Direct drive vs. belt drive table saws

Direct drive vs. belt drive table saw it’s a question I ask myself every time I look at purchasing a new table saw.

It’s one of the many criteria I use to narrow down my purchase, in fact, it’s usually one of the final decisions. I’ve also been through what type, contractor, hybrid or cabinet.

From that which brand? Grizzly, hammer? Makita, Bosch or DeWalt?

Budget… which is a huge factor in a table saw purchase.

But does the drive type matter? Actually yes it does, both have their own pros and cons and purchasing the wrong one could mean that your table saw just isn’t up to the type of work you are looking to do.

Looking at what you are doing now and what you may do in the future will help shape your decision over a belt versus direct driven table saws.

So first off what’s the difference?

Drive Types

If you haven’t worked it out from the title of the article, there are two drive types that will power your table saw.

Direct Drive and belt drive.

Direct Drive

Direct Drive Table Saw

Direct drive gets its name because it’s directly attached to the blade, so the motor and the blade are “one.”

This means that all the power that the motor produces can be transferred directly into the blade with very little lost from the motor to blade. Needing less horsepower to get the job done.

There also tends to be less vibration generated by a direct drive motor which will help with the accuracy in your cuts.

Direct drive table saws tend to be smaller than belt drive, something which may be important if you have little space.

A direct drive table saw produces less kickback that a belt drive table saw, but they tend to coast for a much longer time, and having a table saw blade that’s spinning when not in use is dangerous!

Direct drive table saw’s tend to be cheaper than belt drive, they also cost less in the long run due to lower maintenance costs.

A direct drive saw also tends to be on the nosier side compared to a belt drive table saw.

Belt Drive saws

Old School Belt

Belt drive saws get their name from the fact that they aren’t directly attached to the table saw blade. Instead the motor uses a v-belt and pulley system which transfers the power from the motor to the blade.

While you will lose some power in the transfer from the motor to blade via the belt system, there are benefits to a belt driven table saw.

Firstly you can cut thicker hardwoods, as the cutting depth on a belt drive system takes up less space than a motor so the blade can be extended further.

Table Saw Dust

Because the motor is situated further away from the blade, it doesn’t suffer from saw dust build up nearly as much as a universal aka direct drive motor.

This means it runs cooler, reducing damage from heat build-up. 

Though there are added risks with a belt driven table saw, for example, they produce a greater kickback force, but as long as you take care when using your table saw kick back shouldn’t be a problem.

They do coast for less time that a direct driven table saw so they can be considered safer in that aspect.

You will find that belt drive table saws are more expensive than direct drive. This is because they produce more power and torque and have a great cutting depth.

This makes them much more suitable for professional, heavy duty applications.

They also tend to cost more in the long run due to that fact that they will require more maintenance, the belts, for example, will wear out quicker than a direct table saw motor.

Longevity

When it comes to longevity, you may think that the direct drive motor has this in the bag.

There’s no belt that could wear out, your hand power tools are all direct drive and have been going strong so surely direct drive is going to be the best answer for longevity.

Well, you’d be wrong.

An induction motor aka belt drive tends to outlast the “universal” (uses brushes) motor.

The reason for this is that they run cooler due to better ventilation, not being directly attached to a blade that is producing heat via friction.

They also don’t tend to get as much sawdust build up while cutting which in a direct driven table saw would affect the ventilation of the motor causing overheating issues which ultimately affects the longevity.

Horsepower

When it comes to choosing a table saw horsepower is important.

Personally, the more, the better, if a saw is underpowered, it’s not going to be able to complete the tasks you want, and it can also be dangerous.

For example, I have a Makita battery powered circular saw, I was breaking down birch plywood, and suddenly the saw stopped.

I thought perhaps it hit a hard spot so backed the blade away from the uncut surface and started the saw again and approached the uncut edge, the saw jolted and cut into the plywood the right of where I wanted. I guess this was a form of “kick-back.”

The cause of this problem was that I had already cut a load of plywood and the batteries were getting low so the saw was underpowered for the job and by forcing it to work underpowered I damaged the plywood. Now that could have been much worse, it could have been me and not the plywood.

So horsepower is important!

Now the horsepower number is good, but you also need to take notice of the available voltage to the motor, as this will indicate the true power of your motor.

For example, a table saw with 1 to 2 horsepower will operate at 120volts.

Smaller table saws will draw around 15amps of power, where you 2hp table saw will draw anywhere from 18-24 amps.

When you more up to the bigger more powerful table saw’s they feature larger motors which can produce anywhere from 3-5hp and will operate at 240v.

If you intend to be cutting hardwoods 3inches thick or more, this is the sort of power you want, anything less and the blade will be underpowered for the cut.

Plus the more power a table saw the more safety features they tend to cram in. So more power may equal more safety…

Belt drive vs. direct drive

  Belt Drive Direct Drive
Longevity X
Power X
Cost X
Portability X
Cutting Depth X
Maintenance X
Noise X

Conclusion    

Well, if you read the article and looked at the table above it really comes down to what you want from your table saw. If you want something kicking out huge amounts of power, with a large cutting depth and you are willing to deal with the additional maintenance, then belt drive is the way to go.

However if you want something that costs less and will do 90% of the jobs you have in mind, then a direct drive table saw could be for you.

Direct drive vs. belt drive table saws
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