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How to Use a Table Saw for Woodworking

Learn how to use a table saw in this Howcast woodworking video featuring Makeville Studio.


  • FACT: The main cuts of a table saw Even though a table saw is capable of performing various cuts, it's best at 2 cuts in particular: the cross cut and the rip cut.
  • FACT: Understand cross and rip cuts Understand what a cross cut is: cutting across the short dimension of a wood plank. And understand what a rip cut is: cutting down the long dimension of a wood plank.
  • TIP: Know your cut for the right fence It's important to know which cut you're making because it will determine which kind of fence system you'll be using.
  • Step 1: The crosscut fence The crosscut fence, or miter fence, helps to push the wood through a cut while maintaining a specific angle.
  • Step 2: The rip fence The rip fence glides along horizontally with a tape gauge allowing for accurate measurements.
  • : Don't use two fences at once Never use the two fences together--this causes kickback.
  • Step 3: Hand placement while cutting Make sure you keep your hands on one side of the wood as you push it through the cut.
  • Step 4: Adjusting your saw When adjusting the height or angle of the saw blade, keep in mind the optimal height should be where the surface of the wood matches the top tooth of the saw blade.
  • Step 5: Rip, indexing, and hand placement When making a rip cut, be sure to index the wood against the rip fence, using your other hand to guide the plank through the cut. The hand you use to hold the plank against the fence should stay put. If you're at a distance of 6 inches or less between the rip fence and saw, use a push-stick to guide your narrow cut through.


The table saw is the workforce of most shops. You spend a lot of time on the table saw for many different parts of a project. It can do a lot of different types of cutting and different enjoiners, but its true purpose is to do two types of cuts really well. One is a cross-cut, and the other is a rip-cut. A cross-cut is when you're cutting across a short dimension on a piece of wood, and a rip-cut is when you're cutting along the length of the wood. The reason that we differentiate between those two types of cuts on the saw, like this, is because you have to use two different fence systems in order to get the job done.

Let's look at cross cutting first. It's the easier of these two. The cross cut fence, or miter fence, as it is sometimes called, looks like this. Its job is to just push the wood through a cut while maintaining a specific angle. And you can see, it rides in this slot on the saw. That's what it's indexing off of, and that's what keeps it running straight, and at 90 degrees to the blade. So, the process of doing a cross-cut is pretty simple. You just put a piece of wood right up against the cross-cut fence, and running it through the saw.

A rip cut, on the other hand, uses the rip fence. That's what this is. The rip fence actually slides along this rail at the back of the saw, and it has a tape gauge, which tells you the dimension that you're going to cut. And it's actually one of the only tape gauges in the entire workshop that I trust to be accurate. It's pretty much dead on. When you dial in a six inch cut on here, and lock it, you're going to get six inches between the inside of this fence, and the inside of this blade. Every time. So, it's very reliable.

One thing to note about table saws is you should never use the two fences together. This creates a dangerous situation that can cause kickback, and what I'm talking about is this: if you are cross cutting a piece of wood, you might be tempted to say, "I'll use the rip fence to set my measurement. If I know I need a six inch piece, why not just sit it on the rip fence and run my piece through the saw that way?"

What happens when you do that, though, is a dangerous thing. You're cutting the wood, and it's actually fine at the beginning of the cut, but when you get to the end of the cut, and this piece of wood becomes separated, you're still pushing this one forward, and this one starts to tip and turn into the back of the blade. Now, the back of the blade is coming out of the table with a lot of force, and that piece of wood gets caught on the blade and kicks back at you. So, if you're in that line, you're going to get a piece of wood in the head, or the chest. It won't kill you, but it's very painful.

Another thing about cross cutting is: you always want to let one piece of the wood be free to move. Putting the rip fence out of the way is one way to allow that to happen, but you also don't want to hold the other piece as it's going through, So that's another safety thing with cross cutting. Always just hold one side of the piece of wood. The key to a good cross cut is holding the wood down on the table and back into the fence to keep it securely indexed, so let's make this cut.

Okay, pretty straight forward. Now, you noticed, I left this piece of wood against the blade as it was spinning. This piece is totally safe; it will never kick back at you. It's totally fine to leave it there. Don't be tempted or feel compelled to move that while the saw blade is still running. There is no rush to get it out of the way.

So, we can shift this and do miter cuts. We can put this on a 45 degree, and run it through. There are many different ways to do cross cuts.

