loading
A cross-cut sled for the table saw is a must have jig for any serious woodworker. More accurate than a miter gauge, it also makes cross-cutting any board easy and safe. However, in order to provide the proper results it must be built with care. I made my first sled last year, following a plan in a popular woodworking magazine. Yet, in a matter of months, the maple runners swelled so much that the sled wouldn't slide in the miter slots. That's when my type "A" personality kicked in and I became determined to learn all I could about the ins and outs of building a cross-cut sled that would last. That research forms the basis for the tips and techniques presented in this instructable. And, while I can't take credit for any of these great ideas, I think you will find the insights of some very talented woodworkers helpful.

Step 1: Tip 1: Milling the Sled Runners

The runners ride in the two miter slots and guide the sled as the workpiece is pushed past the blade. They are most often made from hardwood such as maple or white oak, however, steel, aluminium or plastic runners are also options. Wood runners are more commonly suggested, most likely, because of the moderate cost. The disadvantage of wood runners is that the wood can swell with changes in humidity making smooth travel through the miter slots difficult or impossible.

Tip #1: Since most wood movement is with the grain, mill the sled runners with the grain running vertically as shown in the photo. This will minimize or eliminate side to side expansion of the runner in the miter slot.

Miter slots can vary slightly in size but most are 3/4" wide x 3/8" deep. Most plans call for milling the runners for a snug yet smooth sliding fit with no side to side play (also called slop). However, if the runner width swells too much it can become a problem and, as I mentioned, this is where I ran into trouble with my first sled. The good news: Tip number two allows some wiggle room when milling the runners to width.

Note: The height of the runners should be less than 3/8" so there will be some space under the runner for sawdust debris

Step 2: Tip 2: Building the Sled Base

 1/2 " MDF is an excellent and recommended choice for the sled. Base the size of your sled on the size of your table saw and your woodworking requirements but not so large that it is difficult to control.

TIP #2: Build the sled as two separate halves that will be joined together when attaching the fences. Constructing the sled in this manner will guarantee that the sled runners ride tightly along the blade side edges of the miter slots allowing for a less than perfect fit if the runners are milled slightly smaller than the slots.

First, cut the sled base as square as possible, making the length slightly longer than your final dimension (approx. 1/2" or so).

Second, after determining how much of the sled you want on each side of the blade, cut it in two.

Third, measure the distance from the blade to the inside edge of each miter slot and add 1/4" to that dimension. Using those dimensions, cut spacer boards to clamp to the appropriate half of the sled base. These boards will be used to position the runners for mounting to the base.

Fourth, pressing the runners firmly against the spacer boards, glue and nail them in place.

Fifth, after the glue has dried, put one half of the sled base in the appropriate miter slot. It should extend the extra 1/4" or so past the blade. This excess will be trimmed off to create a perfect zero clearance for that half of the sled. Repeat the process for the other half of the sled base.

IMPORTANT: Remember to press the sled base FIRMLY against the blade side edge of the miter slot when trimming off the excess MDF, otherwise the two halves may not join together properly.

The photos show the process for attaching the runners to the base and trimming the base halves for a perfect zero clearance to the blade.

Photo one: A piece of MDF is used as a spacing template. It is cut 1/4" wider than the distance from the saw blade to the corresponding miter slot. Line up the spacer with the edge of the sled base and clamp it to the base and your workbench.

Photo two: Add glue to the runner.

Photo three: Press and hold the runner firmly against the MDF spacer.

Photos four & five: Nail the runner to the base.

Photo six: Set the sled base in the appropriate miter slot and trim off the excess

Photo seven: One half of the sled base after trimming (viewed from the output side of the saw)

Step 3: Tip 3: Building the Fences

The front and rear fences for the sled are most often made of solid hardwood. However, there is no guarantee that the fence will hold it's shape and remain true over time. For this reason, I thought tip number three made sense and was also a really good idea.

Tip #3: Construct the fences like a sandwich with the top and bottom pieces made of 1/2" plywood and several middle layers of 1/2" MDF.

