Table saw fence basics

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Forum topic by Rob posted 04-10-2014 11:07 AM 3951 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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704 posts in 3246 days

04-10-2014 11:07 AM

This is probably a really dumb question, but when do you need a table saw fence with 52” rails vs. 36” rails—or, rather, why don’t more people need 52” or longer rails? As I understand it, the 30/36/52” rails give you 30”, 36”, or 52” of capacity right of the blade. Is that correct?

I can’t find it at the moment, but I think somewhere around here I ran across a thread where someone with 52” rails said they hardly ever needed them. To me it seems like 36” or shorter rails could be very limiting, and I’m guessing that person originally thought the same thing.

I had originally thought I would break down sheet goods with my circular saw, then square up the edges on the table saw, but it seems the table saw might not have that kind of capacity unless I get the long rails.

If I want to cut parts on the table saw that are too big for my miter gauge and too big for my fence, what is the best way to do this? Do I need to have an outfeed table and a huge sled that rides in the miter track, maybe with its own fence? Do most people just cut larger sheets narrower then join them back together if they need a wider panel? What other tricks do the rest of you use? Or am I just thinking about this all wrong?

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

12 replies so far

View retfr8flyr's profile


386 posts in 1844 days

#1 posted 03-03-2014 08:40 AM

I work by myself and wouldn’t want to try and wrestle big sheet goods on my table saw. I have a track saw setup that I use to break down sheet goods and it works great. With a track saw you can cuts to the correct size if you want to, as it makes a cut just about as good as you get from your table saw.

I have a Makita track saw and it has a scoring setting to use for the initial cut. It makes cuts that are great, without any tearout. The Festool TS 55REQ is the leader of the pack for track saws but there are several others less expensive that do a good job.

-- Earl

View OldWrangler's profile


731 posts in 1769 days

#2 posted 03-03-2014 09:41 AM

I also have trouble handling sheet goods by myself on the table saw. An answer I found was Harbor Freight has a 50” aluminum cutting clamp for about $20. It can be clamped across the 48” width of a sheet of plywood and then the panel is cut with a circular saw, jig saw or even a router with a straight bit. Once clamped it does not move. Lots easier than risking a kick back from the table saw (which used to happen a lot). A good plywood blade on the circular saw gives little or no tearout.

-- I am going to go stand outside so if anyone asks about me, tell them I'M OUTSTANDING!

View jmos's profile


892 posts in 2544 days

#3 posted 03-03-2014 01:12 PM

How often are you going to be cutting down sheet goods?

If your going to cut a lot of sheet goods on your table saw, you’ll probably want one with a long table extension and a sizable outfeed table, to help support everything. It does get tough to manage whole sheets by yourself. I usually cut sheets down with a circular saw and edge clamp guide, but I’ve been thinking about a track saw. A panel saw is also a good option if you’re really breaking down a lot of sheet goods; but does take up a good bit of space.

I have a 52” table, and I do use it a lot, but mostly to help keep parts organized and handy when cutting batches. It also comes in handy cutting long solid wood boards to length; I clamp a short block to the fence and use it as a stop block (not a great idea to just use the fence in case the work piece binds and contacts the back of the blade.) Not the only way to do this, but it works well. I also use the extension for extra table space for glue-up. It often comes in handy.

Overall I’m happy with my 52” table, even though it does take up a lot of space. However, I don’t think I would really miss it if I had to get rid of it.

-- John

View bondogaposis's profile


5054 posts in 2526 days

#4 posted 03-03-2014 01:47 PM

My shop is too small for a table saw to break down sheet goods, I do that outside w/ circular saw on saw horses. I also have a panel sled to cross cut larger pieces on the table saw. An out feed table is a must.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View GT350's profile


370 posts in 2156 days

#5 posted 03-03-2014 01:54 PM

I’m in the same boat, the way I have my shop organized there just isn’t enough room for that long of a fence and a large outfeed table. I made a guide that I clamp to the plywood and cut it down to size with a circular saw.

View Planeman40's profile


1273 posts in 2936 days

#6 posted 03-03-2014 03:53 PM

The above posts recommending cutting the large plywood sheet down to size with a clamped straight edge and a circular saw are the best answers. After over 50 years of woodworking, I find it a much better practice to cut pieces out of a large piece of plywood slightly oversize with a power hand saw and THEN cut them to final size on the table saw. It is more precise and less likely to make an error. Even thought I have a large sliding Hammer 48” x 48” table saw capable of handling the job, I still pre-cut my plywood pieces slightly oversize before sawing on the table saw.

The other option often seen in cabinet shops is to surround the table saw with auxiliary wood tables the same height as the saw table. This takes up a lot of room and still requires a lot of lifting of heavy sheets.


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3246 days

#7 posted 03-06-2014 11:06 PM

Hey everyone, thanks for all the great feedback! I’ll probably be working with a lot of sheet goods.

Some more background…the question came up because I had to cut a bunch of identical panels for a project last summer and I never factor in the offset for my straightedge guide the first time I measure, so I figured my neighbor’s table saw would do the job a lot faster and with a lot more accuracy than my Skil circular saw, bed rail straightedge, and clamps. My neighbor helped me out a lot with the project, and even though it still did go a lot faster on his table saw, it was a bit of a struggle making some of the cuts on his table saw because neither the fence nor miter gauge quite reached far enough. (Now I’m wondering if maybe he just has 30” fence rails.) He’s always happy to help me out but I want to start kicking out a lot more projects and I’d hate to bug him every other day to use his table saw.

It sounds like the shorter fence rails are probably the way to go, and at the very least I can make a zero-clearance straightedge guide for my circular saw until I can justify ponying up for a track saw. Thanks again for the recommendations.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View keninblaine's profile


130 posts in 1777 days

#8 posted 03-07-2014 02:17 AM

I made a zero clearance straight-edge guide with particle board and it works perfectly for making straight, accurate, clean cuts with my new Ridgid circular saw with magnesium base. Just clamp the edge exactly where the cut is to be made, and away you go. It is so easy, I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out. If I did more carpentry, I would definitely consider a nice track saw. The Festool looks awesome, but expensive.

-- Ken, Blaine Washington

View bbc557ci's profile


595 posts in 2249 days

#9 posted 03-07-2014 02:25 AM

I have a Unisaw with a 52 in. fence and I doubt I’ll ever need that much. I bought the saw used and that’s the way it came. If I were to buy a new TS I wouldn’t pay the extra $$ for the long fence. That said however, the extension on the rt. side of the saw gives me extra space for stuff or to add a router :o)

-- Bill, central where near the "big apple"

View TheGermanJoiner's profile


847 posts in 1812 days

#10 posted 03-07-2014 07:45 PM

The longer fence helps with building cabinets. Standard height is 34 1/2” on a base cabinet. So If you do a lot of sheet goods the longer fence is a must. I have a unisaw with the 52” biesemeyer. I started with the the 30” or 32”, or whatever it was, and wound up buying the longer rails. If you have the room go bigger

-- Greg - Ferdinand and Son Construction: Do it right the first time. Like us on Facebook

View Woodmaster1's profile


1060 posts in 2762 days

#11 posted 03-08-2014 01:03 AM

I have a 52” fence. I don’t use it very often. It was the only option when I purchased my 5hp unisaw.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3760 days

#12 posted 03-08-2014 10:23 PM

I have a sister who is 52 inches but she is not straight enough to be used as a saw fence.She would first need to downsize sheet stock with her tungsten carbide dentures. Alistair

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

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