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How to Use a Table Saw (Easy Guide for Perfect Results)

If you’ve finally decided to dive into woodworking and you’ve bought your first table saw, now that you’ve taken it out of the box it looks a bit intimidating. However, you want to know as soon as possible how to use a table saw to build your first project this weekend.
In this article, I’ll walk you through all the steps you’ll need to make your first cuts on a table saw.

To get the best results and minimize accidents, you need to know how to use a table saw properly. To avoid kickback when using a table saw, familiarize yourself with the tool, set the proper saw blade height and bevel, and use the proper support.

Since you’ve been looking for how to use a table saw and ended up on this page, I assume you already have a table saw. This article is therefore not a buying guide. However, if you are still looking for the right table saw for your workshop, I recommend that you view my article, “5 Affordable Table Saws For A Woodworking Beginner + Checklist.”

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Why do you need a table saw?

You undoubtedly already have a broad concept of what a table saw can achieve.

A table saw is the most flexible instrument in any modern home workshop and can make basic cuts like rip cuts and crosscuts. These are the two most important cuts made in woodworking.

I’ll show you how to make these cuts step by step later in this article.

Other equipment, such as a circular saw or a band saw, can produce the same cuts, but a table saw makes them faster, easier, and with far more precision, accuracy, and repeatability.

Curved cuts are the only cuts that cannot be made on a table saw. For this, a band saw or jigsaw is a better option. To find the best jigsaw for your workshop, check out my article, “What Jigsaw Is Best For Your Shop | Step-By-Step Guide”.

Sidenote: There are people who have made their own table saws by mounting a circular saw under a table. To be honest, I must admit that I have tried this too when I started woodworking, so I could save some money. However, I don’t recommend trying that, there are
just too many safety considerations, and making it accurate is pretty tedious. It is a terribly frustrating and potentially dangerous way to begin your woodworking hobby. If you want to start woodworking, just save a little longer, so you can buy a decent table saw to make accurate and safer cuts.

Most important parts of a table saw.

A table saw is, really, a very simple tool. It’s, basically, a more powerful upside-down circular saw mounted to a table. The difference is that instead of moving the saw through the wood, you move the wood through the saw. Sawing like this will give you better control.

Before we dive into the information on how to use a table saw, it is good to know the most important parts of this machine.

When you look at a table saw, it appears to be quite large, yet the actual saw is only the center section. Extension tables on both sides of the table saw enable cutting larger pieces of wood more comfortably.

A motor will spin the saw blade. That blade is attached to an arbor and held in place by a nut.
Make sure the blade is installed with the teeth facing you, and don’t overtighten the nut when clamping it in place. Just make it as snug as possible.

Because it would spew out the wood if it rotated the opposite way, the blade will spin toward.

There are many various types of saw blades, and I will not go through the differences in this post because there is so much to say about them. I’ll delve deeper into this issue in my post, “Understanding Table Saw Blades | Always Find The Perfect One.”

A crank on the front of the saw allows you to raise and lower the blade, allowing you to cut wood of various thicknesses. There will also be a mechanism that allows you to tilt the blade to make beveled cuts. Some table saws have a separate crank for this function, while others have it included in the depth control crank.
On many tables saws, the gauge for reading how many degrees that bevel isn’t particularly exact, therefore it’s best to use a digital bevel finder or make precise bevel cuts.
You can use a square to verify for correct cuts at ninety degrees to the table.

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When you buy a table saw, your tool will come with a riving knife. This is an important safety feature that prevents table saw kickback if you are cutting longer sheets of wood.

Once you’ve installed the blade and the riving knife, You’ll need to drop in and insert plate. This creates a narrower gap, preventing the cut-off wood from dropping into the housing. It also gives you a good, cleaner, safer cut. The closer the edge of the insert plate is against the saw blade, the less chance of tear-out there will be. Never operate a saw without an inserted plate installed, and make sure that it’s flush with the top of the table.

There will also be a safety guard in the box. This is there to prevent the wood from dropping on the blade or your hands from skinning across it. However, I rarely use one myself. Because I use my crosscut sled a lot on my table saw, the safety guard is in the way and makes it impossible to use.
However, as a new woodworker, you should use every safety accessory that comes with your saw.

