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Techniques for a sliding table saw

for those expert in use of a cabinet saw

The big advantage of using a European style sliding table saw, rather than a traditional table saw, is the operator position. With the regular table saw, the operator stands in line with the blade, where bad things happen. It the workpiece kicks back, directly in the line of fire. If the blade binds, extra push will lead to a far greater chance of hands sliding into the blade. If a scrap piece touches the moving blade and gets "fired," the operator is a perfect target.

The operator position with a European sliding table saw is beside the blade, not in line with the blade. Most often the workpiece is clamped to the table (or at least securely placed on the table) and the entire table is moved past the blade. Often the operator is not just inches, but even feet away from the blade.

With a regular tablesaw, the "ideal" position for the work is against the rip fence. With sliding table saws the ideal position for the work is on the sliding table. The rip fence is, by far, the second choice - some argue it should never be used. Therefore the biggest transition for someone changing from a traditional saw to a sliding table saw is not just standing in a different place, but thinking of how to align the work on the sliding table, rather than against the rip fence.

Aligning the slider

The slider itself moves past the blade on precision tracks. It is extremely rare that this goes out of alignment - I have never had to adjust mine in the 10 years I have owned it. I know of about 10 MiniMax sliders locally, and none of those have needed to be adjusted. Therefore, I would start with the assumption that the slider itself is well adjusted. If it is not, I won't be able to help you fix it in this short web page. (Note that the slider is normally set 0.02 inches above the cast iron table, so the work piece doesn't drag on the table - this is normal.)

Five Side Cut

The primary adjustment is the cross-cut fence on the outrigger. Start with a fairly large scrap of sheet goods (MDF is fine). Trim one edge using the slider. Rotate the piece so the freshly cut edge is against the cross-cut fence, and cut a small amount off the second side. If the fence is perfectly aligned, you now have a perfect right angle and two straight sides. Rotate again, and cut the third side. Rotate again and cut the fourth side. You should now have a perfect rectangle. Rotate again and make a fifth cut, taking about 1/2 inch off the first side. Label the leading end of the scrap A and the trailing end B. Now break the scrap in half and place the A and B ends next to each other. If the thickness at A and B are identical, you are done (your finger can feel about .0001 inch difference). If it is not perfect, the outboard connection of the fence to the outrigger has an adjustment - either set screws against the post (on the Smart machines) or a bronze nut with an eccentric hole that can be rotated after loosening a set screw (on the Elite machines).

Do you always need the five side cut? No. When you have cut a rectangle, quickly measure the leading and trailing width. Measuring isn't as precise as the five side cut, but it is a quick check... you may find you need alignment (After the initial alignment when I got my machine, I have only had to do it once in over 10 years), or you may find there is some accumulated sawdust along the fence.

Cross-cut fence scale

If your scale is inaccurate, there is a metal stop held in place with set screws on the bottom of the fence. That stop determines the horizontal alignment of the fence, which determines the scale. Using your standard blade (this adjustment depends on blade thickness), adjust the stop until the scale is right. When I first got my machine, I routinely banged the fence against the stop, and it gradually moved ... I now am much more gentle in aligning the fence. I also find it helpful to put a tiny pencil mark on the fence, aligned with the edge of the slider, so I can see if it has moved.

Hold down clamps

Most units come with a "shoe" for rough lumber, and one hold-down clamp. Many people buy a second hold-down clamp, as did I. As you become familiar with your machine, you will feel comfortable holding the work in place on the slider without any clamps. I have never used the shoe (other than a brief try to decide that I didn't want to use the shoe). I occasionally use one clamp. I can't remember the last time I used two clamps.

Ripping hardwood

One of my favorite challenges is ripping a piece of rough cut hardwood. With most table saws, some ugly tricks are required to get the first straight edge. With the sliding tablesaw, this is trivial.


Note this piece of rough cut lumber that I have placed on my sliding table. About the middle of the left side of the board, there is a knot and accompanying splits, marked with white chalk. There is sapwood on the right, but an estimated 6 inches of good wood between the sapwood and the flaw.

Note that at the near end there is a small but pesky knot (through the board, and loose) circled in chalk. But I have about 6 inches of good wood to the left of the knot. For the sake of pictures, I snapped a red chalk line where I planned to cut (hard to see in this picture), but in practice, I have done this enough that I don't need to snap the line.

The leading end of the board is next to the blade, so is easy to align. I can use the clamp to hold it in place (see the picture above), but after doing this a lot, I just set the stop on the cross cut fence to help me keep that end of the board aligned.

The trailing end of the board was much harder to align until I built a simple jig. For the picture I used a square to draw a vertical line from the cut line on the top of the board to my "jig," but in practice, I just roughly align it, and make a second pass if I need to remove more.