The fences should be at least 3" high and 1 3/4" thick. The length of the front and the rear fences can vary depending on the preference of the user. Since the purpose of the front fence is to simply help hold the sled together, I opted for a shorter fence. This also reduced the total weight of the sled. My rear fence runs the full length of the sled but I noted many examples where the fence was an inch or two shorter on each end of the sled to facilitate angle cuts.

Finally, my fences include additional hardwood support on both the front and rear fences. On the rear fence the support provides both additional height and a dedicated "push block"  to keeps my hands a little farther away from the blade. I salvaged these pieces from my original sled since I liked the look and functionality and because my new fences were only 2 1/2" tall without them.

To build the fences:

1) Rip your plywood and MDF pieces to size
2) Glue them up using clamps
3) When dry, scrap off any glue squeeze out
4) Clean up the the faces (and ends if necessary) by using a finishing blade and making a fine cut pass on the table saw

Step 4: Joining the Fence Halves

This step doesn't contain a tip, it merely explains the process for making sure the two sled halves are joined together properly. The photos below provide a summary of the steps. Here is the sequence I followed:

1) Drill countersunk holes through the sled base to attach the fences to the sled (later in this step).

2) Photo #1: Put the sled halves in position on the table saw and lightly clamp them together so the runners are pressing against the blade side of each miter gauge slot. Photo #2 shows how the left runner snugs against the miter slot.

3) Photo #3: Clamp the front fence in position and drill holes in the fence using the pre-drilled holes in the sled base as a guide.

4) Photos #4 & #5: Add glue, clamp the front fence to the sled and drive 2" screws into the countersunk holes. Allow an hour or two to dry.

5) Remove the clamp on the front fence and reposition the sled on the saw to attach the rear fence (you may need to remove and reattach the clamp holding the two halves together).

6) With the rear fence clamped in position, drill a single hole through the fence (first hole on the left end) using the predrilled hole in the sled as a guide. Drive a screw into the hole and remove the clamps.

7) The next step will square the fence to the blade.

Step 5: Tip 4: Squaring the Fence to the Blade

The only way to get an accurate cut is to have the rear fence perfectly square (at a 90 degree angle) to the saw blade. Most often a single square is set against the blade and the fence to determine the proper fence position. There is nothing really wrong with this approach but I think the next tip makes the process all the more foolproof.

Tip #4: Use two 90 degree drafting triangles, one on each side of the blade, to assure finding the correct position to secure the rear fence.

The reason I like this method is that, if your fence isn't perfectly straight, your blade is warped or out of alignment on the saw, then getting both triangles square to the fence and blade at the same time isn't going to happen.

Note: I have a moderately priced contractor style table saw and, after this exercise, I came to the conclusion that my blade was just a hair off (maybe half a hair). Since I wasn't about to take the saw apart I decided to finish the sled and see if the results were acceptable. They were, so I'll leave perfection to those of you with better equipment than mine.

After finding the proper position for the fence, strike a reference line on the sled using a very sharp pencil.

Step 6: Final Assembly

You are now ready for the final assembly.

If, after securing the rear fence to the sled (as outlined below), you encounter any resistance sliding the sled:
GO TO TIP #6 FOR HELP!

Next, you have two choices. You can either:

(1) Clamp the fence to the sled at the reference line and shoot a small nail through the underside of the sled (on the end of the fence opposite the screwed end).  Next, with the fence now secured to the sled, remove the clamp and make a test cut* to check if square. If the fence is out of square, tap the fence with a mallet to slightly adjust the angle of the fence, then make a second test cut and check again**. Repeat this procedure until you obtain a satisfactory result. Now, with the fence square to the blade, reclamp and drill holes in the fence using the pre-drilled holes in the sled base as a guide. Finally, screw down the fence with 2" long wood screws.

or, as I did...

