A simple rap today on the fine art of table saw improvement.  The table saw, especially when you match it up with a good set of Shark blades and a nice dado kit, is one of the more useful saws in the shop.

This week I went through the process of getting mine set up for cabinet making which is the next Big Project on the Honey Do List.

The saw has been around a good while:  Second one I’ve had here, the first being a cheap and disposable one that lasted only a couple of years.  This one, a Sears “Evo” something, or other, is not a very good saw, frankly.

I understand from a Sears rep who I spoke to that they did not have a new miter gauge for my old saw.  But, she suggested I look into a Ryobi which she’d heard would fit.

Fit?  Hell yeah and it’s a way better piece of gear than what the Sears budget cutters put in the Craftsman box:

In fairness to Sears (or, what’s left of ’em) they did not ship me a miter gauge with a long screw and a wing nut on the left-hand unit.  That’s my doing  Theirs fell apart during year 2.

Notice that the tongue on the Ryobi gauge on the right is 2-inches longer.  This is one of those subtle things to look for:  Get the longest bar you can on the miter gauge because if it’s short (the Sears one is marginal) it will wobble and there goes the accuracy of your cut.

One change I will definitely make to the new Ryobi (which has a solid bar, not a hollow one like the one Sears included) is the addition of a long piece of wood.  Much easier to hold wood precisely in place when it’s being pushed by a 12-inch surface than a 4 1/2″ surface.  Longer is better.

Let’s talk about what’s ideal in a table saw:

  • Tons of room on the front of the saw (before the blade) so work can’t (ideally) lay flat and no fall off the saw with the operator in position.
  • A cabinet saw (and most hybrids) have 18-inches (and more) of such lead in.
  • You want to be able to rip on either side (since the table only tilts one way in 99% of saws) and this means wide “wings.”
  • Rip width on one side would be (ideally) up to four feet (width of a sheet of plywood).
  • Saw would  capture all sawdust through its dust ports.
  • Power?  Much above 1 HP?  Not impressed.  What are you cutting that takes so much power?  Dull blade?  Feed rate too fast?

Makers sit around and debate this kind of minutia all the time…

Let’s look at how our old  saw opens up the left-side wing::

The good news, as you can see on the right, is that I can rip a really wide door just fine.  But, especially on the left side, things are forever falling down through the open gap.  Also decided to put in a new filler on the back, too, since the old one was just a hunk of plywood.  Time to “purty it up” a bit.

Other improvements included lining up a longer straight-edge on the rip fence so that I’d have better (positive)  control of longer pieces.  Once again, the design rule on any saw is you want the work to be easily supported and guides long enough so there’s no effort wasted on alignment.  Just hold in place and push straight ahead.

Notice here that the now hot-rodded saw is ready for business up to 8-foot sections of 1/2″ plywood that I can handle myself.  Elaine usually comes over to help me wrestle 3/4″ inch, and larger, into place for the first cut.

Yes, that’s right:  For longer pieces I just open the door.

A couple of tweaks later and it was dialed in.  Wood on the left adjusted into place.  The front roller is just a smidgen higher than the table so flexible material doesn’t catch on the front on the table.  The rear is a bit lower for the same reason.  Nothing is worse than making a cut and having it hang on something.

Next, because this things blows sawdust all over Kingdom Come, some good  gaffer tape to seal up the long slide holes for angle and depth adjustments.

The missing nut and lock-washer on the depth crank were recruited from hiding under the saw.  Made a run for it…

Could I get a dream saw?  Sure.  Bank says no sweat.  But being practical?  Later this month I turn  70 and this may be the last house I ever get heavily into “modifying.”  A hybrid Powertec…or cabinet saw?  Oh, the tool slut in me yearns.  Even better?  How about a StopSaw for safety?  Ah, but don’t you need to wear ground-contacting shoes?  Hmm…the choices. Not keen on wearing anything but thick tennis shoe soles in a shop…

If you’re looking for your first saw, pick up something off Craigslist or OfferUp and give it a run.  Remember, hot rodding a saw is just adding table dimensions on the front and sides plus a longer rip fence.  If this was rocketry, would I be doing it?

My collection of push sticks and pads is nearby, too.  Keep fingers away from blades.

Is there safety in a “riving knife?”  I’m not sold on ’em.  Maybe because I do a fair amount of dadoing, or because I use decent wood:  I don’t have kick-back problems.  Besides, if you stand directly behind the workpiece, kickback can be painful…I stand slightly off-center left for this reason.

Riving knives, like seat belts, do add safety in certain situations.  I’d rather use a wider kerf saw and no riving knife…then run a pass or two over the long-bed jointer to dial-in perfect board width.  YMMV.

One other shop tip (which will make you look like a genius and saves time):

Make sure your pocket contains many different types of markers.  I wasn’t packing my usual soapstone or water-based pen, but on this piece of wood with several coats of spar varnish on it – recycled from a radio shelf I’d built – the carpenter’s pencil was useless.  Surprisingly, so was the fine point Sharpie.  Fat Sharpie?  No problem. Grease pencil, wet felt-tip, perm markers and the carpenter pencil all have their place.

A lot of people will just use a sharp pocket knife, and yeah, that’ll work.  But the older you get, the more useful bold lines are.

Now, get out there, find some used power tools, clean ’em up, and use ’em!

Write when you get rich (and don’t forget to count your fingers before and after table saw use.  NEVER get your hand behind the blade when a kickback could slam your hand into the blade.!

Never wear loose clothing that can be caught in power equipment…though working naked seems a bit odd to visitors at first.  I just look up and safe “Safety.”.. Oh, wait…was that a joke?