Any true woodworker will tell you that proper table saw alignment is crucial.
Crucial to good cuts. And crucial to safety.
For this reason, realignment could certainly be considered the most important routine maintenance in any woodworking shop. It is not something that the pros complain about.
That’s because the pros know that alignment is an essential part of how safely and effectively they can do their work. Great cuts and safety go hand in hand. And table saw alignment has a direct effect on both.
Knowing this, a properly aligned saw helps instills confidence in its user.
What many carpenters call a “tune-up”, aligning your saw should be an all encompassing process the majority of the time. That is, you want to check to make sure everything from the blade itself to your favorite miter gauges and everything in between is square, flush, and aligned perfectly.
You may not need to adjust all the pieces of the puzzle every time, but you should at least take a look.
You will need a few things:
Luckily, these are all things any woodworker should have anyway. Alignment requires little more than a precision triangle, an above average square tool, a straightedge, a solid point of measure (no tape), a few precision feeler gauges, and the appropriate wrenches for your saw.
We’re going to start at the beginning. So install your straightest blade and disconnect your table saw’s power supply completely.
Of course there is no other place to start.
What else is a table saw but a blade and table anyway?
If your blade isn’t aligned, your cuts are going to be bad and your body parts are going to be in danger. So its absolutely essential that your vertical, or 0°, stop holds up to the highest standards. Similarly, any bevel stops on your saw need to be correct as well.
The easiest way to check that the blade is at a true right angle to the table surface:
Use a precision triangle and a 1/1000” feeler gauge. Simply hold the triangle vertically and perpendicular to the blade with the 90° corner butting up against the blade. Use a feeler gauge to make sure there is no space from top to bottom..
Similarly, you can use one of the 45° corners to measure the accuracy of the bevel stops. You will want to use the same stringent standard of less than a thousandth of an inch gap.
If your stops need adjusting, its best to consult your manual on how to do it. This can often be one of the trickier aspects of a saw to adjust, but is so vital. It generally consists of bolt tightening or screw adjusting. The potential difficulty lies in the screw or bolt location.
Luckily, high quality brands really focus on stop stability. This means that these stops will hold true for a long time in many cases.
Some contractor and cabinet saws can go years before they need adjustment. However, this does not mean that you should wait years to check.
Hopefully, your stops don’t give you too much trouble.
Once you have your blade back on the vertical, it’s time to have a look at your saw’s anti-kickback features.
Whether you are using a splitter or a riving knife with your table saw, it is crucial that it lines up flush with the blade.
If these anti-kickback features are even slightly off set, they can have the exact opposite of their intended effect. These features are designed to keep stock from pinching the back side of the blade. If they are not properly aligned, they could prevent the stock from moving in the direction of the cut.
Luckily, where the feature is mounted should be attached to the blade mount and do good job of staying flush with it. If it doesn’t, check your manual for a method of adjustment. But it may take a some delicate mallet work to get it back to where it needs to be.
Finally, you might as well make sure that any anti-kickback pawls on your setup are sharp and working properly. They should be ready to catch any retreating stock. You’ll most likely need to sharpen these more often than you will need to readjust your splitters or riving knifes themselves.
Generally, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about these features. But it is important to check. Also, high quality blade guards come equipped with great anti-kickback features.
The issues and potential dangers caused by misalignment here and the next area of focus are very similar.
Throat inserts are an important piece of your saw’s tabletop that can’t be neglected.
Hopefully, you’ve taken a look at Essential Table Saw Accessories guide and upgraded to a using zero clearance inserts.
But whether you have or haven’t yet, the main thing here is to be sure that the insert is exactly flush with the tabletop surface. Most inserts are extremely simple to adjust, with 4 corner screws that allow you to completely level things out.
However, if you simply cannot get your insert completely flush, make sure that all the edges are below the table surface.
What you are trying to avoid is your stock jumping as it passes over the lip of the insert. The slightest difference can cause a piece-ruining error.
This should probably be the most painless of all the adjustments you will make.
Next, we’ll move on to a more delicate one.
If you want to make accurate crosscuts, blade and miter slot parallelity is absolutely necessary.
Here, the slightest difference may really become magnified once you try to finish your piece.
There are a few different ways to measure their alignment, but it’s pretty easy with clamps and some scrap stock. Just be sure that one end of the scrap comes to a solid right angle cut.
Step 1: With the blade at 0° (vertical), pick a tooth. I select a tooth that leans toward the miter slot I’m going to test from.
Step 2: Move the tooth as far forward as possible. Set the stock in the miter gauge as if you were going to do a 0° crosscut. Instead, bring the scrap in light contact with the tooth, from the side.
Step 3: Now, rotate your selected tooth to the back of the blade. Slide the miter gauge in its slot so that it is even with the tooth. Compare the contact the stock now makes with the tooth.
