Introduction: How to Use a Table Saw

Picture of How to Use a Table Saw

This Instructable was written by members of Arch Reactor (http://www.archreactor.org). A Hackerspace/Makerspace located in St Louis, Missouri. It was written generally and should be very applicable to use of most table saws. It does include tips on how to account for quarks of our particular saw, but some of these are common problems. This manual was meant as reference to be used in conjunction with an in person class taught about the saw. Anyone using this as a reference should have a knowledgeable person review the saw with them and supervise the first cuts if you have never used a table saw before.

Step 1: Safety Warning

First and foremost, table saws are pieces of dangerous power equipment. They can and will seriously injure you if you get careless. Always wear safety glasses, pay attention to what you are doing, and never lose respect for this powerful machine. Don’t be afraid of using the tool, but always remember it can and will remove fingers or eyes if you get careless. A healthy dose of nervousness and conscious thought will keep you from developing this carelessness.

Step 2: Parts of the Table Saw

Picture of Parts of the Table Saw

A. Table

B. Fence – This is a long guide parallel to the blade that is used to keep the work a constant distance from the blade during a ripping cut.

C. Fence Dog – This is the level locks the fence in place. To move the fence lift this hand. To lock it in place firmly press it down.

D. Blade – The cutting part obviously. There are a couple different types of blades that we will cover later. Shown here is a pretty standard table saw blade.

E. Blade Insert – Simply an insert that fills the hole that is used to swap blades. The one that is shown is the standard design with about an 1/8th inch gap on either side of the blade. We also have a zero clearance insert that is used when cutting thin strips that might fall into the gap of a standard insert. Finally we have a extra wide gapped insert designed to be used with the Dado blades

F. Blade Height Adjustment Wheel – This wheel adjusts the height of the blade

G. Blade Angle Adjustment Lever – This wheel changes the angle of the blade relative to the table. The angle indicator is on the front of the table saw behind the height adjustment wheel.

H. Power Button – This is a hinged push pull button. Pulling out on the bottom turns the machine on. Pushing the button toward the machine turns it off.

Step 3: Types of Cuts

There are three kinds of cuts that can be performed on a table saw a cross cut, a ripping cut and a dado cut.

A cross cut is usually considered to be a cut across the grain, but really it can be any cut across the narrower direction of the board. A cross cut is accomplished with the use of the miter gauge or the sled.

A ripping cut is a cut that goes down the length of the board. It is done with the fence set as a guide to the width you wise to achieve.

A dado cut is a wide cut or trench that is most often used in jointery. It can be achieved using the miter gauge or fence, but there are special blades that will produce it more quickly and accurately.

Step 4: Setting the Blade Height

There are two schools of thought on how to set the height of the blade. The first is to set the blade only slightly higher (~1/8 inch) than the top of the material that needs to be cut. This is done for safety as you will likely only receive a cut that deep if you slip. I personally have a coworker who still has his thumb because he followed this practice. This set up can cause slightly more tear out on the bottom of the board and could slightly increase the chance of kickback as the teeth are encountering the wood at more of a horizontal instead of vertical angle. This is the method I suggest for everyone unless you specifically need to prevent tear out.

The second school of thought is to set the blade height well above the top of the material to be cut. This can slightly reduce the fraying and tear out on the bottom of the work piece, but is more dangerous. If you slip you will have much more blade exposed to do much more damage. If you follow good procedure this can still be done safely, but pay attention and use the other method if possible.

Step 5: Angled Cuts

Picture of Angled Cuts

Table saws are capable of making two angled cuts. The first is relative to the plane of the blade and is done by setting the miter gauge. To make this cut set the desired angle on the miter gauge and proceed to cut as you would with any other cross cut as described below. The second angle is relative to the plane of the table. This is accomplished by tilting the blade over. The wheel to change the angle of the blade is located on the side of the machine with a reference indicator on the front of the machine behind the height adjustment wheel. Note the markings on the miter gauge and on the front of the machine are intended more for carpentry level precision. If a higher tolerance of the angle is need it would be advisable to use a protractor and bevel gauge to check the angle directly to the blade.

Step 6: Fence Adjustment

The setting of the fence is a little more involved. The fence is used to accurately cut pieces of wood length wise. The fence is controlled by the dog or lever at its front. To make an adjustment to the width of your cut lift the lever and the fence will slide side to side. Slightly raise the blade of the saw so you can measure to it. Arch reactors fence has a unusual quark to it in that if the lever is all the way up the fence can become very unsquare to the blade. Simply lowering the lever partially relieves this, so position the fence in the approximate location and lower but do not firm down the lever. This will take most of the angle out of the fence. Another quark that is common to many table saws is that the fence does not naturally stay fully square to the blade. The best practice to correct this is to take measurements from the fence to both the front and back of the blade to make sure they are the same. If the readings are not the same gently rap on the fence with your knuckles at the front or back or the fence until both measurements read your desired width. After both measurements read the desired width, place one hand on top of the fence to hold it in place and with the other firmly snug down the lever.

Step 7: Changing the Blades and Inserts

Picture of Changing the Blades and Inserts

Arch Reactor has 3 types of blades and 3 types of inserts at our disposal. I will describe the differences and intended uses of the types and then explain how to change them out.

The standard insert is the one that comes with the table saw it can be use for cross and ripping cuts as long as the waste material is sufficiently big enough that it will not fall into the gap and jam. It must be used for cuts requiring the blade angle to be lowered.

