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Build a Super-Precise Tablesaw Crosscut Sled

comments (53) July 1st, 2011 in blogs

MKenney Matthew Kenney, senior editor
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Learn Matt Kenneys second fence secret for a perfect crosscut sled. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Learn Matt Kenney's "second fence" secret for a perfect crosscut sled.


Cross cut sleds are a great accessory for your tablesaw, but it can be a hassle to get the sled's fence square to the blade. It's also a pain in the neck to get two miter slot bars aligned properly. I know that I struggled squaring the fence and setting the miter bars until I changed my technique for making a sled. Now it's very easy to do both. I'll show you how as I make a sled for cross cutting at 90 degrees.

 
click to enlarge

Step 1:
Attach one miter bar to the sled base. That's all you need. Just one. And the problem of how to align both bars to the slots is gone. And don't make it. Buy a steel or aluminum one from a woodworking supply store. That way you don't have to fuss with trimming a wooden one to fit, and you don't have to worry about the wood bar expanding and no longer fitting in the miter slot. Also, metal ones are durable. You can use them over and over.

 
click to enlarge

Step 2:
Glue and screw a fence to the front and back of the sled. Neither one is used a fence for the workpiece. They're just there to hold the two halves of the sled together after you cut the kerf through the base. So, they don't need to be square to the cut and their faces don't need to be square to the blade. Of course, you shouldn't glue them down at 45 degrees to the blade, either. Just get them close to square to the blade. Also, they should be taller than highest you'll raise the blade.

 
click to enlarge

Step 3:
Cut the kerf. Use the blade that you intend to use with the sled. That way, the kerf is zero-clearance and you won't get tearout on the bottom of your cuts. Then, use only that blade with the sled. That's how I do it and my sleds last for years.

 
click to enlarge
Step 4:
Attach a fence square to the kerf. This is the fence that workpieces are registered against. I screw the fence to the base from below. Here's how to get it square. First, screw down one end of the fence. Next, use a combination square or drafting square to align the fence square to the kerf. Clamp it in place and check to make sure it is still square (clamps can move a workpiece as the pressure is applied). Screw down the fence at the other end. It's now secured at both ends and square. Put in a few more screws and check to make sure that the fence is square along its entire length. A tip: Make the fence for the workpiece taller than the other two. That way you can use a spring clamp to clamp on stop blocks. The fence here is taller than the other two, but the photo angle makes it look about the same height. (Also, the two piece of wood you see are not runners, they're just wood I used to raise the sled off the outfeed table. The slide is shorter than the sled base and can't be seen here.)

 

 



posted in: blogs, how to, Tablesaw, Jigs, crosscut sled, crosscut


Comments (53)

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Posted: 10:35 pm on September 6th

LloydBowman LloydBowman writes: I must add my thanks to the author, Mr. Kenney, for this contribution to the world of woodworking! When I saw how he designed this sled using engineering design concepts (I have a masters in information systems and I studied software engineering) by separating out the various functions performed by the respective sled parts I knew this was well conceived version of a cross cut sled and the design for me.

I have had nothing but square cuts since. Any future version of a cross cut sled will incorporate this design, which separates the implementation of the fence from the rest of the sled's construction.

I wish I could post pictures to demonstrate my successful execution of the design and how I locked in the correct square setting. Since I can not, I will try to describe it as best I can.

First, after screwing down the right side of the fence,I inserted a feeler gauge on the left side between the fence and the near end to carefully determine and set the position of the fence. I used my combination square to get as close as possible to square.

Second, however, the ultimate litmus test was to run a work piece through on the sled then turn the discard piece upside down along the shared cut line. If there was any gap at all then it meant that the fence required further adjustment.

Third, once I established the perfect setting I drilled a screw in from the back of the near end piece to the fence. Then I drilled and screwed in another screw from the opposite direction. I did this twice from both sides to guarantee that the fence was going to remain in the correct square position. I then drilled and placed a screw from the base up into the fence to secure it to the base for added stability in two separate positions across its length.

