Make some push blocks
A good push block (or two) is an essential accessory to a table saw, bandsaw, router table or jointer. There are many commercially available ones, but I prefer to make my own.
Push blocks are quick and inexpensive to make, so I can afford to have a pair at each machine and not be concerned if I cut into them. As such, they get used frequently and have to be replaced. Making multiple blocks at once is always a good idea.
The primary use of these push blocks is to push material towards and past the cutter when fingers and hands would otherwise be unsafely near the blade. The bottom is wide and lengthy to afford stability and a degree of lateral control while the rear stop provides solid registration to push the stock. In use, one side of the push block is usually pressed against a fence or table, providing control and stability. When making rip cuts at the table saw narrower than the push block, I use a low-profile riving knife, set the blade about 1/8″ higher than the workpiece and cut right into the push block. Even so, I get a long life out of each block.
Mark the Cuts
If you’re making multiple push blocks at once it’s great to have one master block marked with the cuts. This master block can be used for setup, while the others can be machined the same way. Here, Wong makes a heel stop cut, using a magnetic stop fixed to his bandsaw table to keep the different blocks similar.
Heel Rip Cut
The second cut is a rip to create the heel of each stop block.
Create the Toe Notch
After making the toe rip cut, Wong adjusts his setup and rotates the block 90° to make the toe stop cut.
Ready for Action
Here are two push blocks, along with some thin strips Wong machined with them. Notice the edges of the push blocks are all heavily eased for comfort.
Use two at once sometimes
I find that when I also need to hold the workpiece down against the table or up against a fence, a second push block is handy for this. I use the top front corner to push the stock against the fence like a featherboard, especially when I’m processing a variety of different widths where resetting a featherboard would be tedious, or for uneven stock where a featherboard wouldn’t be suitable. Sometimes downward pressure is also required, such as when cutting thin, flexible material at the table saw. This is where the front notch is useful.
Making the push block
I make my push blocks from 2×4 material because it’s inexpensive, plentiful, lightweight and soft, so unlikely to mark a workpiece. The process to make one is easily scalable, and it makes sense to make multiple blocks at a time. A bandsaw with fence allows these to be made very rapidly, but a jigsaw (especially mounted in a table with fence), table saw, router, sliding compound mitre saw or hand saw could also be used.
Start by setting the bandsaw fence to 8″ or so and crosscutting the push blocks to length. Next, adjust the fence to about 1-1/2″ and make the stopped cuts to define the length of the heel. The last fence setting is at 1/4″, but if you routinely work with material 1/4″ or thinner, reduce this dimension so the heel doesn’t ground out on the machine table. Make the long rip cut to complete the long notch up to the heel, then make the two short cuts to form the notch in the toe.
Make it comfortable
Cut the sweeping curve of the palm rest. The exact shape is less important than the fairness of the curve – try to avoid bumps. Finally, hit all the sharp edges with sandpaper so it’s comfortable to hold.
Put the completed push blocks within arm’s reach of your machines. You’ll find they afford you great stock control and safety. In my shop, they’re used nearly every time a machine is run to guide stock as well as for cauls, backer blocks, stop blocks, spacers and more. If you wanted to increase the functionality of yours, you could inlay a rare earth magnet to hang it from a ferrous surface, carefully machine in steps to aid in setting blade heights and offsets, and more.
Chris Wong - [email protected]
Chris is a sculptural woodworker and instructor.