The zero clearance insert is used for vertical cross and ripping cuts, but must be used when the material removed by the cut is thin and could fall into the gap and jam the standard insert. The zero clearance insert cannot be used for cuts requiring the blade angle to be changed.

The final insert is a wide gap model. This insert is intended to be used with the dado blades to allow trenching cuts only. Warning: The dado blades are long enough to hit the insert if the blade height is raised too high. If you are using the dado blades with this insert raise the blades to the desired height and then spin the blades by hand to make sure they clear the front and back of the insert. We are currently working on new inserts to correct this problem.

To remove/change the inserts simply lift on the front using the hole provided or push down in the back to rock the front up. There is a tab at the rear of the insert that tucks under the table.

The standard table saw blade is 1/8th of an inch wide and usually 8-10 inches in diameter. The better ones have carbide welded onto the tips of the teeth to keep the sharper longer. These teeth can be broken off by sharp impacts or hitting metal. Checking your wood for metal, not jamming the wood into the blade quickly and dropping the blade on a hard surface will extend the life of the blade. A few missing carbide teeth will not significantly affect the quality of the cut or the safety of use, but if you notice a significant number missing speak up. These standard saw blades will be used for 95% of your cutting of wood and plastics.

Next we have two types of dado blades, a wobble blade and stacking set. Dado blades are used to make precise and smooth notches or trenches in your material. The wobble blade works by using a blade that is slanted relative to the plane of the table. The wobble blade is adjusted by loosening the two screws on the face plate and rotating the two wedge plates until the mark lines up with the desired width. The second type is the stackable dado blades. These are assembled on the arbor until the desired width is reached. When assembling, the traditional saw blades go on the outside then there are two tooth middle blades. You must place a shim in between each blade and there are marked thicker shims that go between the conventional blades and the inner blades.

To change the blades first raise the blade height to make it easier and remove the insert. Next take a piece of scrap wood and hold it against the teeth of the current blade. Take a wrench and loosen the arbor nut by rotating it toward you. The teeth should bite into the scrap wood and keep the blade from spinning. Remove the nut and current blade being careful not to drop the nut into the sawdust bin, saving yourself a lot of aggravation. Place the new blade and nut back on the arbor and snuggly hand tighten. Make sure it is snug, but you do not have to go crazy trying to tighten it. The saw is designed so that the momentum of the blade will tighten it the first time you turn the saw on. Replace the appropriate insert cover.

Step 8: Making the Cuts

Picture of Making the Cuts

To make a cross cut first use an appropriate tool to make a measurement and mark on your board. Do not use both the miter gauge /sled and the fence at the same time. This will cause binding and is dangerous. Always set the length to be cut with a measuring tool and then line the mark up by eye. Set the blade height, line up you mark with the appropriate side of the blade (remember table saw blades usually have an 1/8th kerf, account for this). Turn on the saw and firmly hold the work piece to the miter gauge/sled. Slowly and smoothly advance the wood through and past the blade. Turn off the machine, but as doing so make sure your head does not come in line with any of the loose material around the blade. There is a small chance the blade might pick one of these up and kick it back toward you.

To make a ripping cut adjust the fence and blade height as described earlier. Turn on the machine and but the board against the fence. Use enough force to keep the board against the fence, but only as much as necessary. Excessive force toward the fence will cause an inaccurate cut and can be dangerous. Excessive force can spring load the fence and once the pressure is remove the spring action will push the wood back into the blade most likely causing the blade to pick it up and kick it back at you at high speeds. Slowly and smoothly advance the wood through and past the blade. Remove scrap wood in a safe manner or shut off the machine as described above.

Step 9: Maintenance

There is very little general maintenance that members will have to perform on the table saw. Good habits before starting are to check the drive belt in the rear for wear and check the teeth of the blade for chips. Wear on the belt or a few carbide teeth missing from the blade do not mean the saw is unsafe to use, but that these components may need to be replaced soon. Many missing teeth will start to become a safe issue. Finally, like always, is cleaning. Vacuum or sweep any saw dust off the top of the table and checking in the back to make sure the sawdust catchment bin is not overly full.

Step 10: Dos and Don'ts

Picture of Dos and Don'ts

Do:

  1. Do check you material for metal. Members use a large amount of recycled wood and a nail in the wood is not unimaginable. Metal and table saw blades do not mix. It is dangerous and even if you make it out unscathed it will absolutely damage the tool.
  2. Do retract the blade into the table when finished. It hides the blade in case someone trips in the shop and catches themselves on the table saw. There is no reason not to do this.
  3. Do use push sticks and blocks. There are occasions where using a push stick/block are not necessary, and there are rare occasions when using them can be dangerous. But in general, when in doubt use them. Use common sense. If you think “wow this is going to bring my hands uncomfortably close to the blade…” grab a stick.
  4. Clean up after yourself. Not only is it good shop etiquette, but having measuring tools or scrap wood vibrating around on the table or top of the fence while cutting is potentially dangerous.

Do Not:

  1. Do not put your hands over or in line with the blade.
  2. Do not use the fence and the miter gauge at the same time. This will likely cause the board to bind, jump, or kick back.
  3. Do not push the material into the fence too hard. It isn’t necessary and also spring loads the fence. You will not get an accurate cut and greatly increase to risk of the board jumping or a kick back.
  4. Do not saw the push sticks and blocks. If it happens it is better than your fingers; that is why they are there. That said, if you are hitting them, you are not using the proper one or using it improperly. These also take material and time to make.

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