Did you know that the table saw is the most dangerous machine in a woodworker’s shop? Yes, it is because its razor-sharp blade can easily cut through flesh and bone in the same way that it can cut through sheet goods, rip boards, and make mitered cuts! For this reason, safety is the most important aspect of properly using a table saw.
For beginners who are new to it, a table saw basically consists of a circular saw blade mounted on a large metal table and a motor that runs the blade. The table itself should have a large, flat and heavy quality with a rip fence for moving the table on the blade’s either side; a removable insert for quick blade changes or for easy dado blade installation; and a blade guard, among other safety features.
Think Safety First
Safety experts suggest always reading the instruction manual for a new table saw before actually using it. There will likely be specific instructions for its safe and effective use, especially when it’s a new model with new-fangled features.
Furthermore, a safety first mindset is a must for both beginners and veterans. A few important safety tips to keep in mind:
- Wear the proper safety gear including thick work gloves, safety goggles, and ear muffs, as well as work coveralls
- Turn off – or better yet, unplug – the unit when squaring up the blade. Be conscious of where the on/off switch is located so that it can be easily accessed in case of an emergency
- Check that the safety guard support is in alignment with the blade. Otherwise, the boards can become hung up on their support during a cut
- Avoid cut-offs shorter than 2 inches although it’s acceptable to shave off a little from the board’s end. Otherwise, the too short cut-offs can become dangerous projectiles
- Always be conscious of where your hands and fingers are in relation to the blade. Be focused on what you’re doing instead of being distracted by the surrounding noise, not even by music from your earphones
In the following sections, we will discuss using a table saw for making cross cuts.
Making Accurate Right-angle Cuts
The key to making precise right-angle cuts is in squaring the miter gauge handle in relation to the saw blade. While a table saw may have angle indicators, we suggest using a 45° drafting triangle.
Loosen the miter gauge’s handle, square it up to the blade using the drafting triangle, and retighten the handle. The side of the drafting triangle against the blade should fall between the teeth closest to the plate.
The best extension fence is usually a straight board at least 12 inches in length, as well as either 1×2 or 1×3.
Making Precise 45° Miter Cuts
Creating perfect miters are nearly as easy and fast as making perfect cross cuts. But be sure to set the miter gauge to its 45° angle – use a drafting square just to be sure – and mount an extension fence to it.
Next, start making fine cuts to the wood. Be sure to hold the material in a secure, nearly tight, manner because the blade will likely pull it off line otherwise.
If possible, start with the miter cuts before making square cuts. The latter should be done at the opposite end since it will likely be more accurate.
In case of complete frames (e.g., picture frames), we suggest making two test boards first and then pushing the miters together for checking with a drafting square. Adjustments can be made in the miter gauge in case these aren’t perfect.
Making Accurate Square Cuts
The steps in making precise square cuts can be summarized as follows:
- Rough cut the long boards 3 inches or so longer than their final length
- Increase or decrease the height of the blade according to the thickness of the boards, approximately 1/8 inch higher
- Place the board’s factory end past the extension fence’s end, which will make the blade shave it but not cut it
- Hold the board tightly against the fence so that it doesn’t get out of line
- Slowly push the board through the blade until the cut is completed
- Slide the material away from the blade
- Switch off the saw and remove the cut-off pieces
- Mark the desired length at the board’s other end before aligning it with the extension fence’s end
- Make your final cut
Many of these steps can also be applied to other cutting tasks.
When you’re building several identical pieces, such as for cabinets, the best step is to make a perfect cut of the first board. You can then use it as a stop block for cutting the succeeding boards.
Keep in mind that properly using a table saw requires a few hours of practice. You may want to use spare boards to practice your skills first before making your final cuts on the boards that will be used for your home improvement project.