Finally, I did build and add a block of material where the saw exits the sled (about 4 inches deep). While not necessary to the cutting function of the sled it adds a worthwhile level of additional safety I think is worthwhile.
Posted: 1:19 pm on May 20th

jamierodg jamierodg writes: Construction methods and design are infinite but to write an article you have to pick just one! thanks for this contribution which made me think about the crosscut sled in a new light, having just built my first one.
Posted: 10:14 am on July 28th

james3one james3one writes: Why not leave the sled on the table saw and register the square directly off of the blade?
Posted: 6:53 am on July 9th

lingwood lingwood writes: excellent tip aschaffter - making the sled in two parts. Here in New Zealand its impossible to find accurate steel bar in a variety of widths for my different sized mitre slots on different tools. I'll be using your method to align undersized bar in both slots. Also seems easier to reference the fence as you can place a framing square on each part of the sled to ensure 90 degrees to the blade.
Posted: 6:26 pm on July 7th

JohnBellRPh JohnBellRPh writes: Thanks Matt. My next crosscut sled will be as you describe. For now, I'm getting spoiled using a big Makita sliding miter saw on a portable table, that a friend has stored in my shop/garage.
Posted: 7:08 pm on July 6th

evandene evandene writes: Like a riving knife in a table-saw it will take a while before a sliding-tablaw will be standard in North America. This cross sled from Matt is exact doing what it suppose to do, thanks for sharing Matt

-Ed-
Posted: 5:56 pm on July 5th

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: ....I'll have to try soon!
(sorry I accidentally press the wrong button)
Posted: 3:00 pm on July 5th

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: @saschafer-again very clear and very well explained.
I completely understand the reasoning behind the separation now. I didn't at first because I am of the school of thought to "you get what you pay for" and with time being money you get the rest. So what I have done on my own is beef up the front fence to an inch and a half red oak scrap and epoxy threaded rod in the bottom(two on one side of the kerf and one on the other) and rout corresponding counter sunk holes in the sled and tighten the fence down to the sled until just tight and then adjust the fence to approximately square, then test and retest until I have achieve a result of accuracy I am satisfied with. So far with dial caliper and the five cut method I have gotten to almost 0.001 give or take. I have subsequently retested every time I use it heavily and no recalibration has been necessary. Thank you again for you consiswe clarification and Thanks to matt for a Very informative construction method that I
Posted: 2:52 pm on July 5th

saschafer saschafer writes:
@GLJacobs,

I'm not sure I completely understand your question. The design of the sled is based on what we in the software business call "separation of concerns." That is, rather than have one module do two unrelated things, and do both of them not so well, split it into two modules, each one optimized for doing just one thing.

In a traditional crosscut sled, the crosspiece nearest the operator performs two unrelated functions: It keeps the sled from falling apart, and it registers the workpiece with respect to the saw blade. By separating that one piece into two pieces that each perform just one of the two tasks, you can optimize each one for the task that it performs, without compromise.

-Steve

Posted: 7:43 pm on July 4th

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: @saschafer- thank you for the clairity. So here goes probably another obvious question : is the method for this sled based primarily in the quickness of construction? Because the issue of time seems to be the main reason for this post. Otherwise for a dedicated crosscut sled the amount of time spent constructing it is irrelevant.
Posted: 1:08 pm on July 4th

Woodfrogg Woodfrogg writes: Well this is a different approach to a sled.

One interesting thing I noticed was with 2 fences if you put a block between them in the middle you get excellent blade protection for your hands. With a block covering the blade, you can rest your hands between the 2 fences which keeps your hands away from the blade even more then a single fence sled. Although you certainly can put a block behind the fence for blade protection, you would still have your hands on the blade side of the fence.

I'm not even going to approach all the discussion about the details mentioned above. I think the main point of Matt's sled is the double fence. All the tuning stuff ya do for a fence and saw still applies and are moot points. I just think the meat of the idea is the double fence.

I'm going to give the sled a try.

