I found a used, brand-name tablesaw for less than half the cost of new. What should I look for to make sure I’m not getting a lemon?

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Wiggle the arbor shaft to check for any looseness. Any play could translate into a wobbly blade and poor cut quality.

Q:

I found a used, brand-name tablesaw for less than half the cost of new. What should I look for to make sure I'm not getting a lemon?
–Brad Bowers, Reno, Nev.

A:

The price sounds right, Brad, and because it's a well-established brand, getting service and parts should prove easy.

Now do your research. Google the model number to learn about any problems other users have identified.

Many machine manufacturers archive product manuals on their Web sites. Download and print the manual and refer to it when you inspect the saw. As you make your external inspection, talk to the owner about the saw's history. Is he the first owner or did he purchase it from a high school shop? Is he a woodworker who barely had time for his hobby? This will give you an idea about the saw's "mileage."

Look out for signs of neglect or abuse. A little surface rust can be removed, but a deeply pitted table may need to be replaced or re-ground, nullifying your savings. Are there cracks or dents in the cabinet? A jolt hard enough to damage a tablesaw's casing may have damaged internal components. Don't be too shy to ask about mishaps.

Check for missing parts, such as the miter gauge, blade guard, dado insert, and blade wrenches. Mentally add up the replacement cost of any missing parts and add it to the cost of the saw. Does it still seem like a good deal? Or perhaps you've gained some negotiation room.

Now let's open 'er up. Unplug the saw and take off the blade. Rotate the arbor, then gently wiggle it up and down. If you feel any play or hear any clicking sounds it could indicate worn bearings that need replacing. Brush off the height- and bevel-adjustment gears, and check for cracked or missing teeth. Raise and lower the blade completely and tilt the bevel through its full range to ensure smooth movement.

With the blade still off, plug in the saw and fire it up. If you feel or hear any vibration, remove the belts and power up the saw again to see if the vibration continues. If so, it could be a problem with the motor or bearings. Figure in repair or replacement costs.

Finally, ask the seller if you can cut some wood with the saw to see how it handles under load. Install your own sharp blade and make multiple cuts in hardwood scrap. Does the saw bog down easily or stop completely? Feel the motor afterward. Is it hot to the touch? If so, figure in the cost of a new motor.

If, after all of this, you've decided that the tablesaw is indeed a good deal, there's one last thing to consider. Who can you bribe to help load it?