Aug 18 2009

Musings from the left side of the Table Saw.

Published by at 4:23 am under Clamping and Fixturing,Jigs,Safety,Sawing

Bet you were thinking I was going to associate woodworking with left hemisphere brain functions. Well, depending on how you think of it, woodworking is probably a craft that uses both sides of the brain, so possibly, maybe.

But actually, I was going to touch on some thoughts and problem solving on the left side of the blade. Table saw that is. It really is the unaddressed side of the machine.

I am a hand tool user, and advocate. Heck, I even make hand tools, but I am also a blended woodworker. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Blended Woodworker” is a woodworker who espouses both the finesse of hand tools, and the production of power tools and shop machines.

I make no bones about it, as each of us should follow the woodworking path that makes us feel content. Whether you are a power tool woodworker, a blended, woodworker, a hand tool woodworker, and even perhaps a collector, it’s all woodworking and that is a good thing! Whichever way you are doing it, your doing it right for you. That is all that matters.


Many with table saws are faced with various challenges. Cut quality and safe practices are always ones that weigh heavily on the mind, maybe even the left-brain. Those who have the space and desire, enjoy a large cabinet saw with a 60 inch fence set up, maybe an outfeed table that will accommodate full sheets of plywood. The rest of us may not need a saw that takes that much space, and so we opt for saws with a 30 inch fence system, or maybe even less.

There is nothing inherently wrong, but there are unique challenges here. The left side of the blade is the off cut side, and because of the limited width to the right of the blade, sometime the width of what crosses the table saw must ride on the left, even when it is rather largish.

Rather largish presents an overhang to the saw table. This overhang is a fun little exercise, one that has had me wishing I had a few extra arms at times. You know, there you are, you, and the saw blade.

The Zen moment is where there is nothing but you the saw and the cut in the whole world. The largish overhang is gaining it’s ability to counterbalance itself on the left edge of the saw with each inch you cut, and as friction from the table overcomes the weight of the oafish off cut, the inability to keep the big beasty under control with just one hand, has you wishing one eye could continue to watch the fence as the other eye watches near to the blade so you can direct the left arm to do the right thing in independence.

Good times!


I work alone and there is no one to ask for help. Even if I had help, the helper needs to know the drill really well, because the ramifications have a direct line to the saw blade. Unwanted effects can be immediate. Suffice it to say, I think working alone is better for me, so I thought about work-arounds for a long time.

In some cases, depending on the length to width ratios, a circular saw with or without a guide is a good way to break down the lumber to sizes you can better finish on the table saw. In this case I didn’t have this ratio problem where the length P is many times the width, whereas the width would not be enough to properly register to the fence of the table saw and counterbalance the length component of the board.

I also needed more speed, better production, and the table saw has that, so I had to figure the best ways to deal with supporting my overhangs. Roller stands seemed like a viable answer, and turn out to be both in part, a piece of the problem and the solution to that problem, but by themselves, they are not the be all end all at the left side of the saw.

The inherent problem with roller stands at the left, is that depending on the width of the material you are cutting, the overhang will likely have to transit from one roller stand to another as the cut is pushed forwards through the saw, and as this happens, the problem of perfect coplanarity is hard to achieve with multiple roller stands that are set to support in the rolling direction. What you get is slight bumps transmitted back to the blade and too, it is not the best thing for your Zen moment. So stand good, roller bad.

After staring at the table saw for a while with the sheet of plywood up on it, I came upon, wait for it– a temporary-roller stand-modifier-jig. I call it the roller stand ski. Well yeah, and it isn’t originally anyone’s idea I’m sure, and heck it’s 2009, branding everything is in, so I have to name it something.

I use those workforce roller stands from the big box stores. They are priced right, fold, hang out of the way, set up quickly, are bearing rollers, have slight tilt adjustments, and for me, owning four of them has been about right. I have used them at every shop machine. They come in lots of variations, but these seemed just right in the pocket for me, cost/benefit wise.


The ski has to mount above the rollers with the stands turned perpendicular to the direction of the cut. I wanted it to work in such a way that I set the stands about where I want them, and for the ski to simply clamp to the stand. When not needed, It is quickly broken down, and the stands hang back up, the ski leans in the corner…

How I made my ski, was sort of a happenstance that came from salvage. A few years back I had planned to use some birch 1×2 with a 1/4 inch chamfer on one corner and a 1/4 inch rabbet on the other as a molding, but no matter how I approached the milling, it tore out. So I rejected it and used a different wood and these boards leaned against the pile causing me to ponder their future going forward. Can’t throw even the failures away, because they still could redeem themselves, somehow. (Yes I do have a selection of smallish off cuts, and I surprisingly use many, but I toss all my sawdust. Honest! )


So I took a six-foot length of this molding I had made and trimmed the ends to make them smooth. Then I drilled three 1/4 inch holes in each end. The first hole on each end is at seven inches in, because this equals the half width of the roller on the roller stand, and each additional hole moving toward the center of the rail was on six-inch centers. All were drilled 5/8ths on an inch in from the side of the 1×2 that has the rabbet. Then the holes were milled with an 82-degree countersink for use with a 1/4-20 flat head cap screw.

When mounted, the chamfered edge on this rail is at such an angle that just the knife-edge of the chamfer supports the wood and with finish and a wax, it offers very little resistance to what is being slid over it. So in one way, this cast off molding had redeemed itself. But wait, there’s more!


For the bracket, as configured, the Workforce roller stand has a 3/8’s inch difference between the roller and the roller bracket, so I used 1/2 Baltic Birch as a shim. It was close enough width wise, and from the scrap bin. I used the molding for the bracket as well, so since the width of the molding is 1-1/2 inches, and the place on the roller stand where the bracket is clamped is also, this shim is square.


The shim is then glued and doweled to a length of molding cut to 4-5/8ths inches long. This will be the clamp end. On the other end I glued and doweled a 1-1/2 inch square piece of the molding, but I staggered it off center a little so that the chamfer o n the square block meets the end grain of the 4-5/8ths piece, this way the chamfer sits a little proud. The benefit to this is that the inside square formed by the rabbet on the opposite side rests against the roller, and this offers support. Funny how this failed molding worked out this way…

I then drilled the bracket on centerline, and again 5/8ths of an inch up from the rabbet side, with a #7 drill bit and tapped the bracket with 1/4-20 machine threads. So the brackets just bolt on, from the rail through to the wood bracket and I tighten to when it reaches a friction fit that still allows rotation of the brackets without needing tools.


The finish is Watco Teak Oil and Wax. That is a moisture resistant finish, which is common on boats and great for the shop. The rail clamps onto a pair of roller stands with a pair of Irwin quick grip ratchet clamps, but any clamp that can offer better pressure than a spring clamp would do. It is easy to adjust, just as you would the roller stands normally, but now you are adjusting an entire plane with two points.

The roller stand ski sure has added a lot of safety and production to the left side of the blade for me, and I even found use for some scraps that didn’t work out. Best thing is that it stows in almost no space at all. The next best thing is, that since the roller stands adjust, I can always set it higher to compensate for the thickness of my table saw sled when crosscutting long boards. Hopefully something like this can help others with a similar conundrum. It is nice to have this kind of help when you work alone.

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© Copyright 2009 by Rob Hanson for All Rights Reserved.

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