Thursday, May 21, 2015

Table Saw Improvements

Almost a year ago I bought this little table saw, and I've put it to much use and I think it has worked very well.  But it is small, which makes it difficult for working with larger pieces of wood.  The grooves in the table top don't seem to fit any miter gauges or sleds well.  Also, the fence that came with the table saw doesn't always line up straight with the blade.

So I went on the computer and drew up some plans for improvements to my table saw.

The first improvement is making a new, larger table top.  I designed this top to snugly fit on top of the existing table, plus I plan on cutting some dados to make using a sled or miter gauge easier.  This table top will also be larger - 38" wide by 24" long (the original saw table was 25" by 18"!)

A week before working on this project I successfully made a router table out of some MDF.

I have not really used much MDF before, so I thought it would be a fun learning experience creating the new table saw & it's add-ons using this material.  So I went to the home center and bought a few sheets of 2'x4'x.5" MDF.

Before I go any further I would like to point out that sanding and cutting MDF is fairly easy, however the dust is less than healthy to breathe in.  For all steps that involved cutting or sanding I used a breathing mask.

Back to the build...
Once I had my material I started out my measuring and making cut lines for the table top.

Then I cut the board using my circular saw and guides.

Next I cut some strips...

...and made a frame which is the exact size of the original table saw.

Then I glued the frame to the bottom of the new table top.

Once the glue dried I placed it on my table saw and it was a perfect, snug fit!  I then turned the saw on, and raised the blade to cut through the surface of the new table top.

The frame holds up well, but needs additional support.

But before I start adding onto the frame I measured equal distances from both sides of the blade and drew guides for the dados (grooves) I'll eventually cut.  Then I was done for the night.

The next morning I cut more strips, and reinforced the frame.

I used glue and screws for this.

I also drilled and screwed from the top of the table, making sure that the screw heads were level or slightly below the surface of the table top.

Once that was dry I set up my new router table.

Since the saw blade is not perfectly centered on my saw table I was only able to make dados on one side using my router table.

For the other dado I had to use my dado guide and set up a fence.

Then I used my router to make the second dado cut.

Both cuts went well, and fit the .5" MDF very well.

With the frame nice and strong, the dados nice and straight and the table top smooth and flat, I think the saw table top is done!

Next up is making a sled.

To start I cut some very thin strips of MDF.

These strips are as thick as the height of each dado on the table saw top.  These will be the guide rails for the sled.

Next I made the main surface of the sled using another sheet of MDF cut with the circular saw & guides.

Then I cut 5 larger strips using the table saw.

These 5 strips will make the front & back walls of the sled.  I drew a shape on one of the strips...

...then I cut the shape out with my jigsaw and traced the pattern on the other strips of MDF.

Then I glued 2 pieces together (for the front wall) and 3 pieces together (for the back wall).

While the front and back walls dried, I placed the guide rails into the guides,,,

...and I placed the sled surface on top.  I marked the center for each guide onto the sled top...

...and drew guides on top of the sled top.

Then I removed the sled top and guide rails.  I used glue and gravity to attach the rails to the sled.

When I say 'gravity' I simply mean I turned the whole sled over and let the weight of the sled hold the rails in place until the glue dried.  Once the glue did dry I tested out how the sled slides.

It was a little tough, so I used a course sanding sponge to slightly narrow the guide rails.

After a few minutes of testing and sanding, the sled moves very smoothly.

Once the walls had dried I sanded them to make everything level.

I then drilled holes in the sled for the walls to be attached to with screws and glue.

Once everything had dried I placed the sled onto the table saw.

Then I turned the saw on and raised the blade. I moved the sled back and forth to cut out the track for the saw blade.

I tested this new sled on a few scrap pieces of MDF and checked each piece to make sure to cuts perfectly straight.

And the sled is all done!

Next I started work on the sliding fence.  This will probably be the toughest part of this whole project for me.

Using the new table saw top and sled, I began cutting the MDF I needed for the fence.

For the longer pieces that couldn't fit in the sled, I simply used a clamp guide and cut the pieces.  The 2 long pieces below will make up the bottom and front of the fence.