Thanks for sharing !!
Posted: 11:43 am on July 4th

saschafer saschafer writes:
@GLJacobs,

Remember that there is only one runner--that is the key to understanding why you have to have two pieces spanning the kerf at the near end:

In order to square the fence to the blade, you need to first cut the kerf. In order to cut the kerf without the sled falling apart, you need solid support at both ends of the kerf. If you only had one piece spanning the kerf at the near end, you'd either have to rigidly attach it to both sides of the sled, thus giving up accuracy, or else you'd have to make it adjustable, thus giving up rigidity.

-Steve

Posted: 11:16 am on July 4th

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: @beem-I know I may be missing something VERY obvious and may ,or am, looking completely stupid but please elaborate on what your intention is by pointing me at step two. Thanks in advance.
Posted: 11:48 pm on July 3rd

beem beem writes: And thank you, Matt, for the great tip/tutorial!
Posted: 9:16 pm on July 3rd

beem beem writes: @GLJacobs, reread step two...
Posted: 9:13 pm on July 3rd

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: I'm sure I maybe missing something, but why wouldn't the method for attaching the second fence work for attaching the first fence negating the need for a second?
Also why is it hard for every one to accept that their are more ways to do things than their own.
And that what works for one may not be comfortable, at the skill level, applicable with the tools or access to tool, for another. Boggling.
Posted: 7:36 pm on July 3rd

GLJacobs GLJacobs writes: I'm sure I maybe missing something, but why wouldn't the method for attaching the second fence work for attaching the first fence negating the need for a second?
Also why is it hard for every one to accept that their are more ways to do things than their own.
And that what works for one may not be comfortable, at the skill level, applicable with the tools or access to tool, for another. Boggling.
Posted: 7:36 pm on July 3rd

Kobash Kobash writes: Whenever I need to make one, I use the fence to line up one edge of the base with the bar in the miter slot with couple of pieces of double stick tape. lift it off and then screw them in, it work really good for me (as long as your fence is square to the blade).

Posted: 11:02 am on July 3rd

zepe zepe writes: Fence Alignment - I make mine adjustable by using bolts to secure the fance to the sled base. I counterbore the top of the fence for the bolt heads. I also drill the bolt holes in the sled base a little larger than they need to be. I then tighten the bolts so they're just a tad snug. I then square the fence to the base and tighten a little at a time. The fence can be realigned should the need arise.

Attaching the miter bars - I first placr the bars in the slots and adjust out the slack so they're like I want then. I attach the first bar as above. I then place the sled on the saw table and slightly shim one end so the sled is slightly raised. I them put a small piece of carpet tape on the slide and use a center punch to mark the screw holes. I then drill the holes with a split point bit to minmize the drill drifting with the grain. Remove the tape and install the second bar. You can also use.
Posted: 9:26 am on July 3rd

MKenney MKenney writes: Thanks for all of the comments. Yes, I am using aluminum and not steel. I made a change to the text. And I'm using a 12 in. combination square to square the fence. It looks short because I have some of the blade on both sides of the kerf. I find it easier to hold the fence square when I do that way. And there are a ton of ways to make a sled. I've made a lot this way (for square and miter cuts) and it's always proven to be simple, fast, and accurate. So, I thought I'd share.

-Matt
Posted: 7:50 am on July 3rd

brownman brownman writes: Exactly! I've made and squared my cut off sled, but haven't used it since the purchase of my sliding table saw. Cutting and squaring up my panel stock is so fast and easy now. I kept my regular table so and use it mostly for Dado work.
Posted: 9:43 pm on July 2nd

retired08 retired08 writes: Wow, I'm in the process of re-making my sled and I like to use the UHMW (ultra high molecular weight) polyethylene. It can be drilled and tapped to accept machine screws and planed exactly like wood to fit your miter slot. This sure brought lots of different thoughts out in the open. In the past I've used Gary Rogowski's design and used 5/16" bolts in 3/8" holes to allow for adjustments as needed. Any thoughts on that??
Posted: 8:59 pm on July 2nd

4545 4545 writes:
wmaruyama wrote: "(love the idea of going out and buying the aluminum premade miterbar - its precut and predrilled, what's wrong with that? Time is money."

