A little fine tuning and some shop-built accessories are all you need for a sweet-running machine. Try these tips for smooth and safe cuts.

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1 Get blade height right

Everyone has a different idea on how far saw-blade teeth should protrude above the stock. As a general rule, raise the blade 12 " above the surface of softwood stock to reduce heat buildup. For hardwoods, raise it to 34 " above the surface. You want the blade to eject waste from the gullets between the teeth. That means that the bottom of the blade's gullets should at least be flush with the surface of the stock

2 True the blade and table

For straight, burn-free cuts, the saw blade must run parallel to the miter-gauge slots and the fence. To align the blade, mark one blade tooth and measure, at the front of the throat opening, from one miter gauge slot to it using a combination square, as shown at left. Then rotate the blade and measure to the same tooth at the back of the throat opening. If the distances vary, reposition either the trunnions or the saw table. Check your owner's manual to see which method applies. Also check and adjust the blade's 45° and 90° bevel stops. Procedures for this vary widely, so check your owner's manual.

3 Finesse the fence

To set the fence parallel to the blade, start by cutting two 2"-long blocks to fit snugly in one miter gauge slot. Position the fence against them, and use a thin shim to check for an equal gap at both ends, as shown at left. Setting the fence exactly parallel yields the best results, especially with dadoes. If the workpiece burns or binds, cant the outfeed end away from the blade between .010" and .030" (about the thickness of a business card).

Finesse the fence

4 Cover the angles

To ensure accurate crosscuts, make sure the miter gauge is accurate at 90° and 45°. Rest one edge of a plastic drafting triangle on the blade body-not on the teeth. Loosen the miter gauge knob, slide the head against the triangle, and then lock the knob. Do the same at 45°. These triangles are available in artist's supply stores and are very accurate. Adjustable models also are available.

5 Get proper clearance

The standard throat plate on most saws has a wide opening to allow tilting the blade. This leaves the underside of the workpiece unsupported and susceptible to chip-out, and can allow thin wood strips to drop into the gap. To minimize these problems, make a zero-clearance insert. Just trace your insert onto plywood of the proper thickness (you may have to plane it down) and cut it to rough shape. Plywood is better than solid stock, which may warp. Either sand the insert to exact shape, or attach it to the throat plate using double-faced tape and shape it using a pattern-routing bit in your table-mounted router. You also can use thinner plywood and drive short flathead screws into the bottom face to act as levelers.

Lower your saw blade all the way and check the insert's fit. If the blade doesn't retract far enough to allow the insert to sit flush with the table surface, reinstall the standard throat plate and cut a kerf in the underside of the zero-clearance insert. Recheck the fit, then clamp the insert in place using a long board. Turn on the saw and slowly raise the blade to full height to cut through the plate. Use the same procedures to make a dado insert.

6 Add function to the fence

For some operations, such as when cutting tenons with a dado blade or cutting with the blade against the rip fence, you'll appreciate having an auxiliary fence face. Easy to make, this accessory prevents damage to the fence, and can support a tall face for cutting wide workpieces on edge.

For general use, cut a 34 " plywood face 4"-wide by the length of your fence. How you attach the face depends on your fence. If your fence has holes through it, attach the face with bolts. Just counterbore the holes in the face so the bolt heads sit below the surface. Or make a "saddle" that slips over the fence. Clamp it at the outfeed end, or mount a pair of T-nuts in the saddle's back "leg," and use short bolts as setscrews to secure the saddle.

7 Create a mightier gauge

When crosscutting long boards or cutting multiple pieces to the same length, an auxiliary extension board for the miter gauge is a must. Make one from scrap 34 " plywood, about 3" wide and up to 36" long. For even greater accuracy, give the extension a grip on the workpiece by covering the face with adhesive-backed sandpaper. Screw the extension to the miter gauge so it protrudes beyond the blade, then cut a kerf through it.

Next, make a clamp-on stopblock about 14 " shorter than the fence height to prevent sawdust from building up and causing inaccurate cuts.

8 Make sacrificial guides

Any time you are ripping pieces narrower than 6", use a pushstick to guide your stock while keeping your hands safely away from the blade. Make your own by simply cutting a birdsmouth notch in one end of a 34 x2x12" piece of stock. If you have to rip pieces narrower than 1", make a wide pushblock from a 2x4 and a piece of hardboard. The blade will cut into the pushblock, but the hardboard "heel" pushes both the workpiece and waste safely past the blade. Rather than getting fancy, make your pushsticks from scrap stock, and sacrifice them to the blade instead of your fingers.

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9 Wax for smooth sliding

Cast-iron saw tables will rust if left bare, which prevents workpieces from sliding freely. You can get rid of rust by spraying the table with penetrating oil (such as WD-40) and scrubbing with a synthetic steel-wool pad or 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper. Form a barrier to new rust by coating the table with a commercial product such as Top-Cote (available from Woodcraft at 800/225-1153), or by applying a couple coats of paste wax to the table and buffing it out well. Recoat the table every few months to prevent rust from coming back.

10 Take time for regular maintenance

Your saw will run better and last longer if you take care of it on a regular basis. Do the following every month or two:

  • Wipe sawdust and debris from the saw table. Spray protectant or polish the table with wax several times per year.
  • Vacuum, blow, or brush sawdust from the trunnions and lubricate per the manufacturers instructions.
  • Turn blade-height and bevel handwheels through their full range of motion, and check 45° and 90° stops.
  • Use blade-and-bit cleaner to remove pitch from your saw blade. Oven cleaner works, but is caustic. Try Formula 409-brand cleaner for minor cleanups.
  • Check the condition of drive belts, and replace them if cracked or worn. Check pulley setscrews, and tighten if necessary.
  • Make sure all electrical cords and connections are in good condition.