To make consistently accurate crosscuts and mitre cuts on a table saw you need a precision mitre gauge. We look at five popular models.
The majority of small, plastic mitre gauges that come with most table saws are ineffective for making precise crosscuts and mitre cuts. For the ultimate in accuracy and efficiency consider upgrading to a precision mitre gauge. A precision gauge will enable you to make repetitive square cuts and a wide range of mitre cuts quickly with minimal adjustments.
Mitre gauges consist of a bar (typically steel) that runs along the mitre track in the top of a table saw; a fence (typically aluminum) against which you position stock for cutting; a flip-stop (usually aluminum) for accurately setting the length of cut; and a head (steel or aluminum) that enables you to set the cutting angle, typically from 0° to 45°. Some gauges incorporate a telescopic fence that provides support for long stock and T-slots integrated into the fence to enable you to add a user-made sacrificial sub-fence to the main fence. A sacrificial fence (that you can add on) provides additional support for tall stock and prevents chipout on the back edge of your stock.
To test the mitre gauges, I first checked that my table saw blade was set up properly, ensuring the blade was parallel with the mitre slot and perfectly square to the tabletop. I then milled both edges of a few alder boards straight and square. For each mitre gauge I made three test cuts at 0°, 22.5° and 45°. I checked all the cuts with a Starrett combination square and protractor. I also used each mitre gauge in the shop for a three-week period, except the Woodpecker, which I used for a two-week period.
It’s important to note that there are many other mitre gauges on the market, mostly by these companies. If this selection of mitre gauges doesn’t provide you with what you’re looking for, check their websites for other models. Many of the other models are slight variations of the mitre gauge offerings covered in this article.
Bar: The Incra has six nylon expansion discs that can be adjusted from above the bar, though you have to remove the head to access two of the discs.
Fence: The fence was square to the tabletop and has a T-slot for adding a sacrificial fence. I found the narrow scale (7/16″) with its red numbers and alignment marks the hardest of the scales to read. On the front of the fence is Incra’s incremental positioning rack that mates with a similar rack on the flip-stop. The sawtooth design enables you to move the flip-stop along the fence in 1/32″ (.031″) increments.
Flip-stop: The flip-stop unit consists of two flip-stop arms. They can be used independently or joined together to use as a single stop. When locked down there is no flexing. Short metal bars on the ends of the arms enable you to further adjust stock positioning. I found the locking knobs a bit small to manipulate. There is a micro-adjust at the head of the flip-stop. However, it’s very inconvenient, as you have to release two socket head screws every time you use the micro-adjust.
Head: The steel head is large (a full 1″ longer than on the Kreg and JessEM) to accommodate the actuator on the tail end of the head. The actuator is used with the Vernier scale to make precise mitre angle adjustments. While it’s not more complicated to use than the scale on the Kreg and JessEm, it takes a bit more time to adjust. The mitre scale is easy to read, and best of all, there are positive stops (detents) every 5°. There is a convenient angle reference chart right on the head. As with the Kreg, I found the handle a tad small.
Takeaway: The U.S.-made Incra took the longest amount of time to set up. For many of its functions you need to use an Allen key wrench that can’t be stored on the mitre gauge. You need the wrench to adjust the position of the flip-stop, to move the fence away from the blade (when making mitre or dado cuts), to extend the extension arm, and to micro-adjust the flip-stop. However, it does provide one of the highest degrees of accuracy, so if you cut a lot of mitres the Incra, with its quick-positioning 41 positive stops, is hard to beat.
Bar: Like the Incra and Norman, the JessEm has a standard bar length (17-5/8″). The bar is made of custom-rolled Sheffield steel and uses a set of three unique and highly effective bar snuggers (eccentric steel discs) that can be easily adjusted with the bar in the slot.
Fence: The 20″ anodized aluminum fence is 2-1/2″ high, providing good material support, and extends to 37-3/4″. The fence is precisely square to the tabletop with no discernible flexing and there is a T-slot for adding a sacrificial fence. The easy-to-read Imperial/metric scale is set on a sliding bar that can be shifted when aligning the fence to the saw blade. There is a locating knob on the head that enables you to quickly reset the fence to its original zero point (a feature that’s similar, but more robust, than what’s found on the Kreg). It’s also the only fence that has an internal stop that keeps the telescopic arm from falling off the end of the main fence.
Flip-stop: There are two flip-stops. The main stop on the fence can be re-adjusted to fit over a sacrificial fence. Initially there was a bit of wobble but tightening the locknut on the end of the stop eliminated all flexing. There’s also a very convenient stop at the end of the extension arm. When setting your cut length, you align the right side of the main stop on the scale. To avoid parallax errors you need to ensure you always look down directly over the right side of the stop.
Head: The anodized aluminum head has the typical array of detents with high-contrast, easy-to-read white numbers and alignment marks at 1° increments. Pre-set angle adjustments are made by loosening the handle and retracting a spring-loaded indexing pin. The large Vernier scale is also very easy to read. The large textured handle is the most comfortable one I’ve used. While the JessEm didn’t require any adjustment, the head can be adjusted square to the table and also square to the guide bar by means of socket-head screws. The user manual gives clear instructions on how to make these adjustments.
