Table saws are tough old bits of kit. They make mincemeat of most things thrown their way. They can rip wood all day long, however, precision really isn’t their strong point. At least not alone.
There are two ways you can get your big, brutish table saw to do more precise angled cuts. The first involves changing the angle of the blade.
The second method requires a change in the angle of the wood.
Changing the Angle of the Blade on a Table Saw
Most table saws will allow you to adjust the angle at which the blade sits. You can usually get a decent range of movement on the blade. Most will allow you to tilt to 45° others may let you go further.
With a tilted blade you can create bevel cuts. Bevel cuts are often used for door frames, picture frames, and similar.
Most table saws allow you to adjust the angle using a crank or pivot system.
On the crank system, you turn a handle and the blade will adjust. Usually, there will be an indicator scale on or near the crank to tell you the angle of the blade.
Now, these indicator scales are just that. They are an indication of the angle but not a precise measurement.
Sometimes these scales are spot on but it’s difficult to trust them if you haven’t checked.
A pivot system has the same issue. The scale is just not always accurate. To adjust a table saw blade using a pivot system you need to find the adjustment handle.
Usually, you need to pull the handle to unlock the system. Once unlocked, you can slide the handle along a scale and lock it in position at the desired angle.
Measuring the Angle
There are a few ways you can measure the angle of your blade. Some are easier than others and some are more accurate than others.
- Digital Angle Gauge - A digital angle guage is a digital device that can accurately measure the angle of your blade. Sometimes these boxes are accurate up to 2 decimal places. To measure the angle of your blade, you simply place the gauge on the blade. It will measure the tilt and display the angle. Each gauge will have its own features and operating instructions. If you can, choose a gauge that has a built-in bevel angle feature.
- Digital Protractor - Another highly accurate way of measuring the angle is to use a digital protractor. These look a bit like two rulers joined together with a hinge. An LCD screen sits on or near the join.
To work the protractor, place one arm against the top of the table and then open the other arm until it’s flush with the blade.
The screen will then display the angle. Again this can, in some cases, be accurate up to a few decimal places.
- Standard Protractor - If you don’t want to go digital, a good old fashioned protractor will do. You’ll need a decent-sized protractor. Not one of those tiny ones you’ve nabbed from your kid’s geometry kit. Place the flat end of the protractor on the table ensuring that it’s straight and sits flush. You’ll want to place it either directly in front of the blade or directly behind the blade.
Now you can adjust the blade according to the protractor. Make sure that when you look down the blade you are dead center on the blade.
All of these methods can be used to check or set the angle of your blade.
Before adjusting the angle of your blade it’s a good idea to raise the blade to its full height. This is just a lot easier for you to see the angles and measure the angles.
Just make sure you remember to lower the blade to the appropriate height before you cut.
Another thing to be mindful of when cutting with an angled blade is the pressure you exert on the blade.
Where possible move your rip fence so that the blade tilts away from it. This reduces the pressure on the tilted blade when cutting.
If you can’t switch your rip fence, just be extra careful when guiding the wood through the blade. Don’t twist or move the wood out of line, and always use a push stick or push box, not your hand.
Changing the Angle of the Wood
The other way to make an angle cut on a table saw is to make an angled miter cut. To do this you need to change the angle at which the wood meets with the blade.
The easiest way to achieve this is with a miter gauge.
In the most basic form, a miter gauge is a protractor attached to a metal foot. The foot slips into the miter slot and can be slid up and down.
The protractor has a moveable handle that changes the angle of a ledge.
You set the angle, place a bit of wood against the ledge and then you can guide the wood through the blade by pushing the gauge along the miter slot. It’s as simple as that really.
Most miter gauges allow you to set the ledge either side of 90° up to about 45° or 50.° This means you can pretty much make any angled cut you want.
When setting the angle, most miter saws have a screw lock handle. You unscrew the handle to allow it to slide along the protractor and then screw it shut to lock it in place.
It’s vitally important that you lock the gauge in place. Otherwise, when you start to push the gauge along the miter slot it may shift. This will not only mess up your cut, but it could snap the blade.
Once your wood is resting flush against the miter gauge you’ll want to clamp it in place. This isn’t always possible depending on the configuration of the gauge.
If you can’t clamp the wood, you’ll need to hold it firmly against the gauge to get a straight and accurate cut.
Deciding whether to change the angle of the blade or the wood is up to you. You’ll know whether your project calls for a miter cut or a bevel cut.
Just in case you’re not sure, a bevel cut is one that is any degree except 90 along the thickness of the wood. A miter cut is a cut over or under 90° along the width or length of the wood.
Both are easy enough to cut once you know how to set the angles. A miter cut is probably the easiest of the two simply because the miter gauge does all the measuring for you.
A bevel cut requires you to check the angle of your saw blade which can be tricky without digital tools.
A digital angle gauge is definitely worth getting. It will stop you messing about with squares and protractors. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to use which is great.
Whether you’re making a bevel or a miter cut, it’s always worth remembering that cutting at an angle puts more stress on your blade. Take it nice and steady, and you’ll be fine.
Bevel and miter cuts are not cuts you want to rush!