Most table saws will come with a dust port in the back. You can attach a shop vac into this port, but there are other dust collection options. By removing sawdust at the source, it will make cleaning up a lot easier and keep your shop a lot less messy. On top of that, there will be a lot less dust floating around the air, with a great chance to end up in your lungs.

Check out how to deal with dust in your workshop here.

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Supporting your workpiece

When using a table saw to make a cut, you can use a rip fence or a miter gauge to support the wood.

For the majority of table saws, there will be a groove on each side of the blade on the table saw’s surface. They’re referred to as miter slots. These slots are for the miter gauge, but if you make your own table saw jigs, you can also use them to align your own table saw jig to the blade.

A miter gauge can be used to support the woods when making cross-cuts. This is a cut made against the wood’s grain.

By moving the miter gauge, you can also make angled or miter cuts.

The second support item is a rip fence. Because the clamping mechanism allows you to put the fence as close to the blade as desired, it’s used to perform rip cuts. These are cuts that run the length of a board in the same direction as the grain.
Most saws have a ruler in front of the table to assist you set the distance between the rip fence and the blade. However, this ruler, like the one on the gauge used to set the bevel on the saw blade, isn’t always accurate. In fact, I never use this ruler and instead rely on the method for estimating the blade-to-rip-fence distance with a tape measure.

So, whenever you’re cutting a board, use either the miter gauge or the rip fence, but never use both at once. Also, never attempt to free-hand cut a board without any support, the risk of table saw kick-back will be extremely high.

Table saw safety

You probably don’t need to be reminded that a table saw is one of the most dangerous power tools in a woodworking shop. Due to a lack of knowledge on how to use a table saw, some DIYers and professionals have been seriously injured, sometimes fatally.

The most common cause of harm is a table saw kickback. If the material being sliced is not carefully controlled, it has the potential to become entangled and backfire. You’re in danger not only from the flying projectile, but also from your hand slamming into the saw blade.
Eliminating such missteps by avoiding kickbacks is a fantastic way to go. This is possible if you keep the following in mind:

  • Never begin cutting with the blade in contact with the substance you’re cutting.
  • When making rip cuts, always use the rip fence.
  • For crosscuts, always use the miter gauge rather than the rip fence because the rip fence doesn’t provide enough support.
  • During the cut, keep the material totally flat against the surface.

Aside from avoiding table saw kickback, there are a few more special safety precautions to take to avoid accidents.

  • First and foremost, read the manufacturer’s safety instructions before using a table saw, and always wear goggles and ear protection while operating the table saw.
  • Never work on your table saw whet it is still plugged in.
  • Wear long hair in a ponytail and stay away from loose clothing.
  • Gloves should never be worn because the rotating saw blade can grab them.
  • Keep your hands as far as possible from the saw blade and use push sticks to push the wood through the blade. Most of the time a push stick will be included in the box, but you can make them yourself like I did. You can see the result here.
What to do if an accident occurs?

Be prepared for any accidents. Make sure you have a first aid kit in your workshop. Discover how to put together a first aid kit in this article.

How to use a table saw the first time

Ok now that you know what a table saw is, what the most important parts are and how to get started safely, it’s time to make the first cuts. For that, you need to know how to use a table saw.

Plug it into an outlet, put on a pair of safety glasses, a dust mask, and hearing protection, and make sure there is nothing on the table obstructing the blade.

The first thing to do now is to flip the switch to get a feel for how the machine reacts when powered on. Just listen to your new machine and the noises it makes. Go ahead and turn it on and off a few times, so you get used to turning it off. The better you know this, the faster you can turn it off in emergency situations.

What I did with my table saw was make a safety switch, so I can turn off the table saw, simply by pushing my knee against it. You can check out how to make a safety switch yourself here.

Make your first cut with a table saw

Ok, now the time has come to make some cuts. Take a scrap of wood and set it aside from your saw blade. Raise the blade to a point where it is slightly higher than the thickness of the wood.

Some argue that lifting the blade as high as possible will produce a better cut, however, I get absolutely beautiful cuts when I keep it lower. Furthermore, I believe that the less of the blade that is exposed, the safer the cut.

You can now choose the correct angle as well as the blade’s height. If you need perpendicular cuts, use a square; if you need angled cuts, use a digital bevel finder.

