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You’re perhaps familiar with the “I Can Do That” column in Popular Woodworking, wherein we design and build a simple yet handsome piece using mostly dimensional lumber (though we’ve ripped a short piece a time or two with a jigsaw) and a simple (but good) set of tools.

There’s a free PDF manual on the web page that shows and tells how to use all the tools in the ICDT kit. And, most of the plans and instructions we’ve published in the ICDT column are also free on the site. The goal is to help beginning woodworkers make something they’ll be proud to show off for years to come , not something that will be kicked to the curb (as were the many L-bracket bookshelves I built lo these many years ago) once their skills and toolkits grow.

Currently in the toolkit we have a sliding compound miter saw, a circular saw and a jigsaw among the power saw selections. We’re thinking of adding a benchtop table saw so that longer rip cuts are possible. That would allow us to expand the types of projects we offer , without breaking the wood budget. Six 1″ x 1″ x 36″ pieces aren’t cheap , but a 1×8 that can be ripped quickly on the table saw into six pieces is far more affordable.

We reviewed benchtop table saws for the October 2009 issue (which will be arriving in subscriber mailboxes in a couple weeks), and we think the new saws are pretty darn good , especially for a beginner, or someone with a small shop (not to mention hand-tool users who need a table saw occasionally).

So what do you think? Does a benchtop table saw belong in the I Can Do That shop? Please cast your vote in our poll below.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 23 comments
  • Dena

    I’m a beginning woodworker. I don’t have a great deal of experience with a band saw and I have a limited amount of space with which to work. I have a bench-top table saw and so far it has worked well. However I will be the first to admit that others here on the blog are wiser than I.

    Regardless, I vote for table-top.

  • John Griffin-Wiesner

    Chalk up one more for the band saw.

    I’m pleasantly surprised to see how many people have already voted band saw over table saw. I’m another for the reasons already mentioned. I see the TS as an extra-dangerous chop saw which can also plow dados. The first large tool I bought was the TS. But now I probably use my BS ten times as often as I use the TS.

  • Bruce Jackson

    As for Andy Schlueter, I was there once (in fact several times). An author in another publication suggested a rip-toothed bow-saw in place of the band saw. Now, before you go off to Highland Woodworking to buy the whole bow-saw, think twice because you will be paying a premium for the wood frame you can make anyway. In fact, you can do a home-made bow-saw as an upcoming ICDT project with parts and lumber you can get from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Oak (red seems OK) will be a fine wood for making the saw frame. The only part you need from Highland Woodworking is the blade, and you build the frame around the blade. Then pick throught Big Box’s chestful of screws, rods, nuts, etc., etc., for the parts to connect the blade to the frame and tighten the frame. Lots cheaper than getting a band saw (and a lot less noise if you live in an apartment or condo).

  • Dave

    I’m thinking a Bosh Colt would be a better choice.

  • Andy Schlueter

    As a beginner, I vote no on the table saw idea. I love the "I Can Do That" series precisely because it’s the one section of the magazine I can build stuff from with the tools I have. Adding a table saw would essentially price me out of being able to do the projects.

    I think you editors need to sit down and figure out for certain who your target audience is for this series. Is it (a) middle aged people with a chunk of disposable income to set up shop with and a minor woodworking itch, or (b) young college/high school students/recent grads with little money but a desire to do woodworking anyway? If (a), a table saw isn’t a bad idea. If (b), it’s a terrible one. I fall into the (b) category – I’ve been woodworking for over a year and I still haven’t managed to scrape together the cash for a miter saw or a jigsaw. Your target audience thus far seems to have been me – I got the impression that the point of this column was to hook ’em young so they’ll keep at it for decades. A table saw would put the column much closer to the realm of "needs a full shop." Personally, I prefer keeping the "I Can Do That" column true to its name for as many people as possible.

  • steve Spear

    Believe the band saw is really under rated as a great first tool.
    It is a lot safer too.


  • gdblake

    If you want to add projects that require ripping stock why not encourage the use of a rip filed handsaw rather than add a benchtop tablesaw to the required tool list? Much safer for the beginner to use and I can’t imagine that a tablesaw would be that much of a time saver in regards to "I Can Do That" projects. At least suggest a handsaw as a viable option to a tablesaw.

