Troubleshooting Common Table Saw Problems

As with just about any power tool, there are an awful lot of issues one might deal with.

While some are extremely rare, some are fairly common.

Here, I will try to help you address common issues as well as equip you to find the answers to more specific questions and concerns.

But first, the very best troubleshooting advice I can give you:

Read your owner’s manual!

Can’t understand why anyone would want to operate something so expensive and dangerous without doing so. Of course there are various similarities between brands, but every manufacturer puts their own spin on things. When you get the info upfront, you are better prepared to deal with any issue that does arise.

A preacher of preparation I am indeed. On that note, I’d like to suggest you take a look at my Maintenance and Alignment Guides.

Table saw troubleshooting basically falls into two categories, cut issues and mechanical problems. My Table Saw Alignment Guide will help ensure the accuracy of your cuts. Then the My Ultimate Guide to Table Saw Maintenance will help lower the frequency of mechanical malfunctions and preserve your machine’s longevity.

Following the guidelines laid out for you here on Table Saw Choice will set you up very nicely to make safe, accurate cuts with your table saw for a very long time to come.

Anyway, let’s get into some common cut-related issues new and old woodworkers tend to have.

Cut Trouble

Let’s start with the most basic:

My cuts come out splintery and rough.

If tear out is a consistent problem for you, there are many potential causes.

The issue may be with your blade sharpness, feed rate, or blade speed. Zero-clearance throat inserts really help to cut down on tearout as well. But the most common issues are dull blades and inexperience.

Sometimes, you simply have to learn the proper feed rate to blade speed ratio for a certain type of wood. And never underestimate the importance of high quality blades designed for the cut you are performing.

My blade binds and slows as I make my cuts.

If your blade is having trouble getting through cuts, your potential solutions are similar to the first three above. Sharpen your blade, slow your feed rate, lower your blade speed, or perhaps combine them.

My stock consistently wants to kickback when I make rips.

If you’re constantly in danger of your material flying across the room when making simple rips, the issue is almost certainly blade to fence alignment. That is true as long as you have followed all of the safety advice from Table Saw Safety Basics. If you haven’t the cause could be any number of things.

It’s also very important that you have equipped the anti-kickback features from Essential Table Saw Items such as a riving knife and anti-kickback pawls.

I need to cut a bevel greater (or less than) than 45°.

This isn’t so much a troubleshooting issue as a fairly common task that is just outside the table saw’s natural capabilities.

Naturally, there are a quite a few different jigs out there designed to let you get the job done. Here is a video that outlines a very simple jig for the job, but there are a ton of ways to do it.

I need to cut a dowel down the center.

This may seem somewhat crude, but your best option is likely to glue it to another board and cut through them both. Don’t risk any method that brings your hands close to the blade to cut an unanchored piece of round stock.

If there’s a basic cut-related troubleshooting issue you are having, please feel free to comment below. I’ve tried my best, but I’m sure there are plenty of basic cut-quality questions I’ve long forgotten as they become everyday habit.

Now, let’s move on to potential mechanical problems you might experience with a table saw.

Mechanical Trouble

Mechanical issues are a bit different from cut problems.

One factor is that every manufacturer sets up their saws’ guts a little differently. So the ability to make accurate blanket statements about how to solve table saw motor problems is rather limited.

Either way, let’s address some of the more common solutions by going over the simplest issues first.

My table saw won’t turn on.

Perhaps you see this coming but:

Check your power connections before anything else. Yes, start with the plug in the wall, the circuit breaker, and the power switch. People make mistakes, even woodworkers.

Then there is always the possibility of damaged wires, outlets not working, and extension cord capability. If you have a lot of factors in your electrical setup, try to make things simpler. This is better for safety also.

If need be, switch out connections with other tools, outlets, or power cords to see if you can identify a faulty piece to the puzzle. If the issue isn’t fixed, see if the last solution to the next problem works for you.

My table saw stopped in the middle of cutting and won’t turn back on.

If this is an uncommon problem for you, it may just be your inexperience with the material you are cutting. If this is the case, stop forcing stock through the cut. You may need a slower blade speed for more torque. Be careful, do this too much and you could hurt yourself or damage your saw.

Depending on your model and the severity of the abuse, you might trip your saw’s “overload switch”. Oftentimes, you can simply turn the saw off, disconnect the power, wait a bit, plug it back up, and get back to work.

If not though, time to check your user’s manual for the method to turn your saw back on. There may be a lever or button in a not-so-obvious location.

If you’ve gone this far and the issue still isn’t resolved, perhaps it’s something bigger. Hopefully one of the next few solutions will work for you. If not, there is always a backup plan. Keep reading to find out how to find the answer to any table saw troubleshooting issue.