Man, you must be doing all right.

$19 plus shipping in blue, $25 plus shipping from the other popular source. Let's just leave the shipping out.

If I can't rip a scrap and fine tune it with my thickness planer in under ten minutes I'll be really surprised.

So $120 to $150 an hour? Maybe twice that? Congratulations, you're doing a lot better than I am. Me, I just like making things out of wood. And nitpicking.

Thanks to all you guys for several neat ideas including the double fence in the article.


Posted: 6:49 pm on July 2nd

Jackoh Jackoh writes:
A nice solution indeed. However, it does rely on the mitre channel being parallel to the sawblade. If that's not the case, no matter how square the cut in the sled, the sled will want to pull either away or towards the blade. This it can't do, so instead the cut widens over time. Mind you, it's one way of knowing when your table saw needs a set-up!. Im going to make one of these. Thanks
Jacko.
Posted: 3:13 pm on July 2nd

ted766 ted766 writes: Put one screw in the workpiece fence ,at the other end an oversize hole with small bolt ,so having made a test cut you can adjust with the tap of a hammer ,then secure all with another screw
Posted: 12:51 pm on July 2nd

chzlchp chzlchp writes: The old addage "simpler is better" constantly gets updated by someone stepping back, taking a fresh look, and thinking out of the [cut] box. What a refreshing re-affirmment of this basic truth -- come to life in a beautiful little mitre-box. Thankyou, thankyou!
Posted: 11:54 am on July 2nd

wmaruyama wmaruyama writes: I like how nitpicky everyone gets about some of these how-to articles, and how others like to one-up everyone else.

Although I have to agree that FWW just needs to do a better job of editing pictures-to-text before they release new articles.

I love the simplicity of this sled design (love the idea of going out and buying the aluminum premade miterbar - its precut and predrilled, what's wrong with that? Time is money.) The double fence (or triple if you include the back fence) is a brilliant idea that saves material in the long run. Just replacing that auxiliary fence when needed instead of making a whole new sled all the time - we know that when these things get heavy use, they do eventually get out of whack when they get dropped, moved, abused in a normal shop setting.
Posted: 11:39 am on July 2nd

mrfixitnow mrfixitnow writes: Simplicity. Matt strikes again!!! God bless his bald head!!!
Posted: 11:37 am on July 2nd

GarageWoodworks GarageWoodworks writes: I'm really surprised how often the 5-cut method is mentioned below. With a dial indicator and square you can be more accurate (depending on the length of the square used).

Using a dial indicator you can have your TS sled fence square to within 0.01 degrees (with a 6" square) before anyone has the third cut made from their 5-cut method.

If you don't already own a dial indicator it should be the next thing you buy. Why are you reading this? Go buy one! :^)

More here:
http://www.garagewoodworks.com/TS_Sled_Fence.php

Video of the method:
http://www.garagewoodworks.com/video.php?video=v9
Posted: 10:53 am on July 2nd

Allencarl Allencarl writes: I like to build my "one sided" cross cut sleds out of 3/8" baltic birch. I like keeping my work as close to the table as practable.
I measure from the blade to the miter slot and add ½' using a framing square to line the runner square with the botton edge. & using a scrap of oak or maple for the runner, I glue it on permanitely w/Titebond III leaving it stick out 2 or 3 inches. Once the glue on the runner is set, usung the miter slot, run the plywood through the saw, cutting off the ½' that you added. This give you an exact cut line. Then I attach the fence nearest to the blade from underneath,then square off from the cut line to attach the far end from above. Using a scrap piece of wood where both edges are exactly parrell, run it through the saw, then flip it over so the cut is on the same end near the blade, and see if it lines up exactly with the cut line. If it does, lock down the far end of the fence from underneath. if not, adjust the far end until the cut is perfectly square. you will have an easy to use cross cut sled and not have to worry about kick backs.
repeative cuts are usually small stock and can be done on the miter saw more easily, keeping the cross cut sled just for larger panels.
Posted: 10:19 am on July 2nd

JeffreySlater JeffreySlater writes: gochiking writes: JeffrySlater wrote "Clamp the base to the table and cut the kerf into the sled base and through the length of ply but don't cut through the base front to back completely at this point, you now have a straight edge to register the ....."

