Step 1: Gather materials and cut the pieces
If you own a table saw, you know it works great for ripping long pieces. But did you know that you can crosscut wide pieces with the same ease and accuracy? All it takes is a table saw sled. A table saw sled rides in the miter gauge slots and has a fence that's mounted exactly 90 degrees to the blade, enabling accurate square cuts. We'll show you how to build a sled using a 42-in. square sheet of 1/2-in. plywood.
We used top-quality nine-ply birch, but any flat plywood with smooth faces will work. The tricky parts of the construction are cutting runners that slide smoothly in the tracks, and getting the fence perfectly square to the blade. We'll show you how to accomplish both as you construct the sled.
Start by cutting strips of plywood for the stiffener, front fence and blade cover (Figure A). Cut them 1/4 in. wider and 1/2 in. longer than the finished size to allow for trimming. Then spread wood glue on the mating faces and clamp them together. Clamp them onto a perfectly flat surface like the top of your table saw. Try to keep the layers lined up as you clamp them. After about 20 minutes, scrape off the partially hardened glue. Then run the pieces through the table saw, removing about 1/4 in. Using Figure A as a guide, mark the shapes onto the pieces and saw them out with a jigsaw. Smooth the curves with a belt sander.
Technical art by Mario FerroSled parts cut from 1/2-in. plywood
Figure A: Sled Pieces
For part names and dimensions, see the Cutting List in “Additional Information” below.
Figure A, the Cutting List and a complete Materials List are available in pdf format in “Additional Information” below.
Technical art by Mario FerroTable saw sled
Figure B: Table Saw Sled
Figure B is available in pdf format in “Additional Information” below.
You must remove the blade guard on your table saw to use the sled. To prevent accidents:
- Adjust the blade so that no more than 1/4 in. is exposed above the board you're sawing.
- Keep your hands well away from the path of the blade.
- After completing a cut, turn off the saw and let the blade come to a complete stop before moving the sled.
Step 2: Cut and assemble the runners and base
The next step is to cut the runners from strips of hardwood. If you have standard 3/4-in.-wide miter gauge slots, sand or plane a 1x3 hardwood board until it slides easily in the slots (Photo 1). (For narrower slots, you'll have to plane or cut the 1x3 to reduce its thickness.) Then rip strips from the 1x3 that are about 1/16 in. thinner than the depth of the slot. Photos 2 and 3 show how to attach the strips to the sled base. Let the glue set for about 20 minutes. Then remove the assembly from the table saw and scrape off excess glue from the edges of the runners and bottom of the base. You'll also have to clean out any glue that has gotten into the slots on the table saw. Slide the sled back and forth in the slots. If the sled doesn't slide easily, inspect the runners for darkened areas where the metal has rubbed on the wood. Use spray adhesive to attach a piece of 80-grit sandpaper to a square-edged block of wood and sand the darkened areas to remove a little wood (Photo 4). Repeat this process until the sled slides freely.
Step 3: Add the stiffener and square the fence
Glue and screw the stiffener to the front edge of the base, being careful to keep screws away from the path of the table saw blade. Then set the table saw blade to about 3/4 in. high and slide the base into the blade. Stop cutting when you get within 3 in. of the back of the base. Turn off the saw and let it come to a stop before removing the sled. Align the fence with the back edge of the base and drive a screw into the right end. Photo 5 shows how to square the fence to the saw blade and clamp it in place. Screw the blade cover to the back of the fence, being careful to keep the screws well away from the path of the blade.
Step 4: Test the fence for square
With the clamp firmly in place, set a 12-in. or wider scrap of plywood on the sled and cut it in two. Test the accuracy of the
sled by flipping one side of the cut scrap over and pushing the freshly cut edge against the other half (Photo 6). If the two pieces fit perfectly with no gap, the sled is cutting squarely and you can drive three additional screws into the fence to hold it in place. Otherwise, tap the clamped end of the fence with a hammer to nudge the fence a bit. Then make another test cut. Repeat this process until the cut is perfect. Then add the screws.
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Step 5: Add stop blocks
Complete the sled by adding the stop blocks. With the blade half covered by the fence and blade cover, screw a block to the bottom of the sled. Use carriage bolts to attach another stop block to the table saw bed (Photo 7).