(2) If you have confidence in the accuracy of the reference line, clamp down the fence, drill a hole for a set screw on the end of the sled and screw down the fence. Make a test cut and check. If you like the results, reclamp the fence to the sled and finish drilling the mounting holes in the fence. Complete the assembly by securing the fence with 2" long wood screws.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

*HOW TO DO A TEST CUT:

A test cut is a foolproof way to see if the sled is set up correctly.  Simply rip a good size piece of scrap (making sure it has straight, parallel edges). Press the workpiece against the fence and cut into two pieces. Slide the cut edges together to see if they fit together without any noticeable gaps. If all looks good, take one piece and flip it over (front to back) and check the fit again. Any error in the cut not visible on your first inspection will now be doubled and be much more obvious. As shown in the photos, if the edges butt together firmly with no gaps then the fence and blade are aligned correctly.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

** Determining which direction to adjust the fence: If the gap in the test piece is at the rear fence, move the fence back. If at the front fence move the fence forward.

Step 7: Tip 5: Increase the Sled's Versatility With a Layer of Hardboard

Since a zero clearance kerf is necessary to avoid chipout when making any kind of cut, this next tip will dramatically improve the versatility of your sled.

Tip #5: Cut pieces of 1/4" hardboard and attach them to the fence and sled base with carpet tape. Then, with a regular blade, cut a kerf in the hardboard. At this point the hardboard is simply duplicating the kerf of the sled in providing the zero clearance necessary for a clean cut. However, eventually you may want to make wider cuts using a dado blade or with the saw blade set for an angle cut. These cuts will forever change the kerf size of the sled and fence. However, by simply replacing the hardboard when switching back to a regular blade set to zero degrees, you can easily return the sled to zero clearance cutting.

Step 8: Tip #6: How to Guarantee a Smooth Sliding Sled

If your sled glides over your table saw's surface from day one that's great. However it may not and, eventually, it pays to employ this last tip:

Tip # 6: Apply a light coat of Johnson's paste wax to the sled bottom and runners, then buff when dry. This should reduce any friction and make the sled slide much more smoothly. Alternately, you can apply the wax to the top of your saw and miter slots, or to both the sled and saw top if you like.

Note: Wax used on the table saw top will not affect your workpieces once the dried wax residue has been buffed off.

Step 9: If You Are an "A" Type Personality

Accuracy and precision are key components to good woodworking. So, if you are an "A" type personality like I tend to be, you may find this website both intriguing and maddening at the same time:

http://wnwoodworkingschool.com/5-cuts-to-a-perfect-cross-cut-sled/

On his website, William Ng has a fascinating video on how to test your cross-cut sled for accuracy and adjust it to within one thousandth of an inch of a perfectly square cut! Needless to say my sled didn't pass his test but it was fun to give it a try. In any case, since my test cuts look good and fit together well, I'm more than satisfied and confident my new sled will do everything I need it to do.