When my table saw runs, I smell burning. My table saw make unusual or unusually loud noises. My table is smoking or sparking. I think my table saw is going to EXPLODE!

If the last one is the case, shut off the power supply and step the hell back!

But more than likely your situation isn’t quite so dramatic.

Perhaps your solution won’t be either:

One major cause of table saw motor malfunction is excessive debris build up. I’m not exaggerating when I talk about how important proper routine maintenance is.

Table saws create a lot of debris. If you’re not used to cleaning out your saw’s innards, you’ll likely be surprised when how much has accumulated around your saw’s motor housing, arbor assembly, fans, junction boxing, shafts, wiring, and gears.

Sawdust gunk and grime really can be the culprit behind all of these motor problems. So if you need a cleaning, do it right:

Be sure to disconnect the power and get all the in there. Whether you have to remove the motor housing or flip your portable upside down: do what you have to do to get it clean.

No air compressors (may make things worse). And the shop vac isn’t going to cut it. A vacuum may get things started, but it’s going to take a strong-bristled brush and some elbow grease. You might even need a screwdriver for some of the toughest junk. Maybe a little moisture, but no cleaning chemicals at all.

While you’re in there, go ahead and check for things like loose screws, melted or torn wires, worn belts, chipped gears, and damage to other moving parts.

If you do a thorough cleaning, reassemble the saw, connect the power, and still nothing—don’t fret. You were still productive, and the solution may still be a relatively simple one.

So whats next? Well…

I’ve cleaned and checked everything up to this point and my problem still persists.

Ok, don’t panic. There are still potential easy fixes to be had.

It’s almost always easier to replace a part than to replace a whole table saw. There are even some cheap fixes that are on the easier side to diagnose.

For instance, if your motor is direct drive, your electrical brushes may simply need replacing. Refer to your manual on info about where and how to locate these and identify whether they need changing out.

Another easy fix I’d like to point out—partly because manufacturers like to tell woodworkers they need a new saw when they encounter it—is a faulty capacitor. If your motor sounds like it’s choking and smells like a bad cigar, this is almost definitely your problem.

All you really need a volt-ohm meter to to test it out. If you get an inconsistent electrical reading, look up the proper replacement capacitor for your saw model and switch them out.

For many of a table saw’s components, that’s all you need to do. But it’s simply not feasible to list the diagnosis for every single part malfunction (nor am I a mechanical expert myself).

You might be tired of reading anyway. But you’re almost to the Holy Grail of table saw troubleshooting. Don’t turn back now.

Finding Answers Elsewhere

Perhaps the answer you needed couldn’t be found above.

Makes sense, as it would be virtually impossible to document and try to answer every single cut-related and mechanical issue table saw owners might have.

What I seek to do instead is educate you on how to get your own issues fixed. To that end, I’d like to offer one piece of advice and teach you one skill.

The piece of advice I’d like to offer you is to either decide you’re going to learn a little about the schematics of table saws (especially your own) or find yourself a reliable power tool mechanic in your area and develop a good working relationship with them. In this modern world, people too often underestimate the value of developing relationships with people who have practical skills. Woodworkers know better.

Now, if you’re a little more internet savvy, the skill I’d like to leave you with may be just as valuable to you as a mechanically inclined friend.

Over the last decade, the Internet has really allowed woodworkers to share information at a completely new level than was available before. Today, one of the most common places to find answers to your woodworking questions is on forum websites.

If you didn’t know, a forum is a kind of a “old school” type of website (as much as a type of website can be “old school”) that allows people to hold discussions—the forerunner of social media.

There are many forums specifically for woodworking and answers often come quickly, abundantly, and in a friendly tone. Do not be afraid to ask your most basic or “stupid” questions in forums. In all honestly, it’s probably been asked there for years now.

Getting started on a forum is simple. And it ends up being a good place to pick up extra tips you wouldn’t have even known to ask about. Just make a quick account and post your question according the forum’s guidelines.

Some of my favorite woodworking forums include:
Woodworking Talk/a>
Sawmill Creek
Fine Woodworking Forum

Please note that not all answers will be helpful. And you may suffer some good-humored teasing. But that is the nature of forums. Be courteous yourself when posing questions, use good judgement, and feel free to post the same question across different forums to hear the answers of different groups.

As long as you have the courage to ask the question, someone has the answer for you.

You can even post your questions directly on this page. I’ll answer anything and everything I can.

It’s best to try and learn as much about your tools as you can. This saves you time, stress, and money in the long run.

Make sure to check out our list of all table saw guides for more.

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