  • Bruce Jackson

    A lot of responders said "table saw". Speaking from the "band saw" camp, there probably two or three things I can think of you can do with a table saw you can’t do with a band saw – and they are all well beyond the perceived limits of the ICDT projects. Cutting dadoes / rabbets, which requres a special dado blade anyway, is one of them. And you can use a router set up with a straight bit for dadoes / rabbets.

    As for that 21807 I mentioned? The only quirk is the miter slots, which are 5/8" rather than the standard 3/4" wide. And they are flanged. I also have my eyes peeled for the 21828 which does have the 3/4" non-flanged miter slots and can take after-market miter guides. In the interest of thorough information, I’m led to understand that the 21807 will not take dado stacks; the 21828 will take 6" dado stacks.

    The reasons I go with Craftsman is that even if the tools don’t make the Editor’s Choice or Top Tool or Top Value, they are usually reasonably priced, you can upgrade them for a song (relatevely speaking) by getting better blades and bits and learning to sharpen them, they are reasonably good quality, and you can pick them up at just about any Sears in the neighborhood. Most of the other saws / tools you buy, you have to pay shipping and handling. Since we got a Woodcraft, I have taken to buying from their storefront rather than over the Internet. As for Rockler, et. al., if I see a good idea in their catalogs, I make rather than buy.

    As for the bandsaw, you can within reason cut curved lines, something called for in some of your past ICDT projects but you can’t reasonably or safely do with the table saw.

  • David Pearce

    Maybe instead of including a table saw in the list of basic tools, perhaps a new list of "intermediate" should be the place for it?

  • Brian Whittaker

    I would like to make a request for all table saw reviews: please include the minimum width of doorway or hallway required to move the saw. For many basement woodworkers that dimension is the limiting factor, and I have never seen it listed in any reviews or manufacturers specifications.


  • As a guy with a full cabinet saw, I should probably not be allowed to vote, but I think it might be useful to say something on the order of ‘an scms or a benchtop tablesaw’, and update your per-tool instructions on how to do both.

  • LizPf

    Like Gene, I vote a strong No!

    The goal of the "I Can Do That" series, in my opinion, is to get newcomers to woodworking hooked. The projects are all supposed to be simple beginner projects, but with good enough design so the maker will be proud to say, "Yes! I did that!"

    Part of being a beginner is not having equipment. Woodworking is a tool-intensive art, but few beginners are willing to lay out $1,000 or more for tools for a craft they have never done before. Beginners need projects they can build with a few tools … if they like them, they will move on to the projects in the rest of the magazine, and buy more tools.

    I don’t like the idea of adding a bandsaw, either, for the same reasons. I know the inability to rip stock limits the projects … but so be it.

    The knife block in the latest issue is a great example of what ICDT should be … it *could* be built with nothing more than a decent hand saw, a square, a hammer and a couple of clamps — and it produces something useful and cool.

    If you do feel the need to add a tool, I would suggest a router. [And a couple of articles on using it, and making a simple router table.] But please, try to keep the entire toolkit to a low total cost, both in dollars and space.

  • Gene

    I voted no. It seems to me that the whole point of "I Can Do That" is to pull in new woodworkers with a very basic set of tools. Once they’ve built one or two of the projects, they get the "bug," and they’ll start devouring the power tool reviews. I think that adding the table saw to the kit will slash the number of people who build that particular project. (probably in direct proportion to the percentage of their tool dollars invested in the saw).

    Better to keep "I Can Do That" aimed at the newcomers. As people "skill-out" of that category, they’ll find plenty of reasons to shop for a new saw, and there will be another wave of newcomers right behind them.


  • Mark Wells

    I really like the I Can Do That column because I think it encourages woodworking and because I’m always trying to figure out how to do things with fewer tools.

    Adding a benchtop table saw is a bad idea. Table saws are loud, dangerous, and unnecessary to build furniture. As you move beyond the I Can Do That column, if you become dependent on a table saw, then a benchtop model is not likely to satisfy. On the other hand, I may be biased because I’m a bandsaw man.

