No, you have not entered an alternative dimension. Today – on this blog that focuses on handwork – we are going to talk about table saw sleds.
When I do production work – processing hundreds of board feet of lumber for a class, for example – the table saw is an important machine. Table saws are great for ripping, but they are kind of crappy for crosscutting.
Manufacturers have devised all sorts of sliding tables and miter-slot jigs. I have used pretty much all of them. I’ve owned at least six of them and tested about 20. They all lack. Here’s why: They are adjustable.
About 99.99 percent of your crosscutting work at a table saw is to square the ends of boards to 90°. Yet, sliding tables allow you to crosscut at almost any angle. That seems like a good thing. It ain’t. That’s because of Schwarz’s First Law of Machinery: If something can be adjusted, it will go out of adjustment.
Put another way: Once you remove the crosscut fence or move it, it’s likely out of adjustment and needs to be trued up. Even an error of a fraction of a degree can ruin the squareness of a 1” x 24” x 48” carcase side.
That’s why I use two homemade table saw sleds. They do one thing: cut at 90° and nothing more. There are no adjustments to make. Once they are at 90°, they stay at 90°. I put a sled on my saw, and it cuts at 90°. Always and forever. The sleds cost about $10 in material and 30 minutes of time to make. If they ever become inaccurate after a decade of use, I’ll pony up another $10 to make another.
I know that some of you are squirming and squealing: “But my MasterCut 2000 (TM) sliding table is always accurate.” Perhaps it is. But I’ve never seen one of those tables stay accurate in a production environment for very long. Yes, even the European sliding table saws I’ve used have problems.
Homemade sleds are the answer. In the next entry I’ll show you how I make mine from MDF and scraps of oak and yellow pine.
— Christopher Schwarz
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