Woodworking Projects

Build a better tablesaw crosscut sled

High performance for decades. This sled is built to deliver clean, accurate cuts with minimal setup for many years to come.

Synopsis: This design is aimed at improving the traditional crosscut sled with a two-layered base and sliding panels that let you refresh the zero-clearance kerf around any blade or stack of blades, angled or square. A replaceable insert plate in the front fence serves the same purpose.

Soon after I began teaching woodworking at Palomar College in southern California, I knew we needed a more reliable method for clean, accurate crosscuts. Our miter gauges and beat-up crosscut sleds just weren’t cutting it.

I considered the traditional crosscut sled design and thought we could do better. Standard sleds start out with a clean slot in the base and fence, which fits perfectly around the blade that cut it, preventing splintery blowout on the back and bottom edges of cuts. The zero-clearance blade slot also shows you exactly where the blade will cut, making it easy to hit your pencil mark perfectly. But that clean kerf doesn’t last long. The moment you change the blade, angle it, or worse yet, use a stack of dado blades, the slot gets blown out—and its zero-clearance benefits along with it.

Rethinking the traditional sled, I designed a two-layered base with sliding top panels that let you refresh the zero-clearance kerf around any blade or any stack of blades, angled or square. In the front fence, a replaceable insert plate serves the same purpose.

While I was at it, I addressed the other common problems with traditional sleds, such as sloppy runners and bowed fences. After six years of heavy use, the six sleds I made are just as accurate and effective as the day I built them.

Refreshing the zero-clearance blade slots on tablesaw sled Zero-clearance in a jiffy. Refreshing the zero-clearance blade slots takes a minute or two for any new setup. Just push the sliding panels inward against the blade(s), replace the fence insert if necessary, and make a cut.

accurate dado joint Perfect results. Expect dadoes, miters, and crosscuts with unmatched accuracy and crisp edges. Make a stack of fence inserts ahead of time, and save the used ones for common cuts.

angled crosscut

G10 vs. phenolic plywood for the base

I used a lesser-known sheet material, a fiberglass-resin composite called G10, for the structural base of my sleds. The fiberglass layers in G10 create an incredibly strong, stable, flat panel, allowing me to make the base just 3/8 in. thick. It slides beautifully too. However, at $250 for a 3-ft. by 4-ft. sheet—the smallest available size that would work—G10 is very expensive. It also beats up standard woodworking blades and bits. While it made sense for our college woodworking shop, it’s probably overkill for a home shop.

drilling holes in tablesaw sled base Drill press ensures accuracy. The base panel needs clearance holes and counterbores along its front and back edge, for attaching the fences. During layout, extend the lines a little past the edges of the holes, to help you transfer these locations to the fence later on.

A reasonable alternative for the base is phenolic plywood, which delivers the strength and durability you’ll need and is both affordable and widely available ($43 at woodcraft.com for the 24-in. by 32-in. piece I used here). The surfaces of this specialty plywood are infused with phenolic resin, which makes it slide beautifully and protects the interior from changes in humidity, making the panel more stable than standard plywood of the same thickness. It’s not G10 though, so I bumped up the thickness of the base to 1/2 in. Add the sliding 3/8-in.-thick MDF panels on top, and you still aren’t stealing too much from the height capacity of your saw.

measuring for the miter-bar position on tablesaw sled Measure for the miter-bar position. Place one of the base halves roughly 1⁄16 in. from the outside of the dado set, and square to the saw table. Then measure to the center of the miter slot and mark the base at that dimension.

A quick tour of your next sled

The design starts with the two-layered base. The sliding MDF panels are held down with screws that pass into threaded inserts in the base, ensuring a durable hold. Down the road, after you’ve repositioned the sacrificial panels a number of times, and made them too narrow, it’s quick and easy to remake them, and the fixed, structural base of the sled never changes.

To allow the blade slot in the front fence to be renewed just as easily, there’s a 3/8-in. MDF plate set into it. This fence insert is attached with screws and threaded inserts. In fact, at every attachment point, from the fences to the insert to the sliding panels, I used machine screws and threaded inserts. Standard wood screws strip when tightened and retightened; threaded inserts will give a lifetime of service.

Chance Coalter teaches woodworking at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., and builds furniture on commission.

Build a better table saw crosscut sled spread image

Photos: Asa Christiana

From Fine Woodworking #300

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