Overview and sled plan
Many custom furniture makers and cabinetmakers use only a well-tuned table saw for all their precision cuts. Their secret for making perfect crosscuts and miter (angle) cuts is to use a table saw sled even on wide boards.
A sled is a movable contraption that slides in the table saw's factory- machined miter gauge slots. The workpiece then rests against a wooden fence at the front of the sled, a setup that keeps the work from slipping and ensures a clean, perfectly square cut every time. Read on and you'll see how to use it for specialty cuts too.
Although the miter gauge that comes with your saw can be used for crosscutting, it's less safe and accurate than a well-made sled. You can buy an expensive factory-built sled too. But it won't perform any better than your homemade unit. You can build this sled in just over a couple of hours. You'll need 3 ft. of Melamine (plastic-coated particleboard) closet shelving material, 5 straight ft. of 2x6 lumber, a handful of hardware and 4 ft. of oak lattice (see Shopping List in the Additional Information section below).
Size the sled to fit your needs
This sled is designed for either a 10-in. cabinet saw or a contractor's saw (not the portable, bench-top saws). These saws feature larger tables, which can handle a sled this size. This sled will handle everything from the most delicate cuts to stock up to 19 in. wide. If you own a bench-top table saw, consider building a smaller sled that will work for small projects such as picture frames or the occasional shadow box.
Figure A: plans for a table saw sled
Figure A: Plans for a Table Saw SledNote: You can download Figure A and enlarge it in the Additional Information section below.
You must remove your blade guard when using this sled. Keep your hands well away from the blade.
Step 1: Build the sled base
Melamine is a great material to use for your sled base. Choose a 24-in. width ($18 for 8 ft.) for a full-size sled like ours, or 12-in. if you're going to make a mini sled. Melamine is cheap, easy to find at home centers and doesn't warp with variations in humidity the way plywood sometimes does. The only drawback is that you must keep it dry or the edges will swell up like a pro wrestler on steroids. As a precaution against moisture, seal the edges with varnish.
In addition you'll need 1-1/8 in. wide, 1/4-in. thick oak lattice to be used for the two runners that fit in the miter gauge slots on the saw table.
Follow Photos 1-4 for details on how to assemble the sled base. Keep in mind that The runners must be precisely sized and positioned. Take your time and mill the runners (Photos 2 – 4) so they easily slide in the miter gauge slots without any binding or slop. Sneak up on the runner widths by ripping off small amounts of wood until you get the perfect fit. Ripping thin, narrow boards is dangerous, so be sure to use push sticks—not your fingers—when sending work through the saw. Most slots are about 3/8 in. deep, so the 1/4-in. thick runners glide just above the bottom of the slot.
When finished, take the sled for a test run. If the sled sticks or binds, run it back and forth through the slots 20 or so times then flip the sled over and examine the runner edges. The sticking spots will be darker. Unscrew the runners and shave down these areas with a block plane or sandpaper.
Step 2: Attach the stiffener and fence
For the fence and stiffener, select any 2x6 wood that's straight-grained (the grain runs in parallel lines) and clear (knot-free); see Photo 8. I sorted through cedar at the lumberyard until I found two pieces of wood that had 36-in. long clear sections. Sealing these before assembly will also prevent humidity-induced warping and keep them free of grime.
Follow Photos 5-8 for directions on how to attach the stiffener and fence. And keep in mind the fence has to be absolutely square to the saw's blade path. Use a straight-edged scrap piece of plywood against the fence to square the sled (Photos 7 and 8). When you flip over half of the plywood and push the two cut edges together, any gap will be double the size of an out-of-square error.
Step 3: Install the two safety features
Using a sled is a bit more dangerous than operating a table saw conventionally because the factory- made blade guard must be removed, exposing the spinning blade. To make the sled safer and keep you digitally intact, we built in a couple of safety features. The first is a set of blade guard blocks (Photo 10) attached behind the fence. These keep the blade from getting at your hands after it passes through the cut. The second is a stop bolt (Photo 9) in the front, left corner of the sled table. Another stop bolt is anchored in the saw table itself. The sled automatically stops when the bolts meet after you complete a cut and before the blade penetrates the guard box. Working together, they shield the blade to protect your hands.
Tip: When drilling the table saw top for a stop bolt, first use a center punch to make a divot to keep your drill bit from wandering. Then, to avoid overheating and dulling larger drill bits, work your way up to the 3/8-in. hole by starting with a 1/8-in. bit, then using a 1/4-in. bit, then a 3/8-in. bit.
Step 4: Cutting tips: Basic crosscuts and safety
Standard, 90-degree crosscuts are the bread and-butter cuts this sled is designed to make. But remember, no system is fail-safe. You need to avoid dangerous practices such as:
- Crosscutting long boards that are hard to support.
- Cutting angles freehand when the back of the board isn't firmly against the fence or an anchored jig (Photo 15).
- Clamping the board so that your hands are less than 4 in. from the saw blade.
- Attempting to cut severely warped or curved wood that won't rest directly on the sled table.
- Raising the blade higher than 1/8 in. above the wood to be cut.
- Pulling the sled backward out of the workpiece before letting the blade come to a complete stop. After you complete a cut, always shut off the saw before you remove the workpiece.
Step 5: Cutting tips: Repetitive cuts
Woodworking projects frequently require a zillion identical-length boards. Measuring each one is time-consuming and inaccurate. The solution is your new sled, fitted with stop blocks. Push each board against the block, make a pass through the wood, then set it aside and grab the next piece of stock. Little cuts shorter than the sled fence are easy. Just clamp a stop block directly to the sled fence (Photo 13). For longer lengths, you need to extend the fence with a 1x4 and stop block, or clamp a block to the table saw fence (Photo 12).
Caution: Don't ever use the table saw fence without a stop block for length cuts. It's a dangerous kickback hazard!
Back to Top
Step 6: Cutting tips – Angle cuts and more
Photos 14 and 15 show two ways of making angle cuts. Perfect miter cuts of any angle are easy and fast, as are dadoes (you can use a dado blade to cut grooves, too) and rabbets (open-ended grooves on board edges). Clamp or screw stops and jigs right to the fence or to the sled table itself to make your table saw a multitask tool.