What I should have said was raise the blade through the base and the length of ply - Jeff
Posted: 10:10 am on July 2nd

Blakewd Blakewd writes: When making my sled I used hardwood for the runners. I first clamped piece of oak to the back edge of the table then I placed the two runners in miter with a bead of glue along their length. Then I butted the rear fence of the sled against the back of the table and lowered the sled onto the glued runners. I then screwed the runners in place via pre-drilled holes and, lo and behold, everything is square and ready for the final touches.
Posted: 10:05 am on July 2nd

aschaffter aschaffter writes: A better, easier, cheaper way:

1. Go to your local metal supplier and buy 3/4" X 3/8" cold rolled steel bar stock. You might need to buy 20' but it will likely be cheaper than one 18" section of store-bought runner!!! You'll have plenty of runner left for other jigs. Cold rolled steel is durable and slides easily!

2. Set the runner(s) in a 1/8" deep X 3/4" wide dado cut in the bottom of the sled. That makes it easier to install or replace the runner(s), especially if you made them from plastic or hardwood.

3. To make a two runner sled, with or without dadoes, make the jig in two halves. Then join them together with the fences.

4. When the ZCI kerf gets buggered, widen and clean it up by running it over a dado blade, then just glue in a new strip.

No applause please
Posted: 9:31 am on July 2nd

Allencarl Allencarl writes: What is the advantage of 2 sided sled over a single side like Norm Abram uses? You only need one fence that must be totally accurate and you simply line up your cut to the sled's edge. For big pieces I like the fence on the top and push against your work and the sled guides the cut, and for small pieces I like the fence on the bottom for safety and push the sled through the cut. So I have two sleds. For angles I use my miter saw.
Posted: 9:16 am on July 2nd

gochiking gochiking writes: JeffrySlater wrote "Clamp the base to the table and cut the kerf into the sled base and through the length of ply but don't cut through the base front to back completely at this point, you now have a straight edge to register the ....."

How can you clamp it down and still run it thru the saw to cut the kerf?
Posted: 8:44 am on July 2nd

4545 4545 writes: Jeffrey Slater's method of attaching the runners is how I do it as well and it works very well for me. His use of a temporary register to square the fence is a great idea I will start using. I have squared off the blade until now, but his method is much better.

I have metal runners on a couple of jigs. They're fine, but expensive and I really don't find my runners made of hardwood scrap any less efficient and it only takes a couple of minutes to size them perfectly.

I like to leave a bit of my runners protruding; it makes finding the slots when I mount the sled just a little bit easier for me. And I like to have something attached to the fence closest to me to keep me from having my hand where the blade can pass through. For me a large block of wood works.
Posted: 7:09 am on July 2nd

aussie_too aussie_too writes: Note to 10Gage: Have a good look at the photo. You might find the sled has only ONE slide as per the notes (and it is metal!!) . The pieces of timber are purely to hold the sled evenly off the table while adding the fence. I'm sure your apology will be accepted with the usual good grace of a real professional.

