How to Safely Use a Table Saw: complete beginners guide

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 18, 2022
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Table saws are one of the best tools a carpenter can have in their arsenal of woodworking equipment. However, not every carpenter is using a table saw in the right, or safe, manner. So, if you’re worried about the table saw you haven’t started using yet, it’s completely okay; now you can start the correct way.

How-to-Use-a-Table-Saw

In the following article, we’ve compiled all you have to know on how to use a table saw and be safe while you’re woodworking with this strong tool. All the info is simplified and broken down, so even if you’re a beginner or a woodworker rediscovering the skill, you’ll find everything easy to learn.

Table Saw Anatomy

Table saws come in various designs, but to keep things simple, there are two main types of table saws that are mainly differentiated by portability. Portable cabinet saws are small and can be easily moved from one spot to the other, while other table saws resemble cabinet saws and are bigger and heftier.

Despite the difference in portability, most of the features between table saws are very similar. First off, the surface of the table is flat, with a throat plate around the blade. This is for accessing the blade and the motor. There’s an adjustable fence at the side of the table with a lock for holding lumber in place.

There’s a miter gauge slot on the table surface with a removable miter gauge that also holds lumber at an angle while cutting. An adjustable base is where the unit sits so that the user can set their working height.

Plus, there’s also blade height and bevel adjustments at the side of the unit, which can be wound to the desired setting. This allows users to move the blade up or down or to any angle from side to side in 0 to 45 degrees.

Most cabinet table saws have riving knives at the end of their blades, while portable table saws don’t usually feature. This is to prevent kickback from two sections of cut lumber closing up around the blade. The table surface is also larger than a portable table saw’s surface and has a closed base for collecting excess dust.

Moreover, the cabinet saw has a much bigger and powerful motor, which is why it’s used more in professional carpentry and construction.

Safety Hazards While Using a Table Saw

As robust as a table saw can be, it is also very capable of causing injuries and accidents. These are some of the mishaps to be on the alert for:

Kickback

How to strip wire fast
How to strip wire fast

This is the most hazardous occurrence that can take place while operating a table saw. Kickback is when the material being cut gets wedged between the blade and the adjustable rip fence and causes a lot of pressure on the material, which ends up being abruptly turned and propelled by the blade towards the user.

As the blade moves at high speed and the material is hard, it can cause serious injuries to the user. To reduce the risk of kickback, it’s best to use a riving knife and adjust the fence at a reasonable measure while holding the material firmly.

Snags

This is just like it sounds. Snags are when a piece of the user’s clothing or gloves catches onto a tooth of the blade. You can imagine how horrific this would end, so we won’t get into the details. Wear comfortable clothing and keep them away from the site of the blade at all times.

Minor cuts can also occur from the blade, the cut lumber, splinters, etc. So don’t ditch the gloves just to avoid snags.

Irritating Particles

Small fragments of sawdust, metal, and more solid materials can fly off into the air and enter your eyes, nose, or mouth. Even if you don’t experience breathing problems, these particles entering your body can cause harm. So, wear goggles and a mask at all times.

How to Use a Table Saw – Step by Step

Using a table saw safely

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to try out your table saw. Here’s how to go about it –

Step 1: Take necessary safety precautions

Wear gloves, goggles, a dust (really bad for your health!) respirator mask, and comfortable clothing. If your sleeves are long, roll them up and out of the way of the blade. Keep in mind that the blade will be moving towards you, so be very cautious about how you angle your lumber.

Step 2: Adjust the Blade

Make sure the blade you’re using is clean, dry, and sharp. Don’t use any blades with missing teeth, upturned teeth, dull edges, or rusted over parts. This will overload the motor or even cause the blade to break during use.

If you need to change the blade on the table saw, you need to use two wrenches. One wrench is used to hold the arbor in place, and the other is used to turn the nut and take off the blade. Then, place the blade of your choice with the teeth facing you and replace the nut.

Put the lumber of your choice next to the blade and adjust the height and bevel settings so that the top of the blade peers over the material’s surface by no more than a quarter.

Step 3: Adjust the Material

Place your lumber so that it sits straight on the surface of the table saw and faces the blade. For precision, mark the section you want to cut down on. Make sure to adjust the fence so that it doesn’t wedge the lumber but support it from the side.

Remember that the area between the blade and the fence is called the “kickback zone”. So, never push the lumber towards the blade, but rather down and straight ahead so that the lumber doesn’t turn and catapult towards you.

Step 4: Start Cutting

Once you have a clear plan on how you’re going to make your cut, you can switch on the unit. Try to imagine the table saw as an upside-down circular saw poking out of a table. Keeping that in mind, lock your fence to the desired measurement and begin the cut.

Carefully push your lumber forward with the blade only cutting through the marked section. You can use a push stick if you’d like. By the end of the cut, push off and pull away from the lumber without making contact with the blade.

For a cross-cut, turn your lumber so that it leans on one side against the miter gauge fence. Mark the measurements with tape or a marker and turn on the blade. Push the miter gauge so that the blade cuts along the marked section. Then take away the cut sections safely.