Takeaway: The Canadian-made JessEm is about as close to a perfect mitre gauge as you can get. The fit and finish are sumptuous and, like the Woodpeckers, it has a very solid feel in use. Initial aligning of the fence and flip-stop to the saw blade was very quick. Positioning the flip-stop to get precise square cuts and aligning the fence for spot-on angled cut is super quick.
Bar: The 24″ aluminum bar has five nylon adjusters that have to be adjusted with the bar out of the mitre slot. This requires more tinkering than the Incra and JessEM bars, which are adjusted from atop the bar. While nylon adjusters might not last as long as steel, they won’t put a groove in the tabletop mitre slot and are easy enough to replace.
Fence: At 24″ the Kreg has the second longest fence and is perfectly flat along its entire length, even though it’s only 3/8″ thick (compared, for example, to the JessEM fence, which is 1-1/4″ thick). It comes with an easy-to-read Imperial tape but could be replaced with an Imperial/metric tape (Leevalley.com, #25U0240). It has a positioning stop that enables you to return the fence to its original zero point. I found this useful when cutting dadoes and making mitre cuts that necessitated moving the fence further away from the saw blade. The fence was dead square to the tabletop and has dual T-slots for adding a sacrificial fence. However, if you do install a sub-fence you need to snap off a bottom section of the flip-stop and you won’t be able to use the flip-stop without the sub-fence again. There was some slight flexing, around .007″, nothing serious in my view.
Flip-stop: The flip-stop worked smoothly without any flexing and it has a clear lens with a high-visibility red line that makes it easy to register the stop precisely. Its curved design enables you to slide stock under the stop without having to manually raise it out of the way. I found this quite useful. However, the downside is that angled and thin, narrow stock can slip under the fence instead of snug up against it.
Head: The positive stops are accurately machined and I found the Vernier scale, with its yellow background and highly visible black numbers and markers, the easiest of all five models to use. I don’t have especially large hands but found the handle a tad on the small size.
Takeaway: For a large mitre gauge the U.S.-made Kreg is very light in weight, likely because it’s mostly made of aluminum and the fence is quite thin. This light weight made it a breeze when cutting narrow stock, though when cutting wide boards and panels the gauge felt less stable. Nonetheless, it delivers consistently precise straight and mitre cuts.
Bar: It was slightly wider than the mitre slot on my table saw and needed to be judiciously filed to sit properly. Several minutes with a metal file resolved the issue. Thereafter, adjusting the bar to the track was straightforward. However, over the long term the four adjustable spring-loaded pressure balls that compensate for side-to-side movement in the mitre slot are more likely to wear a groove in the cast-iron slot.
Fence: It’s square to the tabletop and provides about 16″ of usable fence length. It’s the only gauge with the scale on the back side of fence (nearest the user), which made it impossible to align the flip-stop to the scale. Additionally, there is no T-slot on the front of the fence so you can’t add a sacrificial fence.
Flip-stop: The flip-stop moved up and down smoothly and had no wobble but didn’t sit flush against the fence.
Head: The detents were accurately milled, enabling me to make precise cuts. A red line on the mitre scale makes it reasonably easy to set basic mitre angles, but the lack of a Vernier scale makes it difficult to make very precise angle cuts.
Takeaway: What the Taiwanese-made Normand lacks in features it makes up for in affordability. It’s the least expensive mitre gauge of the ones I tested, and provides precise flush and mitre cuts (specifically those at pre-set angles). The Normand is a reasonable choice for anyone looking for an economical step up from the flimsy mitre gauge that comes with most table saws.
Bar: The super long (25-1/2″) mitre bar has five unique nylon leaf springs that don’t require any adjustment; they automatically contract and expand to conform to the walls of the table saw mitre slot. There are two removable T-slot washers that help hold that long mitre bar in the table saw mitre slot.
Fence: At 26-3/4″ the main fence is the longest of the five models, and has a laser engraved Imperial measurement scale that I found easy to read. It was perfectly square to the table saw top and it’s the only model that includes a sacrificial fence that’s quick and easy to mount to the main fence via the T-slot on the front of the fence. The extendable fence (up to 48-1/2″) had no flex at all.
Flip-stop/Flop-stop: The flip-stop is the only one that is micro-adjustable; it works like a charm. When pressure is applied against the very bottom of the flip-stop (as might happen when cutting thin stock) there is a tiny bit of flexing – under .006″. There is no flexing when using thicker stock. The Woodpecker also comes with an innovative flop-stop that prevents wide panels from flopping off the front edge of the table saw – it’s surprisingly effective.
Head: The head is factory-calibrated to make perfectly square cuts, meaning this product doesn’t actually make cuts that aren’t 90°. However, there is a calibration adjustment screw on the head that enables you to tweak the head if required; you’d only need to do this if your table saw mitre slot isn’t square to your table saw blade. The large smooth aluminum handle offers a solid grip, though I’d prefer a textured surface as on the JessEM.
Takeaway: The US made EXACT-90 is an impressive gauge that performs flawlessly and gives a feeling of strength and durability in use. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to be absolutely sure all their cuts are perfectly square and is particularly well sized for cutting large panels and long stock. The long bar and extendable arm make it perfect for use on larger cabinet saws. The obvious downside is the fact that it doesn’t make cuts that aren’t 90°, however, depending on the work you do this might not matter.
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