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Building a Table Saw Panel Cutting Sled
We recently moved our shop to a smaller location and had to get rid of several tools. One of the first casualties was a gargantuan sliding crosscut table attached to our table saw. Though it's a useful accessory, it has some serious drawbacks: It takes up more than its fair share of space and it needs to be recalibrated every time you attach it to the saw.
Finally, this jig is quick and cheap to make. We spent $22 on wood and hardware. (And, with the exception of the miter bar, we had enough stuff left over to build a second sled.) Construction time was three hours flat.
It's tempting to use workaday birch plywood for the sled's base, but I don't recommend it. We've built quite a few sleds here, and some of the plywood ones have warped and become unusable after a year or two of use. The plywood jigs that have survived well have been ones that are extra thick or have supplemental bracing to keep them flat.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is inexpensive, easy to work and stable (as long as you don't take it for a swim).
Begin by cutting your sled base to size and marking the line on the underside for attaching the miter bar. First measure the distance between your sawblade and your miter slot. Add 1/2" to that measurement and mark that line on the underside of your sled. Now drill 3/32" pilot holes on that line using your drill press. Make your first hole 1" from the end and then every 2" afterward.
Now drill corresponding 1/8" clearance holes and countersinks in the miter bar. Why so many screws? Two reasons: One, you don't want any flex in your miter bar. And two, the screws compress the Ultra High Molecular Weight (UHMW) plastic bar slightly. This allows you to remove some slack in the miter bar when it is in your table saw's miter slot. Tighten a few screws for a tighter fit; loosen a few for a sloppier experience.
Screw the miter bar to your base using #8 x 1" screws. Put the jig in place on your saw, raise the blade and trim the left edge of the sled to a perfect fit.
Next you want to install the Tnuts that will hold the fence in place. Tnuts have a barrel that re quires a 5/1 6" hole and a flange that needs a 1/1 6"deep by 3/4" diameter hole. Begin by drilling the 3/4" stopped hole in the locations shown in the diagram using your drill press. Now chuck a 5/16" bit into your drill press and drill the three throughholes you need. Tap the Tnuts in with a hammer.
Now you need to drill some corresponding holes in the aluminum fence. If you've never drilled in aluminum, you'll find it a lot easier than you expected (especially if you've ever drilled steel). The holes in the fence are also 5/16" in diameter. This is a bit larger than the 1/4" shank on the caps crews, but it's this little bit of play that will allow you to square this jig to your sawblade. Once those holes are drilled, drill a few 1/8" holes in the other wing of the aluminumangle fence that will allow you to attach the replaceable zeroclearance fence with #8 x 5/8" screws.
The fence face needs to grip the work securely. Otherwise your cuts have little hope of being square. You can choose either of these following two options or use both together. Cover the face of the fence with 120grit adhesivebacked sandpaper. Or knock in a couple finishing nails into the backside of the fence until the tips point out about 1/3 2" or so. Clip off whatever remains on the other side.
This jig is simple to square. First loosen the capscrews on your jig. Place the handle of an engineer's square against the edge of the sled's base that you trimmed earlier. Put the blade of the square against your fence and line things up. Tighten the capscrews. The nylon washers will allow you to snug them up really tight. Make a test cut and check your results with the square.
For me, it was square after the first time a huge improvement compared to the fussing necessary with our sliding table.
As built, this jig works great. One modification you might want to consider on down the road is adding a handle at the back. If your arms are short, a handle will help you push the jig through the last part of your crosscut while still keeping the work pressed against the jig's fence. The handle can be as simple as a 3/4" diameter dowel screwed to the tail end of the miter bar.
If you need to hang this sled on the wall, be sure to drill a hole or two in the sled's base. Finally, it's a good idea to clamp an extra piece of 3/4" MDF on the other side of your blade (as shown in the photo at the beginning of the article). This will catch falloff pieces, preventing them from getting flung back at you.
This newest addition to our shop works surprisingly well. In fact, the only time I miss the sliding table system is when I need to miter big panels (an infrequent operation in our shop). Now if only we could just find some way to shrink the scrap pile in our shop; then we'd really have some room to move around.
Information for this article is sourced by permission of Woodcraft.
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