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A Comprehensive Guide On How To Get Started Using A Table Saw
If you are really interested in making things out of wood a table saw is arguably the most important, the most versatile tool you can own. I would conservatively estimate that over 90% of the projects make on Woodworking For Mere Mortals run through my table saw at one point or another. A lot of new woodworkers are hesitant to use a table saw because it seems kind of scary at first. We’ve all heard of horror stories about people losing fingers on a table saw.
First goal is to change your mindset from one of fear to one of respect. Simply understanding how any tool works will go a long way in building your confidence. As far as general safety I have two fundamental tips.
Number one, trust your gut If you ever set up for a cut, and it just doesn’t feel right, say maybe your hands are gonna be in an awkward position or your work piece seems unstable, just don’t make the cut. There are always a lot of ways to make cuts. Find a better method I’ve been using a table saw for years, and I still sometimes set up an awkward cut that causes me to think twice and then just reconfigure it.
The second, before you make any cut always imagine where your hands and your body will be positioned throughout the entire cut. Hopefully you get used to doing this every single time. You never want to be halfway through a cut, and then just discover that you don’t have a plan for getting the board all the way through. There are a lot of different types of table saw blades you can buy, but you really only need one I suggest getting a general purpose or combination blade. Either a 32 tooth blade or a 50 tooth blade. Personally I’ve never seen any advantage to using the fine tooth crosscut blades.
To set up for a cut, install the blade with the teeth facing towards you. Sometimes there’s an arrow on the blade to help remind you. This piece that the blade fits on is called an arbor, and the blade gets held in with this washer and a nut. My saw came with a wrench to tighten it down. This is called a riving knife.
Always make sure you have this installed I’ll talk more about this in a minute. Next, drop this insert plate into place, and make sure it’s flush with the top of the table. This is called an anti-kickback pawl. You can install it for more safety.
I don’t actually have any data to support this, but I believe most table saw injuries are caused by kickback. A blade spinning at over 3000 RPM can throw wood at you like a bullet. Kickback occurs when the wood doesn’t run straight through the blade or twists. As it gets to the rear of the blade it binds, and the teeth grab the cut off and throw it forward. To put kickback into perspective.
The number one device you can install to help prevent kickback is a riving knife. It’s simply a metal piece that’s in line with the blade right behind it. The wood is always prevented from touching the rear side of the blade. Another option is to use splitters which drop into your insert plate to keep the wood separated as it makes the cut. As for your technique, never make a freehand cut on a table saw.
Always use a fence or miter gauge or some other method of supporting the work piece and keeping it square with the blade It’s also a good idea, good practice, to not stand directly behind the blade of the saw when you’re making a cut. Stand off to the side if kickback does occur you’ll be out of the line of fire I don’t like to make any specific recommendations for brands or types of table saws.
You can make amazing things with very inexpensive table saws. The one recommendation I do like to make is to make sure whatever saw you get has a good rip fence. You want it to slide and lock into place easily and stay perfectly parallel with the blade. All rip fences come with a way to calibrate them to make sure that they’re square. It’s called a rip fence because it’s often used for ripping lumber, and that just means cutting with the grain of the wood.
Usually along the length of a board. But really you want to use it for cutting any board that’s longer in this direction than it is wide. To use it, just slide it over to whatever width you need. Usually I just use a tape measure, and measure from the fence to the edge of one of the blade’s teeth. Sometimes I need to cut to a line.
Just make sure to account for the thickness or the kerf of the blade itself. You’ll want to make sure to set the blade to cut on one side of the line or the other. Raise or lower your blade to cut a little bit higher than the board. Once you have your fence set and your board ready to cut, turn on the saw and press the work piece against the rip fence, and start feeding the work piece through the blade. When I’m making the cut, my eyes are focused mostly on the fence, not the blade, to make sure that the wood is pressed against it through the whole cut.
Now, of course you already know Micro Jig is a sponsor of this show, and I highly recommend using the Grr-Ripper for every single cut you make. But it’s also unreasonable for me to assume that everybody has one. Most table saws come with a push stick, or you can make your own. There are lots of designs online. The point is just use something, anything other than your fingers.
As the name inplies, a crosscut is any cut made across the direction of the woodgrain. Usually crosscuts are used to cut a long board like this into shorter pieces. Your table saw will come with a miter gauge probably like this one. You can also upgrade it to a better one like this one that a viewer sent me. You just slide it into one of these miter slots on the table top.
To make a cut, just place your board against the miter gauge fence, and if you have a line, just line it up to the edge of the blade. Then, while you’re holding the board against the miter gauge, back it off away from the blade, turn on the saw, and just feed it through. A lot of times you need to make a bunch of cuts all the same length.
There are several ways to do this.
First, screw a board to your miter gauge to make a longer fence. Then, just take another scrap of wood and clamp it to your fence in whatever size you need your boards to be. Butt your work piece up against that stop block, hold it in place, and start cutting. All these pieces will be the exact same length. Sometimes it’s handy to use a stop block on your rip fence. Let’s say I need to cut a bunch of pieces that are this wide where I’ve marked that line.
First, I’ll line it up with my blade. Then, using the thickest stop block I can find I’ll press it up against the edge. Then, pull my rip fence over ’til it’s touching that and lock it down. Then, I’ll take the stop block and clamp it to the fence back on this side of the blade. Now, for each cut I’ll press my work piece up against that stop block, hold it in place, and feed it through the saw.
The important part about this technique is to use the stop block. You might be tempted just to use the fence as a stop block. The problem is that the wood can get trapped in between the fence and the blade, again, causing kickback. When you start with the stop block back here it gives you this extra space between the fence and your work piece. So I hope this Mere Mortals Basics has encouraged you to get started making things with a table saw.
Obviously you can spend years learning more advanced techniques and honing your table saw skills, but really the two basic saw cuts I taught you here will cover the majority of your projects.