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Crosscuts With a Table Saw Sled

This gadget makes even wide crosscuts safe and simple

FH00DJA_TABLSA_01-2Family Handyman
A table saw sled makes crosscuts safe, simple and accurate. You can quickly make precise right angle cuts time after time. You can build one in about 2 hours, then hang it on the wall near your table saw until you need it.

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Time
A full day
Complexity
Beginner
Cost
Less than $20

Overview and sled plan

Many custom furniture makers and cabinetmakers use only a well-tuned table saw for all their precision cuts. Their secret for making perfect crosscuts and miter (angle) cuts is to use a table saw sled even on wide boards.

A sled is a movable contraption that slides in the table saw's factory- machined miter gauge slots. The workpiece then rests against a wooden fence at the front of the sled, a setup that keeps the work from slipping and ensures a clean, perfectly square cut every time. Read on and you'll see how to use it for specialty cuts too.

Although the miter gauge that comes with your saw can be used for crosscutting, it's less safe and accurate than a well-made sled. You can buy an expensive factory-built sled too. But it won't perform any better than your homemade unit. You can build this sled in just over a couple of hours. You'll need 3 ft. of Melamine (plastic-coated particleboard) closet shelving material, 5 straight ft. of 2×6 lumber, a handful of hardware and 4 ft. of oak lattice (see Shopping List in the Additional Information section below).

Size the sled to fit your needs
This sled is designed for either a 10-in. cabinet saw or a contractor's saw (not the portable, bench-top saws). These saws feature larger tables, which can handle a sled this size. This sled will handle everything from the most delicate cuts to stock up to 19 in. wide. If you own a bench-top table saw, consider building a smaller sled that will work for small projects such as picture frames or the occasional shadow box.

CAUTION!

You must remove your blade guard when using this sled. Keep your hands well away from the blade.

Figure A: Plans for a Table Saw Sled

Note: You can download Figure A and enlarge it in the Additional Information section below.

Step 1: Build the sled base

Photo 1: Cut and mark the melamine base

Cut a 32-in. length of 24-in. wide shelving using a carpenter's square and circular saw (or your table saw if you have an extended fence). Place the cut shelving on the saw with the edge hanging 2 in. over the left side of the saw table, and draw a left runner guideline even with the edge of the miter gauge slot. Also draw a line to mark the blade path.

Photo 2: Make the oak runners

Rip the oak lattice to the same width as the miter gauge slots. Hand-sand or plane the runners so they'll slide easily in the slots without binding. Cut them to the same length as the depth of your sled.

Photo 3: Mount the left runner

Clamp the left runner even with the line and clamp a straightedge tight against the runner to keep it straight while you mount it. Drill 1/16- in. pilot holes and then countersink holes and fasten the runner with five 1-in. No. 6 evenly spaced wood screws.

Tip: Attach a “flag” of tape 3/4 in. from the end of the drill bit to prevent you from drilling through the sled table.

Photo 4: Position and mount the right runner

Sprinkle sawdust in the right slot, press double-faced tape onto the second runner and lay it tape side up into the slot (the sawdust shims the runner above the table surface so the tape will stick to the sled bottom). The strip should be flush with the infeed edge of the saw table. Align the sled table with the infeed edge of the saw table, then lower the fixed left runner into the slot and lower the right side of the sled onto the taped runner. Carefully lift the sled off the saw, then screw on the second runner.

Melamine is a great material to use for your sled base. Choose a 24-in. width ($18 for 8 ft.) for a full-size sled like ours, or 12-in. if you're going to make a mini sled. Melamine is cheap, easy to find at home centers and doesn't warp with variations in humidity the way plywood sometimes does. The only drawback is that you must keep it dry or the edges will swell up like a pro wrestler on steroids. As a precaution against moisture, seal the edges with varnish.

In addition you'll need 1-1/8 in. wide, 1/4-in. thick oak lattice to be used for the two runners that fit in the miter gauge slots on the saw table.

