Universal Table Saw Sled | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

As woodworkers are well aware, it can be challenging to achieve accuracy and safety when working on a table saw. This multi-functional sled will help with both of these critical tasks, and open up new machining and joinery options for you, too.

Universal Table Saw Sled

Universal Table Saw Sled



Photos by Brian Donais; Illustratin by Len Churchill
 
INFO:DIFFICULTY – 3/5, LENGTH/TIME – 3/5, COST – 3/5

With a career originally as a tool and die maker for 16 years, tight tolerances have always been a top priority for me, and using efficient machines to achieve these stan­dards was always paramount. This habit carried over when I started woodworking. Over a few years, the challenge to plan and create a universal table saw sled to accommodate tight tolerances and perform a variety of cuts in a safe manner was investigated. 
 
As a self-taught craftsman, reading was originally the only way to gain further knowledge in order to continuously develop skills. Access to online information has exponentially accelerated this capability. The universal table saw sled described in this article is a continuous improvement project based on using it in the shop.
 
There are a lot of metal components in the plan for this sled, though it could be adapted to use mainly wooden components. Wooden components might compromise the longevity of the sled, but those parts could be replaced down the road, if needed. If you build a sled to match mine, some previous metalworking experi­ence is recommended. 

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Safety first
Firstly, this universal table saw sled can perform a variety of cuts in a safe manner.
 
This project was accomplished through several prototype tri­als with attention to safety by using clamps to hold a workpiece in place. Sliding a workpiece while it’s clamped securely to the table is safer than holding a workpiece by hand. Usually the user relies on their hands to guide a wood piece past the blade, against the fence. This sled allows the piece to be clamped to a guided base so hands can be placed far away from the blade.
 
One key component that allows the table to travel effectively in the mitre slot is the steel runner that allows for a 0.008 sliding fit. The runner is regularly waxed for a smooth, consistent motion. 
After many trials using different types of materials, such as plas­tics, plywood and phenolic, Baltic birch plywood proved to be the most effective for the table. The skill of mastering a table saw con­fidently and safely takes many years, but with this sled a novice can achieve great results much faster.

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Some Purchased, Some Made – The metal components in this build offer challenges to some woodworkers, but they also offer strength and versatility in the long term. Some of the components are bought, while others are made.
 
Versatility second
Secondly, the versatility of this sled is endless. There is no need to use the fence on the table saw, eliminating the need to place fingers next to the blade and risking possible kickback because the piece gets caught between the fence and blade. Also, possible burning on the edge of a board when cutting woods is eliminated. Instead, a smooth finish is produced when using a sharp blade. 

This sled will give the woodworker the ability to cut the following: 
 
  • Cross-cut boards to length, and do it repeatably with extreme accuracy;
  • Rip parallel boards repeatably up to about 6' long with an edge ready for lamination;
  • Cut tenon lengths repeatably;
  • Cut tapers on workpieces up to 5' long;
  • Cut dadoes, rabbets and grooves;
  • Cut finger joints;
  • Square up panels;
  • Cut bevels or grooves on the edge of panels; and
  • Cut thin slices safely for edging.
The build – sled board
Cut 3/4" Baltic birch plywood into an L-shape. Locate the run­ner using the dimension from the table saw blade to the mitre slot, leaving at least 1/16" of extra material for trimming once the sled is fully complete. Use the side opposite to the side that your dado blades are added, so when cutting dadoes the dado stack doesn’t cut into your sled base. 
 
Locate the center of the runner, then drill and countersink holes about 18" apart for a ¼-20 flat head bolt . Transfer the holes to the 3/8" × 3/4" flat steel runner in the centre of its width. Drill and tap ¼-20 threads to fasten the runner to the table. Mount the runner to the underside of the L-shaped plywood sled base. Cut the excess 1/16" off of the sled edge on the table saw to make an accurate starting point to build the rest of the sled from.
 
