Extra Clean Cross Cuts

Getting a square, clean cross cut requires a little know-how, the right tools, and a bit of practice, but the following tips may help you get a perfect cut every time.

First, start your project out right by taking time to choose stock carefully. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure” certainly rings true when it comes to woodworking. Warped or uneven boards can make getting a smooth cut difficult. They can rock during a cut, causing the wood to bind against the side of the blade. The result will usually be a rough cut that isn’t square. Or you may even get kickback or ejection. Whether you’re building a fence or a piece of fine furniture, start with straight, flat, dry wood. It might take a few extra minutes to cull through the available stock at the lumber yard, but it will be worth it in the end.

Choose the Right Blade for the Job

Chances are, on any given project you are ripping and cross cutting. Unless you are lucky enough to have two table saws equipped with dedicated blades, or don’t mind constantly changing blades, then a combination blade is a great choice. For efficiency and quality, the right saw blade will easily rip and cross cut. Combination blades are designed with a grouped tooth configuration and have 40-50 teeth. These rip easily and deliver a clean cross cut with a minimum of tear-out. However, there may be times when nothing but a cross cut blade will do. A quality cross cut blade will have 60-80 teeth in a uniform configuration. These will give you a super-smooth cut.

Tips on Avoiding Tear-Out

Let’s face it, tear-out happens, especially when cutting across the grain of the wood. It’s that split-second, usually at the end of a cut as the blade exits your board. Rather than a smooth, clean edge, the wood splinters, “tears”, or breaks away. But, once again, a few preventive measures can reduce frustration and waste by minimizing tear-out. First, understanding that certain woods and wood products will always give you more trouble than others, can be helpful to know when planning a project. For instance, both plywood and hardwoods are susceptible to tear-out, but for very different reasons. However, the remedies are the same and should be considered before cutting. One of the easiest cures is a sharp saw blade. When the blade is sharp, it will be less likely to tear away wood fibers as they pass through the blade. Another helpful fix is a zero clearance throat plate. Because the slot opening is the exact size of your blade, and the rest of the plate sits flush with the table surface, the board is fully supported through the entire cut. As a result, the bottom edge of the cross cut is less prone to splintering. You can make your own zero clearance throat plate or buy one ready made for your saw.

Get a Smooth, Clean Cut Every Time

Another great device that helps ensure a perfectly square, clean cross cut is a sled. A cross cut sled makes your saw safer, more efficient and far more versatile to use. It’s especially helpful when you’re working on a project that requires multiple identical cuts. Utilizing your table saw’s miter gauge slots, the sled houses your work piece, resting it safely against a wooden fence as the entire unit slides cleanly through the blade. The fence is a significantly beefed-up version of the one already on your saw, giving you firmer control, and your hand greater distance from the blade, while increasing accuracy and safety. You can buy a sled, or you can make one in a couple of hours. Either way, a cross cut sled will be a huge bonus in your shop.

Troubleshooting

If you’re still not getting the results you want, check to be sure your blade is precisely square to the miter gauge. Sometimes table saw miter gauge angle indicators can be fractionally inaccurate, so use a 45-degree drafting triangle to square up the blade to the gauge. Test the accuracy of your adjustment by running a four-inch test piece through the saw blade. After cutting, flip one half over and butt the two edges together against the fence. If there’s a gap, adjust again and re-test until the two edges fit flush together. Along that some vein, be sure your blade is also square to your table and to your fence. In other words, your blade, the miter gauge slots and your fence should all be exactly parallel to each other.
Another possibility to consider is the rate at which you are feeding the work piece through the table saw. It may seem counter-intuitive to speed up the rate of feed, especially if you are struggling to get a clean cross cut, but cutting wood too slowly might actually be causing part of the problem. First, table saws are designed to cut wood quickly and efficiently. A slow feed may cause additional friction as the blade rubs against the wood. Also, whether readjusting your hold causes a slower pace, or a slower pace causes you to change your grip, either way, it’s to your advantage to maintain the same firm hold throughout a cut. Changing hand position increases the chance of the wood moving during a cut and it’s just not a safe practice. Think ahead. Decide where your grip should be at the start and where you want your hands to be when you’ve finished a cut.

Finally, keep your table, blade, and miter slots clean. Build-up of sap, pitch, dust and other residues can inhibit the smooth movement of wood and could eventually become a safety issue. Periodic wipe-downs with a good household cleaner and maybe even a little steel wool, if necessary, will keep surfaces clean. Follow up with wax. Waxing the table surface and the blade will both protect them and keep wood sliding along smoothly. A bees wax block works nicely for this.

Your table saw is a major workhorse in your shop. Its versatility and ease of use make it fundamental to nearly every woodworking project you take on. Understanding and mastering the techniques of getting a smooth, square cross cut will help you work more efficiently and give you more enjoyment from every project.

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