Follow Photos 1-4 for details on how to assemble the sled base. Keep in mind that The runners must be precisely sized and positioned. Take your time and mill the runners (Photos 2 4) so they easily slide in the miter gauge slots without any binding or slop. Sneak up on the runner widths by ripping off small amounts of wood until you get the perfect fit. Ripping thin, narrow boards is dangerous, so be sure to use push sticks—not your fingers—when sending work through the saw. Most slots are about 3/8 in. deep, so the 1/4-in. thick runners glide just above the bottom of the slot.

When finished, take the sled for a test run. If the sled sticks or binds, run it back and forth through the slots 20 or so times then flip the sled over and examine the runner edges. The sticking spots will be darker. Unscrew the runners and shave down these areas with a block plane or sandpaper.

Step 2: Attach the stiffener and fence

Photo 5: Cut out the stiffener and fence

Using a jigsaw, cut a 20-in. long 2×6 for the stiffener and a 32-in. long 2×6 for the fence to the dimensions shown in Fig. A. We used a coffee cup to mark the layout curves. Sand the parts, round over the edges with a router (optional) and seal them with varnish.

Photo 6: Fasten the stiffener and one end of the fence

Clamp the stiffener flush with the outfeed edge, keeping the right end of the stiffener even with the right end of the sled table. Drill pilot holes (1/8 in.) and countersink holes and screw the stiffener through the sled bottom with 3-in. drywall screws spaced every 3 in. Keep the screws 2 in. away from the blade path. Clamp the fence 1-1/2 in. back from the infeed edge (see photos) of the sled table. Install only one pivot screw at the right end of the fence and leave the clamp on the left side.

Photo 7: Square the fence

Square the fence with a straight-edged piece of plywood. Raise the blade 1 in. above the saw table. Cut through a piece of scrap plywood, stopping the cut at the fence. Check for square by flipping over the left half of the plywood. Push the two cut edges together and check to see if the joint is uneven.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Photo 8: Adjust and fasten the fence

Gently tap the fence to adjust it and make another test cut in a new scrap. Repeat this step until the two halves meet perfectly. Then flip over the sled and fasten the fence as you did the stiffener.

For the fence and stiffener, select any 2×6 wood that's straight-grained (the grain runs in parallel lines) and clear (knot-free); see Photo 8. I sorted through cedar at the lumberyard until I found two pieces of wood that had 36-in. long clear sections. Sealing these before assembly will also prevent humidity-induced warping and keep them free of grime.

Follow Photos 5-8 for directions on how to attach the stiffener and fence. And keep in mind the fence has to be absolutely square to the saw's blade path. Use a straight-edged scrap piece of plywood against the fence to square the sled (Photos 7 and 8). When you flip over half of the plywood and push the two cut edges together, any gap will be double the size of an out-of-square error.

Step 3: Install the two safety features

Photo 9: Install stop bolts

Drill a 3/8-in. hole in the left corner of the sled table (see Fig. A for location) and install a 2-1/2 in. long, 3/8-in. dia. bolt positioned as shown in Fig. A. Raise the blade to full height and cut through the sled table and fence, shutting off the motor when the blade exits the table. (Keep your hands well away from the path of the blade while you're making this dangerous cut.) Drill a 3/8- in. hole through the lip of the saw table and anchor a 2-1/2 in. long, 3/8-in. bolt with two nuts, washers and a lock washer. Adjust the bolt until the head of the bolt is centered on the sled table stop bolt.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Photo 10: Mount blade guard blocks

Precut and finish the two blade guard blocks (see Fig. A for dimensions). Center the first block on the saw path and screw it to the fence with two 2-1/2 in. drywall screws. Center and screw the second block to the first block, offsetting those screws from the first guard block screws.

Using a sled is a bit more dangerous than operating a table saw conventionally because the factory- made blade guard must be removed, exposing the spinning blade. To make the sled safer and keep you digitally intact, we built in a couple of safety features. The first is a set of blade guard blocks (Photo 10) attached behind the fence. These keep the blade from getting at your hands after it passes through the cut. The second is a stop bolt (Photo 9) in the front, left corner of the sled table. Another stop bolt is anchored in the saw table itself. The sled automatically stops when the bolts meet after you complete a cut and before the blade penetrates the guard box. Working together, they shield the blade to protect your hands.

