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Origin and History of the Circular Table Saw

Aug 11, 2008
Circular saws and table saws have been around for about 200 years though not everyone can agree on exactly who invented the circular saw or even when it was invented. There are three generally accepted theories, two of which involve male inventors and one suggests the table saw was invented by a woman. All the theories essentially point to one need for a table saw: to cut the logs and lumber in saw mills.

Here are three different theories about the origin of the table saw:

Theory 1: A sail maker named Samuel Miller of England supposed invented the circular saw in 1777. He built his saw with a spinning blade that operated by wind. Larger versions of these blades were used in timber mills which means the timber industry created the first real table saw. This fixed table saw position allowed the logs to be pushed into the spinning blade much in the same way wood is pushed into a table saw today.

Theory 2: A gentleman named Walter Taylor built a saw mill in 1762 where he cut lumber for ship builders. Historical descriptions of the mill dating from 1790 describe circular type saws being used to rough cut the logs in his mill. Taylor has a couple other patents but the circular or table saw was not one of them.

Theory 3: This third theory takes place a little later. In 1813 there was a Shaker woman named Tabitha Babbit who worked at the spinning house of the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts. As a spinner she knew how to use a spinning wheel. The story goes that she was watching two men cut a shingle with a two-handed saw when she had the idea to mount a tin disk with notches along the circumference to her spinning wheel while pushing the wooden shingle into the spinning disk. The idea of using a spinning saw blade to cut wood was apparently a new one and her idea was later adopted and enlarged for use the local saw mill.

No matter which theory you agree with we know that the idea of a circular saw blade the operated by pushing the wood towards it probably emerged sometime in the late 1700s or early 1800s. Though technology has gone a long way it is interesting to note that the basic functionality of the table saw is essentially not that much different: a blade spins while material is fed towards it for cutting or ripping.

It is interesting to note that the concept of a table saw actually came before the use of electricity. Early circular table saws were operated in any number of more natural means including using a foot pedal like on a spinning wheel or even water powered. Many early saw mills were built along rivers to capture the motion of the water on a water wheel which was then attached to a shaft which turned a large saw blade.
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