Unsafe cuts on the tablesaw?

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Forum topic by nwbusa posted 07-08-2012 06:16 PM 4701 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1021 posts in 2367 days

07-08-2012 06:16 PM

Conventional wisdom (as I understand it) is to avoid using the table saw fence to guide boards that are wider than they are long. This is to prevent the board from coming off the fence, binding between the fence and the blade, and kicking back. I’ve actually had this happen once and narrowly avoided injury. Lesson learned.

Yesterday, I had to break down a half sheet of Baltic birch plywood (60” x 30”) to a quarter sheet (30” x 30”). I didn’t feel like getting my circular saw out, setting up the sawhorses, etc. So, I just cut it at the tablesaw. The board was too big for my sled and too deep to use the miter gauge, so I ran the 30” side against the fence. I took the cut slow and it turned out fine. My question is, is this an unsafe cut? What is the safe limit when it comes to these types of cuts? If the board is twice as wide as it is long (as it was in my case), three times as wide…?

I wouldn’t have made this cut if I felt it was unsafe, but I’m curious as to what others consider to be safe/unsafe when it comes to making these types of cuts.

-- John, BC, Canada

21 replies so far

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2270 days

#1 posted 07-08-2012 06:29 PM

My take is that your cut was perfectly safe given the 30” bearing on the fence. The 60” length factors in in that the offcut is big and has to be cleared carefully but in this case it is certainly doable.

I think too short is dependent on the actual length along the fence (about 1 ft minimum according to many) and how much the other dimension will tend to make the piece want to squeegie which could cause kickback. If your saw table is nice and slick (using TopCote or similar) the critical length increases.

I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” here.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10708 posts in 3510 days

#2 posted 07-08-2012 06:34 PM

My rule of thumb is 24” + against the fence is good. But, I feel more comfortable if the length is 48” or less.
For added safety on long pieces, I sometimes use a block clamped to the fence as a length/width gauge. Then a miter gauge FROM THE BACK SIDE.
As MC suggests, keep the surfaces slick.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View a1Jim's profile


117165 posts in 3658 days

#3 posted 07-08-2012 06:43 PM

I agree with Gene in that you should use a off set block to avoid getting wedged against the fence . I might suggest a wider sled also. I have 4 sleds the biggest is 40” wide.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View rance's profile


4260 posts in 3242 days

#4 posted 07-08-2012 06:48 PM

The thing you did was you you knew the consequenses and you took extra precautions and went slower than normal giving you more assurance that it would be kept against the fence through the cut. I would not have a problem doing what you did. I would not trust everyone to do the same though. Like you, you have to understand the dynamics that go into a cut like that.

Edit: Also on a cut like this, I conjer up all the things that ‘could’ go wrong and adjust appropriately so as to prevent an incident or the inadvertant use of red wood stain.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3666 days

#5 posted 07-08-2012 07:14 PM

I have a very large professional sliding table saw which can handle 8 foot by 4 foot sheets but I nowadays have to get my son who is now enjoying woodworking to do it for me Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3079 days

#6 posted 07-08-2012 07:18 PM

The one thing to think about though is your first reaction. I am not going to make a proclamation as to it being safe or not, but when your first reaction gives you second thoughts, I would say stop and think it over very carefully. Not wanting to bother getting set up for a cut the way you think it should be done should give you pause. Take your time to do it right. Simple operations done in a hurry are much more hazardous than complicated operations with proper planning.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View nwbusa's profile


1021 posts in 2367 days

#7 posted 07-08-2012 09:59 PM

All good points and feedback, thank you. I probably should make a wider sled—my current will only handle 24”.

-- John, BC, Canada

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2329 days

#8 posted 07-09-2012 01:32 AM

Forgive my ignorance here, but does grain orientation have anything to do with it? For example, I have had quarter sheets of plywood where I have put the 24” side up against the rip fence to take some material off the 48” side. I’ve also had some hardwoods that were 14” x 48”. I didn’t even consider using the rip fence. I put a large, flat piece of hardwood to my miter gauge and cross cut it that way. I did use the stop block method Gene mentioned to index the piece.

Why is my mind is this OK for plywood, but a huge no-no for solid wood? There must be an actual reason.


View Gatorjim's profile


217 posts in 2286 days

#9 posted 07-09-2012 02:10 AM

I think the saw your using has a lot to do with it. The saw I have at home {a 10” crafstman saw} I would never do that cut on. But the one i have at work I wouldnt think twice about doing it. It’s a delta 10”cabinet saw whith a 3 phase motor a 30” bishemer fencen with a huge 8’x12’ runoff table behind it. If the first thought is that maybe you shouldnt do it then dont.

-- My theroy in wood working will be. If I'm not enjoying doing it i won't do it.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3729 days

#10 posted 07-09-2012 02:21 AM

This is considered a safe cut in small cabinet shops all over
N. America. In fact it is this kind of cut on 24” x 72” pantry
sides that drive the sales of large capacity aftermarket
rip fences to pro shops in my opinion.

Is it optimally safe? No. But the work has a lot of mass
and if the fence is set “open” by 1/32” front to back
(not uncommon setup) contact with the rear teeth
of the blade and indeed the blade plate itself is considerably

View nwbusa's profile


1021 posts in 2367 days

#11 posted 07-09-2012 05:40 AM

Joe, I think one of the main differences between plywood and solid wood on the tablesaw is that plywood is dimensionally stable and not subject to the level of internal stresses that can be present in solid wood. So for example, the kerf on a plywood cut is not going to close up and pinch the back of the blade (although my saw has a riving knife that is always installed for through cuts). I wouldnt put the short end of a 14” x 48” board on the rip fence, either.

I’ve got good outfeed and side support on my setup, and I took the cut slow with one eye on the fence and one eye on the blade.

-- John, BC, Canada

View Joseph Jossem's profile

Joseph Jossem

492 posts in 2350 days

#12 posted 07-09-2012 06:18 AM

To be honest it is to your ability
I do that every day if you are not comfortable or aware of the dangers dont do it.

broken fingers nose teeth ribs be very carefull what you do around a table saw they can bite back especially higher horse power.Usually I look at a table saw as a physical match once you back down you get nailed do not do stupid stuff and remember your own skills.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2329 days

#13 posted 07-09-2012 04:58 PM

So I’m still thinking about my original question and am wondering if I am doing things correctly. In my mind this is how things work:

Rip cut = WITH the grain, use the fence
Cross cut = Against the grain, sled or miter gauge

There have been times where I could have used a fence for a “cross cut”. An example is the sides of the entertainment center I made. They are much wider than they are tall, and the grain runs vertical. If I had a clean, straight edge to register against the fence, is it acceptable to cross cut using the fence?


View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3217 days

#14 posted 07-09-2012 05:11 PM

I use a length of T track and clamps to cut stock up to about 46” wide.

I do, on occasion, put the short side of the work against the rip fence. Not so sure I’d go this route with a piece 30” x 60”; you won’t have much bearing against the fence for the last bit of that cut. Thin stuff, maybe yes, thick stuff I’d probably get out my T track.

lumberjoe – whether to use a miter gauge, the rip fence, or a sled should be decided by whatever will provide best or at least adequate control of the work through the cut. whether the cut is cross grain or with grain might influence your blade selection.

-- Greg D.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5007 posts in 4041 days

#15 posted 07-09-2012 06:28 PM

Well, ya didn’t say that ya have the splitter/riving knife, pawls, any hold downs, etc., but rips held well against the fence and prevented from binding are pretty safe cuts.


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