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Woodworking Without a Tablesaw

Woodworking existed long before tablesaws. And although today’s shops tend to center on a tablesaw, you can still do superb woodworking without one. Here’s how.

 Ripping


For cutting a board lengthwise, if the board has no true edge to begin with, turn to a tracksaw, or a circ saw with a straightedge guide. If the workpiece has a straight “factory” edge already, as sheet goods do, an edge guide may be a better choice [Photo A].

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An edge guide attached to a circular saw helps you rip pieces to identical width.

A well-tuned bandsaw with a fence can turn out straight rips as well, but the sawn edge typically needs cleanup [Photo B]. To cut several pieces of identical width, rip each one over-width, then joint one edge and plane their opposite edges as a group [Photo C].

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Ripped with a 5-tpi blade, this bandsawn edge needs jointing or planing before it is ready for glue-up.

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Stack several workpieces face to face to stabilize the group and run them on edge through a planer.

A circular saw or tracksaw?

Two tools discussed in this article work similarly: a circular saw guided by a shop-made straightedge, and a tracksaw. Which you choose may come down to budget. Find circular saws for as little as $40, then construct a straightedge guide from scrap sheet goods. Spend a $300 minimum for a tracksaw and you’ll get a saw with plunge action, a blade that tilts for bevels while still aligning with the guide’s cutline indicator, the accuracy of a saw mated to a guide, better dust collection, and in some instances, clamp-free operation.

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Pick the right blade for the job at hand

When choosing a saw, equip it with the right blade. For crosscuts, higher tooth counts (teeth per inch, or tpi) produce smoother sawn surfaces. Ripping requires fewer tpi to allow space between them to carry away the sawdust. Even the best blade dulls with use, so sharpen or replace it as soon as it shows signs of having lost its edge.

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Crosscutting


Cutting boards across the grain is best accomplished with a well-set-up mitersaw [Photo D]. For boards wider than the mitersaw’s capacity, reach for a handsaw, circular saw [Photo E], or tracksaw. 

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An auxiliary fence prevents chip-out on the rear edge of the workpiece. Adding a stopblock simplifies cutting identical-length boards.

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A rafter square provides an accurate guide for crosscutting with a circular saw. Adding an extension and a stop helps you cut pieces to identical length.

You can also use the bandsaw for boards narrow enough to fit between the blade and front edge of the table, and short enough to feed steadily [Photo F].

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Guide a workpiece with a miter gauge when crosscutting on the bandsaw. A stand to the side helps support long workpieces.

Bevels

To bevel or chamfer stock up to 34 " thick, choose a chamfer bit [Photo G] in either a handheld or table-mounted router. For other angles, or for wider bevels, turn to a guided circ saw or tracksaw. You can also tilt the bandsaw table, guide the workpiece with a fence [Photo H], and clean up the cut with a few passes from a hand plane.

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Find chamfer bits in standard angles of 15°, 22.5°, 30°, 45°, and 60°.

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For best workpiece stability, place the fence below the blade and bevel the edge opposite the fence. This scrapwood fence accommodates a wider workpiece than the factory-supplied fence.

 Dadoes, grooves, and rabbets


Use a straight bit in the router table or a handheld router to cut dadoes (a U-shape channel cut across the grain) [Photo I]; grooves (a U-shape channel cut with the grain) [Photo J]; and rabbets (an L-shape cut along the edge or end of a board) [Photo K].

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Guide a handheld router with a straight bit along a zero-clearance straightedge. The same technique cleans up rough edges for edge-to-edge glue joints.

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This jig adjusts to match the thickness of the piece being seated in the groove. Using a straight bit and guide bushing to guide the cut allows for routing shallow grooves and dadoes.

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A sharp rabbeting bit cuts a smooth wall and bottom. Swap out the bearing to cut rabbets of different widths.

Miters and beveled crosscuts

A mitersaw makes easy work of crosscutting a board at an angle across its face (a miter) or through its thickness (a bevel), although crosscut capacity decreases as the miter angle increases [Photo L]. Detents lock the blade at common angles, such as 21 12  °, 30°, and 45°.  Sliding mitersaws provide the most capacity, with 12" sliders maxing out around 13" at 90°, when cutting 112  "-thick stock. For wider boards or panels, tilt the shoe of a circ saw or tracksaw.

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At 90°, this 10" sliding mitersaw cuts 12  5⁄8". Turned to a 45° miter, the capacity falls to 9".

 Tapers

Cut tapers at the bandsaw [Photo M], and clean up the sawn face with a few strokes from a hand plane.

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Mark the taper on the workpiece, then cut just along the waste side of the line. Smooth the cut edge to the line using a jack plane.

 Sheet goods and panels

Size sheet goods and glued-up panels with a circ saw and straightedge, or a tracksaw. To create identical-size parts, cut them slightly oversize, then stack several, clamp them or apply double-faced tape between them, and cut all to final size at the same time [Photo N]. Create additional matched parts using a router and flush-trim bit [Photo O].

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Stack and clamp a template or properly sized piece on a rough-cut piece.A flush-trim router bit mills the oversize panel for a perfect match.

 Joinery 


The tablesaw cuts clean, accurate tenons, half-laps, box joints, and more. But these joints and others can be accomplished by other methods.

Tenons: Set up your bandsaw with a fence and stopblock [Photo P], use a straight bit in the router table [Photo Q], or cut them with a handsaw [Photo R].

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Measure from the fence to the opposite face of the blade to determine the thickness you’ll remove from the cheek. A stop sets the tenon length. Bandsaw or handsaw the shoulder.

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Adjust the fence to set the tenon length, measuring to the far side of the bit. Guide the workpiece with a miter gauge or scrap with a square corner. Raise the bit height in small increments to sneak up on the fit.

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The reinforced spine of a backsaw resists flexing, helping the blade track true. Practice cutting to a line on scrap to hone your skills.

Half-laps: A straight bit in the router table allows fine-tuning the joint as you work for a flush fit on both faces [Photo S].

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Set up the same as for cutting a tenon, sneaking up on the bit height until the faces of the dry-fit workpieces rest flush.

Box joints: A box-joint jig works just as well on a router table as on a tablesaw [Photo T]. Fingers must match the width of a router bit. 

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This self-guided jig clamps to the router table, so it works on tables that don’t have a miter-gauge slot.

Splines: Cut a groove the length of an edge at the router table [Photo U]. Strengthen and dress up miter joints by routing slots through them [Photos V, W], then gluing in splines.

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A slot cutter mills mating grooves that accept a spline to help align boards during glue-up.

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To reinforce mitered box corners, build a cradle from scrap plywood or MDF to fit your project. Ensure that the two backers rest square so the box won’t shift as you rout the slots.

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Register the jig against the router-table fence. A straight bit cuts the spline slots. Move the stop on the jig to reposition the box to rout additional slots at each corner.

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