Top tips and techniques for precision woodworking.
Near the center of most wood shops you’ll find a table saw, and for good reason. This essential machine performs a wide range of tasks such as ripping boards to width, crosscutting stock to length, and sawing on-the-money miters, bevels, box joints, dadoes, and other joints. With the right jigs a tablesaw can help you cut tapers, raise door panels, or even carve out wide coves in crown moldings. To make your saw as productive as possible do these 10 easy things:
1. Use the right blade.
There are specific blades for most tablesaw tasks. The two main types are crosscut blades with 60-80 teeth, and rip blades with up to 30 teeth (in 10” diameter). And, there are many specialty blades designed for various materials and applications such as cutting plywood or melamine. If you do a certain application a lot, you should invest in a blade specifically designed for that task and material. Otherwise, think about investing in a good combination or general-purpose blade with 40-50 teeth that does an adequate job across a variety of cuts and materials.
2. Give it plenty of room.
When placing the table saw in your shop or at the job site, allow at least 4’ on either side of the blade, and 8’ both in front of the blade and behind the blade. A little breathing room will help you work more effectively and safely
3. Provide outfeed support.
Long boards and sheetgoods can be tricky to control through a cut. If the workpiece is not supported on the exit end of the saw it will tend to lift up as you complete the cut. That’s a recipe for bad cuts and dangerous kickback. To avoid that from happening, install an outfeed extension (below left). With it, the workpiece will be well supported throughout the cut, allowing you to make clean and safe cuts. Many manufactured outfeed extensions lift off or fold down when not in use to save on space.
A roller stand (above right) provides another option for outfeed support. Most stands have a single roller that helps the workpiece glide smoothly. The height is adjustable and they collapse for storage.
4. Keep the tabletop clean.
For clean cuts wood must feed smoothly and steadily across your saw’s tabletop. To make that happen, use a shop vacuum to suck away all the chips and sawdust from the top, miter slots, and fence. Then apply paste wax or a spray lubricant that’s designed for woodworking tool surfaces. The coating will also help prevent rust on cast-iron surfaces.
5. Align the blade.
For clean, burn-free table saw cuts, the blade and fence must be parallel to the miter slots. To ensure that, measure the distance between the slot and the front of the blade using a precision measuring device like the specialized dial-indicator gauge shown above. Then measure the distance between the slot and the back of the blade. Both measurements should be the same. If they’re not, you need to either loosen and adjust the table, or do the same to the trunnions that hold the motor/blade assembly, depending on your type of saw. Refer to your saw’s owner’s manual for these adjustments.
With the blade parallel to the miter slots, check to see if the fence is also aligned parallel to the slots. Again use the precision measuring device to measure the distance between the slot and the fence at the fence’s front and back. You’ll need to adjust the fence if these measurements don’t match. With the blade and fence parallel to the miter slot, rest assured the fence and blade are also parallel to each other.
6. Invest in a dado set.
With a dado set you can make a lot of joinery cuts such as dadoes (cross-grain channels), grooves (with-the-grain channels), tenons, locked rabbets, box joints, and tongue-and-grove joints. You’ll be amazed at how much joinery is possible with a table saw. A stacked dado set consists of two conventional-looking “outside” blades with “chippers” of various thickness stacked between them. You can infinitely and precisely adjust the thickness of the set’s cutting width by adding or subtracting the chippers as well as thin paper, plastic, or metal shims.
You need to use a dado insert that will accommodate the width of your stacked dado blades. (See red insert in photo.)
7. Use dust collection.
You need a means to control the dust generated by your table saw. Not only does this keep your shop clean and save you time during cleanup, it makes for a healthier shop environment. What’s more, dust collection improves the performance of your saw by keeping miter lots clean and allowing the motor to run cooler.
For stationary saws, get a portable dust collector like the one above, or a cyclone collector. These powerful machines suck the dust from your table saw through a hose attached to a port on the back or side of the saw. Most portable table saws have a smaller-diameter port for attaching a shop vacuum.
8. Level the throat plate.
A throat plate that is not flush to the saw’s tabletop can catch the edge of a workpiece and ruin a cut. To level the throat plate, first remove it and vacuum all debris from its opening. Return the plate and lay a straightedge over its top to see if the plate is flush. If it isn’t, use the plate’s adjustment screws to raise or lower it as necessary.
9. Set the correct blade height.
A table saw blade should be positioned high enough to run cool without burning, but not raised so high it causes a safety concern. Use this rule of thumb: raise the blade so there’s about 3/16” of the blade exposed above the workpiece at the blade’s apex. (At this height, usually one full saw tooth is exposed at the apex.)
10. Upgrade your miter gauge.
To provide solid support to larger boards, and to increase accuracy, consider buying and aftermarket miter gauge. Look for one that has a long, solid extension to support the workpiece. A gauge like the one above has an adjustable stop block designed for cutting multiple pieces to the exact same length. This gauge also has positive stops at 0, 10, 22-1/2, 30 and 45 degrees for fast and repeatable cuts.
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