Some of the other controls that you need to know on a table saw are how to adjust the height of the blade. Most table saws also allow the blade to tilt 45 degrees to the left or the right, and those things are important to understand, too. So, on the front of this saw, we've got a hand wheel which allows the blade to be adjusted up and down, and if you turn it clock-wise, the blade comes up; counter clockwise, and it goes down. The optima table saw height that you're looking for is for the surface of the wood to cut one of these teeth - the top tooth - in half. You really only want the blade exposed as much as you need it to get the cut done. If the blade is up all the way, or just a little bit more, we're basically just making contact with the teeth at the beginning and at the end, but the whole time in the middle, we're just hitting bare metal. So, it's best to keep it low.

The other control is on the left side of the saw, on my saw, that allows the blade to tilt. Now, to show this, I've got to take this throat plate off, and you can see. I'll also raise the blade up, so you can see this more clearly. But, if you turn this hand wheel, the blade will start to tilt over to the left, and it will go all the way over to 45 degrees. So you can do angled cuts, on the cross cut, cutting through the wood, and you just have to make a little block to measure that angle, or if you have a digital gauge, it snaps right on the saw, and as you rotate and tilt, it shows you the angle.

Okay, because the blade can tilt, one of the things you always want to check on the table saw is that the blade is actually at 90 degrees when you come up here to saw. If you're trying to make a 90 degree cut, and it's a little bit off, and you find out later, it can really screw up your project. So, have an engineer square handy, and if you raise the blade up, you just push the square against the blade, and check and see if you can see any light in there. If not, you're good to go.

Alright, let's move on to ripping now. Ripping involves making a cut down a length of a board. Because we are bound between the fence and the blade, it can create the dangerous situation that can cause kickback, so there are a couple of techniques with ripping wood that you need to follow, in order to prevent that from happening. And that's what I'm going to show you. The idea of ripping, though, is that you're pressed up against the rip fence. This rip fence is what you're indexing off of to make a cut. So whatever is happening over here is going to happen at the cut. So, this edge has to be straight. There is no way to do this cut safely if that edge is not straight. So, with that straight edge against the fence, we're going to be pushing it against the fence, and then pushing it through this cut.
In order to do that, you have to do a couple of things with each hand. Your left hand is going to be conditioned up front, pushing into the fence, and holding down. Your right hand is going to be behind you, pushing the board forward, and eventually, it's going to be pushing it through the opening between the blade and the fence. But, this technique of holding the board against the fence while you're pushing is key to making kickback not happen. So, let me demonstrate, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Position your hand about a hands-length back. Now, a couple of things happened there that may not strike you as obvious. One is, your left hand always stays put. Don't be tempted to follow the wood, because at some point, you're just going to be pushing this piece into the blade, instead of into the fence. That doesn't do any good. The other thing is, once this back edge reaches this hand, this hand can't do any good anymore; it really should just be taken out of the picture, and then all the work has to be done by the other hand. Now, I'm using my hands to push this board through this opening, and when you're at six inches and greater, that's actually a more reliable way to push wood through the table saw.

If it gets smaller than that, you're going to want to use a push-stick. That's what this is. This is a homemade push-stick. You can buy these premade, but it's easier just to make them. So, if I have a narrower cut, let's say I cut this board. Any time you get narrower than six inches, it becomes a little bit uncomfortable to get your hand through there, and more dangerous, so use a push stick. The way the push stick works: it has a notch cut out in the bottom, to hold the back of the board, a nice long front, to hold down, and a handle, that puts your hand way above where the cutting is happening, and let them finish the job with that. And you're just going to push it all the way through. Make sure you clear the back of the blade. You never want to leave wood in the blade like that, because things can move around, and vibrate, and get caught in the back of the blade, and kick back. So, just keep it clear in the back of the blade, and then you're done. But, that's what the use of a push-stick.

Now, push-sticks also can come in different sizes. Here's a very thin one for doing extremely thin rip-cuts. You can do rip-cuts on my side, down to about a quarter inch, believe it or not, and that's what this is for: to fit through there and push wood through. You can see that it's been hit by the blade, but that's what it's for. It's better this than your hand.

Okay, that's it for the table saw. Those are the two basic cuts. There are plenty more you can do by putting dado blades and other blades that work on the table saw to expand its functionality, but those are the basics.

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