Canadian Woodworking

The table saw

Author: Hendrik Varju
Published: April May 2002
table saw
table saw

Get practical tips on how to use your table saw safely and effectively.



The best advice I can give about safety is to use your blade guard. This is a safety feature ignored by many people, especially professionals.

You might notice, however, that some professionals have only 8 or 9 fingers. And if professionals lose a finger from time to time, think about the odds for an amateur.

It isn’t the blade guard cover that is of such importance – if you are wearing safety goggles. The anti-kickback fingers are very helpful and, in some circumstances, do prevent kickback. But the splitter at the back of the blade guard is absolutely vital for ripping operations. To understand why, you need to understand why kickback occurs.

Kickback occurs when the leading edge of the board that is being ripped drifts away from the fence. The rising teeth at the back of the blade catch the bottom of the board and send it flying upwards. Then the bottom of the board skates across the top teeth of the spinning blade. The board is violently thrown upwards and to the left. If you’re lucky, it will fly over your left shoulder. If you’re not, it can hit you in the face, chest, stomach, etc. The speed of the flying object is so fast that you will not know it is coming. It happens in a split second. The splitter keeps the leading edge of the board from drifting away from the fence.

The worst thing you can do is to rip rough-sawn boards without a splitter. Such boards are so rough and often bowed or twisted, that they will dance all over the table while cutting. Without a splitter, it is a dangerous operation. Even as a full time professional, I use my blade guard all of the time for all rip cuts, even with smooth dimensioned lumber.


To make your cut exactly where you want it, it is important to ensure correct set up of your rip fence and mitre gauge. It is even more important to line up the actual teeth of the blade to the cut line. Do not, for example, count on your rip fence distance settings for an accurate rip cut. Measure from the teeth of the blade to the fence with an accurate tape measure. And measure both at the front of the blade and the back to ensure that your fence is parallel to the blade.

Kickback occurs when the leading edge of the board that is being ripped drifts away from the fence. Some blades have teeth that just point straight ahead, in which case you can measure to any of the teeth. However, many blades have teeth that alternate in direction, sometimes interspersed with straight-pointing teeth (called “rakers”). If your blade’s teeth alternate, choose a tooth that points farthest towards the rip fence and measure to that tooth. The teeth that point the other way or point straight ahead will not provide an accurate measurement.


One of the things most people have difficulty with is getting perfect 90-degree crosscuts. You definitely need to set your mitre gauge exactly 90 degrees to the blade or mitre slot. Using a crosscut sled is even better, because it is always 90 degrees – if you build it right. However, what most people don’t realize is that their hands are not strong enough to hold the workpiece tight to the mitre gauge as the saw cuts. Between the vibration of the machine and the cutting forces of the blade, the work piece will often slide laterally while cutting.

Some people like to apply sandpaper to their mitre gauge. I prefer to clamp the work piece to the mitre gauge or crosscut sled with a one-handed quick clamp. It may seem like wasted time, but it takes about five seconds and ensures a perfect cut every time – assuming that your set-up is correct. Perfect cuts aren’t as important if you’re just cutting deck boards, but this technique is essential for accurate joinery.

Next issue Hendrik gives tips on using your jointer.

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