How to Use a Table Saw

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Categories Saws
Get the most out of your table saw with our top tips.

Here at Sensible Digs, we love table saws. No self-respecting woodworker should be without one. They are the bedrock of all woodwork projects and give you accuracy, speed and above all else, they are fun to use.

However, how do you use one? We decided to talk you through how to use a table saw so that you get the most from a power tool favorite.

Using a Table Saw Summarized

Get to know what each part of your table saw does. Make sure you have the right blade for the job. If not, swap the blade for a more suitable one. Always take protection seriously and put on goggles and a face mask. Never adjust the blade when the table saw is plugged in.


Parts of a Table Saw

Knowing how to use a table saw goes hand in hand with learning about the parts of your table saw.

Base

The base supports the table saw, and either has legs to provide stability or, as in the case of a cabinet table saw, the base stretches to the floor. The base contains the motor and internal mechanics of the saw.

It also has a dust extractor to keep the woodshop safe from harmful particles.

Table

The purpose of the table is to provide a flat and stable surface to work with your stock. On larger table saws, the table is constructed of cast iron or steel and is incredibly heavy. The advantage of a cast iron table is it provides added stability and reduces the instances of vibration, making the saw quieter and more accurate.

On smaller models, it is not uncommon to find tables made of aluminum. You should look for a saw with a table area of 3 feet by 3 feet. However, some tables have extenders to increase the saw’s capacity to make bigger crosscuts and rip cuts.

Blade

The table saw blade sits in the middle of the table, mounted through a slot. On most table saws, the blade can be angled to make 45 and 90-degree cuts. Table saw blades come in a wide variety of designs and are typically 10 or 12 inches in diameter.

Before starting your project you should do some research to determine if the blade you have is suitable for the task. The most important factors to bear in mind are kerf and teeth per inch.

The kerf refers to the width of the blade and how much material it removes. It is crucial that you consult your owner’s manual to see what kerf blade your saw can handle. Saws with smaller motors struggle with thick kerf blades and tend to burn out.

The TPI of the blade tells you what task and material they are best suited for. Fewer teeth indicate that the blade is better at cutting lumber, hardwood and making rip cuts, while a high TPI blade is better at cutting metals, veneers, and plywood.

Here is a handy chart:

Blade TypeTPINo. of TeethSuitable For
Coarse3 to 840 to 60Lumber, hardwood, softwood, MDF
Medium8 to 1860 to 80Lumber, hardwood, softwood, MDF, plyboard, sheet metals
Fine18 to 3280 to 120Plyboard, frames, sheet material, non-ferrous metal

Quick Note

Blades with 14 to 18 teeth per inch are the best blades for general-purpose projects.

Rip Fence

A rip fence is a safety device that keeps your stock in place when making rip cuts. The best attributes of a rip fence are that they are sturdy, easy to adjust and once in position, they firmly lock in place.

They should also offer a sizable capacity of between 30 and 50 inches to help you make longer rip cuts.

Miter Gauge

Making accurate angled cuts would be impossible without the miter gauge. The miter enables you to choose the setting of your cut between 45 and 90 degrees. This is ideal for cutting door and window frames as well as moldings.

Blade Guard

The blade guard encases the blade and keeps your fingers from harm. As you approach the blade with the stock, the guard lifts to allow it to pass through the blade.

On/Off Switch

Every machine has a power switch, but on a table saw they are different. These switches are referred to as paddle or bump switches because of their oversized design. They are safety devices, first and foremost, and they give you the ability to shut down the saw in an emergency.

It’s why they are so conspicuous and painted bright red.

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Common Types of Table Saw Cuts

There are many types of cuts you can make with your table saw, but we wanted to focus on the most common.

Crosscut

Cross-cutting is the art of slicing through the wood across the grain. It applies to people cutting the wood to a specific length.

Rip Cut

Rip cutting is the skill of cutting through the woodworking with the grain. You would use a rip cut to cut wood to a specific width.

Dado Cut

A dado is a slot or trench cut across the grain of the wood. It differs from a groove cut, which follows the grain of the wood.

How to Make Cross Cuts Using a Table Saw

When making crosscuts, it is important to remove the rip fence. Having your stock press against the rip fence increases your chances of getting a kickback.

Before we start, it is worth pointing out that personal protection is crucial. Never operate the table saw without an N95 face mask and goggles.

1. Choose the Right Blade

Unplug the table saw and fit a suitable blade for crosscutting. To do this, use the arbor wrench to loosen the locking nut. Slide the new blade onto the saw, making sure that the teeth are facing the front as the blade spins towards you.

Now tighten the arbor nut, so it is snug. Make sure the blade protrudes no more than 0.25 inches above the thickness of the stock.

Top Tip

Don’t over tighten the arbor nut as this could damage the blade and cause it to misalign, which increases vibration and reduces accuracy.

