Intro: How to Make a Crosscut Sled
A table saw is arguably the most versatile tool in a wood shop. You can do everything from cut down large sheets to make extremely accurate cuts. The only down side (and in my opinion the fun side) is that you have to make jigs to do just about anything that isn't a rip cut. That's where the miter slots come in to play! They are invaluable when it comes to making jigs. I have a few jigs for my table saw and most of them reference off the miter slots, with exception to some that reference off the fence.
One of the most useful jigs for the table saw is the crosscut sled. "But why would I make a crosscut sled when I can use my miter gauge?" Great question! The main reason is the additional support it provides when cutting. You have a much longer fence than you do on a miter gauge. However, many miter gauges have holes that allow you to screw on a board to help with support. There are also many other reasons that are mentioned throughout this article. My favorite is that it eliminates friction. It seems odd but hear me out. When you run a board along your table, your creating friction and that friction may cause the board to shift one way or the other especially if you have a dull or dirty blade. You can learn how to clean you table saw blade here. With a crosscut sled the only friction created is between the sled and the table. Your work piece is untouched. Since the sled is referencing in slots, there isn't an opportunity for anything shift.
Now, let's get right into it!
Tools that I used:
- Sawstop table saw - https://amzn.to/2ILhw5L
- Jointer - https://amzn.to/2HfSGOu
- Planer - https://amzn.to/2IQKdhP
- Drill & driver set - https://amzn.to/2H0qTlG
- Bandsaw - https://amzn.to/2HsJ28J
- Quick clamps - https://amzn.to/2qygSkA
- CA glue - https://amzn.to/2qCWkrv
The materials I used were all cut off pieces from previous projects I've made. Here are links to these materials incase you want to make your crosscut sled the same way. There are two links for the runners (they are different sizes) so make sure you measure your miter slots and choose the appropriate size. More info on the runners is given in the first step below.
Step 1: Fit the Runners
The runners are what the rest of the sled references off of and one of the two things that separate a good sled from a great sled (the other thing being the accuracy of the fence). You want to take your time and make sure the runners have a snug fit without wiggle room but can still slide within the miter slots with ease. That's a very fine margin so like I said, take your time.
I have a Sawstop table saw and my miter slots are 3/4" wide. I had 3/4" wide PVC trim from a previous project and it seems like I got lucky here because the trim was just a hair wider than my miter slots. I clamped the two pieces of trim together and took extremely light passes with my hand plane to get them to the right thickness.
In the materials listed above, I included two links for the runners. The first one is very similar to the one that I used here and the second is the same material trim in a larger size. I recommend using the larger one because there is more material to play with and get the right fit.
It's a good idea to make your runners thinner than your miter slots are deep. This means dust won't get in the way during use.
Alternative materials for the runners include acrylic, plywood, and hardwood. Aluminum may also be a good option but may be difficult to achieve the proper fit. You do NOT want to use soft wood as it may compress after some use and have a loose fit. I thought this may be an issue with the soft PVC but I've been using my sled for a couple months now and it doesn't appear to be an issue. There are also companies that sell adjustable runners for these applications so that may be something you want to look into.
Step 2: Runners, Meet Base
Now it's time to attach the runners to the base of the sled, 3/4" thick MDF. I'm using a piece that measures about 15" x 24" but you can make your base as large or small as you'd like. Before placing the runners in the slots, we need to prop them up so they stick up just past the top of the table. You can use coins or washers to do this. In my case I used stacks of 5 pennies. Be sure to use several stacks so your runners have plenty of support.
We can attach the runners to the base using CA glue, commonly known as super glue. The glue is a great temporary adhesion solution. The idea is to hold everything in the correct position so you can drive a few screws through the runners into the base. Be sure to pre-drill and countersink the holes so the heads of the screws don't stick out past the runners and affect the accuracy of your sled. I'm a little picky and I wanted to square my base to my runners. This isn't necessary at all but I positioned my runner to be flush with the front edge of my table and when I placed my base on top, I lined it up with that same edge.
I decided to offset my base so I have more support on the left side. This is just personal preference so before gluing, you can place the base on your table saw and see what is more comfortable for you. Also ask yourself how you plan on using your crosscut sled.
Step 3: Mill the Fence
Next we can square up to 2" x 3" that we'll use for the fence. That's done on the jointer and planer. It may be very close to being flat and square right off the rack at the store but it's a good idea to make sure especially since the wood may have moved.
After flattening and squaring use a block plane or a chamfer bit in a router to add a small chamfer on one corner of the fence. This is the corner that meets up against the base of the sled. The bevel is a place where sawdust can go so that it doesn't get trapped between your work piece and fence and affect your cut.
Step 4: Cut Your Sled
By this time the glue should have had enough time to fully dry. We can now remove the pennies and this would be a great time to add those screws to better secure the runners. With that done we can cut the sled. Do NOT cut the sled into two pieces! I exaggerated the amount you need to cut the sled in these photos. Half way to two thirds of the base's depth should be enough.
Step 5: Attach and Square the Fence
This step is just as important and making sure you have nice fitting runners. Remember your making a jig and you want your cuts to be accurate and square. Just like step 1, make sure you take your time to set it up the right way.
Since we lined up the base to be roughly square with our runners, if we line up the fence to the front edge of the base, we'll be on the rough area of the position we need to attach the fence. Now, grab your most accurate square and two clamps. You can loosely clamp your fence in position and use your square to square it to the kerf you cut in the base. If you have an accurate square and are not looking for extreme precession in your sled, then this is as far you need to go and you can screw your fence to your base and continue to the next step.
If you're looking for more precession, keep reading. With your fence squared to your kerf cut, clamp it in position and drive two screws through your base into the fence (one in either end). Be sure to pre-drill and counter sink the holes for the screws. At this point it's a good idea to add a back fence to your sled. Attach it the same way as the front fence but there's no need to make sure it's square since you don't reference a work pieces off this area. The next thing to do can seem a little complicated but is actually fairly simple and all you need is a good pair of calipers. The get the fence extremely square we're going to use the five cut method. This method is a little complicated to put into text so be sure to check out the link if you're interested. It's a lengthly video but truly helps you get a square cut. I was able to square my fence accurately enough that if I cut a board that was 40" long, it would only be .004" off from front to back. As you may recall, my sled is only 15" deep so this is plenty accurate and maybe even an overkill but I like to know that I have a square cut every time. Once you're fence is square you can secure it in place with more screws.
Step 6: Extra Tips
At this point your crosscut sled is fully functional and you're ready to start using it. However, here are a couple things that help with use and make it look better. First, you may notice that your sled may be a little difficult to slide especially if you made one on the larger side that has a lot of weight to it. The best way to help it slide smoother is to add paste wax to bottom side. The brand doesn't matter but you'll notice it makes a huge difference. The second thing is to add some angles or curves to the back fence. This doesn't add any functions or make your sled perform better, it simply looks nicer. In these photos you can see I cut off the corners of the back fence. In the video thumbnail you can see I later added some curves.
Step 7: Go Cut Stuff!
Congratulations!! You now have a crosscut sled! You'll soon question how you managed to work without one. This crosscut sled is a very simple one. If you do a quick search online you'll see ones with many bells and whistles. Many of these things can facilitate and ease some oppressions so they are great to consider. Even without them you now have a great crosscut sled that you can use to build your next project!
You can watch the video here on how I built this crosscut sled.
You can also find me on Youtube
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