Table saw tune-up

I spent about an hour last weekend going over my table saw and giving it its annual tune-up.

Master Plate with Super Bar Master Plate with Super Bar
Tune up your table saw to the peak of perfection…
Master Plate with Super Bar

The first thing I did was use my shop vacuum to remove as much sawdust as I could from the cabinet (it’s a hybrid saw I talked about in this post). One of the minor complaints I have with this saw is its poor dust collection. The airflow isn’t well-directed inside the cabinet so dust seems to build up fast. You can use an air compressor outfitted with a blowgun nozzle to remove dust from hard-to-reach areas.

Once the sawdust was removed I took an old toothbrush and set about cleaning off the gears used to elevate and tilt the blade. I found it helped a lot to remove the insert plate and blade. This way you can get at some of the components from the top. I tilted the blade to 45° and raised/lowered the blade to be able to clean all of the trunnion gear teeth.

Satisfied that I was able to remove as much dirt as I could, it was time to lubricate the gears. The owner’s manual suggests graphite powder or white lithium grease. I didn’t have graphite on hand and I didn’t want to use the grease since it attracts sawdust. So I used the only “dry” lubricant I had, Boeshied T-9. We’ll see how it works over time. The can says it’s okay to use on gears.

My saw has a feature that allows you to adjust the backlash on the blade lowering/raising and tilting mechanisms. I noticed the handwheels do have a little slop in them, so I’ll work on that next time.

The next thing I worked on was checking to see that my miter gauge was 90° to the blade. I hadn’t really checked it since I bought the saw and calibrated it the first time. My cuts were square, so I hadn’t been too concerned about it. But upon checking it with my square, I noted it was off just a bit. So I took the time to reset the 90° stop on the miter gauge.

Next came the rip fence. A quick way to check to make sure it’s parallel to the blade is to snug it up against the blade and tighten it down. Then check for a difference in gaps at the front and rear of the blade. You can also use the miter slot to help you align the fence. Just align one face of the fence with the edge of the miter slot at the front of the saw, then lock down the fence. Check the fence at the rear of the saw to ensure that it’s also aligned with the miter slot. Most fences have a set of screws you can loosen to square up the fence if it’s out of alignment.

The final thing to check is that the blade itself is parallel to the miter slot. For this, you can use a combination square. For the geeks, you can rig up a dial indicator to check this.

Superbar Table Saw Gauge Superbar Table Saw Gauge
Prevents kickback by keeping saws aligned, tuned up and calibrated to with in a thousandth of an inch!..
Superbar Table Saw Gauge

In either case, mark one of the teeth on your saw blade with a permanent marker. Rotate the blade so this tooth is at the front. Check the distance from the miter slot to this tooth. Now rotate the blade so the marked tooth is toward the rear and recheck the distance from the miter slot. If there’s a difference, you’ll want to pull out the owner’s manual and find out how to adjust the trunnion. For most contractor-style and hybrid saws, it means getting underneath, loosening the four bolts that hold the trunnion to the table, tapping the trunnion with a mallet and block of wood, then rechecking the blade alignment. Once that’s done, you can tighten down the bolts. You shouldn’t have to do this very often, if at all. But my experience has shown that if you move the saw a lot, it’s worth checking every so often.

I don’t know about you, but when my car is clean, it seems to run better. Same thing with the table saw. It just takes a little time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your saw.

Why I love my table saw

The only two table saws I have ever owned since I started working were Sears Craftsman contractor-style saws. They got the job done but not without a fair amount of frustration. The rip fences constantly needed tweaking to remain parallel to the blade. And the blade-raising and tilting mechanisms were pretty weak. They sometimes required a lot of effort to adjust the blade, in spite of frequent cleaning and lubrication.

That all changed when I bought a new Jet Supersaw a couple of years ago. It’s just like the one you see in the photo. It was a floor model and had a few dings and scratches and had been around for a few years. I got a great deal on it.

I couldn’t believe the difference in the quality. It was a definite step up in every measure from my old Craftsman saws. Jet doesn’t make that particular model anymore, but they have newer models that still incorporate the sliding table.

But what I like most about this saw is the sliding table. It replaces the miter gauge. There is no slot for the miter gauge on the left side of this saw.

I thought I’d miss having a miter gauge, but that’s not the case. The first time I calibrated the fence on the sliding table, it hasn’t budged since. I get repeatable miters and square cuts all the time, every time.

A friend of mine has the same model of saw, so we’re always trading ideas on adding jigs and fixtures to it. He came up with a miter sled that replaces the miter head on the sliding table. He gets perfect miters every time with no setup time.