    My suggestion is that you don’t change the kit. Instead, add an addendum to the manual that explains how to rip and clean up the edge using a bandsaw and a jointer plane. That way they can start with the minimal set of tools that can be easily stored. As they progress and get tired of buying expensive boards and clamping straight edges, they can buy a bandsaw and jointer plane to rip.

    While we are on the topic, what I’d really like to see is an "I Can Do That" with only hand tools. The premise would be exactly the same. Use readily available materials and a small, fixed set of tools to make something.



    When I first started doing some of the "little shop that could" projects a long time ago, I had a Ryobi BT3000 tablesaw. It was not quite a benchtop saw, but wasn’t quite a contractor’s saw. While it cut great, and was quite accurate, it lacked MASS. I really apreciated the importance of a heavier (stable) table saw when I upgraded to a contractor saw, and even more so when I finally traded up to a cabinet saw.

    The new smaller jobsite benchtop saws must be mounted to something heavy and stable before I would recommend them for a home workshop, especially if you are working by yourself. Of course, by the time you build a heavy base cabinet or bench for your ‘budget’ tablesaw, you could get a heavier contractor saw for the same investment in dollars and floor space.

  • K.Ganyo

    I did vote yes, but I would think it would be good to point out that the small contractor style table saws are more dangerous then the other tools. Using the jig saw to cut down sheet goods to be then finished with the table saw would probably be a good practice as large sheets, small table saw and new woodworkers shouldn’t go together.

  • Don Peregoy

    I do not think like I should cast a vote – although I am a neophyte woodworker I am an advanced tool procurer. This is really a decisions that should be made the beginning woodworkers the projects are designed for.

    I would be interested in the results . There should be some way to see them without influencing them.

  • Bruce Jackson

    I’d like to send a photo of my bandsaw set-up, but don’t know how. Is it possible?

  • Bruce Jackson

    I’m in the bandsaw camp. But I learned by trial and error, from the manual and different articles about the bandsaw, how to adjust the machine so that you don’t have to worry about blade drift. Mark Duginske’s book has been a godsend for me, especially since he showed how to eliminate drift without building the resaw jigs you see in other writings, including Pop Wood. I have to warn you – along with finding out that the bandsaw does require a good deal of patience to master, I personally have that deep well of patience. I recognize that perhaps other folks don’t have the patience.

    That’s not to say I don’t have my eyes peeled for a table saw; I do. I personally covet the Craftsman model 21807. It’s simple, having none of the "sliding miter tables" other Craftsman models have. Those who have bought this model rate it pretty high – a lot of satisfied customers out there, including professional carpenters and woodworkers.

    I also recognize that table saws have their limits; even if I have one (which right now I don’t), I would still cut sheet goods to more manageable sizes before I put them on the table saw, of any price or list of features. Thinking ahead will reduce a lot of accidents from kickback.

    But for those just starting out, a router, a circ saw, a jig saw, and some hand tools are just about right. Then go to the band saw before going to the table saw.

  • Nick

    I agree with Marcus.

    Considering what tools you would already have, I see the need to improve the edges.

    Maybe a router-kit would be the next move?

    You’d get your basic profiles to spruce up the projects, plus, you can rig it up as a poor-man’s jointer.

  • Marcus

    Well, it seems like the toolkit is getting pretty big. Personally, I’m willing to tackle any project but I don’t have a SCMS or a tablesaw. I do have a circular saw and a bandsaw. To rip lumber I use the bandsaw or the circular saw and dress my boards with a jointer plane. But I know I’m in the minority.

    If you use a small table saw for ripping what will the toolkit suggest for edge jointing? Most edges can’t be used right off the table saw. A powered jointer sort of goes hand-in-hand with the table saw.

  • David Pearce

    I also say yes, but with the condition the saw is over $150.00. The $99.00 model I have is just plain dangerous. In fact, my neighbor found out I wanted a nicer saw and offered to buy my old one. I declined and told him I’m keeping the motor, switch and a few other parts, the rest is going into the trash. When he asked why, I said, because your wife would kill me when you get maimed from kickback.

  • Derek

    I say yes, with the condition of a saw under $300 dollars

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