Just like this, keep making straight cuts until you’ve reached satisfying results.

What Can You Do With a Table Saw?

In the market of various power tools and equipment, a table saw will be one of the most efficient and most used power saws. If you are unfamiliar with a table saw, and planning to get one for yourself, then you should know about several applications, variations, and benefits. 

What-Can-You-Do-With-A-Table-Saw

But if you are a craftsman working with DIY projects and engaged in woodworking and metalworking, you might have known little or more about table saws. So, what can you do with a table saw? Is it worth your money?

In this article, you will know the various uses of a table saw, which makes it a versatile tool essential for cutting and shaping different materials.

The Versatility of Cuts

A table saw in any workshop works like a one-man army that can perform almost every cut on wood, metal, plastic, and many other materials. The versatility of a table saw makes it so popular among carpenters and craftsmen. Let us take you into a brief discussion about some of the most common cuts that a table saw can perform.

1. Rip Cuts

If you find one task that a table saw does the best among all the power saws out there, it will be ripping woodblocks. Nothing can reach the level of perfection that a table saw provides in rip cuts. 

As they have powerful motors and strong construction, they can easily rip large blocks of wood with the right blade installed on them. Besides, they are used for large-scale ripping without compromising accuracy and quality.

2. Cross Cutting

Most people use a miter saw or chop saw (like these best ones) for crosscuts on wood. But you might be unaware that table saws are excellent tools for crosscutting that will ensure preciseness and accuracy to your job.

Crosscuts are somewhere similar to rip cuts as both are cut in a straight line through wood blanks. But rip cuts are parallel to the grain while cross cuts are perpendicular. If you are using a table saw for crosscutting, use a miter gauge with it as it sets the perfect angle while cutting your workpiece.

3. Cutting Kerfs

A kerf is the part of a material that is removed by cutting through any workpiece. Usually, kerf cutting is tough for beginners because it needs to adjust and balance the workpiece more accurately than other cuts. 

Often you will see carpenters using hand saws for cutting kerfs. But table saws are more convenient to use as you can use both hands to adjust the workpiece.

4. Dado Cuts

For adding grooves to wood boards, dado cuts are essential in interlocking fittings and joints. Dado cuts are tricky, and you can’t use any random power saw for this task because making slots for the grooves needs proper technique and specific blades.

Dado cut on a table saw

Table saws fill up every requirement needed for dado cuts, whether through or stopped. If you are a professional and have worked with dado cuts before, you can use a regular table saw blade for this purpose. But using dado blades will be the best choice for creating accurate slots.

5. Cutting Bevel 

A bevel cut is needed when you are about to attach two pieces of wood at a specific angle. Not every power saw can cut angled cuts perfectly as it is sometimes hard to set an accurate angle while cutting. But table saws can be your lifesaver in this field – yes, you can cut a 45-degree angle with a table saw.

You can tilt the saw blade at the desired angle and cut the workpiece according to it. Generally, table saws have a limit of setting the angle between 0 and 45/50 degrees. But, some of them can tilt beyond 50 degrees by making proper adjustments. 

6. Rabbet Cuts

A rabbet cut is a bit similar to a dado cut as both are used to create slots for attaching two wood blanks. But unlike the dado cuts, rabbets are cut at the end of wood blanks. The grooves are larger and wider than dado slots.

A table saw is a much-needed tool for making rabbet joints as other saws can’t make these slots according to the perfect measurements. You can use both a miter gauge and a fence or either of these two for getting a flawless rabbet cut.

Other Uses of Table Saws

Using these various types of cuts with a table saw, you can make a wide range of DIY projects, including furniture, pet house, treehouse, and different household items made of wood, metal, and plastic. Some of these are stated below.

  • If you want to build a small house for your pet, you can do it yourself with just a table saw with essential blades. Only some straight cuts and rip cuts are necessary for cutting blanks of your desired shape. Finally, attach those blanks according to your design and your pet house is ready to use.
  • Household furniture like shelves, drawers, tables, chairs and cabinets can be made with the help of a table saw. First, decide the shapes of wood pieces that you will need for your furniture. Then get the blades accordingly, and now you are ready for cutting and attaching the pieces for the final product.
  • For keeping the hanging items at home, often we use metal rods individually or attached with cabinets. With a table saw, you can cut metal rods according to the length you want. 
  • You can also use a table saw for cutting and shaping plastic materials for making household items. In this case, use non-melt blades so that the plastic remains hard while cutting.

Final Words

Nothing can be a better choice than using a table saw for all types of cutting purposes. So, what can you do with a table saw? The answer is basically a thousand things. Get a table saw for yourself, and you won’t have to worry about any of your woodworking tasks. 

Conclusion

Now that we’ve gone through all our info on how to use a table saw, you can already see that it’s not as difficult or dangerous as many carpenters might tell you it is. All it takes is some practice, and you’ll be used to cutting on table saws in no time. So, start sharpening your skills by trying out your table saw right away.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.