As a beginner in woodworking, I made a lot of mistakes when I first start using the table saw. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who did it wrong. So let’s take a look over the mistakes I’ve made and learn from them so you’ll accurately and safely use your table saw.
When using the table saw you need to do a few verifications first:
- Check the alignment of the blade, rip fence and miter gauge.
- Get the push stick close to you.
- Make sure the blade guard and the splitter are properly installed.
- Wear protection glasses, earbuds and, if necessary, anti-dust mask.
- Align and adjust the blade perfectly.
These are the main things you need to check every time before cutting your first piece of wood, every day. No matter if you’re a beginner or have over ten years of experience, you need to walk through all these steps to properly and safely use your table saw.
I made a lot of mistakes during my first day of operating my table saw. And now, when I look back I can’t believe how naive I was.
For example, I didn’t use earbuds and I removed my blade guard because I wanted to see the blade cutting through wood. Those were some rookie mistakes.
Now, when I look back, I can’t believe I used my table saw without a blade protection. I am so lucky I still have my all fingers. 🙂
After I did some research and asked around people with years of experience and I came up with a simple step-by-step strategy to safely and properly use a table saw.
How To Use A Table Saw Properly
I know it can be a little scary for a woodworker beginner to use a table saw, especially after hearing a lot of stories with people losing fingers, or getting injured by kickbacks.
Well, it’s not the machine’s fault. People are those who make mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong, using a table saw can definitely be dangerous. But only if you don’t use it properly.
So don’t worry, I’ll try to cover in this article everything I believe a newbie should know to cut safely and accurately with the table saw.
But before learning how to properly cut with the table saw, you need to prepare your workspace first. Let’s see what are the preparation steps.
Preparing The Workspace
Here’s what to do before cutting your first piece of wood:
Step 1: Unplug The Table Saw
The very first thing I do when I enter my workshop is to check if the table saw is unplugged. And if it’s not, I unplug it.
That’s because I don’t want to push the start button while I’m preparing my materials on the table saw. Of course, most of the table saws have some kind of protection for the start button to avoid accidental pushes, but you never know how you end up touching it.
Better to be cautious than to be sorry.
Step 2: Grab The Protection Items
After I make sure the tool is unplugged I go straight to my cabinet and grab my protection glasses and earbuds.
As I already told you I did not use earbuds in the beginning, but now I’m kind of obligated to use them. That’s because my left year got muffled from the noise in my workshop.
So don’t be like me. Use your protection gear!
Protection glasses are also mandatory because, as their name suggests, they protect your eyes from sawdust. Make sure you choose a pair of crystal clear protection glasses to be able to see properly.
Another protection item you might need is the dust mask. It is used to protect your mouth and nose so you don’t ingest dust.
I must admit, I don’t use a dust mask. Even though I have it in my cabinet, I don’t use it unless I cut old, rotten wood that makes a lot of sawdust. I know this is not ideal, but I really can’t bear that mask on my face.
I don’t use gloves, and you shouldn’t use them too. This is a crucial tip maybe no one told you, but gloves can be easily hooked by the saw blade and injuries may happen.
So stay away from gloves, loose clothes, long hair, watches or ties (if there’s anyone doing the woodwork dressed in a suit).
Step 3: Check The Push Stick
I always keep my push block (or push stick if you’re using the one that came with your table saw) behind the rip fence. This way I have it on hand when I need to rip cut long or narrow boards.
So after I unplug the table saw and get my protection item, I always check if my push block is where it should be. That’s because sometimes they’re not where I left them. And I’m not talking about ghosts. 🙂
My father uses my tools from time to time, and even though I told him “the rules”, he’s not always as careful as I am with my tools.
So make sure your push stick is on hand because you don’t want to stop in the middle of a cut to search for it.
Step 4: Align The Blade
Before I start the table saw, I always make sure that the blade is square to the table. I do it using a square, and it’s so simple:
- Place the square with one side on the table.
- Adjust the tilt of the blade until the other side of the square touches the plate of the blade.
- Make sure the square is not touching the teeth of the blade.
If this is your first use of the table saw you also need to check the alignment of the blade with the miter slots.
This can also be done easily by simply measuring the distance between the miter slot and the front of the blade and comparing it with the distance between the same miter slot and the back of the blade. If they are equal, the blade is aligned. If not, you need to adjust it.
Voila! The angle between the blade and the table is square and ready for rip cuts and cross cuts.
Now, if I need to make bevel cuts, I will set up the blade differently because I actually need to tilt the blade at a precise angle, not at a square angle. But I’ll cover this subject in detail in a future article.
You need your blade to be square to the table and aligned with the miter slots to avoid excess resistance and friction, which can lead to:
- Difficulty in pushing the wood piece through;
- Burn marks on the wood piece;
- Or even dangerous kickbacks.
Step 5: Adjust The Blade Hight
This step is very important because the blade of the table saw needs to be slightly above the board you want to cut.
This is not just a safety step. Adjusting the blade high (or depth, whichever you want) properly ensures a nice cut, while rising it too much above the board can decrease the cut quality.
So make sure that only the teeth of the blade are above the top of the wood.
Step 6: Check The Blade Safety Accessories
Modern table saws also have really good safety features such as blade guards and splitters (the piece of metal behind the blade).