I hope you find these tips helpful if you plan on building a cross-cut sled. If you get yours to within .001 of a degree accuracy I'll be a little jealous but glad I may have helped in some small way.
Kent,<br>I made a sled pretty much right off your tips. My sled is not half the sled yours is but it will work for now. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. It helped me out.
<p>Adam Savage's crosscut sled has a red danger zone marked on the back side of the sled, that might be a helpful addition.</p>
<p>Marking a red zone still does not physically prevent fingers from being in that location when the blades comes out. Installing a simple blade guard made out of a piece of scrap is just too easy and too cheap to think about it twice. Just takes a few minutes. Then you don't need to think or worry anymore about your fingers being in that treacherous location. </p>
<p>This made me think of gluing thumb tacks point side out as a tactile reminder not to put my thumb there. But really a scrap block of wood covering the blade completely is really the easier and safer solution. Thanks, I'll be adding that feature when I get my sled built.</p>
<p>Very nice sled, great photos.</p><p>My only major concern with this design is safety:</p><p>1. I would highly recommend a blade guard to cover the blade when the sled passes over the blade. It's too easy to have a finger in that location when you are focused on that perfect cut you need to make. I would not feel comfortable using a sled without that, because I really like my fingers.</p><p>2. this second point is less critical, but on my sled, I have two sticks, fixed on top of the fences, running along both sides of the blade. They create a bit of a &quot;no finger zone&quot;, they prevent stuff from falling on the turning blade and they form a bit of a cage preventing big pieces being kicked back directly in your face in case something goes wrong.</p><p>I have an old instructable on my sled you can look up. Thanks for sharing.</p>
<p>Very clever, love these safety additions. Thanks for sharing.</p>
<p>Good idea but it does sort of limit the height of the wood and what jigs you can attach.</p>
<p>The height of the wood you can cut is limited by the height of the blade. if the protection stick are above that, you are covered for most cases.</p><p>The two protections sticks on top are screwed, not nailed or glued. On the rare occasions I need more height, like cutting a notch in a bigger piece of wood, I simply unscrew them temporarily on the operator side and push them out of the way. It's really quite quick to do... </p>
<p>A slice of nylon chopping board makes great runners and they will never change size.</p>
<p>great tip</p>
<p>I was just scrolling down to recommend the same thing. The UHMW used for them is very stable and creates an almost frictionless runner.</p>
<p>Thanks, I like your &quot;Tip&quot; based organization of this Instructable. I've been collecting ideas for my next sled so it fits right in. I do find It interesting that you think accuracy should be a matter of personality. I'm not particularly type &quot;A&quot; but I always use the 5 cut truing on my sleds (well since I heard about it anyway) because occasionally my project needs that accuracy. Most cuts I do are quick sloppy crosscuts to rough length that don't need need it but I don't want to build a new sled for the rare occasion that squareness of a cut is critical. Or worse discover too late that it was not accurate enough and be unhappy with the results. It doesn't add that much time to the project.</p>
Actually, I believe a sled should be built to cut as accurately as possible. However, if your sled is off a few thousandths of an inch that isn't worth worrying about, even if you have an &quot;A&quot; type personality. That small of a margin of error is virtually undetectable. I've built a number of pieces of furniture and always been satisfied with my sled's performance. If you follow any of the woodworking shows on public television you may have seen Rough Cuts with Tommy MacDonald. He is always quick to point out not to sweat the small stuff and that is certainly true in this case. Check out his show if you are really a serious woodworker. I've learned a lot watching it (as well as the also excellent Woodsmith Shop on PBS). And thanks for taking the time to comment!
I'm sorry you felt my reply was sarcastic. It wasn't meant to be. It wasn't directed at you specifically (although after rereading it I can understand that using the word 'you' certainly made it seem that way). I understand and respect your technique for determining the accuracy of a cut. In hindsight, my example may have been an over simplification for a more experienced woodworker. However, in my defense, I also suggested using the William Ng technique to validate the sled's accuracy at the end of the instructable. I hope this explanation helps clear the air. You may be far more experienced and skilled than I am so, as I said before, I really do appreciate your input. Friends?<br> FYI - I believe Tommy MacDonald went to the Bennett school. He also has a website if you ever want to google him. Happy woodworking.