Where the sliding table really shines is in crosscutting wide stock. I built a cabinet that was about 22″ deep. I had no problem cutting the plywood cabinet sides square. Perfect.

Then there’s the rip fence. I’m going to stir up the pot here when I say that I never was a big fan of Biesmeyer-style (or T-square type) rip fences. Oh, they’re a huge improvement over stock fences that come on some saws (particularly Craftsman contractor-style saws). But what I don’t like about them is how hard they are to tweak in small increments. Lifting the cam-action locking lever always moves the fence more than I want. After tweaking the setting by tapping it with my knuckles, it still may move when you lock it down. I supposed you get used to it.

My fence is the older style Jet Xacta fence. It has a micro-adjust wheel and only requires a feather touch to move it or lock it down. Both sides and the top of the fence have T-tracks that I can use for attaching all sorts of jigs and accessories.

I outfitted the saw with a Freud Premier/Fusion blade and the cuts couldn’t be cleaner.

So here’s the bottom line…if you’re frustrated with your old table saw, save up your pennies and invest in a good-quality hybrid or cabinet saw (and blade). It’s a lifetime investment you won’t regret. And you won’t believe how much enjoyment it’ll bring back into your woodworking.

Table Saws

Cabinet saws, hybrid table saws, contractor saws and portable table saws. You’ll find the perfect saw for your woodworking style and budget at Rockler.

Contractor Saws
Contractor Saws
Cabinet Saws
Cabinet Saws
Portable Saws
Portable Saws
Hybrid Saws
Hybrid Saws
Contractor Saws
Contractor Saws
Contractor Saws
Contractor Saws

Table saw injuries

There’s a study that was recently released in The Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • An estimated 565,670 table saw-related injuries were treated in US Emergency Departments from 1990 to 2007.
  • Children (younger than 18 years) were more likely to be injured at school, whereas adults were more likely to be injured at home.
  • Fingers/thumbs were injured most often  and lacerations were the most common type of injury.
  • Amputations were associated with 10% of the injuries, and most of the amputations involved the finger/thumb.
  • Eight percent (47,916 of 565,458) of patients were hospitalized.

Conclusions: Most table saw-related injuries result from contact with the saw blade. Passive injury prevention strategies focusing on preventing finger/thumb/hand contact with the blade need to be implemented.

As a victim of a table saw injury that partially amputated my right thumb, I have to state my observations and address those critics that say, “You shoulda’ had a SawStop!”

First of all, I consider myself an experienced woodworker. I’ve been around saws ever since I was five years old. And I guess that since I get paid to write about woodworking, that must make me a professional. So I ought to know what I’m doing.

Let me just say that first of all, it was an accident. Without going into all the details of what happened, I took all reasonable precautions and proceeded to make the cut. The workpiece grabbed and jammed into the blade, taking my thumb with it. It happened within a split second.

Anyone who has experienced an injury like this will tell you of the weeks of mental anguish that follow such an accident. I blamed myself. I blamed the saw. I blamed the weather. I replayed the incident over and over again in my mind, wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently. After several months, I resolved that it’s just one of those things that happens and life must go on. I had to learn to live with a shorter thumb without a thumbnail.

Now, about the SawStop proponents. I agree that Steve Gass’ invention is groundbreaking and will prevent many injuries. If I had the money, I’d probably own a SawStop table saw instead of the 10-year old Sears contractor-style saw that claimed my thumb. But I couldn’t afford the $3,000 price tag at the time.

I can hear you now:  “$3,000!  How much did your thumb cost you?!”  Well, if we use that logic, we’d all be driving armored tanks on the roads because they’re safer, right?  But you can’t afford them, so you go with what you have.

As great as the SawStop technology is, I disagree with the way Mr. Gass has tried to force the technology onto us by lobbying that this technology be required on all table saws. Let’s face it…Mr. Gass has a financial incentive to make this happen.

I believe in a free-market enterprise and consumer choice. I can’t believe that other saw manufacturers aren’t watching closely what happens in the marketplace. If consumers demand safer technology, they’ll have to provide it to stay alive. And I believe that the SawStop technology isn’t the only route to a safer saw.

For more background on Steve Gass and his invention, there’s a great article here.  And here are a couple of articles about a landmark award brought against Ryobi because a table saw caused an injury. And Glass’ reaction.

Oh…by the way….it’s alleged in court documents that the user of the table saw that brought the original suit against Ryobi wasn’t using the guards designed to prevent the injury in the first place.

I’ll be watching this one.

In the meantime, you can look for one of these blades I talked about in a previous post.