A Challenging Situation
Cutting small pieces of trim or moulding accurately on the compound miter saw can be challenging and a bit dangerous. The compound miter saw (known as the chopsaw in the trades and hereafter) has a large opening in the table for the blade and, most often, the plastic insert in the table drops down slightly from the level of the surrounding table. This is characteristic on my Hitachi, DeWalt, and Makita chopsaws. (I am a contractor so I sport 3 chopsaws.)
This provides poor support when cutting small pieces of trim or moulding and this situation creates a safety issue. Poorly supported pieces may be sucked into the blade and drag fingers into it or at least go flying around the shop, ricocheting like a bullet. A zero clearance table surface is the solution and is very simple to make.
It is important to understand that this table is a consumable item and new ones will need to be made regularly and perhaps specific for each job. This is not like making an auxiliary table for the drill press that will last for years.
The table surface can be 1/2” or 3/4” plywood. Since you are cutting small pieces, the table does not need to be too big. It needs to be big enough that you will not cut through the far edge of it easily which would cut it clean apart, but small enough that you can still read the miter gauge on the saw. It looks like I have cut clean through mine but I have not.
If you are primarily making 45° cuts, almost every saw has a stop that allows it to pretty much snap into location if you are running a little blind from the zero clearance table.
The fence should be tall enough to provide support for the full height of your particular trim. This provides back support for a clean cut the full height of your trim or moulding piece.
I keep the auxiliary table in place by attaching with screws from the backside of the chopsaw fence through predrilled factory holes.
You may notice that I have a laser on my chopsaw and it is very accurate. But I find that the saw blade’s own path on the sacrificial table and fence provides the best indication of where to position the piece for my intended cut.
Making the Cut
When performing a cut, hold the piece firmly and, very importantly, adjust your feed rate to provide the most controlled action. Advancing the cut too quickly raises the chances that the small piece can be grabbed out of control. The best thing to do is let the blade be the guide by appling just enough pressure to let the blade advance at it’s own rate.
Installing a premium blade for detailed cutting will provide the best results and aid in making cuts more safely. It is the same principle that a sharp knife or chisel is safer to use than a dull one.
When cutting stock I prefer to mark for a cut, cut close to it, then creep up on the final cut. This provides me with the best results for a clean and accurate cut.
A Cautionary Statement
Cutting small pieces tends to place your appendages closer to the blade consistently more than general cutting and this ramps up the risk factor. The zero clearance table helps control small pieces and reduce the risks associated with this type of work.
Use extreme caution and common sense. If it does not feel safe, then that alone will raise your personal risk.
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-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com