<p>If you depend on a single cut test at least cut a test piece twice as long as the longest dimension of your typical project. An error invisible when cutting a 4&quot; piece will leap out at you when cutting and flipping a 10' piece. In fact it will be 30 times bigger.</p>
<p>If you depend on a single cut test at least cut a test piece twice as long as the longest dimension of your typical project. An error invisible when cutting a 4&quot; piece will leap out at you when cutting and flipping a 10' piece. In fact it will be 30 times bigger.</p>
<p>I have that same saw and have been wanting to build a sled for it. Do you mind if I ask what the base dimension is?</p>
You can make the sled base any size (within reason) that will best serve your needs. The base of my sled is 22&quot; x 33&quot;.
<p>Very nice sled, great photos.</p><p>My only major concern with this design is safety:</p><p>1. I would highly recommend a blade guard to cover the blade when the sled passes over the blade. It's too easy to have a finger in that location when you are focused on that perfect cut you need to make. I would not feel comfortable using a sled without that, because I really like my fingers.</p><p>2. this second point is less critical, but on my sled, I have two sticks, fixed on top of the fences, running along both sides of the blade. They create a bit of a &quot;no finger zone&quot;, they prevent stuff from falling on the turning blade and they form a bit of a cage preventing big pieces being kicked back directly in your face in case something goes wrong.</p><p>I have an old instructable on my sled you can look up. Thanks for sharing.</p>
<p>Nice!</p>
Hey, nice sled! I see you have makita contractor saw. What do you make of it? Would you recommend? Cherrs
Actually it is a Bosch contractor saw. It's a great saw. I highly recommend it.
I live in a country where TS options are quite limited. I am quite happy with the Makita saw. But you need to make your own sleds and jigs to get some accuracy out of it.
excellent,just bought myself a new kickass table saw so ill defo have s go at this,cheers dude
<p>Kent. Great article. I have the same table saw and notice you have the longer side of the sled to the right of the blade. I've never done any cutting with longer stock on the &quot;fence&quot; side of the saw so it's a philosophical point with me. Do you find it doesn't really matter? Obviously with the way this saw top is constructed your method fits better as the table doesn't extend as far from the left of the saw blade as it does to the right.</p>
Every table saw I've ever seen has the majority of the table's surface to the right of the blade. You can certainly build a crosscut sled with a larger work surface on the left side of the blade if it suits your needs. However, I would resist making it too big as I don't believe a significant portion of the sled should be unsupported by extending over the edge of the table (IMHO).
<p>The book _Measure Twice, Cut Once_ recommends lignum vitae for the sled runners because it's a naturally oily wood. I personally have not built a<br> sled yet, but I plan to soon. Thanks for a great post!</p>
<p>The book _Measure Twice, Cut Once_ recommends lignum vitae for the sled runners because it's a naturally oily wood. I personally have not built a<br> sled yet, but I plan to soon. Thanks for a great post!</p>
<p>Kent,</p><p>a nicely put together instructable. Thanks. I have made a few of these, they are great.</p><p>Tip #2 can be taken a little further. In step 2, you pull the two sled halves together, therefore only <a href="https://cdn.instructables.com/FIB/M4OK/HLZRQNUH/FIBM4OKHLZRQNUH.MEDIUM.jpg" rel="nofollow">ONE edge of each runner</a> contacts the side of the table slot. Therefore, make the runners say 11/16&quot; wide, they will never bind. The non-contact edge does not have to be smooth, so ripping a runner off a pice of dresses timber is quite OK, no need to thickness it. </p><p>The nail gun is my best friend, so when attaching the runner to the sled, place the runner, smooth edge towards the saw blade, and nail both ends. Now, pull the smooth edge against a straight edge (I use an old Stabilo casts and machined spirit level, you use a piece of MDF) and nail the centre. The runner is now straight, so add another 6 or 8 nails to keep it straight.</p><p>I noted that domino88 added a <a href="https://cdn.instructables.com/FH6/QQ6F/H11WJEV2/FH6QQ6FH11WJEV2.LARGE.jpg" rel="nofollow">blade guard</a>. I just drove a few nails into the top of the fence in the danger zone, but I didn't drive them quite home, leaving 1/4&quot; protruding. Grabbing a handful of nail heads reminds me to move my fingers from the danger zone, and I can still count to 10 :-)</p>
<p>wood fibres swell and contract with moisture content as you mention, but not in the way described in &quot;Tip 1&quot;. The sample you have shown is dimensionaly stable only in its length. Its thickness and width (as shown) are subject to expansion. Imagine you take one wood fibre and imerse it in water. It won't grow longer, but it will swell out concentricly like a bicycle tyre inner tube being inflated. Each of the fibres in a length of timber behave like this. </p>