Before you can create a cut, you must first designate the location where the cut will be made. When making a cut, the most crucial thing to remember is which side of the line to cut on. You should rarely, if ever, cut straight down the center of a line because you must consider the kerf, or blade thickness, and how much material will be removed. Always keep the saw blade’s teeth on the outside of the line. If not, you will wind up with a piece that is just a tad too short.

Now you need to install the right support. For rip cuts, you will have to set up the fence at the correct distance from the saw blade. If you want to make cross-cuts, you will have to slide the miter gauge in the miter slots. To make these cuts, I will go more in detail with step-by-step instructions later in this article, so keep reading.

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Before you make your cut, it is a good idea to imagine your cut. Do this for every procedure, no matter how simple. Just make it a habit and imagine the cut you’re about to make. Just think about the steps you are going to take.

How are you going to turn on this saw?
How will you hold the wood against the miter gauge or fence?
We’re you will position your body throughout the cut and most of all, imagine where your hands will be throughout the entire procedure.

Try to think of all the steps you are about to take from the moment you turn on the saw to the moment you turn it off.

Now, turn on your dust extractor and power up the saw. With the board in place and firmly held against the miter gauge or fence position your body to the left of the blade. Never make a rip cut or cross-cut with your body in line with the blade. If a cut-off piece were to kick back at you, you don’t want to be in its path.

Now you can make the cut you need. Below, I will show you step by step how to make a cross-cut and a rip cut.

How to rip

Ripping is a simple cut to make thanks to the fence. A rip-cut is a type of cut that severs or divides a piece of wood parallel to the grain and can be used to make a piece of wood smaller.

Unplug the table saw and install an appropriate saw blade to make rip cuts. To know more about what sawblade to use, check out my article, “Understanding Table Saw Blades | Always Find The Perfect One.

Raise the blade height so that the top of the blade is slightly higher than the workpiece.

Release the locking lever on the front of the rip fence, slide it to the appropriate width of the cut, and lock it in place. Use a tape measure to make sure the distance between the saw blade and the fence is correct. Keep in mind that certain saw blades have two sets of teeth, one to the left and the other to the right. You can account for the quantity of wood the blade will cut away throughout the cut by measuring to the nearest edge.

Slide the material away from the saw blade, so it doesn’t come in contact with it.
Now you can turn on the table saw and align the material to be cut with the rip fence on the table. Wait until the blade has reached full speed before you allow the material to come into contact with the blade. It’s a guaranteed formula for table saw kickback if the material makes contact with the blade before it achieves cutting speed.

Slowly but firmly guide the material along the rip fence. Make use of a push stick to keep your hands away from the saw blade. Keep an eye on the point where the wood meets the fence and ensure that it is always aligned with the fence. If the material is lengthy and goes past the back of the table, support it with a table extension or have a helper support it while you cut to maintain it flat at all times. You can also create an Easy DIY Adjustable 3 Rolls Outfeed Stand | FREE PLANS to support your project.

Never leave your table saw while it’s running. Keep control over the blade area and wait for the blade to finish spinning before leaving this place. You can walk away after it stops spinning without the worry of kickback or tipping over and landing on the whirling blade and injuring yourself.

How to crosscut

Making crosscuts is when you want to shorten the length of a board. Cross-cutting means that you will make a cut across the grain of the wood.
When making crosscuts on a table saw, always use a miter gauge, or crosscut sled ( learn how to build a crosscut sled here: ). Under no circumstances, you use a fence to make a crosscut. Using a fence will ensure table saw kickback and injuries.

A miter gauge will stabilize the material and make it safe to cut.
It will also feature a protractor-like guide that’s adjustable by loosening a knob and then selecting the correct angle before retightening the knob.

Here are the basic steps to make a correct cross-cut :

Remove the blade from the table saw and replace it with a crosscut blade. After it’s in position, raise the blade a little higher than the thickness of the board.

Make straight or mitered crosscuts using the protractor on the miter gauge.

Align and position the material along the miter gauge’s front edge, fastening it with clamps if necessary.

Connect the table saw to the power source and turn it on, but do not allow the wood to come into contact with the blade until it reaches maximum speed.

Slide the miter gauge, as well as the material you’re cutting, through the moving blade slowly and softly.

Before collecting cut-off bits of material near the blade, turn the table saw off.

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I hope this information on how to use a table saw was helpful, and that this blog inspires you.

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