Expert woodworkers and DIYers alike love the table saw for its durability and reliability.
One thing the pros know that the novices may not however, is just how important a tight maintenance schedule is to keeping any table saw running well for a long time. The best woodworkers treasure their tools. When you take care of them, they reward you.
Sticking to a thorough, consistent maintenance schedule has multiple benefits:
First and foremost, maintenance is critical to safety. If you don’t take care of something like a table saw, of course it is going to become more dangerous to use. But keeping your saw well-tuned also increases the longevity of its different parts. This directly results in money saved over time.
Continue reading to learn how to setup a maintenance schedule that will help keep you safe and save you money.
Up front, I’m going to make one thing clear. Base your maintenance schedule on:
Hours Worked, Not Human Time
That is to say, schedule maintenance based on hours of use.
Yes, this will involve some sort of record keeping on your part. Don’t try to log the hours in your head. It’s much simpler to jot it down somewhere. Plus, there’s no telling when your workshop schedule may get disrupted entirely, leaving you clueless when you find the time again.
Plus, different tasks will need different schedules.
For example, you might want to double check your saw’s alignment every time you approach it. This is one of the reasons our Table Saw Alignment Guide stands on its own. But be sure that you do not neglect realignment in your maintenance timetable.
Speaking of, how should one go about determining how many hours before they should do any particular task?
This is a somewhat difficult question, and the answer depends on a few different factors.
For starters, some saws simply need more care than others. Some models are built with longevity in mind, others are not. Generally speaking, higher quality saws are built to last for years but you can often keep a less expensive saw going just as long with enough TLC.
Then, the kind of work you are doing should also factor into your maintenance schedule. There are also some table saw accessories that help manage wear and tear on the saw as well. If you are a beginner or are using an unfamiliar saw, be sure to err on the side of caution.
Remember, it is always better to over care for your saw than to under care for it.
On that note, let’s start with one of the most common tasks first.
Whole Saw Alignment
We’ve said this before but:
Depending on the quality of table saw you buy and average time at the saw, you may want to recheck the alignment every time you go to work.
This is because total saw alignment is imperative to good workmanship as well as safety. Misalignment leads to bad cuts, burnt wood, kickback, and other dangers. This is why it’s so vital that not only the blade, but any accessory you plan to use on a particular project, is aligned properly.
First, install your straightest blade and make sure the saw’s 0° (vertical) and bevel (-45° and 45°) stops are accurate. While you’re there, make sure the throat insert is flush to the table surface and the splitter or riving knife is lined up with the blade..
Next, you want to check that the miter slots (and tabletop) line up parallel to the blade. From there, move on to your outfeed setup, ensuring that the tabletop and outfeed support are flush.
Lastly, you want to align anything that stabilizes cuts. Rip fences need to be parallel with the blade. Miter gauge stops have to be checked. And any other accessory you use that can have an effect on the angle at which your material goes through the blade needs to lined up as well.
For details on how to perform all of these alignment tasks, please take a look at my Table Saw Alignment Guide. There you will find detailed alignment instructions and tips to help you make sure your cuts are crisp and safe.
More likely than not, some components of your table saw may need realignment more often than others.
This is completely natural. As you get more familiar with your equipment, you will begin to understand the maintenance rhythms each tool requires. If you have a particularly weak link, it may be a good idea to upgrade that specific accessory.
But there is one thing that still needs to be made clear:
Even if you only adjust one piece of the puzzle, be sure that your final check comes after the final adjustment.
When you move a cog in the middle, the surrounding gears move as well. Parts of your table saw act the same way. Sometimes aligning one part, misaligns another. You don’t necessarily need to be wary of this if you just get in the habit of checking everything each time and wrapping up with another quick look after all the adjustments are made.
It may not be that everything is out of whack all the time, but that one piece of the puzzle needs realignment more than the rest. Again, if this is case for you, you can look to upgrade that particular component. Just don’t neglect it.
Clean and Lube the Guts
Speaking of neglect, let’s get to area the average DIYer fails at most miserably when it comes to maintenance.
Funny thing is, the failure comes from simply not doing it. Most are likely just intimidated and expect that they will need a lot of technical knowledge. Fortunately, that is not the case.