What is this "most-used" jig in my shop? It is a scrap of wood with a line precisely the distance between the edge of the sliding table and the left side of the blade (7/8 inch, with the 1/8 inch thick blade that I use). Why is it pointed at the left end? Because the piece of scrap that I grabbed a few years ago had a pointy end. The left end of the bottom is also cut back slightly so it fits over other rails on the saw.

I make the cut, and now I have a board with one very straight edge and the flaws on the right removed. With a good saw blade that side is ready to glue up with little if any other processing.

How do I cut the second side? If I want a good but not necessarily perfect cut, I use the rip fence. I know that the operator (me) can change the pressure on the fence, and sawdust can collect along the fence, and... well, the rip fence is good but not perfect. So if I want a really perfect second side, I should use the slider, which is much more precise (and slightly safer since I don't have to reach over the blade).


Parallel Fence

I cannot precisely align a board 6-8 feet long with a 6 inch end against the cross-cut fence, so how do I get a fence on the slider? I like cheap solutions, so I grab a scrap of plywood (that I have cut, so I know the corners are square), throw it on the slider, and since the cross-cut fence is "perfect" the square corner on the plywood gives me a fence on the slider (3/4 inch high), parallel to the travel of the slider.

In this example, this scrap plywood is 19 inches wide, and the cut I want (on the glued up pecan panel - no longer taking pictures of that long piece of walnut) is 8 inches wide, so I set the stop on the cross cut fence to 19+8 = 27 inches. In addition to the stop on the fence, you can hold the plywood in place with either the eccentric hold-down clamp or a "squeeze" clamp, or both. Align the good edge of the hardwood along the plywood "fence" and cut away, standing beside the blade, not in line with the blade. I am comfortable cutting pieces as narrow as a couple inches, since my fingers are over the sliding table, and therefore must be clear of the blade. And best of all, when I am done, the plywood just goes back into inventory, not stored as a fancy jig.

If you prefer a pretty commercial version, Brian Lamb of Lamb Tool Works has built an after-market parallel fence that works on most MiniMax saws. Users have said they work well. You probably want two or more, at $400 each.

Note the steel rod sticking out of the side of the slider in the first picture. It easily adjusts to any position along the slider. Visitors call it a handle. That can't be right, since I never use it with my hand. I call it a buttle, since I use it with my leg or my butt. Huh? Rather than playing around with a lot of clamps, I often just hold the board firmly on the sliding table with both hands. If my hands are over the table, I know I will be clear of the blade. But with two hands holding the board, who pushes the table? That is where my butt comes in. I walk the 6 foot (or however long) board past the blade, with my hands holding the board, and my leg or butt pushing the buttle.

Crosscuts and Sheet Goods

Many people with a cabinet saw use a sled for precision cross-cuts. Think of the slider with the outrigger as the biggest, most precise sled you can imagine. And it gets better from there. For cutting small pieces - even very very small pieces, see this local variant of the internationally known Fritz and Franz rip jig. Both the ¾ inch cube and the 1/16 inch thick piece with bevel ends were cut on this saw with that jig.

One of the important uses of a slider is making repeated cuts in sheet goods, like shelves. Unfortunately this example (when I had time and the camera in the shop) called for almost square shelves, which led to one odd adaptation as you will see below, but for now think of the two stops on the cross-cut fence as "length" and "width" (maybe I will replace the pictures someday).

This starts with a leftover piece of walnut plywood, from which I will cut three shelves. Since I am using an off-cut, beware - the grain goes across my stock, so the length of the shelf is cross-wise on this piece.

The stops are set at the length and width of the shelves. (You will see how I adapted the "length" stop below.) When starting, assume the sides of the stock aren't perfect. Use the long cross-cut fence to find the average of one side, and cut a small amount from the end to create a smooth reference edge.

Rotate the stock counterclockwise, so the fresh cut edge is against the fence. The second cut will be to give us a good side at a right angle to the first cut. In theory the cut can be made immediately, but with a long cut and a relatively short edge against the fence, working from a scrap piece rather than a full sheet of stock, I sometimes take a scrap of plywood and clamp it to the outrigger, to give me extra support for the long cut. This is almost like a rip fence on the slider.

If you are VERY observant you will notice the grain going the long way in this picture. I forgot to take a picture of this step, so went back and took a picture of a different piece of plywood. I didn't notice, until I was putting this web page together weeks later, that the grain was in the wrong direction.

Two sides are complete, and freshly cut, so we are ready to do the third cut. Place the stock against the fence using the "width" stop and cut. We now have three sides freshly cut and accurate.

Note that the scoring blade is being used, since half of the cuts are "cross grain" on sheet goods. Note that the blade is small and barely above the table, but it could still do a nasty cut. Therefore I have used red fingernail polish around the opening to remind me to watch for the scoring blade. Even when the blade is retracted, it is not far below the surface, and in many saws is running all the time the main blade is running, even if it is not being used.

We are now ready to cut the length. This is the unusual case where the shelf is close to square - the length is not a lot more than the width, so the stops on the cross-cut fence cannot be close enough together. I set the "length" stop wider than the actual length by the width of a small hardwood piece, so I could leave the stops set up - so I wouldn't have to move the "length" stop to set the "width," and vice versa (This is unusual - the first time in 10 years I remember having to use the spacer block because of pieces not square but close to square!) Ignore the unused "width" stop - the work piece simply slides under it - the slope on the stop automatically lifts it.

Having trimmed the length, the fourth side, the first shelf is now complete.

The remaining stock has one straight side and one freshly cut end, so go back two pictures, and repeat the two cuts above.

In this picture you have just taken the second shelf off the stock (3 sides complete) and need to cut to length (just as the picture above)

The third shelf is cut the same way - use the stock piece and cut the width, ...

... then trim the length. Your settings were done once, and were reused, so all the pieces are exactly the same. The setup time is minimal (except for the silly spacer because of near square shelves).

After you have done it a couple times, it really flies - I don't remember the exact stats but shortly after getting the saw, I was building a "library" and cut three sheets of plywood into about 25 shelves in around 10-15 minutes, working alone (no help loading sheet goods or stacking finished pieces).

Tapered legs

This is the basic setup for tapering legs - no fancy jig required other than my usual scrap of plywood. I use the miter fence, often towards the right or trailing end of the slider. For short stubby legs like today's project, the angle is about 3 degrees; for more conventional legs the angle is often about 1½ degrees, but don't worry about the angle - you will set the angle as required.

The scrap of plywood is placed on the slider against the miter fence. I use the stop block to help keep it in position. I have two hold-down clamps, but the one on the plywood is optional.

The leg to be tapered goes against the plywood, and is held in place by the hold-down clamp at the top of the leg. Although the clamp looks close to the blade, it is over the sliding table. Note that the blade cannot reach the clamp - at least on my machine and others I have seen.

Mark the bottom of the leg where you would like it cut. My silly measuring jig, described above, helps align the leg and the plywood. This is where the plywood is finally put in it's place - up to this time, it was not aligned for the project.

How far up the leg should the taper go? I usually put a chalk line at the beginning of the taper, a couple inches below the bottom of the apron. Looking from the back, with the blade stopped, you can see where the blade will start the taper. This is where you adjust the angle of the miter fence. There may be a slight change in where the blade will exit the bottom of the leg as you change the angle to get the entry point, so be ready to go back and forth a couple times to get both settings perfect.

As you start the cut, the blade doesn't touch the top of the leg until part way down. Then it gradually enters the leg about where you placed the mark.

One cut done. The triangular waste piece is likely to accumulate anywhere, not as set up for this picture.

Since it is common to taper the two inside sides of the leg (the sides that have the mortise for the aprons), be sure to first cut the side that can be turned upwards for the second cut, so you have a smooth square base on the bottom of the leg for the second cut.

Done. Four legs tapered on two sides in roughly a minute. Set up time would have been about a minute if I hadn't stopped to take the pictures.

How NOT to use the sliding table saw

This is a reenactment - no blood was shed in the creation of this web page. (And the blood from the previous day has been cleaned up.) I was trimming the rough edge off some 1/4 inch plywood - normally taking about 1/8 inch off (so I was only creating dust). One time I cut a little more, creating a scrap (that would likely have been sucked into the blade shroud, and may even, in quantity, eventually plug the dust port. Here is where the stupid begins.

Note the scoring blade on the right - not currently in use, below the surface of the table. On my saw (and many of the MiniMax saws) the scoring blade runs all the time the main blade runs - driven by a belt off the main blade. But it is below the surface of the table, so who cares? I had realized there was a potential problem, so some of my wife's red finger nail polish was on the opening as a reminder. And I had not lowered the scoring blade very far below the table - too close to the surface to be safe.

This is a portrait of my index finger, all dressed up in a bandage covered by neoprene (a glove finger). It shows where I intended to grab the scrap, so it wouldn't get into the dust shroud. Only approximately since I obviously missed and the scoring blade put a groove (.0126 inches wide) just behind the fingernail. No stitches since one side of the groove was along the fingernail, and a bandage could pull the skin back in position. No worry about fixing nerves, since that same finger had been split lengthwise in a lab explosion in 1960, and the nerves were not normal there anyway. But next time, I will let the little scrap go down by the blade.

Only click here if you want to see the finger without the bandage (a week or two later). Today it is fully functional with no sign of damage.

I need your help. I am a happy MiniMax user, but not a MiniMax employee, and have not used all the different equipment. I do not have special access to official information. If you have additions or corrections to this information on MiniMax products, please share it. Please email your MiniMax info to me.

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