Mike asked a question that I’ve heard before, but not often. He’s looking to buy a new saw, is trying to decide between a panel saw and a traditional table saw.
I was wanting to get information regarding purchasing a Panel Saw versus a regular Table Saw. For my application and workshop, the Panel Saw seems like an interesting choice, but price seems to be much more. Could this be a future topic for you to consider writing about?
Without knowing more about the application, I can only make generalities. In my opinion, the capabilities of the two very different types of saws is going to be the deciding factor, and not the price.
If you’re mainly breaking down sheet goods, a panel saw might be the way to go.
They take up a bit of space, but allow for sheet materials, such as plywood or OSB, to be cut at an angle off of vertical. On a table saw, or with a track saw or circular saw, you need a lot more horizontal floor or shop space to make similar cuts.
A sheet is slid into place at the bottom of the saw, resting against a series of supports, and the saw is brought down, gliding on linear rails.
Shown above is a Milwaukee panel saw, $1300 via Home Depot. There are larger and more expensive models out there.
There are disadvantages to using a panel saw. For one, the saw only moves in one direction. You can’t make angular cuts.
Given its design and intent, a panel saw can’t be used in ways a table saw can. For example, let’s say you have a board, 7 inches wide, and you want to rip it down to 6 inches. You can’t really do that with a panel saw, at least not easily. And you might not even have the clearance between saw and frame.
If you want to cut smaller pieces of plywood, the footprint and larger size of a panel saw might be more of a disadvantage than benefit. For instance, you won’t use a panel saw to cut 4 inch strips of plywood for drawer sides.
Table saws are different beasts, and capable of doing much more than breaking down sheet goods.
Above, a SawStop industrial cabinet saw, is the largest of their full-sized table saws. Their professional cabinet saws start at around $2550 via Amazon. Their largest table saw, shown above, is priced quite a bit higher.
These beasts can handle full-sized sheets of plywood, but you might also want additional outfeed support.
Smaller table saws, such as portable table saws, can also be used, but you’ll want to either build a larger workpiece support table around it, or invest in several auxiliary support accessories.
Just talking about breaking down large sheets of plywood, a panel saw can be placed near a wall. A cabinet saw really needs to be placed in the middle of a space. Consider breaking down a full sheet of plywood. Given how plywood is fed through a table saw, you would need twice the length, at the least.
For simplicity, let’s say you’re breaking down half a sheet, or 4 ft x 4 ft in size. You would need at least 8 feet of length to feed the sheet through the saw. Now let’s say you’re cutting a full size sheet in half, to create that 4-foot square. At the very least, you would need 8 feet in both directions, plus additional space in order to maneuver.
This is why a lot of people use circular saws or track saws to break down sheet goods – you only need enough space to put the sheet or panel on a work surface or raised off the floor.
If you have ever asked an associate at a lumber yard or home center to break down sheet goods or crosscut wider boards for you, they’ve probably done it on a panel saw, which can be fit on one side of an aisle.
In a workshop environment, I’m not sure that panel saw vs. table saw is a common purchasing decision. Instead, if someone is seriously considering a panel saw, I think that the more frequent question would be about which to buy first.
If I need to make long cuts in plywood, I break out my track saw. I use my track saw or a portable table saw to make smaller rip cuts, and there are multiple options for making crosscuts.
Without knowing Mike’s exact needs, but assuming he works with a lot of plywood or other sheet materials, or does a lot of crosscutting that exceeds the capacity of a miter saw, what would you recommend to him? Panel saw? Table saw? Both? Something else?