Since my specialty is tools of all manner and shapes, I thought I'd come up with a list for the do-it-yourself woman or man on your list.
The list will cover table saws. You can spend a small fortune on a good one, but good ones last if they are cared for properly. My advice: Shop carefully. You don't want to go cheap so the machine is worthless, nor do you want to spend a fortune for something that won't be used.
Good fences, best blades: Nothing is more important to successful table-saw use than the fence — the guide that is adjusted to handle the material you are cutting. I had to replace the original fence on mine that had been damaged by movers, and it took me dozens of bad cuts to determine proper adjustment. No matter how good the guide, it needs to be checked regularly for proper adjustment.
And never skimp on blades. Buy and use ones designed specifically for the kind of material — plywood, hardwood — you are cutting.
Portable saws. Also called "job-site" saws because of their use by contractors, these are better for people with little room to maneuver or who need to store the machines when they aren't in use, although they are not as sturdy as stationary models. They are portable because they are made of aluminum rather than cast iron. Several models come with stands, some on wheels, for easy transport and setup.
One major difference between portable and stationary saws is that the former often vibrate more. Stationary saws tend to weigh 250 pounds and up, and that, and cast-iron construction, tends to steady them.
Price range: Portable saws can be less expensive, but not necessarily so. A 10-inch saw with a 15-amp motor costs as little as $110 to as much as $600, depending on the manufacturer and accessories.
Stationary saws: Some sources call these "contractor saws," but in my mind, the typical contractor saw has more bells and whistles than what the typical do-it-yourselfer needs. My 20-year-old Delta is a stationary saw that cost $400 new ($700 in today's dollars). There have been periods since 1989 when I used it just about every day and times when it sat collecting regular dust, not sawdust, for months. Consider that when choosing a saw in these tough times.
At other times — most notably, when I was redoing a kitchen — I wished the saw had more accessories. As you shop, look at models that can be accessorized, including ones that permit expansion of the table surface to handle bigger pieces and that accommodate quick changes to dado heads and other specialty blades.
Price range: $300 and up.
Contractor's saw: The best ones come with cast-iron extension wings for large cutting projects and are truly designed for professional shops. The wings add to the machine's stability, reducing vibration. On models that don't have these wings, free-standing rollers might do the trick.
Price range: About $500 and up.
Cabinet saw: The name refers to the fact that the motor — typically 3 to 5 horsepower instead of 1 to 1¾ horsepower of the others — is enclosed in the cabinet, making the machine quieter. The more powerful motor means that the toughest hardwood is cut with little trouble. It also requires a 220-volt line instead of a standard 110-volt. These saws also weigh 600 pounds. This one is definitely a professional model.
Price range: The ones you would want to buy start at $1,800.
Hybrid saw: It combines some of a cabinet saw's attributes — enclosed motor — with those of the lighter, more versatile and less powerful saws (110 volts is usually enough). It is a decent compromise.
Price range: $1,200 and up.
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