Great tips, thanks! I really need to make a new sled. My old one has too much side to side movement. Tips learned from here will be great help. Take care
<p>I made my sled out of birch ply that was left over from a project and cut up through the top with the saw works great I have seen many different ones and think it was one of the most useful shop jigs you can make for a table saw!</p><p>I used some salvaged hard maple for the runners which I glued and screwed to the underside. They were cut so as to keep the sled ridding just a little bit clear of the saw itself and to control the swelling and ease sliding I used a heat gun to saturate the runners with paraffin wax and always use paste wax on the saw.</p><p>why did you make the sled ride on the saw that way?</p><p>always trying to learn new things</p><p>uncle frogy</p>
<p>Great idea, I use MDF a lot and over time it will absorb moisture and swell, particularly around the edges so I give all my jigs a few coats of varnish or shellac now and they last years.</p>
<p>I attached a thumb reminder &quot;3/4 by2&quot; scrap,so I wonever let my thumb stray into path of blade.</p>
<p>What does this thing do?</p>
<p>good post --- i saved it in favorites!!</p>
<p>j</p>
<p>The set of plans I used included a little three-sided box that sticks out about 3 inches on the outside of the fence that is next to the operator. When one makes a cut, the blade may cut beyond the face and the box prevents an inadvertent hand from being near the area. Don't put any screws in the possible blade path. We all think about safety but old age, inexperience, rushing or slippages can interrupt the best of us.</p>
<p>I may be old school, but have maintained a strict policy of never allowing MDF in my shop, due to stability inconsistency, Formaldehyde content ( or other toxins used in processing, and just hating the way it looks. I would suggest using Baltic birch, or Apple Ply for the base of the jig. Sure, it's much more expensive, so it will cost you maybe $10.00 more, but, when you stretch that over the 20 or 30 years you will have the sled, it doesn't seem like such an extravangance. </p>
<p>My YouTube buddy Nick Ferry also has plans for building a very accurate sled using Rockler tracks. Something to consider, and a great build to boot :)</p>
<p>I have a question about mdf. I have watched Norm Abrams build a mailbox post and bracket from mdf. Now, you are building a crosscut sled with it. The product I find at Home Depot looks like pressed paper and is heavy as all get out. I can't believe it would have either the moisture resistance to be a mailbox post exposed to the weather or a useful sled subject to abrasion and wear. If there are different grades of mdf, what are they and where can it be found?</p>
<p>Norm didn't make it out of MDF. It was MDO, which is an entirely different beast and used by signmakers, and intended for outdoor use.</p><p>https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medium_density_overlay_panel</p>
Thank you for this. I have been thinking about a crosscut sled. I did buy a book on tablesaws. It mentions European table saws have a slide on one-half of the table that allows the whole half of the table to act like a sled. Those are some really big table saws.
<p>I have slides also on both sides of my small Ryobi 10 in BTS10S saw.It works well but need better center runners.I am also complete new at this.Thank you for all the tips.</p>
<p>I am disable and only get 900.00 a month so everything I do is on the extremely cheap side including dumpster diving for wood..lol.</p>
Woodworking magazines and the Woodsmith Shop TV show on public television all recommend using MDF or hardboard for a large variety of shop built accessory jigs. MDF is extremely strong and I've even built a tool storage cabinet from an magazine project plan using 3/4&quot; MDF. 1/4&quot; hardboard is a similar material that Is also used for building jigs ( and, for example, as drawer bottoms). Both materials are a combination of fine wood fibers (sawdust) and glue fused together with heat and pressure. Both materials come in varying thicknesses and the appearance or color may vary by manufacturer but I have never heard of different grades of MDF or hardboard.
<p>Tip #3, step 4 states: &quot;4) Clean up the the faces (and ends if necessary) by using a finishing blade and making a fine cut pass on the table saw&quot;. </p><p>What is a &quot;finishing blade&quot;? Is that just a table saw blade for fine cuts?</p>
Right on. The more teeth, the cleaner (smoother) the cut. The blade I used has 80 teeth. You just want to skim the workpiece with the blade, removing just enough material to even out and smooth all sides of the fences.
Great detail Ken. That takes a lot of time.
<p>I got my cutting boards at Sams Club pretty cheap.</p>

About This Instructable

591,600views

1,107favorites

License:

Bio: It's said that to perfect a skill takes about 10,000 hours of work and study. If that's the case I've got ... More »
More by KentM:Get Cleaner, Better Cuts With This Circular Saw Tracking Guide Piggyback a Dust Collector on your Shop Vac Build This Bird Feeder and Chill Out Bird Watching 
Add instructable to: