A zero clearance plate is a replacement for the oval plate that fits over the area where your blade protrudes from the table saw. Instead of having a wide throat, it has a narrow gap barely wider than the width of the blade. As I recall, they're used to reduce tearing on the cut piece.
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+1. It reduces splintering at the cut edge, and (when used with a splitter) may permit cuts that would otherwise be too thin to be safe. Some handheld power saws can also be fitted with zero-clearance adapters -- usually the most expensive ones aimed at high-end woodworkers.