ZERO CLEARANCE INSERT FOR TABLE SAW

16,177

50

14

Introduction: ZERO CLEARANCE INSERT FOR TABLE SAW

About: I love making all kinds of things, with a bent toward woodworking. I do projects for clients, improvements around the house and even some furniture pieces. Follow along!

In this project, I show how I made a zero clearance insert for my table saw. Watch the video and follow along below to see just how I did it:

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: WHY MAKE a ZERO CLEARANCE INSERT?

I started this project a long time ago, and for some reason, I set it down and didn’t pick it back up until recently. I’m really glad I picked it back up and finished it, and frankly, I’m not sure why I waited so long. It makes cutting small things especially much safer.

So, why did I make one? Well, it is both safer and makes cleaner cuts. Let me explain. With a lot of table saws, the throat plate has a pretty wide hole in it to accommodate many different blades. That way, you can leave the same throat plate in your table saw for a regular blade, a thin kerf blade, and maybe even some thin stacks of a dado stack.

But that’s a problem…if there is a gap around the blade, it allows small pieces as you cut them to fall down into that hole and hit the spinning blade. You don’t know where that little piece will go and often, it will get caught on the spinning blade and get thrown back at you.

With the zero clearance insert in place, I’m able to make really small cuts with the fence quite close to the blade (using a push stick, of course) and I don’t have to worry about the little pieces falling in the gap and coming back at me. Also, the piece you’re cutting and that you’re planning on keeping will not fall down in the hole and get mangled and ruined.

Step 2: TOOLS & MATERIALS

(affiliate links)

Starbond adhesives - http://bit.ly/2X1HpK9

Table saw - https://amzn.to/2C11FzS

Trim router - https://amzn.to/2J8acm9

Drill press - https://amzn.to/2QZv5Te

Belt sander - https://amzn.to/2IBpXDO

Bandsaw (same model as mine, but mine is anniversary edition)- http://amzn.to/2BI2xJV

Planer - https://amzn.to/2CXLyo7

Spiral upcut ⅛ bit - https://amzn.to/2WYkIH5

Forstner bits - https://amzn.to/2pGFSGn

Step 3: MILLING THE LUMBER

I had some not-so-rough lumber for this one. It was some base molding that came out of a hotel. Well, I don’t think it actually ever made it into the hotel. Something about it was wrong, so it was discarded, thus, why I got it. It already had some finish on it for the look they were going for, but I wanted raw wood, so I sent it through the planer a few times to clean it up. This piece happened to be some soft maple, and it was really nice looking stuff.

Step 4:

After that, I took it to the table saw to rip it to exactly the right width.

Step 5: MAKE a ZERO CLEARANCE INSERT

It’s not difficult to come up with the shape for the zero clearance insert I needed to make, since I could just use the insert that came with the table saw. After all, I just need the overall shape, so it fits in the gap perfectly. I traced out the old insert and then took it to the bandsaw to rough out the shape. I used my belt sander propped on its side to create a makeshift disc sander. I had to use a couple of 2x4’s under my work piece to elevate the insert up to the proper height. This wasn’t the best solution in the world, but it worked pretty well. One of my viewers told me they would have probably just used a flush trim bit in the router to get it perfect. I’m sure that would have worked much better.

After tracing the shape, cutting it out on the bandsaw and refining it at the belt sander, I marked out by hand where all of the spots for set screws went. These were sections that had to be shallower since there were set screws in the saw that help you level the insert. I just kind of sketched these out by hand and then used a trim router to remove the material.

Step 6: CUT a FINGER HOLE

I marked out where the finger hole was on the original insert and took this new one to the drill press to drill it out. That way, once it goes in the table, I can put my finger in there and pop it out.

Step 7: ADD a REAR TAB

I cut a small piece and glued it on to the back side with wood glue. This was to act like a little tab to hold the insert in place. Well, that didn’t end up working too well. As I would try to raise the blade through the zero clearance insert the tab would snap off….three times in a row it snapped off. Sheesh!

I ended up just finding some neodymium magnets that I could glue to the underside of the insert plate with some CA glue from Starbond adhesives. I made sure these would be able to grab the screws that help set the level of the insert. I also glued a washer to the underside of the zero clearance insert so that it would catch the magnet that was already part of the table saw. This ended up working quite well, and it holds very tight in the slot. Here’s a neat trick: I took a Sharpie and colored on the magnet that was already on the saw. Then, I put my zero clearance insert into the slot and pressed down on that spot before it dried. It left a mark where I needed to attach the washer so that the magnet would grab it.

Step 8: MAKE THE CUT

Next, it was time to raise the blade through the zero clearance insert and create the kerf cut. This was kind of fun to see it come through there, but also, it was kind of terrifying at the same time. After the tab on the back of it breaking off a few times and giving me a scare, I was a bit hesitant. This went off without a hitch!

Step 9: LEAVE ROOM FOR THE RIVING KNIFE

The riving knife on a table saw is the piece of metal on the back side of the blade (It’s actually attached to the arbor or main structure that you attach the blade to) so that it moves with the blade…up and down. The reason a riving knife is such a good thing is that it prevents a LOT of kickback accidents that tend to happen with the table saw.

There was not room for the riving knife to come up through the slot that the blade cut, since it sits behind the blade. I ended up taking the insert out and running it all the way through on the backside, so that it cut the slot all the way through. Then, I just glued in a small piece to join the two sides again, and it was as good as new.