2. Adjust the Miter Gauge

Set the protractor on the miter gauge, so you are either making straight or mitered cuts.

3. Position the Material

Place your stock against the miter fence. Use clamps if necessary to hold the material firmly.

4. Power Up

Plug in the table saw and switch it on. At this point, put on your safety gear. Always wait for the blade to reach maximum speed before allowing the wood to touch the blade.

5. Make the Cut

Slide the miter gauge and the material towards the blade using steady and firm pressure. Always take it nice and slow. Allow the stock to make a full pass of the blade.

6. Power Off

Turn the saw off and wait for the blade to stop turning before attempting to retrieve any cut bits of wood near the blade.

Top Tip

You can use a miter sled to make repeated cuts. It resembles a rectangular tray with slots pre-cut in the base. The base has a running strip that slots into your miter gauge slots.

How to Make Rip Cuts Using a Table Saw

When making rip cuts, it is important to use the rip fence to guide you. Never free-hand your cuts, especially if you value accuracy, neatness and your fingers.

1. Choose the Right Blade

As with step 1 for crosscutting, you should swap the blade in the same way.

2. Fit the Rip Fence

Position the rip fence back on the table, using a tape measure to get an accurate width. You can use the ruler on the table saw, but you get a far more accurate reading with a tape measure.

Place the tape measure tip against the closest edge of the blade and measure up to the stock. Saw blade teeth alternate left and right, so measuring to the nearest edge accounts for the kerf.

3. Power Up

Turn on the saw and wait while the blade reaches full speed. If you allow the stock to touch the blade as it gathers pace, you are most likely going to suffer kickback. Position the wood against the rip fence. At this point, you should put on your goggles and face mask.

4. Make the Cut

Push the material towards the blade using slow and steady force. Make sure the stock stays snugly nestled against the rip fence at all times, or you will have an inaccurate cut. Use both hands if necessary to hold the material in place, making sure to swap to one hand as the cut nears the end.

If you are cutting more substantial stock and you have an overhang, use either the table saw extension or an outfeed table to take the strain of the wood to prevent instability and preserve the integrity of the material.

If you don’t possess these things, get a helper to hold the stock.

Quick Tip

Never try and move to the back of the table to catch the stock yourself. This is a sure-fire way to increase your chances of kickback.

5. Power Off

Switch off the saw and wait for the blade to stop spinning before you gather up the offcuts near the blade.


How to Make Dado Cuts Using a Table Saw

When making dado cuts, you will need to remove the blade guard because dado blades are thicker than standard blades.

1. Choose the Right Blade

Follow the first step of “How to make crosscuts” to remove the old blade and swap it with a dado variety. Also, swap the existing table insert for one that accommodates the dado blade.

2. Set Up the Rip Fence

Set the required distance between the blade and the rip fence. Do this using the same method as “How to make rip cuts.”

3. Power Up

Put on your safety gear and turn the saw on. Make sure the blade is spinning at optimal speed. Offer up your workpiece and press it firmly against the rip fence. Make sure the stock is flat to the surface of the table. Perform your first pass of the blade by applying firm pressure on the material as it moves towards the blade.

Quick Note

You can use a push stick to keep your fingers away from the blade.

4. Reset the Rip Fence

To make the dado wider, move the rip fence along by 0.25 inches. Then, pass the stock across the blade a second time, making sure that the wood is in contact with the fence. Once you have reached your desired width, turn the saw off.


Table Saw Safety Tips

There are ways you can use your table saw to increase your safety. Table saws are dangerous devices and are, by far, the cause of most woodshop accidents.

Use Push Sticks

Push sticks allow you to maneuver the stock towards the blade while keeping your fingers out of harm’s way. Push sticks also reduce the instances of kickback by applying constant downward pressure on the stock.

Adopt the Stance

Keep a good center of balance. Slightly rest most of your weight on the front foot, while planting the back foot firmly on the ground.

Wear the Right Clothing

Loose-fitting and baggy clothes are a big no-no. Short sleeve shirts of T-shirts are the correct attire. You don’t want to get snagged in the blade. That would be a disaster.

Keep the Saw Clean

Nothing gums a saw like sawdust. It gets into the mechanisms and causes all sorts of problems. Always use the dust port or keep a dustpan and brush handy to sweep away any shavings.

Wipe Down the Table

Kickback is one of the biggest risks associated with a table saw. Keeping the table blemish-free and running smoothly makes a significant difference in stopping the stock from binding and kickback occurring.

Don’t Wear Gloves

Loose-fitting gloves pose the same risks as loose-fitting clothes. They also decrease your control over the stock as it moves through the blade.


Get Ready to Start Sawing

If you follow the advice and use all the techniques we have suggested, you should have a blemish-free record when it comes to operating a table saw. Keep safety at the front of your mind, and never cut corners.

Table saws are great fun to use and hugely satisfying, but only if you manage to keep your full quota of limbs and fingers.

Headshot of mark

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.
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