The Sharp Cut | Motor Power and Drive Types
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Motor Power and Drive Types in Table Saws

When choosing a table saw, you need to narrow down your search in as many ways as possible because there is so much out there to choose from. You can choose to go with a particular brand known for its good reputation, like DEWALT, Bosch, or Makita. You could begin by deciding which type of saw would fit your needs best. Of course, you could start by establishing how much money you are going to allow yourself to spend. All these choices can be fairly intuitive, but it’s the stuff under the hood that really makes the difference when it comes to table saws.

The two characteristics most people have trouble getting their heads around are the power of the motor and the type of drive table saws use to transfer the power they produce to the blade. Yes, you will come across how much horsepower motors have, and whether they use a direct drive or a belt drive, but what does any of that really mean? How can you tell if the motor is powerful enough by looking at its specs? And what are advantages and disadvantages to the different types of drives? There are a lot of questions right there, and I have tried to answer them all.


Table Saw Power DifferencesOne thing is pretty obvious when it comes horsepower: the more, the better. If a saw is underpowered, it’s not going to be very useful. Apart from the number of horsepower, the available voltage is also indicative of a motor’s true power. For instance, a table saw with a 1 to 2hp motor will operate at 120V. Smaller table saws will draw up to 15 amps, while a 2hp table saw will draw anywhere between 18 and 24 amps.

So how do you gauge if the saw you are looking at is powerful enough for the job you need it to do? Well, regardless of its classification or the way it is advertised, a table saw which produces between 1 and 2hp is powerful enough to cut through wood about 2 inches thick, and that’s pretty much it. If you’re going to cut thicker sheets of material, you’re going to need a table saw with more power. More powerful table saws feature larger motors, which can produce between 3 and 5hp, and run on 240V. If you plan on cutting hardwood 3 inches thick, or more, you definitely need to consider one of these.

Another thing to consider when buying a more powerful saw is its safety features. Safety features play a much larger role on more powerful table saws because the force of the kickback is much greater than that of less powerful table saws.

Drive Types

saw blade drive typesThere are two drive types available on table saws: direct drive and belt drive.
Direct drive is called that because the blade is directly connected to the motor itself, so the motor is able to transfer all of its power to the blade. There is very little loss. On the plus side, they are much quieter than saws with belt drives and they produce less vibration. They require less maintenance because you don’t need to be worried about replacing the belt every so often. They are much smaller and lighter, so the table saws which use them are usually portable.

Belt drive saws on the other hand have a v-belt and pulley system, which transfers the power to the blade. While some power is lost that way, belt driven saws are capable of cutting through thicker hardwoods. Because belt driven motors are mounted further away from the blade, less dust will collect inside the motor, which means longer motor life. Although I’ve mentioned that belt driven saws can be less safe because of the greater kickback force, they are safer in other aspects. For instance, direct drive table saws will coast for much longer than their belt driven counterparts.

As far as price is concerned, belt driven table saws are more expensive because they produce more power and torque, making them suitable for professional, heavy-duty applications. Direct drive table saws are less powerful and they cost less. Belt driven table saws can also cost more in the long run because they require more maintenance, especially when it comes to belts, whereas direct drive saws are very cheap to run.


After reading this article, you should have a pretty good idea of what those power figures and motor specs mean and how they translate into the actual cutting power of a saw. All you need to do is figure out is what kind of work you need a saw to do, and then choose the appropriate table saw. With the information I’ve provided you with, that should be a piece of cake.