Before you tackle a new project, you should know how to use a table saw properly. A table saw makes it possible to achieve a wide variety of cuts, including dadoes, grooves, ripping, crosscutting and more. Before you master those techniques, you’ll need to learn the basics. If you are new to using a table saw or just need a refresher course, we’ve compiled some basic know-how and techniques that will help you achieve the best cut. You’ll be able to accomplish clean, straight lines for your next project in no time.
Proper Setup Is Key
The saw must be setup properly for best results or the table saw won’t be able to cut easily, safely or accurately. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you are ready to start:
- Inspect the table saw to be sure it is in good working order.
- The saw should be flat with deviation limited to no more than 0.010-inches.
- If using extension tables, all of them should be flush once assembled.
- Saw blade must be sharp.
- Ensure the guard includes a blade cover. This acts as a barrier to block any hands or fingers from touching the blade.
- Use a splitter and pawls to reduce the instance of kickback or ejection.
- Only use a board where the face surfaces are flat. Using a warped board or one that has uneven edges will be difficult to control while crosscutting or ripping.
Ripping The Right Way
Ripping just means you are cutting the wood with the grain and is a common practice when using a table saw. When attempting to achieve rip cuts, you’ll want to stand to the left of the blade. Your left hip should be against the front rail.
The push block will remain close at hand and you will feed the stock gently with your right hand. Make sure that your right arm stays in line with the board at all times.
Apply enough downward pressure from your left hand so that your palm is anchored to the table. Push with your forefinger and middle finger to keep the board close to the fence.
When the end of the board has moved beyond your left hand, you are ready to remove the hand from the saw table.
Short & Narrow
When you are ripping parts that are less than 1 ¼-inches wide, you need to use a notched sled which should be guided by the rip fence. This pushes the stock through the blade. Use a handle for easier pushing.
Long & Narrow
By using a shop made L-shaped fence mounted to the rip fence, you create extra space between the rip fence and blade cover. Using a tall push block will make it even easier to feed the stock.
Cross-cutting The Right Way
Cross-cutting is the action where you cut against the grain of the wood. This is another common practice with the table saw. The most common crosscut are usually made with the miter gauge set to 90-degrees to the miter-gauge slot. This will result in a clean, square cut if you learn a few basic procedures.
Stand in front of the miter gauge with your left hip placed against the front rail. Then, using your right hand, you will push the gauge towards the back of the saw.
Be sure to hold the board with your left hand against the miter-gauge fence. You also need to keep your fingers at least 6-inches from the blade cover to protect them.
Using the left hand, you can hold the board against the miter-gauge fence. Then, simply slide the gauge forward with your right hand until the blade is almost touching the leading edge of the board. Now you are ready to push the board through the blade.
Once the board has been cut, continue holding it firmly against the fence. Then, pull the gauge and the board back to the starting position. Make sure you always turn off the saw after you are finished.
Tips for Cross-Cutting
- Screw a long auxiliary wood fence onto the miter-gauge fence when applying a crosscut to long boards.
- Clamp a stop block to the rip fence if you need to cut multiple short pieces of wood to the same desired length.
- If you are cutting several long boards to the same length, use a stop block clamped to the auxiliary miter-gauge fence.
- Use a crosscut sled to make cross-cutting more safe and accurate.
One of the more dangerous aspects of using a table saw is dealing with the kickback. When the wood is set against the fence and then pushed across the table saw, it will sometimes lose pressure from the fence. As this drift occurs, the wood subsequently gets caught on the backside and is jerked into the direction of the blade. That’s towards you!
- Riving Knife
- Cross Cut Sled
- Push Stick
- Never Let Your Guard Down
By using a riving knife, you can prevent the wood from getting caught if it starts to drift away from the fence. This thin piece of metal locks in place behind the saw with the curvature facing towards the saw.
A sled will keep your hands away from the blade. It also moves the fence to the front of the blade instead of off to the side.
The low-profile alternative to a riving knife is the splitter. It gets added to a zero-clearance throat plate for usage. It serves the same purpose as a riving knife does by keeping the wood from drifting.
Using your hands to push wood is a dangerous tactic. Choose instead to use a push stick as an important safety procedure.
Always utilize the tools and safety equipment that come with your table saw. No matter how good and skilled you’ve become, the table saw has immense power and can change your life quickly, without warning.
If you feel you might need a refresher on basic safety tips for woodworking, check out our safety tips page.
The table saw is an amazing tool that offers precise and perfectly engineered cuts to your woodworking projects. There is a vast amount of information to be learned as you become more skilled in this trade. Practice the basic until they become like second nature and then you will be ready for more advanced techniques. If you haven’t bought a table saw yet, our handy buying guide should help make your decision easier.
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