The smaller 45 degree cut pieces will be for support.

I glued the triangle pieces and clamped them.

Then I glued the front to the bottom.

When the triangles were dry and the front/bottom was still drying, I began to attach the supports.  I used a corner ruler to make sure that the fence was at a 90 degree angle.

The supports were initially glued on, and later screws were added.

Once everything had dried I cut more MDF and glued/screwed small guides on both edges of the fence.

These guides will keep the fence straight with the table.

Then I cut and glued a few more small pieces...

...which in turn were glued/screwed underneath each guide.

These pieces will keep the fence from lifting up off the saw table top.

One last time checking for squareness...

Next I drilled a hole and screwed in a long bolt with a decorative knob at the end.  When I have the fence positioned where I want it, turning the knob will tighten the whole fence and keep it from moving.

And one last detail was adding my feather board to the front of the fence.  This board is adjustable and removable.

Then I tested the fence and I'm happy that it too was working perfectly.

This fence works well, but I wanted a smaller one that fit inside the sled.  So I cut some wood...

...drilled some holes...

screwed them together...

...added sides...

...and I have a nice adjustable fence that fits perfectly in the sled.

It remains stationary with clamps.

Next I'm going to make a jig for cutting 45 degree angles.

My original plans above involved making a second sled.  This will be good for large pieces of material that I plan on cutting.  Having no walls in the front and back will make it easy, but for now I'm just going to make a jig for smaller cuts of material.  Once again I'm using MDF and I cut a 12" x 12" piece.

Next I cut it in half on the diagonal.

This made 2 triangles with the 45 degree angle on the top.  I glued and clamped the 2 pieces until dry.

Then I trimmed each side, making sure they were perfectly straigh.

I drew a guide line from the middle of the bottom to the point at the top and used the guide to position the piece directly center on the table saw sled.

Next I drilled 2 holes into my triangle.

Then I screwed the triangle to the sled.

That was simple!  But let's test it to see if it works right.

I made one cut, and laid the 2 pieces against a corner ruler.  I am super happy that it cut it perfectly at 45 degrees!

When not in use I simply unscrew the jig from the sled.

This small jig is great, but unfortunately I couldn't use it for pieces of material over 2-feet long (due to the sled's front & back).  So I'll go back and build the original sled for making 45 degree cuts.  Like the other sled I built, I started with a 2-foot by 3-foot piece of MDF.  This will be the new sled's bottom.

Next I marked a different sheet of MDF to create two 12" squares

I then cut the 2 squares out with my circular and table saws.

Next I cut each of the squares in half down the diagonal.

Then I glued the 4 triangles together and clamped it.

While that dried I repeated the process of adding tracks to the sled bottom.

Once the tracks were dry, I sanded them to make the movement of the sled smooth.

Then when the triangle dried I trimmed all the edges straight.

Then I turned on my saw and raised the blade.

Knowing where the blade cuts, I was able to position and glue the triangle on.

Once it had dried I did a test cut.

And once again I have a perfect 45 degree cut!

But I was afraid I might accidentally cut the sled bottom all the way to the back - making it unstable, so I gathered 4 pieces of leftover MDF that were close in size...

...and I glued and clamped them together.

When they dried I used my miter saw to straighten all the edges...

...and I glued it to the back of the sled.  It's hard to see in the picture, but this block on the back reads "STOP!", reminding me not to cut all the way through to the back.

And I'm all done!
I was going to make one more jig specifically for making tenon cuts, but I found that the sled works so well that all I have to do is position some stop blocks with a clamp to get the desired cuts.

For taller pieces I simply add more stop blocks.

And I have a very nice tenon joint in the works!

The next thing I wanted to make was a taper jig for my saw table.  This jig will make it easy for me to add a taper to wood, much like the legs on the image below.

To start I'm going to use a leftover piece of plywood.

Using my table saw I cut 2 strips...

Then I sanded these 2 pieces smooth.

Next I clamped the 2 pieces and attached a hinge on one end.

