The Sharp Cut | Fence and Miter Gauge
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Fence and Miter Gauge Considerations Explained

Table saws are used primarily for ripping lumber, and in order to rip wood down to the desired width every table saw needs a fence. It’s one of the most crucial components, so I thought the information below would come in handy for a lot of you.

Also, table saws are equally adept at making cross-cuts and other more complex cuts. Now, in order to do that they rely on something called a miter gauge. I will go on to explain this further down below, because knowing how to cut wood using a miter gauge will even allow you to make angled and compound cuts. If I’m using terms you’re totally unfamiliar with, don’t worry about it because I’ve explained everything for you.

The Fence

Biesenmeyer Type Fence

A Biesenmeyer Type Fence

One crucial component of every table saw along with the engine and blade is the fence. In fact, making a precise rip cut would be impossible without it.

There is basically one type of fence most table saw manufacturers tend to use, but before we get into that let’s go over the main characteristics a good fence should have. First of all the fence should allow for easy and hassle-free adjustment both horizontally and vertically. The fence should also sit on the rails firmly, and there should be NO “wiggle” room apart from the sliding.

If you encounter some resistance while moving the fence, I would advise you apply some sort of lubrication like wax. Factory or stock gauges are sometimes poorly made, and most people correct this by purchasing an aftermarket miter gauge. However, if you get a table saw with a bad fence and leave it that way, it’s not a shortcoming for which you can easily compensate.

Now, the most common type of fence found on table saws at the moment (especially the cabinet type) is the Biesenmeyer Commercial “T-square” fence, or in most cases manufacturer’s copies and offshoots of that design. It’s the most popular design because it is easy to adjust and operate, is made out of welded steel, accurate, and best of all there is not much that can go wrong with it.

There are some differences between T-square fences found on table saws. Some of them make use of bolts in order to mount the fence tube to the T-square head which is more like a characteristic of lighter duty fences found on hybrid and contractor saws. Heavy-duty fences found on cabinet saws have the fence tube welded to the T-square head.

Miter Gauge

angledcut miter gauge

An Angled Cut Using a Miter Gauge

How does a miter gauge work? It’s pretty simple. In essence it is a guiding device that moves inside the miter slot on the saw. The key component is the piece that sort of resembles a half-moon, and pivots around the point of its connection to the guide. Thanks to the locking mechanism you can choose any angle between 45 and -45 degrees.

When you are making angled cuts simply align the sheet with the straight part of the miter gauge, and push it together with the miter gauge toward the blade. The saw will make the cut at an angle using the pivoting part of the miter gauge.

Whereas fences allow you to make rip cuts, miter gauges provide you with a lot more options. You can make both square and angled cross-cuts as well as specialty cuts. In order to make a cross-cut, you need to slide the miter gauge back toward you. You then need to put the board against the straight part of the gauge.

After you have penciled in a line where you want the cross-cut to be made, align it with the blade. With the saw turned on guide the miter gauge forward until the cut is made while making sure the board is firmly in place against the straight edge of the miter gauge.

One of the simplest cuts a miter gauge allows you to make is a square cross-cut. Simply set the miter gauge at 90 degrees or zero (depending on the markings), and push the board toward the blade. The result will be a board that is cut square. You can also make angled cuts by setting the miter gauge at an angle of up to 45 degrees.

One thing you have to keep in mind is to slide the wood a bit slower than you normally would because the movement of the gauge can move it out of place. To make sure this doesn’t happen you can secure the board to the gauge using a clamp.

Thanks to a miter gauge you can also make compound cuts. Compounds cuts are made by setting the miter gauge at a desired angle and bevel of the saw blade at the same time.

Safety Considerations

When making cross-cuts avoid using the miter gauge and fence at the same time. Why? Because when you slide the board towards the saw using a miter gauge the board will most likely bind against the fence.

At this point I should remind you this will most likely cause kickback which will throw the board back at you, and at high speed! This is something you definitely don’t want to happen – ever. My advice would be to dismount the fence, or set it a decent distance away from the board.

In Conclusion

As you can see there is not much to making rip, cross, or compound cuts. Using the fence and miter gauge is something you can get the hang of very quickly. But as easy as it is, the biggest mistake you can make is to become complacent when using a table saw. Remember you are handling a very powerful tool with an incredibly sharp blade that rotates at several thousand RPM. Always make sure to follow the safety measures, and you will be fine.