Anyone who plans to make great things out of wood should own a table saw. This versatile tool is the most important one you must have in your workshop.
No matter how big or small your woodworking project is, at some point or another, it will surely run through the table saw. So if you don’t have one yet, follow this complete guide to get the best table saw for the money.
Maybe you’ve already heard horror stories about table saws, where people get injured or even lose their fingers. And these might seem scary for a lot of new woodworkers, especially when it comes to using the table saw.
So because of this fear of injury, woodworker beginners tend to hesitate to use the table saw for their projects. But simply understanding how to use a table saw will go a long way in building your confidence.
If you respect your table saw and have a mental checklist that contains everything you must do and verify before making a cut, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Most of the injuries occur from wrong setups, little distractions, not wearing safety accessories, or even messy table tops. So in this article, I’ll try to address all these issues and even more, to change any beginner’s mindset from one of fear to one of respect for the table saw.
Table Saw Tips For Beginners
I started my first cut with tutorials from YouTube. There was no one to guide me, and I kind of enjoyed this type of self-learning.
But for you, I made this list with all the table saw tips I wish I knew before I made my first cut. So hopefully, you’ll enjoy it and learn something new and useful from it.
Here are 20 tips you must know as a beginner in using the table saw:
1. Imagine You Cuts
The most important tip when using a table saw is to imagine the cut before making it. This way you’ll hopefully manage to avoid awkward and unsafe positions, wrong placements, or possible accidents.
Every time before making a cut, imagine where the workpiece, your body, and your hands will be positioned throughout the entire operation. Don’t worry, it might seem a lot to process right now, but you’ll get used to doing this before every single cut.
Believe me, you don’t want to be halfway through a cut and then just realize that you don’t have a safe plan for getting the workpiece all the way through the table saw blade. This type of situations can cause serious injuries, so it’s better to imagine it and avoid it, rather than living it.
2. Trust Your Instinct
If you ever set up your table saw for a cut and something feels bad, saying maybe the workpiece seems unstable, or your hands are going to be in an awkward position, then just don’t go further with the cut. There is always more than a single method to make a cut, so find a better way.
I’m using my table saw frequently and I still sometimes set up an uncomfortable cut that causes me to think again and then just reconfigure the cut until it looks safe. So no matter the level of experience you have, your gut is always right.
You can avoid more than ninety percent of the injuries just by imagining your cuts and trusting your gut. So make sure these two table saw tips are your starting points whenever you make a new cut.
3. Choose The Right Blade For The Job
Whenever you buy a cheap table saw, the blade is the first accessory that needs to be changed immediately. That’s because the table saw manufacturers are cutting corners and saving money whenever and wherever they can.
You can choose from different types of table saw blades, but the only one you really need, especially if you’re a beginner in woodworking, is a combination blade that you can use for all kinds of cuts. You can opt for one with either 32 or 50 teeth.
Sometimes you’ll also have to use a dado blade, so make sure to set it up right. And this leads us to the next table saw tip.
4. Blade Teeth Must Be Faced Toward You
Whenever you need to set up your table saw for a new cut, make sure the blade is installed with the teeth facing toward you. Also, there should be an arrow on most of the blades, so you need to install it with the arrow pointing toward you.
Make sure you remember this whenever you have to change or realign the blade. For example, if you need to make a dado cut, you’ll definitely need to set up the dado blades. So yeah, you will change your blade from time to time.
If you still don’t know how to align a table saw blade, this article will guide you through the entire process.
5. Make Sure The Riving Knife Is Installed
As you might already know, kickbacks are the main reason injuries around table saws occur. That’s because all it takes is a moment of distraction and boom! The blade grabs a piece of wood and throws it toward you with the speed of a bullet.
Kickbacks occur when the workpiece (or the cut off) twists right at the rear of the blade. The teeth of the blade grab the piece of wood and throw it forward.
Of course, you want to avoid that. And the best way to do it is to install a riving knife, which is a simple piece of metal inlined with the blade, right behind it. The riving knife prevents kickbacks by blocking the workpiece from touching the back side of the blade.
Now, most of the table saws come with it preinstalled, so you don’t have to worry about it. But if you bought an old table saw, it might miss it. So make sure to install one for your safety.