Frank

Posted: 7:08 am on July 2nd

pounce pounce writes: The wood "runners" are only there to raise the metal runner
off of the benchtop and allow the sled to sit level without
rocking on the one runner. If you look closely, the metal
runner is visible just inboard of the, from our viewpoint,
right wood spacer.
Posted: 6:59 am on July 2nd

ChuckAnstrom ChuckAnstrom writes: I have used the five cut method to test my sled.

http://www.thewoodshop.20m.com/five_cut_method_swf.htm
Posted: 6:20 am on July 2nd

joegilman joegilman writes: Before you start, be sure the blade is parallel to the way. Otherwise you won't get a zero-clearance kerf. And remember, any cut made with a sled is going to be parallel to the way. If the blade is not perfectly aligned with the way, the cut may be rough or burned but it will still be parallel to the way, not the blade.
Posted: 6:08 am on July 2nd

BJHoliday BJHoliday writes: I liked the basic idea very much, but thought Jeffrey Slater's technique for attaching the TWO runners, and his use of a temporary register for the combination square might be improvements. Both techniques depend for success upon the careful use of an absolutely accurate square. I would recommend a Sterrett combination square. It's worth the extra money. Thanks to both contributors.
Posted: 5:51 am on July 2nd

JoeN JoeN writes: What looks like two wooden runners are I believe spacers blocks so that you have room to clamp the fence once it is aligned. If you look closely the runners aren't even parallel to each other.
Posted: 5:34 am on July 2nd

JeffreySlater JeffreySlater writes: I squared my fence to the blade as follows:
Attach the runners at the front of the base, positioning the base and runners so they extend beyond the front of the table and screw from below, attach at the rear by positioning the sled base and runners beyond the rear of the table and again screw up from below, turn base upside down and put another screw into the middle of each runner. Attach the rear (i.e.furthest away from you) fence. Screw a length of ply into the sled about 12" long roughly parallel to the blade over the area where the blade will cut positioning the screws to one side of the blade. Clamp the base to the table and cut the kerf into the sled base and through the length of ply but don't cut through the base front to back completely at this point, you now have a straight edge to register the combination square against, attach the front face with screws after clamping against the square. Run the sled through the blade again to cut the kerf through front and rear fences, remove the length of ply and start using.
Posted: 4:10 am on July 2nd

10Gauge 10Gauge writes: Yep, agreed, aluminum, not steel.
And in the last photo he has TWO runners, not the ONE he recommends AND they are both WOOD, not Aluminum!

AND if you want it to be 'Super Precise' as the title says, how about using a larger square to square it up!

The editor must be on the fairway today!
Posted: 4:07 am on July 2nd

GarageWoodworks GarageWoodworks writes: Neat idea! Here's how I do it using a dial indicator (precision: +/- 0.01 degree using a 6" square)

http://www.garagewoodworks.com/TS_Sled_Fence.php
Posted: 9:25 pm on July 1st

JSZens JSZens writes: Note to photo editor: Review text for Step 4 paying close attention to the "tip" near the end. Then take a close look at the photo next to Step 4's text.

Here's another hint for crosscut sleds. Attach the front (workpiece) fence to the base with carriage bolts, washers and nuts, installed from the bottom through oversized holes. That way if your fence ever needs adjusting, you have easy access to do so.

Finally, treat the sled like a precision tool. It cannot be left to bang around on the floor!
Posted: 8:17 pm on July 1st

EngrMike EngrMike writes: I would suggest adding a box or block to cover the blade where it emerges from the back of the box for safety.
Posted: 7:33 pm on July 1st

shakychisel shakychisel writes: I struggled then quietly fumed whilst setting up my sled.It is VERY close to square,but this idea ...so simple,so brilliant!! Probably why I'm not a professional woody! Thanks Matt.
Posted: 6:07 pm on July 1st

fsdsdhshs fsdsdhshs writes: Damn Americans
Posted: 4:55 pm on July 1st

saschafer saschafer writes:
I'm pretty sure that the bar in your photo is aluminum, not steel...

I wonder why sliding-table saws don't have more of a presence in North America? In Europe, even fairly low-end saws have sliding tables. Most of what people use crosscut sleds for is done more easily with a sliding-table saw.

-Steve

Posted: 4:19 pm on July 1st

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Gain new insights on how to build the perfect workshop from the pros at Fine Woodworking magazine. ShopTalk aims to cover everything from workshop layout and design, to shop tips, tricks, and techniques.