The main tasks that need to be accomplished are cleaning of operating mechanics, lubricating of same, aligning motor and arbor pulleys, and ensuring proper belt tension.
The whole thing is actually a whole lot simpler than it sounds.
The first thing you must do is unplug the saw completely. The next is to gain access to the motor and gears. How you do so will depend on the type of saw you have. Your best bet is always to consult your manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Once you have access, you want to start cleaning. The goal is to remove as much saw dust and other debris as possible. Stiff bristle brushes and a shop vac are the standard tools. Don’t just target moving parts, but all surfaces.
A high quality exhaust collection system can reduce the hours needed between cleaning significantly. But it’s something you never want to totally neglect.
Now that any sawdust and debris has been removed, identify and lubricate all the trunnions and gears. You need a silicone free, dry lubricant. Silicon free to keep from damaging your wood. Dry because wet lubricants can easily collect debris. The resulting ‘gum’ is terrible for your saw’s moving parts.
Lastly, you want to check the alignment and tension of the motor and arbor pulleys. This is another place to check your manual. But it’s usually pretty simple. All you need is a straightedge and possibly a wrench. Also, inspect the belts themselves for wear and tear. Replace as need be.
Table Top and Outfeed Polishing
The state of your table saw’s surface can have a huge effect on the efficiency and ease with which you are able to use it.
I always make sure mine is well polished and smooth. This way, stock slides over it freely.
This is what you want.
Never put food or drinks on the tabletop. Residue can make the surface sticky in places and therefore dangerous to use. It can also stain and ruin your projects. Plus condensation from cold drinks can easily rust the cast iron surface.
Depending on your climate, rust may be a big challenge. In this case, you will want to wax the top frequently. This is the only real exception to the hours of use rule. When you do have some rust build up, it is an indication that you need to do this more often.
To remove rust, a piece of fine sand paper and wood block is all you need. Remove the residue when you are done. This video does a good job explaining how to do that.
If you have a major scratch or a large amount of rust, it will take a little more elbow grease. But it is vital that your table saw surface is as smooth and ‘slick’ as possible. It is unsafe to have areas where stock can get hung up.
Luckily, there are a few powerful ways you can help to keep your table saw rust free and smooth. There are table saw specific sealers such as the one mentioned in the video. But coating the surface with paste wax is a popular way among woodworkers as well. Finally, silicone free, dry lubricants are easy to apply right before a cut when you don’t want to take the time to apply wax. I use all three.
Be sure that you treat your rip fence, rails, and outfeed the same way. Any place wood may contract should be as smooth as possible.
Your table saw surface is the last area of your table saw that needs regular care. The only maintenance task left is to replace parts that need it.
Prolong the life of your parts with a rigorous preventative maintenance schedule.
But some saw components will eventually go bad. That is one reason you should perform checks as frequently as possible. This way, you can catch issues before they cause more harm than necessary.
If you hear a funny noise or feel a vibration, turn the saw off immediately. You may be able to find help with the issue in my Table Saw Troubleshooting Guide.
But I have a reliable power tool mechanic that I trust. And you should too!
Anyone that operates a table saw should be able to replace a belt. But much more and the newbies run for the hills!
If you are knowledgeable enough, you may be able to diagnose even more difficult problems and take care of it yourself. Owner’s manuals are great resources. My troubleshooting guide also has information about how to find the answers to your questions on forums for those brave enough to learn some mechanical things.
Be careful not to lump saw blades in with the other saw components. Don’t throw out your blades. You can buy a sharpener or have them sharpened. If you take care of them, they can give you several years of good use.
Remember, the key is to be mindful of your saw and check its parts often for wear and tear.
As you come to know your particular saw or saws, make sure that you develop an appropriate maintenance schedule.
For the most part, base your schedule on hours of use. Align the saw, clean and lube the operating mechanics, keep work surfaces in proper condition, and continually check parts for wear and tear.
The better you take care of your saw, the longer it will last you.
But a proper maintenance schedule does more than just increase longevity. It is a vital piece of the table saw safety puzzle. It also increase the quality of your work in more ways than one.
Protect your investment, your fingers, and your projects. Implement your own maintenance schedule and don’t skimp on the details.
Make sure to check out our list of all table saw guides for more.