Next I went back to my table saw and put a small piece of pine.

I drilled one hole on one end of the piece o f wood...

...and using my drill press, I drilled 2 larger holes.

I used my jig saw to cut out a thin piece between the 2 larger holes.

The single hole is for a screw which is attached to one end of the jig.  

The longer hole is for a bolt and washer and makes the whole thing slide back and forth creating larger or smaller angles.

To lock the angle simply tighten the bolt.  The maximum angle this jig can create is around 30 degrees.

One last step for making this jig is adding a small piece of wood at the end of the plywood piece with the bolt.  This small piece of wood will hold the piece of wood we're cutting.

The side with the one screw will be flat against the saw table fence, and that piece rotates a small amount.  So I cut some 45 degrees off the corners so that the jig stays flay against the table saw fence.

Then I reassembled the jig and I'm done.  As a test I drew a taper onto a piece of spare plywood.

I set up the plywood onto the jig & saw table.  Then I began cutting slowly.

The jig cut the perfect taper.

This is a very simple jig to make and it will be most helpful when making tapers.

I'm definitely going to make some seats at some point.  When I do, I'll be using this jig!

Planning and making the new saw table and all it's parts and add-ons took me about 5 days.  This saw works so well now!  I am excited to start working on some new wood projects!

As far a MDF goes, I think it's fairly easy to work with.  It's inexpensive, cuts and sands easily, but it kicks up a lot of hazardous dust.  For the saw table it works well, but I do not foresee me using MDF for any furniture that supports weight.  It's fairly strong material, especially if you glue and stack it up, but it can also easily break given enough force/weight. 

After a few weeks all the new parts are holding up nicely through some of my projects.  But there is one more improvement I want to make and that is to put a bottom on the whole thing.

When I move the table saw around, I usually drag it since it's so heavy.  Some of the cross beams that attach to the legs are beginning to bend,  So I decided to make a frame for the saw to sit on.

This bottom is a simple frame made out of 2x4's, held together with lap joints.  But I want to add some locking casters to the bottom of the frame so I can roll the whole table around freely, and lock it in place when I need to saw something.  So I bought the 2x4's and began cutting them to size.

Then I marked the positions for the lap joint cuts.

I adjusted the height of the saw blade to be half the thickness of the 2x4.  Then I began cutting away, millimeter by millimeter, until the lap joint was complete.

After a while of doing this all the wood pieces had the proper lap joints.

Next I assembled the frame using glue and screws.

Next I added the casters.  I put these as close to the edges as possible to make it easier for me to lock/unlock them with my foot.

Then I placed the saw on top of the new frame and screwed it in place.

Although the idea of making this moving frame is a good one, it is unfortunately not going to work well for 2 reasons.  The first reason is that now the saw table is too tall.  Its about the height of my work tables and can no longer be stored in the corner as it had once been.  Plus, it's not as easy to see everything that is being cut.

The second and most important reason is stability.  The casters lock well, but if there is the slightest bit of saw dust on the floor, the wheels have no traction and thus the whole table moves.  This is very dangerous when cutting material, and I have to err on the side of caution.

So I took the saw off the frame, and I have a decent dolly left over!

I later improved my dolly by adding a hook...

...then knotting some rope to it.

The other end of rope got wrapped around a piece of wood .

Now I have a handle to pull it.

I tested it out with a heavy bag of potting soil for a while and it worked well.

...but back to the saw table.
Instead of making a frame with casters I decided to simply cut some leftover wood...

I just have 2 supports underneath.

These simple supports keep the frame better intact and it's a lot easier to move.

That last project didn't quite work out the way I wanted, but nonetheless I have an awesome table top & accessories for my table saw now.  I'll just have to be more careful when moving it around. 

Thanks for reading!


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  2. Really nice work! I have the exact same saw and need to do the same improvements. Unfortunately I don't have any CADD software for the initial planning, but I think I can figure it out using your photos. Thanks for posting

    1. Thanks for your comments. I use Google SketchUp for my 3D drawings. It's an easy program to learn and it's free. You should totally check it out.