Precision Tablesaw Crosscut Sled
A precision tablesaw crosscut sled is one of the best workshop jigs you can make for woodworking projects. I’ve been putting this project off for such a long time and finally it made it to my priority list. I’ve got a really fun chess board project coming up and this will really help out. I’ve included a bunch of photo and even a Sketchup Model that you can use.
Tablesaw Crosscut Sled References
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge two great resources for building a crosscut sled. My crosscut sled is a combination of a design from American Woodworker magazine and one that Mark Spagnuolo from the Wood Whisperer made. You can see both of those examples at the following links:
Tablesaw Crosscut Sleds are Safer & More Precise
So if you’re new to woodworking you might wonder why you’d want to build a crosscut sled. The answer is pretty simple and very obvious once you start using one. The crosscut sled offers two huge advantages and those are safety and precision.
- Safety – The tabelsaw crosscut sled improves safety in several ways. First and foremost it nearly eliminates any possibility of binding the material. It also allows you to slide the material through the blade without actually sliding the material on the table (the material is sitting on the sled, the sled is the material which is sliding on the steel table). The sled allows you to clamp the work piece down if needed when the piece is small, this allows you to keep those fingers at a safe distance!
- Precision – Precision is the big advantage that the crosscut sled will provide. The sled allows you to make near perfect 90 degree cuts. With the use of a stop block you can quickly mass produce precise crosscuts and repetitive work. The base and fence act as “zero clearance” guides allowing you to very accurately set the work-piece in position for the cut (the saw kerf in the base acts as a guide).
Tablesaw Crosscut Sled Design
As I mentioned earlier I used two different crosscut sled examples to develop mine. It’s built on a 1/2″ thick piece of Birch plywood along with some scrap pieces of 3/4″ MDO and 1/2″ MDF for the sacrificial front fence.
Above is a picture of a SketchUp model that I made. SketchUp is an excellent way to design projects in 3D so you can create plans and material lists. If you’d like to download this model you can do it HERE for free. The crosscut sled is 42 inches wide and 31 inches deep. You can make them almost any size you want that works for your tablesaw and shop.
Below is a list of steps for building this tablesaw crosscut sled.
Step 1 – Plywood Base
The first step is building a tablesaw crosscut sled is selecting and cutting a plywood base. I’ve chosen 1/2″ Birch plywood because it’s nice and flat, nice and smooth, and readily available. Using the tablesaw I cut the sheet down to the 42 inch by 31 inch dimensions that I listed above. Some people only make them 36 inches wide instead of 42, but I wanted a larger surface to work on so I made it a bit wider.
Step 2 – T-Track Runners
The next step is selecting material for the runners that fit into the T-Track slots on the tablesaw table. There are LOTS of options for the runners and I ended up trying two materials. First I tried using high density polyethylene plastic strips that are sold by woodworking supply companies. I had really lousy results with them so I quickly turned to plan B. From what I’ve seen online I think the best option is some sort of hardwood like Purpleheart or Maple. Unfortunately I didn’t have any thing long enough so I opted to use plywood (I’ve seen others use it with success so I wasn’t nervous about the choice).
I cut some 3/8″ thick strips from some 3/4″ Birch plywood. The 3/4″ dimension is slightly narrower than the slot in the tablesaw table. In order to keep the sled from having slop from side to side it’s important that you place the runners in the slots and then shim them tight to one side of the slot. I shimmed the left one tight to the left and the right one tight to the right. You can use playing cards or thin plastic packaging material (that’s what I used it and it worked great).
If you look closely at the picture below you’ll see that the left side is tight, and the right side has a gap with some clear plastic shims.
Once the runners are in the slots on the tablesaw, put some glue on the runners, then place the plywood base on top of them and square the base to the tablesaw fence. Use a pencil and mark the location of the center of the runners so you can counter-sink a pilot hole. Next install some short wood screws to secure the base to the runners. Be very careful with a drill or better yet install the screws by hand.
Once the glue had dried you’ll need to try the base and see how well is slides in the slots. Before you do that, apply a fresh coat of wax to your tablesaw. More than likely the sled will push hard, run it back and forth then remove it and look at the runners. If you’re using wood you will see rub marks on the runners. Use some fine sandpaper and lightly sand the rub marks. Re-install the sled and test it again. This process may take several attempts until it’s sliding smoothly.
