Left Versus Right Tilt Tablesaws


Most tablesaws have what is known as a tilting arbor, this arbor is designed to tilt either left or right. Some manufacturers build the same model of tablesaw that can be had in either a Left or Right tilt version. This presents a buyer with a quandary as to which configuration to get.  I believe the Left versus Right tilt issue is primarily one of personal preference. While there are a few mechanical considerations that could drive the selection one way or another, for most users there is no overwhelming advantage to be found in either tilt direction. I will explain though the consequences from using one or the other

What is Tilt
The tilting arbor allows the saw to cut bevels or angles on stock. There are numerous reasons to perform such an operation in woodworking but it actually is not done very often. Most often the saw blade is set to be 90 degrees to the table; I would guess that overwhelming majority of all tablesaw cutting is done with the blade angle set to 90 degrees. The most often used aspect of a tilting arbor is to accurately set the angle to a true 90 degrees.

Mechanical Differences
There are differences between right and left tilting saws; the tilt direction imposes some mechanical constraints upon the design of the arbor.

Motor Placement
On a left tilting cabinet and hybrid type saw the motor is to the left of the operator and so is it's cover. This means there is something immediately under the left table extension wing of the saw. With the motor on the left, this places some limitations on a few accessories one might choose to add to a saw.

One of those accessories is a sliding table. Some of these are not compatible with a left tilt machine because the motor cover and perhaps some other items will interfere with the placement of the brackets used to mount a sliding table.

Another accessory is a router table extension. There are many configurations and brands of these, those that place the router close to the mounting edge (typically those designed to go on the left) would not be compatible with a left tilt machine because the saw motor occupies some of the space needed by the router. The router extension tables sold to go on the right of the machine usually space the router to the far right edge or far enough away from the left edge that the right tilting saw motor (and cover) will not interfere with the router (until the motor door is opened at least).

Dust Collection
On some left tilt cabinet saws, the dust collection port is located on the left of the machine. Depending on the specific dust collection duct layout this may present a small challenge for duct routing.

Tilt Wheel
On a left tilt saw the tilt wheel is the right side of the cabinet. This would seem to be an advantage for right-handed users, the converse would be true for a right tilt saw. In reality, this is a very minor point because the tilt function is so rarely used.

Rip Fences
For most ripping functions the rip fence is set to the right of the blade. There are several different designs of rip fences, some can be easily used on either side of the blade, a few (like the Unifence) must be re-configured to be used on the opposite side of the blade, and there are at least a couple that cannot be used on the left side of the blade.

The use of a sliding table also enters into this aspect as well. When most sliding tables are fitted they will prevent the use of the rip fence to the left of the blade. There are exceptions to this rule and some fences suffer from this limitation more so than others.

There are two fence systems in particular that are worth special mention in this section.   These systems are normally (but not exclusively) set to be used from only one side of the blade. Many owners will take advantage of this and install the rails moved to the right (from the "typical" position) thus leaving no capacity whatsoever for the fence to be installed on the left.  Due to the way they are mounted, these fence system also require more effort to move from one side of the blade to the other.  One most fences, it is a trivial matter to simply slides or lift the fence from one side of the blade to the other.  The incremental fences must be detached and re-mounted; not hard, but not trivial either.

Some point out that on left tilt machines a dado blade will stack up to the right on the arbor thus throwing off the rip fence to blade measurement. This is true but this also happens whenever ANY blade (irregardless of tilt or not) is changed for one with a different kerf size. In the case of a dado blade on a lefty, this difference could be almost an inch, on righty's it will be smaller than 1/16" but there is still an error. The only true difference is that on a lefty the cursor is probably out of range for adjusting but the right tilt is not. In the real world none of us would probably adjust the cursor anyway, we would instead try to hit a mark or measure with another device anyway.

Trivia item:  A few tablesaws are designed such that with the blade tilted the rip fence will read true (with the same blade fitted).   Most saws are not designed this way, there is an offset whenever the blade is tilted and the amount of offset varies with the tilt angle.

Differences In Use
Left tilt users often claim a safety bonus because when a bevel RIP is being done with the fence to the right of the blade (which is where it is when most users do this) there is minimal risk of creating a "trapped cut" and resulting kickback situation. This is because if the stock lifts up the blade will lose contact with the piece and not present a good opportunity for kick-back since it cannot force the stock against the fence.  This same exact situation would be present on a right tilt saw with it's fence to the left of the blade. The only difference is that most saws have less cutting capacity to the left so one might not have the desired capacity for a particular operation.

In crosscut situations there is very little difference related to tilt, mostly because there is no rip fence involved and the stock usually isn't very wide; thus the risk of kickback is greatly reduced. Because most all saws have a miter gage slot on either side of the blade one can choose to use ever presents the least opportunity for trapping the cut.  There are a couple more trivial differences related to the arbor nut but they aren't worth considering unless you have a handicap which prevents you from using one hand or the other.

If you find yourself in the Left versus Right quandary, I can tell you that in all likelihood you will feel most comfortable getting a machine that tilts in a direction you are accustomed to. If not, all is not lost, you will (at least I did) readily adapt to the new tilt direction. If you are not predisposed one way or the other, my recommendation would be for the left tilting machine mainly because I would envision cutting bevels on narrow stock and that seems a little safer and is less work than changing the rip fence to do the same operation on a right tilt machine.  In closing I will tell you this, my saw is a right tilt machine and it isn't that big of a deal; in practice, blades are not tilted very often at all anyway.