By Sal Maccarone
Excerpted with permission from the Woodworker magazine.
The table saw is a very impressive tool. This basic piece of machinery's design allows us to make straight, accurate cuts every time, if the tool is properly maintained. Having had to produce laborious cuts by hand in the field, I never take my table saw for granted when I get back to the shop.
In short, I think there should be a basic respect and devotion to maintenance of all power tools. The difference between an amateur and professional, in my mind, is the willingness to understand why the tool does what it does, and then care for it.
Table Saw Anatomy
This versatile tool is basically a motor driven arbor connected by a framework to a table. The table remains in a fixed horizontal position and the arbor tilts. The size of the saw is determined by the diameter of the blade that's recommended for use (10" is the most common size found in the shop). The sawblade works in conjunction with either a rip fence or a miter gage in normal operation.
The blade can be set for depth and angle (photo 1). There is also an angle adjustment on the miter gage which will slide into and along the slots that are milled into the table top (photo 2). The rip fence has an incremental lateral adjustment and can be locked once it has been set the desired distance from the blade (photo 3).
Photo 1: Set blade depth and angle.
Photo 2: Adjust the miter gage angle.
Photo 3: Set and lock the rip fence.
We must always bear safety in mind. In addition, we must also be in tune with general safety concerns related to each specific tool's set of cardinal rules. Never lose respect for the fact that the table saw is designed primarily to cut wood. It's a wonderful tool, but it will never have the ability to distinguish between wood and our fragile bodies. It's the operator's responsibility to determine what is passed through the blade.
A well-adjusted and clean tool in a clutter-free environment contributes to safety. Sharp blades will certainly add to your proficiency and safety by diminishing the possibilities of binding or kickback. I've made it a habit never to stand directly behind the blade in case of kickback, but rather stand to one side or the other, depending upon the operation at hand.
One very basic rule is to use the guard provided with the saw or one designed to be used with your saw. Some operations require the removal of the guard, and we should be aware of the increased danger potential. Read and digest all of the information provided with the saw. Each one is a little different in terms of design. The fence, which way the blade tilts, size of the table and horsepower are just some of the variables that should be paid attention to.
I keep a checklist tacked up by my saw. A quick rundown before each operation increases proficiency. It also helps to remind me of any particular safety concerns that may be associated with that operation. A good insurance policy!
Cardinal rules are defined as rules of fundamental importance. The cardinal rules for the table saw are as follows:
Always use a push stick when the fence is set under 3" to the
Never stand in line with the blade.
Always unplug the saw when changing the blades.
Never reach over the blade.
Always wear eye protection.
Basic Rules to Good Operations
There are basic rules of operation that should be practiced. Read all of the information that you can regarding the operation and use of the table saw before using one for the first time. With this good educational foundation, the rest will come with time and experience.
The basic rules to remember include:
Make sure the fence is locked into place after setting the
Always keep the work firmly down on the table while pushing it
past the blade.
Keep the work riding against the fence throughout the operation.
Don't allow an excessive overhang of the work beyond the blade.
Don't feed the material faster than the saw will accept.
Make a maintenance schedule noting the date of purchase, and the parts to be oiled, greased or changed (figure 1). This chart should be tacked up in some obvious place where it won't be lost or forgotten.
I like to run my maintenance schedules according to actual hours of usage, with the exception of the belts. Being made of rubber, these drive belts are prone to deterioration. I change my belts once each year just to be safe. I clean and lubricate all moving parts after every ten hours of actual usage. While doing this, I also check to see if anything needs to be tightened or adjusted. It's a good idea to note these adjustments, and any parts that are showing signs of wear on your maintenance schedule along with the date.
Figure 1: Maintenance schedule
Date of Purchase:
Parts to be changed (yearly): Belts
Parts to be aligned (5 hours): Fence, Miter
gage, Splitter, Guard, Anti-kickback pawls, Motor
and arbor pullies.
Parts to be oiled (10 hours): Trunnion gear,
Worm gear, Arbor gear, Fence travel gear
Parts to be waxed (1-2 hours): Table top,
Fence, Miter gage
||Hours of operation
Dust Collections Systems
For a permanent installation of an enclosed base saw, some sort of dust collection system should be considered. Many relatively inexpensive options can handle this chore.
The bottom line is to exhaust the dust away from the motor and moving parts each time the saw is used. The enclosed base is nice in terms of stability, but should never be allowed to fill with sawdust. All enclosed base saws provide a port somewhere at the bottom to attach the exhausting tool.
If a formal dust collector isn't affordable, a simple shop-vac with the proper adapter can be used. This can be wired directly into the switch of the saw so that it becomes operational each time the saw is turned on.
Adjustment and Alignment
Because all table saws are made of parts which are bolted and screwed together, these parts loosen and slip due to vibration. If not checked regularly, this will begin to manifest itself as inaccuracies in the work. It's a good idea to make some occasional spot checks for these inaccuracies along the way.
Methods of adjustment will differ from saw to saw, but the basic relationships of the parts to each other all remain the same. Carefully study the owner's manual for your particular saw. The basic adjustments are as follows:
How the fence is moved and locked.
How the miter gage is set and locked.
Which angles have pre-set stops on the miter gage and how to
How to raise and lower the blade.
How to tilt the blade and lock it at the desired angle.
How to adjust the 90 degrees stop for the blade.
Some important relationships will hold true for every table saw. First, the rip fence, the blade and the miter gage slots in the table must all be parallel. Second, the rip fence and miter gage must be at 90 degrees to the table. Third, the throat plate should be flush with the table top. The table top itself should be perfectly flat or none of this will work. I always check the table first with a long straight edge before beginning the alignment process (photo 4).
