Here is my table saw setup.  I’ve been busy trying to put the lid on the window/siding/insulation project that’s been under construction for the last year and a half.  The siding/insulation part that we set out to accomplish is totally done.  All that remains is finishing the trim on the inside of the windows.  This is my first real shot, ever really, of doing finish carpentry and I have to say, I like it.  But what I’m really jazzed about at the moment is the journey so I’ll save showing the actual install until later and start with showing you my old, cheap, nearly given away table saw. 

First lesson I learned along the journey is that I needed my table saw to do a good job.  I bought my saw off a guy for about $10.  At first I was a little worried it might kill me, then I was worried I couldn’t cut a straight line for my life, and now I’m in that special place where it just works (though it still might kill me but it hasn’t yet so I’m not too worried about it).  

Most trim used for finish carpentry comes in 8’-16’ pieces.  Often one has to rip a piece down to size (make a cut lengthwise which produces a skinny and a fat piece).  Sometimes you need to rip a piece of plywood to get two 2x8’ pieces.  The actual table on the table saw is nowhere big enough to support the cutting process in either of these situations.  And as far as I can tell, just a stand to hold up ones table saw costs about $70 (but doesn’t help support materials so really doesn’t buy you much).  What most carpenters do in their shop (at least my buddy Rob does this), is build the table saw permanently set into a bigger table that is wide and long enough to support materials throughout the cutting process.  On the job site, I gather, they have a setup like my pictures show.  The criteria for creating the setup were: (1) it has to be collapsible (or at least storable, and by that I mean not take too much space), (2) it has to create a plane that is in the plane of the table saw table’s plane, and (3), it needed to be cheap and preferably use materials I had lying around. 

On all these fronts my design has been a success: I used scrap wood and some 2x4’s, screws, clamps, and my saw horses.  Here’s some details I couldn’t include in the captions above:

I do use a chair to support long bendy pieces during the first phase of cutting them (i.e. while I still have greater than 2/3 of a cut to make the piece will bend down to the ground if not supported and the back of the chair keeps the bending to just a few inches so that the piece is flat on the table and not arching up and across the table).  I also cut some angles into my drop-in supports so that when the already cut end of pieces bends down a little it doesn’t butt into the support but rides up and over it as if climbing a ramp.  The rests are just little blocks that support the long 2x4 extensions until I clamp them to the main frame; they’re positioned so the top of the extensions are in the same plane as the top of the saw’s table.  The drop-ins rest on rails, just long narrow strips of plywood I had in my scrap pile and screwed onto the extensions.  I have three drop-ins and one cross piece that I actually screw onto the extensions so that the clamps and the attached piece make the whole setup rigid.  Everything just rests on the horses and while I haven’t had any stability problems you have to be careful not to tip the setup over if you’re ripping a heavy-ish piece of lumber.

Not only did I need a table to support the materials I need to cut, I also needed to make straight cuts.  For this I created a feather guide which a quick Google search revealed is a common accessory that carpenters make to facilitate making straight cuts.  I had a piece of 1x4 stock lying around and using my miter saw I cut a 45 degree on the end of the 2’+ long piece and then using the table saw I cut 10 or so 3” cuts along the length of the piece on the 45 degree end.  When clamped down these fins help keep the piece from pulling away from the table saw fence (the fence is basically an adjustable guide that clamps onto the table saw so that you can make a cut of some width ranging from less than an inch to 15” inches or so).  The feather guide has me making great cuts and it also helps resist kickback (some added safety) because the fins help resist forces that would accelerate the piece back towards me (like a projectile).

Table saws are seriously dangerous so do some homework before you ever get started with one.  When I was in high school I saw about an inch of thumb on the woodshop floor because a classmate ran his intact thumb across the blade.  Make sure to have a push stick (the handled one I fashioned is pretty good) and I hear that you should keep the blade guard on too.  Buy a good blade.  And like in so many situations where safety is tantamount, keep serious track of where you’re at: hands/fingers away from the blade, head not directly behind the blade, trip hazards, etc.

-Matt