• Matt Weber

Table Saw Tips for New Users



A table saw often serves as the “flagship” tool of professional carpenters as well as the home workshop. It can be used for crosscutting, miter cutting, bevel cutting, compound miter cutting, ripping, bevel ripping, rabbeting and resawing. Since the user guides the stock into the blade, rather than the blade into the stock, a table saw offers superior control and accuracy for a wide range of cutting applications. New users can check out these six handy table-saw tips to cut with more safety and confidence than ever. Note that in the article shown, the blade guard is sometimes removed for the sake of photo clarity, but HIR recommends that users at home always operate a table saw using its blade guard.



COUNT ON YOUR SUPPORT

When ripping long pieces of material on a table saw, the workpiece should be always be supported from beneath after it passes the blade. Furniture and cabinet makers typically use a stationary outfeed table for work support, but DIY'ers can rely on a foldaway roller stand to conserve space. A roller stand keeps the work-piece traveling forward smoothly and prevents it from falling off the rear of the table, which can result in blade tear-out and impact damage. The height of the adjustable roller should be set at the same level or just below the surface of the table. We purchased the fold-up model shown from Harbor Freight for less than $20. To cut sheet goods, arrange a couple of sawhorses as a makeshift outfeed table.



MARK THE KERF

The circular blade of a table saw doesn't cut like scissors but rather removes a line of material, and this line is called the "kerf" which refers to the thickness of the saw teeth. The kerf can measure up to 1/8 inch and should be taken into account when taking accurate measurements. To make a sight guide for the kerf, position a straight edge flush alongside the saw blade, then use a fine-point pencil to mark both sides of the blade kerf on your saw table. Some manufacturers provide a small window to mark the kerf, but I recommend drawing the lines from the blade all the way to the edge of the table to provide a more useful visual reference. Some carpenters will score this line, but that can get confusing if you use a blade with a different measurement, so we stick with erasable pencil.



GRANT AN EXTENSION

Miter gauges are crucial for making cross-cuts on a table saw. Most factory-supplied miter gauges, however, are too small to accurately handle workpieces longer than 2 or 3 feet because of the workpiece's tendency to pivot on either side of the undersized gauge. The solution: Make the miter gauge larger by adding an extension. The extension shown was made from a 4-in. wide scrap of painted wood trim screwed to the face of the miter gauge flush with the saw table. The board you choose should be very straight and strong enough to resist bending.

I first ripped 1/8 in. off one edge of the board to ensure a straight line, then routed that edge with a 1/4-in. roundover bit. The router gives the bottom edge of the extension a slight bullnose so it will easily slide over the table top without catching or chattering. The length of the extension should span the majority of the workpieces you plan to cut and should reach past the blade kerf.


Pass the extension over the blade and cut through it to show the precise kerf location, which can guide your production cuts. The extension not only adds stability and thus accuracy to you cross-cuts, but by backing the workpiece, it also reduces blade tear-out and splintering of the material.



UNDER PRESSURE

A featherboard is a safety device that applies pressure against a workpiece, keeping it flat against the table or fence. Featherboards can vary in shape and size, and you can make a simple version with your table saw.

Select a straight-grained, defect-free wood board and cut a 45-degree miter on one end. On the mitered end, cut several parallel cuts in the direction of the grain to create fingers or "feathers" that flex in the direction of workpiece travel. In any cutting operation where the blade guard must be removed because the blade won’t be cutting completely through the wood, “featherboards” should be used for additional safety. The featherboard prevents the workpiece from being dragged backward by blade friction. Featherboards can be clamped above and to the side of the workpiece to exert pressure until the cut is complete.

Don't want to make your own featherboard? A variety of manufactured table saw jigs and accessories are available from companies such as Milescraft.



AUXILIARY CLUB

In some cases of very narrow rips, such as less than 2 inches wide, the blade and fence can get dangerously close, which impedes visibility and makes it difficult to use a push stick. In such a case, you can build an L-shaped “auxiliary fence” about 5-1/2 inches wide and 12 to 22 inches long to fit your table surface. The rectangular sides must be straight and parallel.

The L-shaped lip aligns with the rip fence, and the lower side of the auxiliary fence acts as an extension of the rip fence, only with a lower profile to guide the stock by sliding beneath the guard for closer proximity to the blade.



PUSH IT

When ripping narrow stock, another useful table-saw tool is a push block. Like a push stick, it’s designed to spare your fingers as you push a workpiece into the blade. A push block, however, has a low, flat profile that can slide beneath the blade guard and a notch at its rear that catches the workpiece to push it from behind, when a normal push stick is too large to use.

To make a push block, use countersunk screws to fasten a 5-in. dorsal handle in a T-shape orientation along the midpoint of the1/2-in. thick plywood bottom, which has the 3/8-in. deep notch cut into one corner. Aside from the notch projection, the sides of the plywood bottom should be straight and parallel.



TABLE SAW TERMS AT A GLANCE

Rip Cut: Rip cuts, or “cutting to width”, is the most common table saw cut and goes along with the grain of the stock. It requires the use of the table saw’s rip fence.

Crosscut: The crosscut, or “cutting to length”, is one of the fundamental table saw cuts, entailing a cut across the grain of the wood. It requires the use of a miter gauge or sled on a table saw.

Bevel Cut: A bevel refers to a cut with the blade at an angle, as opposed to one perpendicular to the tabletop. Bevel cuts are common for joints and all table saws can adjust to accommodate bevel cuts.

Miter Cut: A miter is a cut to length at an angle, instead of perpendicular to the grain of the wood. It is a cut common to assembling frames.

Resaw: A resaw is an in-grain cut across the stock’s thickness, instead of its width. for example, a table saw can be used to resaw a 4x4 post into two 2x4 boards.


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