6. Never Make A Freehand Cut
Don’t let the workpiece unsupported during the cut. Always use the rip fence or the miter gauge to safely perform an operation on the table saw.
The blade is really powerful and it can easily move the workpiece you’re trying to hold and alter the cut. Or even worse, it can cause you an injury.
So the miter gauge and the fence are there for a reason: to hold still the workpiece while it gets through the blade.
Don’t let the simplicity of the functionality of the table saw fool you; you can’t make an accurate cut without using some sort of support for the workpiece.
7. Don’t Stand Directly Behind The Blade
Whenever you’re making a cut on the table saw, try to avoid standing right behind the blade for safety purposes.
If your body is positioned directly behind the table saw blade and a kickback does occur, then you’re at high risk of injury, as the blade throws the cut off piece right at you.
But if you’ll stand off to the side of the blade, then if something happens you’ll be out of the line of fire and the flying piece of wood will miss you.
Don’t worry if this body position feels awkward at the beginning, in time you’ll get used to it and it will become a habit, rather than a rule to follow.
Sometimes this might seem impossible due to the length of the workpiece, or the complexity of the cut you need to do, or whatever reason you might find. If that’s the case, then it’s time to reimagine the cut. Remember, there are always better ways to do a cut on the table saw.
8. Get A Quality Rip Fence
You really don’t need an expensive table saw to begin your woodworking journey. And I already told you this in a previous guide to choose the best table saw for beginners. There are still a lot of amazing woodworking projects you can do with very inexpensive table saws.
But you need to make sure that whatever table saw you get, it has a high-quality blade and rip fence. These two accessories of the table saw are the most frequently used, so it’s a good idea to invest in their quality.
A high-quality rip fence should slide smoothly and lock into place easily. Also, it should stay perfectly parallel with the blade at all times.
9. Always Use The Push Stick/Block
Most table saws come with a push stick, or you can make one on your own. There are lots of designs online and the process is very simple and straightforward.
You can use any kind of push stick you want, as long as you don’t use your fingers to push the workpiece through the blade.
But even though you’re using a push stick, this does not guarantee a safe and perfect cut. A push block is way much better. You can simply make one by yourself, or you can get a multifunctional push block made by professionals. Either way, be sure to use it with every cut you make on the table saw.
10. Use Stop Blocks
Whenever possible, use stop blocks to prevent the workpiece to slide along the fence or miter gauge. But they are the most useful when you need to make a simple jig for repeated cuts.
There are a lot of ways to use stop blocks to make your work easier, and your imagination is your limit.
So make sure you have a couple of them around you whenever you start a new project at the table saw.
11. Don’t Wear Gloves
NEVER use gloves at the table saw. I know you want to stay clean on your hands, but don’t worry, you can clean yourself after you finish your job at the table saw.
Wearing gloves when working at the table saw is very dangerous. The blade can easily grab the glove without you noticing it and, in an instant, it can drag your hand through the blade.
Also, it won’t protect you from anything besides dust. So is it really worth wearing gloves at the table saw? NO, of course not.
12. Clean Your Workshop Daily
You need to clear up space around your feet. That’s because you don’t want to walk over some cutoffs, tools, or anything else left on the floor when you’re in the middle of a cut. It might be uncomfortable and dangerous.
Also, cleaning your workshop daily will help you become more organized. And this can speed up your working process since you don’t have to spend ten minutes searching around every time you need a tool.
Believe me, working clean and organized is the best way to prevent accidents, increase productivity, and avoid unnecessary stressful situations.
13. Use Safety Glasses For Eye Protection
The table saw is useless if you can’t see perfectly. So why would you compromise your woodworking hobby or job for a pair of safety glasses? You shouldn’t!
Use safety glasses to protect your eyes from the sawdust whenever you’re using the table saw.
Think about it as the table saw doesn’t start if the safety glasses aren’t on. Now that would be a great feature for a table saw. Manufacturers, take note!
14. Use Earplugs To Protect Your Ears
Another body part you need to protect when using the table saw (and other noisy tools form your workshop) is the eardrum. And to achieve this, all you need is a pair of quality earplugs that won’t fall easily from your ears.
