Building a small table saw sled
I have always used a large left-side table saw sled for making crosscuts, but that sled is not always ideal when working with smaller pieces.
So I built a small table saw sled, which I ended up using quite often. I thought of some minor improvements to the design, and people have expressed interest in how to build one, so I built a second one. This time I documented the process.
Making the T-slot guide railI cut the material for the rails from the hardest wood I have - some exotic hardwood flooring scrap I found in a dumpster. If you don't have any exotic hardwoods, just use the hardest wood you have at hand.
It also helps to orient the piece so that when it's in it's final position in the slot, the growth rings will be vertical. Wood shrinkage perpendicular to the growth rings is always a bit less, and that way the tightness of fit will not change as much with seasonal changes in humidity.
I used a dial indicator to move the fence by a precise amount.
Next ripping the piece again. I'm using a push stick to keep the piece pressed against the fence.
After re-ripping, the piece actually measured .0760" wide instead of the expected 0.755". With the blade only cutting on the right side it was deflected left slightly during the cut. So I moved the fence by .006" (to give some slack) and re-ripped again.
On my previous small sled, I only screwed the rail to the bottom of the sled. That worked well enough, but I wanted this sled to be better. So this time, I left the rail a bit taller, and cut a rabbet into the bottom of the plywood. This makes for a more secure mount of the rail and also leaves the rail a little stronger.
Joining the rail with a dadoI cut the dado so that it's just a bit further from the edge than the distance between the left slot, and the left edge of the blade (11 cm on my saw).
I have a 9" Freud blade where the teeth are all flat at the top (no alternating set), which is ideal for this work. I bought that blade at Home Hardware (or maybe Home Depot) some years back. I wasn't even aware the teeth were all flat when I bought it.
I hardly ever use that scale on the fence, but for this, it was very practical.
Unfortunately, I overshot just slightly, so I had probably about .003" of play in the slot.
I hadn't intended to glue the rail in place, but it occurred to me that hot glue would be good for filling that gap. You can make some very tight and thin joints with hot glue as long as you pre-heat the work pieces. Hot parts allow the glue to flow much better.
Here I'm adding a thin bead of hot glue to one edge of the slot....
This worked out quite well. If I was doing it again, I'd put probably hot glue on both edges to get a tighter hold.
There is nothing wrong with gluing the bar in place, but I figured this way I could still swap it out if I had to, plus I wasn't sure how well the wood glue would stick to the oily exotic hardwood.
Front and back fence piecesFor the material for fences on the front and back, I'm cutting some wood off a 2x10. Some of the wider pieces of construction lumber are of quite good quality, and this one was a particularly heavy piece.
My other table saw sled is ideal for cross cutting long and heavy pieces of wood.
I also chamfered one edge of the rails. This will be the bottom inside edge of the front rail, where material is typically pushed against. Sawdust can get caught in the corner, so by adding a chamfer to the inside, the sawdust can get pushed out of the way.
Making sure it's squareNow comes the clever part:
I cut the slot in the base before mounting the front and back rails.
After making that cut, I flipped the part with the rail to cut the other edge of the base as well.
I now have a narrow piece with the rail on it, with two edges precisely parallel to the guide rail.
Some people consider framing squares untrustworthy, but unlike fancier squares made from two parts, I have never seen a framing square that was out of square --- even beat up rusty ones.
I pushed another piece of wood against the right edge of the wood, which gives me a place to push the framing square up against. I clamp the rail in place on the spot.
Some safety featuresI glue a small block of wood where the table saw blade comes out of the sled, as a discouragement to putting my fingers there!
I could have made that block larger so the blade never comes out there at all, but I didn't want to add too much bulk to the sled.
That way, the saw blade won't come out too far on the front of the sled. This further reduces the chance of cutting into my fingers. My other sled doesn't have this safety feature, and I haven't cut my fingers yet.
I came up with the idea for this stop as I built the sled, so I haven't used it much yet. I can't say whether or not I will find this feature annoying.
Next, it's time to varnish the sled. I'm masking off the rail that runs in the T-slot. With the rail fitting as precisely as it does, even a bit of varnish is enough to make it bind. But if your rail fits loosely, just a bit of varnish can be enough to make it tight.
I'm putting three coats of varnish on the jig, except for the top inside, which only gets one coat. With just one coat, the inside won't get too slippery. That Varathane diamond floor varnish I use is quite slippery --- a desirable feature for the underside of the sled.
There are two reasons. Wood will seasonally shrink and expand, but much less along the grain than across it. But even in the grain direction, and even plywood, can shrink and expand by as much as 0.1% seasonally. With the two T-slots about 8" (20 cm) apart, 0.1% shrinkage works out to about 0.008", or about 0.2 mm. With the guide rail fitting as precisely as it does, a movement of 0.008", or even half that much, would cause the sled to jam.
The other reason for just one guide rail is that I can flip this sled over, so I can make much deeper cuts off of one end of the sled without cutting the sled in half. This is a handy feature when I need to make some really deep cuts. Of course, I could have just made the fence rails taller, but that would make it bulkier, make it harder to hold the workpiece in the sled, and harder to clamp a stop block in the sled.
More about my table saw
Table saw fence micro adjusting
My other table saw sled
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