Quick Tip: Table Saw Techniques

Learn the different ways you can use your table saw.

Photo: Flickr

Your table saw can perform a remarkable number of tasks. There’s probably enough to fill a website, especially when additional equipment like dados and molding cut­ters are added to the tool repertoire. But the several basic table-saw techniques we’ll discuss here are those you are most likely to need at the work-site, including cutoff work (that is, crosscutting boards at a ninety-degree angle) and miter sawing (angle cutting), ripsawing, resawing and rabbeting.

Crosscutting and miter sawing. Preset the miter fence to the angle desired, whether it’s a square cut (in which case the miter setting will be zero degrees) or a reading you got using your miter gauge to match an existing surface. Once the miter fence is set to the desired angle, the workpiece is held flush to the face of the gauge with one hand, while the other balances the piece. Only after you are in position should you turn on the saw. Then push the gauge and workpiece together toward the blade.

Ripsawing. Position the rip fence parallel to the blade, measuring the distance from the fence to a tooth that is bent (set) from the near side of the blade. Once the fence is in place, tighten its built-in clamp to fix it in position.

How wide will the piece be after it is ripped? The nar­rower the piece, the greater the need for a push stick to power the piece through – and to keep your fingers away from – the blade.

Re-sawing. If you require a board thinner than the stock you have on hand, re-sawing may be the answer. Re-sawing is essentially a two-step rip­ping process. You begin by presetting the rip fence to the thickness you desire; then you run the workpiece through the saw on its edge. Now, turn the piece over and run it back through, so that the blade will make a matching cut that reaches to the first kerf.

Rabbeting. Especially in restora­tion work, some moldings need to be rabbeted – that is, a deep lip or “rabbet” is cut onto their edge. Rabbet joints, new or old, are stronger than simple butt joints. Making rabbet cuts for such joinery is simple on a table saw.

Two cuts are required. To make the first one, you must set the height of the saw blade to cut the piece to the depth of the rabbet; then you need to set up the fence so that the cut will be the appropriate distance from the edge of the stock. Make the cut as you would any rip cut.

To make the second cut, you need to reset the blade height and the fence so that a cut made perpendicular to the first will cre­ate the desired rabbeted edge. This cut is made with the board turned ninety degrees so that it is perpendicular to the tabletop.

Set up, cut with care, and a rab­bet appears – not quite by magic.

Thinking ahead. Make it a habit, before you turn on your saw, to think about the cut to be made. Are you wearing your eye protection? What about your ears?

And where are your hands with respect to the blade? If the workpiece is short and doesn’t require two hands to balance it, put the unneeded hand behind your back or otherwise locate it out of the way.

After the cut, where will the waste fall? And what about the piece you want? Will it be balanced, or do you need to locate a sawhorse or other support to keep it level?

Are you cutting with the good side up? The table saw is the reverse of the portable circular saw, as its blade cuts on the downward rotation, meaning that any splintering will occur to the underside of the workpiece. Where appropriate, use a feather board and push stick.

Stay in line. As with any saw cut, keep in mind which side of the line you wish to cut. The kerf on a typical table saw is an eighth of an inch wide, so cut­ting to the wrong side of the line will result in a significant error.