It might feel a little bit uncomfortable at the beginning, but you’ll get used to them. They’re a must to avoid hearing loss because, after years of working in a noisy environment, your ears will give up at one point or another.
Earplugs are really inexpensive and every workshop must have them.
15. Avoid Wearing Long Loose Sleeves
Similar to using protective gloves, wearing clothes with long sleeves can be dangerous. They can be grabbed by the teeth of the blade and lead to serious injuries.
If it’s too cold in your workshop, and you need to wear long sleeves, make sure they are not loose.
16. Never Use Both The Rip Fence And The Miter Gauge At The Same Time
Every time you make a cut on the table saw you must use some kind of support for the workpiece. Either you use the miter gauge or the rip fence, but never use both!
When using both table saw accessories, the workpiece is constrained from too many sides, and the cutoff piece has no free space where to fall. This will eventually lead to a dangerous kickback. So don’t use both the miter gauge and the rip fence at the same time.
There is one exception where you can use both of them, and that’s when you make repetitive cross cuts. But in this case, you’ll use a small setoff block attached to the fence to position the workpiece. Then while you slide the miter gauge with the workpiece through the blade, the setoff block stays behind and there’s a free space between the cutoff and the rip fence where the cutoff can fall.
Anyway, there are also other methods to make repetitive cross cuts, such as building simple jigs, similar to the one used by me to make repeated taper cuts in this article:
So if you don’t feel safe using both the miter gauge and the rip fence to make repetitive cross cuts, then don’t do it! Search for an alternative; you’ll be amazed by how many woodworkers have the same problems as you have.
17. Don’t Release The Workpiece Until The Cut Is Done
This “rule” is simple: push the workpiece through the blade with a constant speed until the cut is made. Then stop the table saw and do whatever you need to do. But never leave the workpiece free while the blade is spinning.
You know what happens when the workpiece is free during a cut? Yes, a kickback occurs.
Also, don’t stop pushing the workpiece during the cut because it’ll cause burning marks on the workpiece.
18. Clean The Table Top Daily
Again, being organized will save you time and energy. But it will also help you prevent injuries and all kind of accidents.
You don’t want to make a wrong cut because of the sawdust gathered under your workpiece, inside the miter slots, or anywhere else on the table top. Also, you don’t want scraps and chips on the table and around the blade when making a cut.
So make sure you clean the sawdust and remove scraps after every use of the table saw.
At the end of the day, it would be nice if you’d clean the entire table top. And from time to time, saying every two weeks, you should wax the table top to avoid rusting and make sliding on the table top more smooth.
19. Get Some Clamps
Clamps are very useful around the table saw. You use them to fix the workpiece or the stop blocks to the miter gauge, rip fence, or to a custom jig. If you don’t have a pair of clamps already, you should definitely get one.
You will find yourself using clamps for almost every woodworking project that gets on the table saw.
This is one of those table saw tips I really wish I knew when I started using my table saw to avoid building a new jig for every project.
20. Do Not Rush
Haste makes waste. That’s right! This is genuinely true in woodworking too.
Make your measurements, preparations, and cuts at a normal pace. Don’t rush things up, especially when it comes to cutting on a table saw.
There are a lot of bad things that can happen if you don’t take your time to properly measure your workpieces, or if you don’t adjust the table saw settings accordingly.
You can ruin a good piece of wood because you did the measurements wrong, or you can even get a serious injury because you were in a hurry and missed a few settings.
So take your time, have patience, and do things one after another.
21. Have A Mental Checklist
This is probably one of the most important table saw tips here: create a mental checklist and follow it along before every cut you make.
Every time you step up to your table saw, go through a mental checklist that contains all the table saw tips in this article.
- Make sure everything is clear around you, at your feet, and on the table saw.
- Be patient when you do the measurements, and set up the table saw and the other accessories accordingly.
- Wear safety equipment.
- Visualize your cut before making it.
Make the cut only after all these things are checked. Having a mental checklist is very helpful when you’re just getting used to using the table saw.
I hope these table saw tips have encouraged you to get started making wonderful things with the table saw. I wish I knew them when I made my first cut with the table saw, but they’re really useful now too.