Every woodworker has their favorite tool.
But it’s not always the biggest or the most expensive one.
Oftentimes, it is actually something simple that deals with safety or accuracy. Perhaps it is even something hand made.
You see, every power tool needs its helpers. And there are some things that woodworkers can’t live without. And for those working with a table saw, there are a few extra accessories that really help improve both safety and performance.
It’s important that all aspiring woodworkers have a grasp on the full scope of what it takes to work with a table saw. Knowing which table saw accessories are essential and how to use them is one of the most basics steps.
This post is designed to help novices understand all the different little pieces they need to be safe and effective with a table saw.
A Few No Brainers:
Too often carpenters suffer serious injuries for silly mistakes. Don’t be one of those.
Safety glasses and ear protection always come first in the workshop. There is no sense in risking your hearing or sight.
Of course you’ll need the standard angle and length measurement tools. But to really put out high quality work with a table saw, you need a few specific items. First, a better-than-average square tool is essential.
You will also want a precision triangle, a fixed point of measure (no tape), a definitive straightedge, and some precision feeler gauges. Some of these items are essential to the maintenance or alignment process.
If you plan on workmanship of any quality, you will need to hit your angles spot on.
Don’t skimp on the fundamentals. You want to make clean, safe cuts. So don’t poke holes in your foundation.
Once you have yourself together, we can progress to:
Table Saw Specific Necessities
This group of accessories is absolutely essential to table saw safety. Take the time to familiarize yourself with them now.
Then create, buy, or upgrade your own. Each of the following accessories has a crucial role to play. Several of them may come standard with your machine, but depending on the quality may need an upgrade.
However, the first one you can make from scrap wood.
A push stick is tool used for one purpose:
A push stick is a tool used to propel stock through the cut from a distance in order to keep your hands well clear of the blade. They are also great for shorter users who have a little more difficulty pushing stock past the blade securely.
I strongly suggest having a few different varieties. This way you can test out what you are most comfortable with and will also have the ability to switch out depending upon the cut you are making.
Riving Knife w/ Anti-Kickback Pawls
Riving knives are a recent improvement over splitters.
Both are features designed to prevent kickback, but the riving knife is much better. The idea of both is to present a wedge that keeps stock from coming back together on the back side of the blade. When this happens, stock can easily pinch the blade and get sent flying in your direction.
Riving knives stay close and aligned to the blade better than splitters. There are also only a few situations in which a riving knife needs to be removed, which is not as true of splitters.
While one or the other is an absolute necessity, I highly recommend saws with riving knives or the ability to add an aftermarket one. More and more they are becoming the standard, but not in every case and category.
A supplement to riving knives and splitters, anti-kickback pawls act as spurs that grip the wood. They attach to some as part of the riving knife and splitter. They act as spurs that dig in and prevent the wood from going backwards. It really increase safety when they can be used.
Because they are so vital, we would never recommend a saw without either a riving knife or splitter. Furthermore, there are many great blade guards that have these features built in. More on those later.
The next accessory, however, is almost always an easy aftermarket upgrade.
The throat plate, or insert, is a removable and adjustable piece of a table saw’s tabletop.
Most models come standard with a generic insert that leaves a lot of room around the blade. It is used for cuts at all angles.
A zero clearance insert is much closer to blade. This prevents debris falling down into the saw’s innards, a potential safety hazard. But you need different ones depending on the bevel angle of your cut.
In additional to the safety benefits, zero clearance inserts reduce your maintenance burden. They equate to less time cleaning sawdust from the inside of your machine.
Truthfully, you should either buy or create a set from scratch. You will require different insert pieces for beveling and other specialty cuts. Your saw brand may make a set. However, this is another accessory that is fairly easy to make from scratch.
The same cannot be said of the last of the Necessities.
The Right Blade(s)
Now, I’d bet that you knew you needed a blade to use a table saw.
But perhaps what you didn’t know is just how important having the right blade or blades is to the quality of work you can produce with your table saw.
It may be easier to buy a versatile blade and make it a workhorse, handling all cuts. They make some blades specifically for that.
But if you are serious about being a great woodworker, you need to diversify your blades. In order to make the most out of your table saw, you have to be willing to switch blades out as the need arises.
No used or bargain saw blades.
Not worth the risk. Not worth the frustration.
If you want to keep your health and make high quality cuts, don’t deal hunt. Hunt for great blades.
Now I don’t really want to give the impression that the following accessories are optional, but perhaps they aren’t quite as vital as the Necessities.
Yet, I have a general information post on all Table Saw Accessories and chose to list these again here.
Let’s round out our list of essentials with a few items that can bolster your safety just a little bit more. You can never be too safe in the workshop and it’s easiest to be safe when it is also convenient.
Convenient is not one of the words many expert woodworkers would use to describe blade guards.
In fact, many woodworkers refuse to use them. Often, they are removed from saws and never replaced. This, despite the fact that manufacturers always describe them as a requirement for safe operation.
Why is this?
Part of the reason is because stock blade guards are often terrible. They tend to get in the way and lower visibility. This makes many woodworkers feel uncomfortable and unsafe. We don’t blame them. In addition there are cuts that simply cannot be made with a blade guard installed.
We understand the issues woodworkers have, but we emphasize safety above everything else. Also, blade guards are steadily improving.
That’s why we recommend either getting a high quality saw that has a blade guard you are comfortable with or upgrading your existing guard to something much better. Many experienced woodworkers haven’t given a blade guard the time of day in years.
But today, there are better designs that many of these veterans of the industry have never seen.
And truthfully, I use a blade guard as often as possible. A few of mine have the best anti-kickback features in my workshop. I highly recommend them.
At the very least, give blade guards a chance.
Push Pads & Featherboards
Finally, we’ll wrap up with two of the push stick’s buddies.
Push pads and featherboards are two more inexpensive accessories that can really help to make table saw use safer. Another thing they both have in common with push sticks is that they are fairly easy to make yourself.
Push pads are are very similar to push sticks in that they are used to propel stock past the blade. The difference is in the design. Push pads are used when you want to make a groove in a piece as opposed to cutting all the way through it. They increase safety by eliminating the need to put your hand directly on top of stock and have bottoms that grip wood.
Featherboards, on the other hand, attach to the table surface and keep stock against the rip fence. They can also be clamped to the fence and used to hold a piece down as it passed through the blade.
Push pads and featherboards are important pieces of a woodworker’s toolkit. Both have an important role to play in terms of cut safety. It’s important to know how and when to use each of them.
But they are not necessarily vital for every operation. Either way, you need the working knowledge of their use.
The Last Essential
Now, there may be other accessories that could really benefit you, depending on what kind of projects you intend to work on.
Rip fence and miter gauge upgrades may be crucial to your work. Or perhaps you need a sled or a few jigs.
Regardless of which you have to have and which you can do without, the most important thing is that you have the knowledge of when and how to use all the different components and accessories of your saw.
In essence, the last essential is you!
Focus on building knowledge, gaining experience, and—most importantly—making safety a habit.
Being well equipped is one thing. Knowing what you are doing is a whole nother matter. But starting out with great tools and accessories is an excellent place to begin.
Make sure to check out our list of all table saw guides for more.