Meet Your Saw

Introduction: Meet Your Saw

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The table saw is the workhorse of a wood shop. From cutting down large stock to making precise cuts for joints, the table saw is a versatile machine.

In this class we'll talk about setting up your table saw, and making necessary adjustments.

It's always a good idea to have the manual that came with your saw on hand to know how your particular saw operates. Luckily, almost all manuals can be found online with a quick search, just type in your saw model number and print out a PDF from the manufacturer. Here's a good resource to find PDF manuals online.

Whatever brand of saw you have, most operate the same way. Here's a general breakdown of what a table saw looks like:

Mitre Track: Slot in the table surface that runs parallel to the cutting blade

Mitre Gauge: Device to hold wood at a specific angle relative the the cutting blade, rides along the mitre track

Fence: Adjustable straight edge that runs parallel to the cutting blade

Fence Scale: Measurement tool showing distance the fence is set from cutting blade

Blade Bevel: Sets the blade angle relative the to the table surface, angle shown on bevel angle

Riving Knife: A stationary dull blade that rides along behind the cutting blade that acts to prevent wood from binding against the saw blade after cutting

Anti-Kickback Pawls: Spring loaded serrated fins that grip the wood as it travels underneath and prevents kickback wood from being launched at the operator

Step 1: Blade Changes

As you make cuts on the table saw there are going to be times when your all-purpose saw blade just doesn't cut it anymore. You might need a finer tooth blade for finish work, or a large tooth blade for ripping lots of rough passes. Either way, changing a blade is something you'll eventually have to do, so here's how you do it

  1. First, unplug or completely de-energize your table saw. You should never attempt any service, maintenance, or blade changes with the saw connected to power.
  2. The cover around the blade is called an insert. Inserts are removed by pulling them up and out; some inserts have a safety catch which needs to be resolved before removing.
  3. Locate the bolt holding the blade and the indented side of the arbor shaft and place the two wrenches that came with your saw on these locations. Holding both wrenches firmly, pull the nut wrench (right side) towards you while pushing the arbor shaft indent (left side) to the back of the saw until the nut comes loose.

  4. Remove wrenches and unscrew the hex nut and blade washer, then slide out the blade.
  5. Reverse operation order to install new blade.

It's important to not over-tighten the hex nut when installing a saw blade. The threads of the arbor are right-handed, meaning the nut will tighten against the blade during operation.

When installing a new blade I first tighten the hex nut by hand, then only apply the hex nut wrench (right side). With my other hand I gently rotate the blade and wrench together towards me until the wrench makes contact with the edge of the table insert. With my right hand on the wrench I pull on the blade with my left hand to finish the tightening of the blade.

Step 2: Setting the Fence

To make repeatable and accurate cuts it's important that the fence is parallel to the saw blade.

Fence Squaring

Move the fence in line with the mitre track and lock down the fence. If the fence does not follow the mitre track then the fence is not square and you'll need to make an adjustment. All fences are a little different, but most will have adjustment screws on the locking side of the fence and a tightening screw at the opposite end.

Loosen the fence screws at the locking handle side and make adjustments to square the fence parallel with the mitre track.

Tighten the locking side fence screws and unlock the fence. Try moving the fence from side to side; if there's slop or play in the fence, the tightening nut on the opposite end of the fence should be adjusted by 1/4 turns until the fence has no slop when moving.

Fence Scale

With a squared fence we can turn our attention to the scale accuracy. Measure the distance from the saw blade tooth to the fence, in my example I set a distance of 2".

Lock the fence and read the scale indicator; if it doesn't match your measurement you can unscrew the dial indicator on the fence and make slight adjustments to make the measurements match.

Step 3: Blade Height

As dramatic and tempting as it is to run the saw with the blade at full extension, it's unsafe and not a best practice when operating a table saw.

Measure the stock you are cutting and set the blade height so the teeth protrude just above the thickness of the material, at most about 1/4" (6mm).

I find it easiest to lay my material on the table against the blade and lower the blade until it's at the right height.

Step 4: Bevel Angle

Angling the blade of your table saw is called a bevel.

If your saw supports a bevel function, and almost all do, you will find the wheel that sets the blade bevel near the blade height wheel. In fact, the bevel angle is typically shown on the same wheel that sets the blade height on most table saws.

Set your saw to 0° to make it perpendicular to the table top, then turn the wheel to its maximum bevel angle of 45° to see its full range of motion. Spin the blade bevel wheel to your desired angle, then tighten the knob on the wheel to lock the angle.