Sometimes you might want to remove that blade guard to perform more precise cuts, but don’t you ever remove the splitter.
A splitter prevents the workpiece from rotating onto the back of the blade and potentially kicking back at you. So never start your table saw work without the splitter mounted behind the blade.
Check if it’s there, and if it’s not, install it right away. Your personal safety depends on it.
Cutting The Workpieces
Now that I’ve prepared my things around the table saw it’s time to cut my first piece of wood.
There are numerous types of cuts you can make with a table saw:
- Rip cuts – with the grain of the boards, usually lengthwise.
- Cross cuts – across the grain, usually widthwise.
- Taper cuts – at a specific angle with the use of the miter gauge or the taper guide.
- Bevel cuts – are done with the blade tilt at a specific angle.
- Dado cuts – make a groove in the wood piece with a special set of blades.
- Rabbet cuts -take off the material from an edge of the board with the dado blades.
I’m going to cover only the first two cuts in this article since they are the most popular ones. And, as a beginner, is more than enough if you learn how to do rips and cross cuts in your first lesson.
1. How To Do A Rip Cut With A Table Saw
Whenever you need to perform a rip cut you’ll want to use the rip fence. Even its name suggests its purpose.
The rip fence needs to be perfectly parallel to the blade when you lock it down into place. And a good one has some screws on it to adjust it and make it perfectly aligned with the table saw blade.
If the rip fence is not aligned, the workpiece can pinch the back of the blade and kick back at you, or move away from it and ruin your work.
Once you’ve aligned it, let’s find out how to set up the rip fence. It’s so simple. Just measure the distance between the rip fence and the blade, and slide the rip fence closer or further from the blade until you get the distance you need.
An important piece of safety equipment when doing rip cuts is the push stick, which usually comes with the table saw.
But if you don’t have one, or want to build a safer one, you can easily do it. It’s just a block of plywood with a notch at one end to hook over the end of the workpiece.
A push block is better than a push stick because it puts more downward pressure as you push the workpiece through the blade. And its wider contact area also offers better stability for the workpiece.
There are a lot of video tutorials on YouTube on how to do build a push stick from a block of wood, so I’m not gonna insist on this anymore.
So once the rip fence is set up, the blade height is adjusted, and the push stick is at hand, it’s time to plug in the table saw and turn it on to make the cut.
Here’s how to do a rip cut:
- Keep the board level on the table and press it against the rip fence.
- Use both hands to guide the workpiece through the blade.
- When the back end of the workpiece starts getting close to the blade, take your hand off of the part of the workpiece placed between the rip fence and the blade.
- Grab that push stick and push the workpiece to finish the cut safely.
This is it! This is the safe and proper way to do a rip cut. Now let’s try to do a cross cut.
2. How To Do A Cross Cut With A Table Saw
For the cross cut, you don’t need the rip fence at all, so you should move it away from your workspace.
You’ll want to use the miter gauge, which can also pivot to make angled miter cuts. But for cross cuts, you need to leave the miter gauge at 90 degrees.
Usually, every table saw comes with a miter gauge, but the standard ones aren’t so great. In time, you’ll definitely want to upgrade to an aftermarket model.
But until then, you can also improve the one you already have. Just screw on a piece of plywood to the miter gauge to create an auxiliary fence.
Use your square to make sure that the miter gauge is square to the plate of the blade, not to the teeth of the blade.
Then do a test cut only with the auxiliary fence mounted on the miter gauge. This will make a cut in the auxiliary fence, so you know exactly where the blade is cutting.
The auxiliary fence will also support the workpiece at the back of the cut where it tends to chip out.
Now that all is set up it’s time to plug in the table saw and turn it on. Here’s how to do a cross cut:
- Measure the board you want to cut and mark it with a pen where you want your cut to be.
- Place the board against the auxiliary fence with the mark over the test cut in the auxiliary fence.
- Slide the miter gauge with the workpiece over the blade while holding it with both hands.
Great! This was a safe way to perform a cross cut with a table saw. But if you want to cross cut multiple pieces to the same length, here’s how to do it:
- Fix a stop block (small, straight piece of wood) to the auxiliary fence with a clamp.
- Make sure that the distance between the test cut in the auxiliary fence and the edge of the stop block is the same as the length of your final pieces.
- Now place your workpiece against the auxiliary fence, with one end pushing in the stop block.
- Slide the miter gauge with the workpiece over the blade and repeat as many times as you need.
Now you know how to properly make two of the most popular cuts with the table saw: cross cuts and rip cuts. And not just that you’ve learned how to make them, but you also know how to stay safe while doing it.
When To Use An Outfeed Table?
I don’t know if you noticed already, but cutting long boards with the table saw can be a really difficult job. So to make it easier, you need an outfeed table.
An outfeed table is a simple work table built to extend the surface of your table saw. It makes easier to handle long workpieces.
Just make sure the outfeed table isn’t taller than your table saw. It can be slightly shorter, but never taller.
This is how I use my table saw, and how I rip and cross cut my workpieces to the perfect size. But this isn’t the only way to do it.
As you’ll do some research you’ll see that other woodworkers use different methods to cut the same workpiece. It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as it’s safe, and the result is the one you’re looking for.
Table saw is an amazing machine and there’s always something new to learn and do with it every day. So make the best of it!