Woodworking tools used in making wooden boxes are the basis of the wood shop. You don’t need a massive wood shop to begin your own wooden box making experience. A few basic tools are needed to start out as boxes can be made using hand tools or a few workhorse power tools. Yet, as you become more proficient in making boxes, you will find that you will want to add the tools that make your task more efficient, precise and easy. So, let’s look at the basic tools that you will find in most wooden box making shops.
The Table Saw: Workhorse of the Wood Shop
The table saw is the basic woodworking tool. Yet, it’s not a total necessity. The operations performed by the table saw can be done with an old-fashioned hand saw. Most of us are a bit more modern in our thinking, so the table saw becomes our workhorse in our shop. With only the table saw, you can make any simple box design. The type of table saw you buy will determine the precision and quality of your boxes, so you need to put some thought into the saw you purchase for your box making wood shop. With that in mind, let’s take a look as some of the basic table saw types.
Hobby Table Saws
Remember those Skil saws that many of us got as gifts when we were young? I had always wanted one, yet never got one as a present. But all my friends had them as their parents wanted them to learn how to build things. Years later, in my 60’s, I purchased (at a yard sale), my first table saw and it was an old, much used Skil hobby saw. The saw I purchased had no miter guide, fence or any safety shields (I used it to take a chunk out of my right thumb).
The thing about hobby saws is that they are bench top models with small diameter blades. The model I first purchased would take blades from 4” to 81/2”. Hobby table saws are adequate to make small boxes, though, and my little Skil saw is what I learned to make boxes on. Unfortunately, they are small and limit what you can do with them. With my little unit, I quickly learned that I had to make my own fence and miter guide which weren’t that accurate. Fortunately, if you purchase one new, all the attachments and safety shields come with the unit.
These table saws are good to learn on but you will soon outgrow them if you continue on with your box making efforts. On a limited budget (as I had when I started), they are a good first start as they are usually found for $100 or slightly less.
Contractor’s Table Saws
Contractor’s table saws are the portable table saws you usually see on home construction sites. There is quite a range of quality associated with these saws and their prices reflect this. Most of my neighbors are in construction, so when I outgrew my little Skil saw, I looked at what they were using and decided that a contractor’s saw would fit my needs. They are compact and mobile. In my small shop, I could fold up the legs and use minimal shop space to store it out of the way when not in use. I made a couple of mistakes when making my purchase of this type of saw.
The first mistake I made was to march down to my local big box store (in my case, HomeDepot), not realizing that the models they displayed on the local floor were intended for Joe homeowner doing home improvements. They were not intended for continuous, everyday use. I was on a budget and found a Ryobi model (pictured above) that sold for $350 on sale for $200. So, I thought I was getting a deal. It had a new style with a sliding miter panel (a European innovation), instead of miter slots and a miter gauge. I was tickled to death with this new saw, but soon realized I couldn’t use the jigs that are common to most woodworkers using traditional table saws. I soon figured out how to make jigs on this new configuration and I was in business. It should be noted that this model is discontinued.
The second mistake was in the realization that you get what you pay for. My thoughts were on my limited budget, not what I really needed. These low-end contractor’s saws don’t come with the mechanisms for raising and lowering the blade or tilting the blade that more expensive models do. After a year, the mechanism controlling the blade wore out.
I relate the above experience as a warning. Know what you will need out of your table saw and stay away from the “big box” store’s selection on the floor. Their better quality items are found online.
With that said, the nice thing about contractor table saws are that they are small so they don’t take up so much shop space and they’re usually portable. They can come with folding legs to be moved and stored out of the way, they can have stands (often with wheels), like the SawStop contractor saw shown above or they can be bench top models. The mid- high-end models do have good mechanisms and sturdy construction to last. The come with a fence, miter guide and thus miter slots for your jigs. And, portable means they have more cast aluminum parts (sometimes plastic), and are smaller so weigh less.
Cabinet Table Saws
Cabinet saws are named such because these are the table saws you see in cabinetry and other traditional woodworking shops. They also have a cabinet which holds the saw’s mechanisms and is the pedestal on which the table rests. The table is made of cast iron and is heavy, adding rigidity and solidness to the saw. This also lessens vibration and with the cabinet portion of the saw, aids in a quieter operation. The table is also longer and supported by solid legs.
One thing you’ll note about cabinet saws is that they are made for handling larger pieces of lumber and plywood. The amount of area between the front of the table and the blade is larger than on contractor saws which are intended for 2 x 4’s and similar construction materials. This actually takes some getting used to if you’ve just been working with contractor saws.
You need a large enough shop to accommodate the cabinet saw and other equipment you’ll need. This isn’t the saw you want in a garage unless you’re not using the space for your car. These are also stationary table saws. Cabinet saws are also the most professional and expensive of all the saws on the market. They’re the cream of the crop. If you’re not just making wooden boxes like myself and are also making furniture and cabinets, this might just be the ticket for you.
Hybrid Table Saws
These days you can have the best of both a contractor saw and a cabinet saw. Welcome to the new world of hybrid table saws. These recent introductions to the table saw world help us folks that want a high quality, professional saw but are somewhat limited in our wood shop space. Some manufacturers call these a type of contractor saw. I can see this if you’re a finish carpenter or cabinet maker working on-site but for the construction contractor these would be a bit awkward and heavier than I’d want.
Hybrid table saws have a cast iron table sitting on a short cabinet attached to a mobile frame. The extended table is usually made from stamped iron panels. With some models, you can get extended tables that have drop-down supports like cabinet saws. The saw mechanism is of higher quality than the normal contractor saw.
When my saw mechanisms wore out on my cheap contractor saw, I found out about hybrid table saws. I eventually bought the Delta hybrid that you see in the above photo. And, I also got this one at HomeDepot, just online and had it shipped to the store as I couldn’t have it delivered to where I live in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Luckily, by the time I purchased my Delta, I’d made my woodworking mistakes caused by an inadequate table saw and knew what I wanted and expected out of my new wood shop workhorse. I found through my research that a hybrid table saw would fit my needs to the tee.
So that’s the types of woodworking table saws you have to choose from. My advice is know what you need. What you expect from your saw. Your space requirements. Do your research and you will get what satisfies you and your situation. Cost can be a problem so buy the best that you can afford (I was lucky as mine was on sale).