Step 3 – Crosscut Sled Fences
The crosscut sled needs two fences, the front fence (I’m calling the one that you push as the front fence) and a rear fence. The rear fence is pretty simple and it’s job is only to hold the base together. I used a piece of 3/4″ Birch plywood 36″ long (just short of the 42″ overall width of the sled) and attached a small aluminum angle to it like they did in the American Woodworker article. I use quite a bit of that small aluminum angle on jigs in the shop as it’s fairly inexpensive and always available at The Home Depot.
The aluminum angle helps reinforce the fence and keep it straight. Many designs skip this step but I figured it couldn’t hurt and it also helps the sled stand up when I store it on the floor beneath the saw. Simply align the fence with the back of the sled base, clamp it in place, and countersink some 1-1/2″ screws from the base up into the fence. Be sure to locate the screws on either side of the saw kerf (and not in the way!). Three to four screws on either side of the kerf will work fine.
Once you’ve screwed the rear fence on, it’s a good time to turn on the tablesaw and slowly raise the blade to cut the kerf in the base. NOTE – Do not cut all the way across the base at the front. You need to wait until the front fence is finished.
The front fence is more involved. Again I took the main concept from the American Woodworker sled with a couple of my own changes. You’ll want the main fence to be at least 1″ in thickness and very straight. I ended up gluing two pieces of 3/4″ MDO plywood for a total thickness of 1-1/2″.
Just like the American Woodworker version I’ve opted to also install a sacrificial fence in front of this main fence. That fence is 1/2″ thick MDF secured with 2″ long 1/4″ flat head machine screws. I cut slots in the main fence so that the sacrificial fence pieces can be adjusted after they have been cut to create a true zero clearance situation whenever necessary.
Because the overall thickness of the fence with the sacrificial piece is 2″ I opted to not install stiffeners behind the fence like they did in the American Woodworker version. Instead, the fence is screwed by itself to the base similar to how Marc did over at the Wood Whisperer.
I also installed a piece of T-Track above the sacrificial fence to use with a stop block and also any clamps I might need to use. I installed a couple short pieces of track temporarily until the longer piece arrives that I ordered. I really like the T-Track that’s available at Rockler. Note that I had to use a thin spacer to bump it out flush to the face of the sacrificial fence, otherwise the stop block wouldn’t have stayed tight to the fence.
I cut a piece of 3/4″ MDO plywood for the stop block, then drilled a 5/16″ hole in it and installed it to the fence using a T-Bolt and a jig knob from Rockler.
Step 4 – Installing & Squaring Crosscut Sled Fence
As I mentioned in the beginning, one of the benefits of a crosscut sled is precision. In order to realize that precision you need to take some time and care while installing the front (main) fence on the crosscut sled. The steps are fairly straight forward especially if you watch the video over at the Wood Whisperer HERE.
The first step is to cut a thin piece of wood (1/8″ +/-) that will fit in the kerf cut in the base. This will help you preliminarily square the fence to the blade. Using a square against the thin piece of wood and the fence, clamp the fence to the base. Attach the fence to the base with a countersunk screw at each end.
At this point you could probably call it good enough. However, if you’re going to go to this extent to build a precise crosscut sled then why not really dial it in right? So the next step is fine tuning using the 5-Cut Method that Marc describes in his video listed above. It’s really easy to do and the results are pretty amazing.
I’m not going to go into detail on how it works. However, if you look above I made several small adjustments using feeler gauges that resulted in my crosscut sled being only out of square 0.001 inches over 18 inches. Now that’s damn near perfect and way better than I could EVER get using a standard miter gauge.
Final Thoughts – Tablesaw Crosscut Sled
I’m very pleased with my new tablesaw crosscut sled. The entire thing cost less than $50 and I know it will get used all the time in my shop. The big take away here is you can customize your crosscut sled to any style and requirements you want. You can use scraps from the shop and end up with a very useful jig/tool. If you haven’t built one yet for your shop I highly recommend you do as it will help you be much safer and far more precise in your work!
TIP: One last tip, be sure you consider the overall size when you’re designing your crosscut sled. If you plan ahead it will fit under your table for easy storage!