How to set a table saw

A table saw is one of the most useful and versatile tools in any workshop. A good template makes for quick and easy straight cuts, and if you venture into building or buying jigs, you can cut joinery, straighten board edges, and even cut coves in boards. But like any tool, table saws require regular maintenance. Over time, parts of your saw may begin to become misaligned, and the straight lines and right angles you took for granted will become less so.

Fortunately, a straightening is a relatively quick process and only requires a few tools. In about an hour you can get your table saw back to factory quality or better.

But before I get into the details of exactly how to set a table saw, I’ll note that I have the Dewalt 7491RS jobsite table saw, so all of my specifics are based on that tool. Most saws have similar settings, but consult your manual if you have questions about your saw.

Statistics

  • Time: Approximatly one hour
  • Material cost: $25 to $50
  • Difficulty: Easy

Materials

Instructions

1. Unplug your saw. A wired table saw is a dangerous table saw. Never work on your saw, or any other tool, while it is connected to power. You don’t want to risk an electric shock or accidentally turn on the saw when your hands are in the danger zone.

2. Remove the needle plate and blade. First, raise the blade as high as possible, then remove the throat plate. This is the part the blade sticks out of, and there should be a set screw that holds the plate in place. Simply unlock the screw and pull it up. Then loosen and remove the arbor nut to remove the blade, using the wrenches that came with your saw.

  • To note: The arbor nut holds the blade in place and you may need to turn it right instead of left to remove it. This type of reverse thread keeps it tight as the blade spins.

3. Clean the shaft and surrounding gears. Sawdust collects almost anywhere in a table saw and can affect performance over time. Using a brush, compressed air and a shop vacuum, clean all sawdust from the arbor (the shaft that holds the blade), arbor nut and drive gears. On many saws you can reach them from above, but you can get better access by crawling underneath. If you’re feeling motivated or your saw is particularly dirty, you can remove the motor and belts to clean around them more thoroughly. If you are removing belts or drive systems, take at least one photo beforehand so you have a reference on how to put everything back together.

  • Pro Tip: If you have areas with pitch or stubborn residue, try using mineral spirits as a cleaning agent.

4. Lubricate shaft and gears. Once these areas are free of sawdust, lubricate them liberally, according to your manufacturer’s instructions. I use a “dry” spray lubricant. Then reinstall the blade and throat plate.

5. Clean and lubricate other gears. Once the motor and drive gears are clean, move on to those that control the height of the blade, as well as those that allow you to adjust your fence, if needed. Scrub them of any sawdust and residue with your brush, air compressor, and mineral spirits as needed. Once they are clean and moving easily, lubricate them by working the gears back and forth to make sure all the teeth are covered.

[Related: Up your table saw game by building this floating key organizer]

6. Set the blade to 90 degrees. Getting the perfect right angle between your table and the saw blade is the most important adjustment you can make. Cuts made more or less than 90 degrees won’t fit together tightly and can result in projects that are nearly impossible to complete. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy solution.

The best way to check your blade alignment is to use a digital angle gauge. Simply place the gauge on your table and set it to zero. Then hold the gauge against the fully raised saw blade, avoiding the teeth if possible. The gauge will display the angle of your blade relative to the deck.

If you don’t have a digital angle gauge, you can use a speed square. Place the flat of the square against the table top and press the other edge against the blade. If you can see daylight in between up or down, you don’t have a 90 degree angle.

In fact, adjusting the blade is simple: tilt the blade with the bevel adjustment until the digital gauge reads 90, and lock it in place. This is now the new position of your 90 degree angle. Then use an Allen wrench or screwdriver to point the bevel marker to the “0 degree” dash. Now each time you zero the blade, it will form a 90 degree angle with the table top.

7. Adjust the bevel stops, if you have them. Many table saws have bevel stops, which are pieces of metal that allow you to push the bevel setting on one side to 90 degrees and the other side to 45 degrees. If your saw has them, adjust them now. On mine, it’s as simple as using an allen wrench to turn an oval shaped piece of metal until it hits the beveled arm in the 90 degree position. Then I move the blade to 45 degrees, checking with my angle gauge, and set the bevel stop to 45 degrees. This allows me to quickly position the blade at 90 and 45 degrees, the two most common angles, without having to look and micro-adjust.

8. Align the blade with the fence. The next most important adjustment on your table saw is blade and fence alignment to ensure you get square rip cuts as well as bevels. Checking alignment is simple with a combination square. Press the flat of the square against the blade, then extend the ruler until it touches the fence as close to the inlet side of the blade as possible. Slowly rotate the blade and square by hand until the square is on the outfeed side of the table. The blade is correctly aligned when the ruler touches the fence along its entire length. If the ruler pulls away from the fence or presses against it, your fence and the blade are not parallel and need to be adjusted.

When you start step 8, your saw and square setup should look like this. John Levasseur

On my saw, there are two hex head screws under the output side of the table. If yours does too, or has something similar, loosen them slightly with an allen wrench or suitable tool, allowing the blade housing to move left and right. Move the end of the blade box toward the fence if there is space between the ruler and the fence, or away if the ruler presses against the fence. Repeat the alignment check and adjustments several times until the end of the ruler slides smoothly along the guide. Then put the screws back in place.

9. Double check everything. Sometimes when you adjust one element, another moves. Before you call it a job well done, double check all your alignments. Readjust as needed.

10. Wax the table top. This is the final step that will both protect the table top and allow the wood you are cutting to slide more easily across the surface. Using a clean cloth, apply a thin coat of paste wax to the table top and the working edge of the guide. Allow the wax to sit for 10-15 minutes, then buff it until the entire surface is smooth.

When you’re done, plug the saw back in and turn it on. Listen for strange noises and look for blade oscillations. I always let my saw run for a full minute or more after working on it before running wood through to make sure everything is put together properly.

When you’re sure everything is working as it should, start cutting again! There is nothing prettier in all woodworking than a clean right angle at the exit of the saw.

About Florence L. Silvia

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