overall)
support both in and out.
The suppliers generally have such rough machines and use so little
precision I prefer to do all myself so I can match grain, etc., and all
to my satisfaction at leisure rather than just take the random selection
of the moment.
Again, ymmv, $0.02, etc., ...
But neither addresses the issue of the OP of what to do for the
casual/occasional homeowner who doesn't want such an investment or to
dedicate the required room.
I survived for quite a number of years through school and early years
past w/ the above way of using the hand saw only w/ temporary
benches/sawhorses and guides and clamps.
One can do as precise of work that way as one wishes to take the time to
learn to use the tools available and get better results (and
particularly, more safely) than trying to use a small table saw w/o the
ancillary support mechanisms that invariably is attempted by the
Once the material is down to a reasonable size that can be handled,
_then_ a small tablesaw can indeed be useful.
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