Cutting and Ripping with a Table Saw
Time Required: Under 2 hours
Cutting perpendicular to the grain is called crosscutting. The key to getting the cut you want is the miter gauge, which travels in a groove on the tabletop. When properly aligned, you can set the gauge to cut a 90-degree angle, and anything up to 60 degrees on either side of 90, depending on the saw. Before you start making cuts, however, it pays to check the alignment of the miter gauge as described below.
For reasons lost in history, miter gauges are set up so that a 90-degree cut reads 0 degrees on the miter gauge scale. A cut one degree to either side - a 91 - or an 89 - degree cut reads as 1 degree; a cut 2 degrees off square reads 2 degrees, and so on. The only time the setting actually reflects the angle you're cutting is at 45 degrees.
A combination blade is fine for most carpentry; if you're making furniture or doing fine trimwork and aren't happy with the results your blade is giving you, have it sharpened. If you're still not happy, you may want to buy a separate crosscut blade, which will give you a smoother cut. Feed the wood slowly to get the smoothest surface; use the guards when cutting, and keep your hands well away from the blade.
This guide highlights the procedures for operating the table saw with a mitre gauge, along with operational and safety tips.
- Long boards tend to move away from the fence during a cut. Hold them in place with featherboards, a board into which you've cut several fingers. Put the board in place and put the featherboard against it. Push against the board and flex the fingers so they bend slightly away from the direction of cut, and clamp the board in place.
- Make your featherboard from a piece of wood 24-inches long and about 8-inches wide. Make a series of cuts 5 1/2 inches long and about 5/16 inch apart on the end of the board. Crosscut across the fingers, setting the miter gauge to cut along a line drawn from the corner of the board to a point 1/2 inch from the corner on the other edge.
Commercial push sticks as shown at left are fine, but you can also make your own. Lay out a 1/2-inch grid on a 2 x 6 x 14-inch block and trace this pattern. Cut a curve as shown to make the push stick easier to grip. This push stick is wider than commercial models and holds stock better. When making narrow rips, you feed the push stick right across the blade. Make at least two so you'll have one for each hand.
- Don't cut pieces more than 6 inches long with the sandpaper method, outlined above. Always position the block so the stock doesn't touch the blade and the stop block at the same time. Cutting longer pieces, putting the block in the wrong place, or using the fence as a stop can cause the saw to throw the cutoff back at you violently.
- Cutting along the grain is called ripping. The rip is made using a guide called a rip fence. Ripping is a simpler operation than crosscutting - there are no angles to set on a miter gauge - but it can bring your fingers closer to the blade. If your fingers are too close for comfort, use a push stick like the one shown below, or make your own following the pattern.
- Most rip fences have a ruler glued to the front rail, which gives you a pretty accurate readout of the size piece you'll be cutting, but you should check for accuracy with your tape measure to be sure.
- A roller stand will help you support long lengths of stock while ripping.
- If you have trouble with pieces slipping sideways a little during a cross cut, keep the piece in place by gluing a piece of 180-grit or finer sandpaper to the back of the miter gauge with some spray adhesive.
- Never use the rip fence as a depth stop without using a stop block.
- Never cut a piece of stock on a table saw without using a guide. Use the rip fence when ripping and the miter gauge when crosscutting. Pushing wood into the blade without the support of a guide can cause serious injury.
- Never rip a board to make a piece less than 1 inch wide. Always make sure the board is thick enough that it won't slip under the fence when cutting. Never stand a board on edge to make a rip cut.