Photo 4: Check the table flatness.
Once the table has been confirmed flat, I make sure the blade is parallel to the miter gage slots in the table. This is done by raising the blade all the way and placing a three foot ruler against it (photo 5). Make sure that the ruler is lying flat against the blade between the teeth.
Photo 5: Use a straight edge and rulers to check parallel relations.
Next I simply measure from both the back and the front of the ruler to either slot in the table. If these aren't parallel, refer back to your owner's manual to determine how this should be corrected on your saw. All other alignment is based on this relationship, so this must be correct. At this point, I check that the rip fence is parallel to the miter gage slots, and, consequently, to the blade. This can be done by placing a dimensioned stick into one of the slots in the table (photo 6). I move the fence within 1/16" of the stick, then lock it into place.
Photo 6: Checking the rip fence.
The space between the stick and the fence should be the same both back and front. If not, this could cause binding or burning of the cut edge. Every fence and fence guide system has a means by which this problem may be corrected.
Next I run a quick check with a square to see if the fence and miter gage head both are perpendicular to the table top (photo 7). If the fence tracking system is installed correctly, this shouldn't be a problem. If the miter gage isn't perpendicular, I check that the track is clear and that the bottom of the slide is clean. If these investigations don't point out the problem, then the tool may be bent. I might add that I've encountered this problem only once in my long career.
Photo 7: Fence and miter gage should be perpendicular to the table top.
Along with this operation, I also check the relationship of the miter gage to the blade with the square. The 90 degrees stop on the gage should be adjusted and set.
The Throat Plate
The throat plate must be flush with the table top. This is checked by placing a straight edge across the table and plate (photo 8). Some manufacturers provide a screw type of adjustment either on the plate or in the table where the plate is inserted. If the plate is designed to fit flush without adjustment and doesn't, the culprit may be sawdust build- up.
Photo 8: Throat plate flush with table.
Adjustable plate or not, the sawdust should be cleaned out of this area each time the blade is changed. A plate that isn't flush can cause a board to "snag" either before or after it has entered the blade.
The splitter, usually part of the guard assembly, is located directly behind the blade. The space in the board which is removed by the saw blade is called a "kerf." The splitter is used to keep the saw-kerf open; this keeps the wood from binding.
To check the alignment, I raise the blade to maximum height and place the three foot ruler on each side of the blade and splitter. Make sure that the ruler is against the blade and not touching the teeth (photo 9). If the ruler touches the splitter on either side, it's out of alignment. I will then loosen the connecting bolts and realign the splitter. Once re-tightened, I will check again with the ruler.
Photo 9: Alignment of splitter.
An efficient blade is a sharp blade. Besides being dangerous, a dull blade can cause some of the same symptoms as misalignment. As a matter of fact, a dull blade can cause misalignment to occur.
I don't recommend that blades be sharpened at home, unless you have the specific equipment to do this job. Sharpening sawblades is a task for professionals with proper equipment.
I do recommend that you clean the blades between sharpenings. This can be done with fine steel wool and lacquer thinner. Make sure to dry the blade well after cleaning. Then store it in a safe place where it won't get dropped, banged or otherwise damaged.
The Arbor Assembly
Depending on your saw type, you will either have a motor pulley to arbor pulley arrangement, or a motor arbor assembly (direct drive). If your saw contains the pulley type drive, it's necessary to check the pulley alignment.
If alignment is needed, this will require the adjustment of the motor via the mounts. The pulleys themselves should be true. The reasoning here is to avoid unnecessary stress on the motor or arbor bearings.
If the bearings in the arbor are bad due to wear, they need to be replaced. This will become evident by the clicking noise produced by bad bearings. If you hear this unusual noise, check to see if there's any play in the blade that's mounted to the arbor. There should be none whatsoever.
If replacement is needed, check your owner's manual parts list and replacement instructions. The saw shouldn't be used until these have been replaced.
An arbor assembly consists of a threaded shaft with a fixed flange, a washer and a nut (figure 2). If the fixed flange isn't true, or has runout, the arbor should be replaced.
Figure 2: Arbor Assembly
This would be evident while observing the blade as it comes to a stop after the machine has been turned off. If the blade wobbles even slightly there's a problem. If this is the case, it's a good idea to check this again with another blade. If the second blade runs true, the first blade is probably warped and should be replaced.
The arbor washer distributes the force of the nut and must also be flat and free of any bumps. This washer should be worked over a flat sharpening stone if there's any doubt.
Cleaning and Waxing
Once all of the adjustments are done, and as part of the ongoing maintenance schedule, the tool should be cleaned and waxed. Use a light oil lubricant and fine steel wool to clean the table top.
After this has been wiped clean, apply paraffin wax. I also apply this wax to the faces of both the rip fence and miter gauge. Simply apply it to the surface and then buff it off. This will make the work glide across all surfaces, and consequently reduce burning and chattering. It also protects your tool surfaces from rust. They look good, too!
The material being cut also enters into the equation. For instance, wet lumber not only could cause binding and serious kickback, but may also damage your saw by rusting everything below the table top. Extremely warped or twisted wood may cause kickback or inaccurate cuts if not flat. This type of material can also be the cause of loss of adjustment. Good common sense should be applied before milling any material.
is a woodworker and artist with a degree in sculpture from San Jose State University in California. He's currently renovating a turn-of-the-century mansion in Port Townsend, Washington.