Tip: When drilling the table saw top for a stop bolt, first use a center punch to make a divot to keep your drill bit from wandering. Then, to avoid overheating and dulling larger drill bits, work your way up to the 3/8-in. hole by starting with a 1/8-in. bit, then using a 1/4-in. bit, then a 3/8-in. bit.

Step 4: Cutting tips: Basic crosscuts and safety

Photo 11: Crosscutting technique

With the saw off, set the blade height to cut no higher than 1/8 in. above the wood. Pull the sled back, lay your workpiece against the fence and line up the blade with your cutting mark. Turn the saw on, hold the wood against the fence and slowly push the workpiece through the saw. After the cut is completed, slightly separate the two halves from the blade and shut off the saw. Let the blade coast to a complete stop before you remove the wood.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Standard, 90-degree crosscuts are the bread and-butter cuts this sled is designed to make. But remember, no system is fail-safe. You need to avoid dangerous practices such as:

  • Crosscutting long boards that are hard to support.
  • Cutting angles freehand when the back of the board isn't firmly against the fence or an anchored jig (Photo 15).
  • Clamping the board so that your hands are less than 4 in. from the saw blade.
  • Attempting to cut severely warped or curved wood that won't rest directly on the sled table.
  • Raising the blade higher than 1/8 in. above the wood to be cut.
  • Pulling the sled backward out of the workpiece before letting the blade come to a complete stop. After you complete a cut, always shut off the saw before you remove the workpiece.

Step 5: Cutting tips: Repetitive cuts

Photo 12: Long repetitive cuts

Screw a stop block to a 1×4 and screw or clamp the 1×4 to the fence for repetitive, identical cuts that exceed the table saw fence rip capacity.

Tip: Keep the stop blocks 1/8 in. above the sled table so sawdust won't pile up against the block and make your length cuts inaccurate.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Photo 13: Short repetitive cuts

Clamp a stop block to the table saw fence for repetitive cuts that are longer than the sled fence but shorter than the width of the maximum table saw fence setting.

Caution: Position the stop block so the wood you're cutting leaves the block before the wood meets the blade.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Woodworking projects frequently require a zillion identical-length boards. Measuring each one is time-consuming and inaccurate. The solution is your new sled, fitted with stop blocks. Push each board against the block, make a pass through the wood, then set it aside and grab the next piece of stock. Little cuts shorter than the sled fence are easy. Just clamp a stop block directly to the sled fence (Photo 13). For longer lengths, you need to extend the fence with a 1×4 and stop block, or clamp a block to the table saw fence (Photo 12).

Caution: Don't ever use the table saw fence without a stop block for length cuts. It's a dangerous kickback hazard!

Step 6: Cutting tips Angle cuts and more

Photo 14: Make a 45 degree angle jig

Use a 45-degree architectural square to cut a perfect 45-degree, 12-in. long jig from a piece of scrap plywood. Screw the jig stock to a separate piece of plywood held tight against the fence to hold it in place for safe cutting. Screw a 1×2 flush with the back edge of the jig with 1-5/8 in. drywall screws (Photo 15). Hold the right-end screw 3 in. away from the tip of the triangle.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Photo 15: Miter with the jig

Clamp the miter jig to the sled fence with 2 in. of the jig tip projecting past the right side of the saw path, then cut off the tip. This gives you room to move wood back and forth to fine-tune lengths. Grip cutting stock firmly against the jig and use it as a guide for cutting 45-degree angles.

Caution: Blade guard is removed for this operation.

Photos 14 and 15 show two ways of making angle cuts. Perfect miter cuts of any angle are easy and fast, as are dadoes (you can use a dado blade to cut grooves, too) and rabbets (open-ended grooves on board edges). Clamp or screw stops and jigs right to the fence or to the sled table itself to make your table saw a multitask tool.

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you startyoull save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Drill bit set
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Framing square
  • Hammer
  • Hearing protection
  • Jigsaw
  • One-handed bar clamps
  • Safety glasses
  • Tape measure
Architectural square