10 Table Saw Tips Every Woodworker Should Know
By: Chelsea Rodgers
Table saws can quickly and accurately cut long, straight, ripping cuts (with the grain) or they can make cross cuts (against the grain). A table saw can also make miter and bevel cuts. This power tool is one of the most versatile and commonly used tools in the shop. A table saw can repetitively create very precise, accurate, and clean cuts compared to a portable saw. Table saws come in all different sizes, but there are key factors to look for in a table saw. Before operating a table saw, it is important to understand how to operate the saw safely and how to create clean cuts. Following are some helpful tips when operating a table saw.
1. Realize that table saws only tilt 45 degrees in one direction.
Most table saws will tilt 45 degrees to either the right or the left. But not both. Some table saws will provide a little flexibility by tilting 47 degrees in one direction and -2 degrees in the other direction. However, there are no commonly sold table saws that can tilt 45 degrees in both
directions. In general, right tilting table saws are more common than left tilting table saws. To safely cut at 45°, 60°, 75°, and 90° angles, attach the MLCS Vertex Multi Angle Sled (MLCS item #9545) which will allow you to Safely cut tenons and custom profiles in the vertical position!
MLCS Vertex Multi Angle Sled
(MLCS item #9545)
2. Know your saws “maximum cutting depth”.
The maximum cutting depth for table saws varies slightly from one manufacturer to the next. However, if you review the top ranked table saws, you will find almost all 10” (25cm) table saws have a maximum cutting depth between 3.2” (8cm) and 3.5” (9cm) at 90 degrees. The Magnetic Digital Height Gauge (MLCS item #9318) is a good tool to always have handy to help set the cutting height.
Magnetic Digital Height Gauge
(MLCS item #9318)
3. Know when to use a push stick for cutting pieces on a table saw.
When operating a table saw, it is recommended to always use a push stick for the following operations: A. Cutting pieces less than 12” (30cm) in length. B. Cutting the last 12” (30cm) of a longer cut. Magnetic Safety Push Stick C. Removing any scraps left on the table. (MLCS item #9136) D. Ripping materials narrower than 6” (15cm).
The Magnetic Safety Push Stick (MLCS item #9136) is made from heavy duty plastic. Won't damage blades in case of contact with magnetic that will attach it to your table saw so it is always within reach.
4. Know the recommended feed direction on a table saw.
Most operating manuals specify that you feed the workpiece into the saw blade against the direction of rotation (i.e., workpiece B). This implies you introduce the wood into the blade as the teeth are going downward. If you feed the wood into the table saw in the opposite direction, then both the workpiece and your hand could be pulled into the saw blade.
5. Know the difference between cross-cutting and ripping.
Cutting along the dashed line in the image below would be a ripping cut. A ripping cut slices a board with the grain. On the other hand, cross-cutting slices a board across its grain. When cross-cutting a board on a table saw, a miter gauge or cross-cut sled is recommended.
6. Realize that saw blades for ripping have fewer teeth.
A 10” (25cm) saw blade designed for ripping lumber, might have only 24 teeth. These blades can remove material quickly. On the other hand, the same size saw blade designed for cross cutting lumber might have 60 to 80 teeth. A 10” (25cm) general purpose (combination blade) designed for both ripping and cross cutting might have between 40 and 50 teeth. And now you can safely rip cut those thin strips with the Thin Rip Table Saw Guide (MLCS item #9337).
Thin Rip Table Saw Guide (MLCS item #9337).
7. Use blades with more teeth to create cleaner cuts.
In general, a blade with more teeth will create cleaner cuts than a similar blade with fewer teeth. This is because there are more teeth cutting, and consequently less tear out. Blades with more teeth typically require a slower feed rate. However, the result is a cleaner cut.
8. Know the most common blade size for table saws.
The most common blade size capacity for a table saw is 10” (25cm) diameter with a 5/8” (1.6cm) arbor.
9. Install or use a riving knife for safety.
A riving knife helps prevent wood from jamming and kicking back towards the operator. A riving knife matches the curvature of the blade and is positioned approximately ¼” (6mm) behind it. The riving knife is mounted in such a way that it follows the blade as it is raised, lowered, and tilted. The top of the knife is positioned just below the top the blade, so it does not interfere with cuts that do not go completely through the wood.
Many experts feel the riving knife is one of the most important safety features of any table saw. It virtually eliminates all kickback. Kickback typically results when the kerf closes up and binds with the blade. This may happen because of poor rip fence alignment, not keeping the wood against the rip fence, operator error, or stresses in the wood that are released as the cut is being made. With a riving knife in place, the kerf cannot bind with the blade, thus eliminating kickback.
10. Consider using a “zero clearance insert.”
The throat plate that comes with a table saw has an elongated slot that is large enough to allow clearance over all possible tilting angles. This throat plate also allows the operator to install various blades – such as a thicker carbide-tip ripping blade. This large opening can cause tear-out on the bottom of a workpiece and may result in narrow pieces of wood jamming between the saw blade and the slot in the throat plate.
To overcome this problem, some people the zero clearance insert (MLCS item #9360, #9342, #9341, #9340, #9343, #9362, #9349) so that the opening in the insert is the exact width of the saw blade’s kerf. You can create a new insert by cutting a piece of plywood, sheet material made from phenolic resin, etc. to match the size of the original throat plate. You then raise the saw slowly through the new throat plate creating a perfect fit. It is important to note that a zero clearance insert only works at one angle. For this reason, most people create a zero clearance insert for when the blade is at 90 degrees and another insert for when the blade is at 45 degrees.