Step 10: MAKE SURE IT'S LEVEL

You really want to take some time when you make one of these and make sure the insert is level with your table saw table. I grabbed a small ruler and ran it back and forth over the table and over the insert. When it would catch on the insert because it was too high, I would take it out, adjust some of the leveling screws, and try again. Over and over I did this until I got it just right. It’s worth dialing it in really well, even if it does take a few minutes.

Step 11: TEST IT OUT

I had to test it out at this point. I grabbed some thin pieces of wood to make a picture frame and ran them through there to create a rabbet on them. I would not have been able to do this on the previous insert, because it would have fallen in the gaps like I mentioned above. All of the cuts were effortless, and I even felt safer using it.

Step 12: CONCLUSION

I’m so glad that I made one of these, and frankly, I’m not sure why I waited so long to make one. I feel like the cuts I’m making now are much safer, and I’m getting cleaner results from my table saw. Also, I don’t have to switch it out when I use my table saw crosscut sled. I just put the sled right on top and go with it.

Have you made one of these for your table saw? What would you have done differently?

Thank you so much for following along with this project! I really appreciate it and I’ll talk to you soon…

Be the First to Share

    Recommendations

    • Sculpting Challenge

      Sculpting Challenge
    • 3D Printed Contest

      3D Printed Contest
    • Motor Vehicle Contest

      Motor Vehicle Contest

    14 Discussions

    0
    WillM94
    WillM94

    2 months ago

    What I do seems so much simpler than your method. I start with a piece of MDF of the correct thickness for my saw and cut it to the approximate size. Then I attach the insert that came with the saw to that with double sided tape and cut the MDF insert to size and shape using a pattern cutting bit on my router table using the original insert as the pattern.

    Quick and easy! I make zero clearance inserts for each of my blades and label each insert with the blade it was made for.

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 2 months ago

    If I was to say I wanted to see you do anything different, it would be to see you using push shoes, instead of push sticks. The shoes hold down several inches farther in than do the sticks, like you were using. This means fewer kickbacks, since they hold down closer to the back of the blade, where kickbacks start.

    Once you use them a bit, you'll never want to go back to the sticks, though you will still use them, from time to time, in addition to the shoes.

    I have a removable, adjustable cabinet over my cabinet saw, so I can reach up and grab one of the many push sticks over my head. I even have a bunch of push "fingers" I use, religiously, with my bandsaws.

    https://www.lumberjocks.com/projects/105726

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 2 months ago

    I have a box of zero clearance inserts, since doing that way is easy and as long as I'm set up, I might as well pump out a bunch of them for 22-1/2, 45 and 90 degree cuts, and dado cuts.

    1
    Bruceaulrich
    Bruceaulrich

    Reply 2 months ago

    That's a great method! I had seen that done before too, but I wanted to try it a little different way. Your way is probably easier. ha.

    0
    krr711
    krr711

    Question 2 months ago on Introduction

    Dear Sir, I have tried to save your work here as a favorite but something seems to be wrong on the server end. I got the same "Oops, sorry..." message (3) times while trying to write this message. I know you can't do anything about it but at least this is a place on the site to post. I have no access to any contact points on this site again to today. It is the middle of the day in Indianapolis, USA and Instructables is dead in the water again. Thank you for your great teachable!

    0
    Bruceaulrich
    Bruceaulrich

    Reply 2 months ago

    Not sure what was happening with their site. You can always view on my site, www.bruceaulrich.com. I put up all of my tutorials there. Thank you!

    0
    Kink Jarfold
    Kink Jarfold

    2 months ago on Step 12

    What I do to get a zero clearance is to use painters tape and tape over the holes next to the blade. It works. And comes off easily.

    0
    GordyJohnson
    GordyJohnson

    Reply 2 months ago

    Another effective approach is to use Bondo to fill in the gap. Once it hardens, you can bring your blade up through it for your zero clearance opening. It's strong, too.

    0
    Bruceaulrich
    Bruceaulrich

    Reply 2 months ago

    That's a good idea, but I wonder if it is rigid enough for some things to have support as you push through the saw?

    0
    Kink Jarfold
    Kink Jarfold

    Reply 2 months ago

    You're right. Painters Tape is NOT rigid enough and gets beat up pretty quickly, but it works great in a pinch where you're only doing a little bit of thin trimming. And Masking tape is too thick and gets in the way--at least that is what I found out.

    1
    seamster
    seamster

    2 months ago

    Very nicely done Bruce. I made one for my saw a few years back, and wondered why I had waited so long, too. It's definitely a must-have accessory for any tablesaw! : )

    0
    Bruceaulrich
    Bruceaulrich

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you! Yeah, it is really a necessity!

    0
    MikB
    MikB

    2 months ago

    In your step 9: That riving knife is the reason why a lot of these zero-clearance "easy to make" things fail. I think that's the first time I've seen someone confess that it didn't "just work" :)

    On most European saws, the knife is always slightly higher than the blade, and means you can't do it the easy way: Lower blade all the way down, fit the plate, raise blade up through the plate. Stop. Done! -- You also can't do non-through cuts (dados, grooves, cutting super-thick pieces by half-cutting from each side etc. etc.)

    Most American saws seem to have no knife at all, and so this is really easy. I don't even think the riving knife on mine is removable, it's part of the structure and also supports the blade guard.

    Maybe some (better) saw let you remove it, ill advised as that is ...

    0
    Bruceaulrich
    Bruceaulrich

    Reply 2 months ago

    Interesting. Most American saws I've seen in the last 10 years do have some kind of riving knife now. It is a huge help when preventing kickback. Thanks for checking out the project! Stay safe!