The bevel action should be smooth and easy to operate. If the angle seems stiff try untightening the wheel screw to make spinning the wheel easier.

Step 5: Blade Calibration

A table saw isn't very useful if it can't cut straight. Most saws come from the factory with the blade squared, but a lot can happen between when the saw was made and when you start using it. Even if you have a saw that you've been using for years, it's always a good idea to do a calibration every so often to ensure you're cutting true.

First, unplug your saw to ensure it's not energized.

Square Blade Angle

Set the bevel angle 0° and place a combination square against the table of the saw (not on the insert) and push the square up against the face of the blade (not the blade teeth). Squint your eyes and see if the edge of the combination square lies flush against the saw blade. If there's any deviation then your blade is not square.

All saws have a function which allows the bevel angle limit to be set. Use the bevel wheel to adjust the saw blade until it lines up with your combination square then adjust the stop screw for your saw to set this as the 0° limit. Spin the bevel wheel to the extreme other end and repeat the same process to set the stop screw limit at the 45° bevel angle.

Blade Movement

For those that want even more precision with their tools, you can determine if your saw blade has deviation when the blade is raised and lowered. Either through a factory error, or from vibration through years of use, the distance from the blade to the fence can deviate. This might seem like a minor issue until you have the blade fully extended and find all your cuts aren't matching up.

A dial indicator measure in thousandths of an inch (colloquially shortened to a "thou"). Most dial indicators have a base which is fixed to a stable surface like the top of the table saw and an articulating arm with the dial. Arrange the dial so the tip is touching the the face of the blade, then lock down the articulating arm to secure the dial in place. Each tick on this dial indicator represents 1 thou.

Use the blade height wheel to raise and lower the blade, you should be able to clearly see any deviation in your saw blade. Knowing that perfection here does not exist, I am of the opinion that a deviation of 0.005" (0.127mm), or 5 thou, is enough to live with - about the thickness of a sheet of paper.

If your saw has more deviation than, this check to make sure all bolts are tightened and the blade height assembly isn't damaged.

Step 6: Mitre Track

A mitre gauge is a movable fence that runs in the groves set in the table saw. Any time the miter track is used, you should not use the fence! With the fence in place the wood cut offs have nowhere to go and will get caught and kickback wood into you.

The mitre track is a great addition to the table saw as it allows all sorts of jigs and sleds to be used which hold your material in awkward angles. The Mitres Lesson covers this in more detail.

Step 7: Push Work Through Blade Completely

When starting on the table saw it can be intimidating to get close to the blade, even with push sticks and for good reason! However, push sticks are there to help you move material comfortably through the saw blade completely without sacrificing fingers.

When making cuts on the table saw, be sure to keep control of the material at all times, and push the wood completely thorough when you cut. Later, when you're familiar and experienced with using the table saw, you can explore the idea of doing partial cuts. For now, just push the work completely through the blade and use push sticks.

Step 8:

Pop quiz, hot shot

    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "After changing a saw blade, always tighten the hex:",
    "answers": [
            "title": "As tight as a gorilla could do!",
            "correct": false
            "title": "As tight as a small monkey could do",
            "correct": true
    "correctNotice": "Yes! The hex nut is designed to tighten as the arbor spins, securing the blade.",
    "incorrectNotice": "Nope! If you make it that tight you'll never be able to remove it!"
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "Use a fence when cutting with the mitre track",
    "answers": [
            "title": "Never",
            "correct": true
            "title": "Only when your eyes are closed to avoid sawdust",
            "correct": false
            "title": "Always",
            "correct": false
    "correctNotice": "Yes! Using the fence and the mitre track leaves the wood cut off nowhere to go and can cause kickback.",
    "incorrectNotice": "Really?"
    "id": "quiz-3",
    "question": "A bevel and a mitre are the same thing",
    "answers": [
            "title": "True",
            "correct": false
            "title": "False",
            "correct": true
    "correctNotice": "That's right! A bevel is made along the grain of the wood (typically the length), and a mitre is usually made against the grain.",
    "incorrectNotice": "No. It's a common mistake to confuse the two terms."

Now that we know how the table saw works and ways to make adjustments, let's dive into making some cuts. A very simple first project is to make a custom zero clearance insert for your table saw, which will require you to set the fence precisely and is a good way to be introduced to your saw.

Next up, we'll explore the most common type of cut made with the table saw: cutting along the grain of lumber to make a rip cut.

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