Cut the 3/8" deep × 3/4" wide dadoes that will house the double T-slot tracks. One option for machining these dadoes is to use a straightedge clamped to the plywood base to guide a router that’s equipped with a straight router bit. Next, using a slotting router bit, cut the undercut to allow the double T-slot tracks to slide into place. This will allow for the double T-slot track to slide in place. Pre-drill, then add screws to secure it in place to keep them from sliding. 
 
Cut a 1/2" wide × 3/32" deep dado to allow for the installation of a flush adhesive bench tape perpendicular to the cutting edge. 
 
The rip fence
Cut 1-1/2" × 1-1/2" aluminum tubing 5' long. Make the two rip fence clamp assemblies from aluminum angle and plates. These assemblies will run in the double T-slot tracks and secure the rip fence in position in two places. Which two double T-slot tracks the user chooses depends on the angle of the rip fence. This versatility is one of the benefits of this sled.
 
Mount T-track to the side of the rip fence with screws to allow the rip fence clamp assemblies to slide along the T-track for angle adjustment. Attach another T-track to the top of the rip fence using screws. This will allow the rip fence face clamps to be used for face-clamping purposes.

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Set Up for Ripping – A combination square will assist with setting up the rip fence so it’s parallel to the cut line.
 
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Time to Rip – Here, the rip fence is in use, as are the rip fence face clamps.
Mitre fence
Cut 1-1/2" × 1-1/2" aluminum tubing to 36" long. Add a tape T-slot track on top of the fence so the flip-stop is able to slide along the mitre fence for repeatable length adjustment. Add the two fine adjustment brackets, along with the screws and nuts, at each end to square up the mitre fence.
 
The mitre fence is able to swivel for angle cuts by adding a T-track to the rear face of the mitre fence. The end of the mitre fence closest to the user gets attached to the long double T-slot track, while the mitre swivel clamp can secure the other end of the mitre fence to either the extra short or medium length double T-track. 

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Pivot Point – The mitre fence pivots on the long double T-track. A cutout was made in the mitre fence so the user can easily access the nut to tighten this end of the fence.
 
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90° Cuts – The far end of the mitre fence can be fine-tuned to create a square cut. Fine adjustments bolts at both ends of the mitre fence keep the fence square.

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Any Angle – The mitre swivel clamp can be repositioned in the mitre fence T-track so virtually any angle can be achieved.
 
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Remove the Rip Fence – It’s even possible to rip without the rip fence. By using a few shop-made, hold-down devices you can treat your sled like a jointer and cut square, glue-ready edges.
 
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Measure, Then Clamp – Measure the angle of the mitre fence against the cut edge of the sled, then clamp it in place.
Setting it up
When setting up the rip fence, use the recessed tape or a combi­nation square. If you install the front end of the tape equidistant from the cutting edge you can reference off the rip fence clamp assembly calibration tabs for quick reference. If you make the holes to attach the calibration tabs to the rip fence clamp assembly slightly oversized you can also adjust the tabs to make up for any imperfections. The rip fence will give you highly accurate and repeatable cuts. For the mitre fence setup, use a protractor to set any angles. 

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Sheet Stock – Large enough to cut most sheet good parts to size, this sled will help out with more than just solid wood.
 
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Clamp It Down – Shop-made hold-down clamps are very useful to have around. Make at least three, and you’ll be happy you did.
 
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The Sky is the Limit – Angled surface attachments come in handy for different joinery applications. You could even clamp or screw stops to the face of this attachment to hold workpieces.
 
Possible accessories 
Hold-down devices are easy to make and come in very handy. Make three right away, and you’ll never regret it. 
 
You could make a plywood 90° surface to cut larger panels if you thought you might benefit from this capability. Jig hardware will allow you to quickly attach it to the existing T-tracks, giving you a right-angled surface to attach stops to or just clamp a workpiece to. 
 
A finger joint attachment is also easy to make and will give you the option of creating this strong joint in the future.
 
Generating your own universal sled could provide years of accu­rate, safe and confident use of your table saw to help you produce high-quality wood projects.

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Brian Donais
 
Brian builds fine furniture and provides woodworking classes using hand tools in the London, Ontario, area. You can see some of his work on Instagram @donaisbrian.


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