**For detailed projects, you might want to measure the distance down to 1/1000” with feeler gauges.
And if you need extreme speed and precision—or simply want to take the easy route—there are also tools specifically made to check miter slot to blade alignment for you. Either way, if you notice an issue solving it is pretty straightforward.
Table saw surfaces are cast with the miter slots in them. So to adjust them, you adjust the table surface.
Generally, the tabletop is bolted with a screw in each corner. Definitely have a look at your manual. But most of the time, you will have to unscrew three of the four and use a mallet to slide the surface a few thousandths of an inch this way or that. Its definitely a crude science and can be very frustrating.
You will need to go back and forth between testing and lightly tapping the tabletop in the desired direction. And once you begin to screw in the bolts, you will want to check again to make sure that the surface didn’t slide in the process.
This can be one of the more time consuming processes as far as table saw alignment goes, but you shouldn’t have to do it too often. And it seems to get easier the more you do it.
Again, consult your manual to see what kind of instructions or tips they give you in making this process quicker and easier.
Now that your table tabletop is lined up just right, let’s make sure your outfeed setup doesn’t cause any problems.
Similar to throat inserts, the main thing you want to be sure of with your outfeed system, is that it does not present any barriers to your stock sliding freely past the saw.
The difference is that here you need make your outfeed flush, but also level with the tabletop across it’s length.
An outfeed table that angles up or down can cause issues at the point of cut even if the angle is slight.
Luckily, many saws come standard with an outfeed tables or systems that are easy to adjust. Generally speaking, you may need a mallet and perhaps a wrench. It’s a good idea to consult your saw’s manual or the instructions that came with the outfeed if it is an aftermarket one.
Also, many experienced woodworkers prefer to make their own outfeed tables by hand. If this is the case for you, make sure you do a good job lining things up as you plan and build your system to avoid hitches as you cut. Make your table saw the standard and build your tables based on it.
Now that your work surface is all set, the only thing left is to align your most used accessories.
Rip fences may need realignment a little more than some of your other saw components. And this makes sense, considering how frequently fences are moved and adjusted to accommodate any particular project.
It is vital that your rip fence is parallel with your blade. If it isn’t you are just begging for kickback. A misaligned fence can pinch stock up against the blade, which can then grab your material and throw it back at you.
You can use the miter slots as a reference since they are already aligned with the blade. To do this, simply place some tightly-fitting scraps at the front and back of the slot and slide the fence up against it. Then use feeler gauges to check for any gaps.
Alternately, you can bring your fence within a few inches of the blade and use a solid measuring tool. Pick one of your blade’s teeth. Rotate the blade so that the tooth is at the front. Measure the distance to the fence. Then, rotate that tooth to the back of the blade and measure again. Just like miter slot alignment, if you use the same tooth the distance will be the same.
It’s of note however, that there are two different schools of thought when it comes to proper rip fence alignment:
Some woodworkers line up the fence to be 100% parallel to the blade. Others believe that angling the back of the fence just slightly away from the blade is safer. Honestly, both are acceptable. Just make sure that if you go with the second way, the backend of your fence is kicked out only a few 1/1000th of an inch (experts often recommend no more than 1/64”, but I recommend a little less).
Generally, rip fence adjustment is pretty simple. It usually just takes the loosening of some bolts, a touch or two with a mallet, and a retightening of the same bolts. But of course, be sure to read any information from the manufacturer.
For most users, the rip fence is the number one way to guide stock through a cut. Yet, there are a few other accessories that also need realignment from time to time.
Miter Gauge and Other Accessories
The miter gauge is the second most used cut guide for the majority of table saw users.
As long as the miter slots are lined up to the blade, getting great cuts with it is pretty simple. The first thing that needs alignment on the gauges themselves are the different stops. You want to be sure that you can trust your most used stops at the very least.
It’s quite easy to check whether your miter stops are properly aligned with any square tool. And adjustment is usually just as easy. Just take a look at the instructions. Make sure you take a second look once you have adjusted it to make sure that the realignment stuck.
Once you are confident about your main stop, make sure that the dial on the miter gauge is reset to 0°. This will ensure that your angles are correct through the range of the accessory. Again consult your manual for adjustment instructions.
Similarly, you may have all sorts of jigs or other attachments that should be aligned based on how often they are used. Make sure that you are diligent about maintaining your tools and your projects will always come out better. This becomes more important the more advanced you and your projects get.
Once you have completed the entire alignment process, it’s great to do one more check. Work from the inside out again; start with the blade and move to its satellites.
Especially at first, there is nothing wrong with redundancy. As you grow as woodworker and learn your tools, you will develop an understanding of how often you need to align different aspects of your table saw.
As always, experience is the best way to learn. But remember, taking care of your tools is an essential aspect of woodworking.
Woodworkers who take the extra time to realign their workshop workhorses are rewarded with better cuts. This obviously leads to better projects.
Whether you are a novice or an expert, the alignment process is an essential operation to creating the best work you can. Take this simple process and ingrain it into your workflow. You’ll be glad you did.