All the woodworking magazines periodically have a featured
plan for building some sort of crosscut sled for the tablesaw. What they universally lack
is an explanation of the design process for them, this is an attempt to cover that
Every tablesaw comes equipped with a miter gauge to be used
for crosscutting. However, even the best of these units quickly becomes more of a
hindrance than an asset even for beginning woodworkers. The problems with miter gauges are
induced by the slop between the bar and the slot in the tablesaw, the small distance
between the components that set the angle of the device, and the very short
"fence" section. While it is fairly easy to make the bar fit better and a piece
of stock can be put onto it to give it a true fence, it still cannot support large pieces
and the very important 90 degree angle setting is still hard to set accurately.
It is quite logical to want to remedy the problems of the OEM
miter gauge by purchasing one of the several aftermarket miter gauges that solve the
accuracy problems. However, with one exception even these will not support large pieces.
These miter gauges are more costly than they appear since they are only a partial
In order to crosscut large pieces accurately, a large support and
fence system is required. A shop-made crosscut sled is the cheapest solution to accomplish
There are a few basic configurations for crosscut sleds along
with a few basic requirements that dictate the design somewhat.
- Glide smoothly across the tablesaw.
- Be sufficiently strong to support the work piece and hold up in the
- Have a useable length of fence that can be set to or is built to be
90 degrees to the blade.
- Double Runner.
- Single Runner.
- Double Runner and Bridge.
The Double Runner is quite popular and is fairly easy to
build. It has a large deck surface to which two runners are installed onto the bottom. At
least the rear fence (typically) is set to be 90 degrees to the blade. The forward fence
(or support) does not have to be full length nor does is have to be 90 degrees to the
blade - but it's nice if it is. The saw kerf runs somewhere down the center of the support
deck providing workpiece support on either side of the blade. And at least when first
constructed, the support deck provides a zero clearance cutting surface which minimizes
chip-out. The two runners usually combine to give a tight enough fit that there is no
discernable slop in its sliding action and should produce a very high quality cut.
The deck surface can be made to accommodate other jigs or accessories including a set 45
degree fence system, a tenon support system. a pivoting auxiliary fence for miter cuts,
replaceable deck in the cutting zone, and just about any other common tablesaw jig.
The stability and accuracy of this design makes it a good choice for crosscutting large
items. For this type of work, the minimum capacity should be 25 inches. Since most of this
cutting will be in 3/4" thick material, the thickness of the deck required for
support is not an issue.
A minor variation of the design is just a smaller version. Since
the large unit would be so much heavier and unwieldy, a small version provides a great
deal of benefit. In a small version, the deck material should be as thin as possible.
The Single Runner is like the double runner except that as
the name implies, it uses a single runner. In nearly all cases, there is no support deck
to the right of the blade. This type of sled usually has a single fence located at the
leading or trailing edge of the support deck. The guide bar is usually about 24"
long, this in itself will usually make the travel more accurate than the OEM miter gauge.
However, due to the single bar configuration, the travel accuracy is only as good as that
one component. A variation on the design is to use a pivoting fence system.
A benefit of the single runner design is that it can dispense with the second support
fence. Without the second fence, the workpiece width is not limited by the jig itself.
This type of design is also more easily converted to a pivot fence type. The down side of
this design is the lack of support to the right of the blade.
The deck surface should be durable and the smaller the sled the more durable it should be.
A large sled will not get used as often so you may be able to get by with 1/2" or
3/4" plywood, 5/8" MCP, or 1/2"MDO. A smaller sled could get by with
1/4" Tempered hardboard faced with laminate on both sides. That would provide a
durable surface and only sacrifice about 5/16" or so of blade height cutting
capacity. The sled will slide easier also if the deck has a few strips of UHMW plastic
tape applied to the bottom.
Although I see wood recommended for the runners quite often, I've
never had good luck with them; they are prone to changing dimension with changes in
humidity. A superior material would be UHMW plastic, Nylon, or Steel bar stock. In
addition, there are bars made specifically to fit the miter gauge slot that can be
adjusted for fit.
Whatever the fence is made of should be straight. If solid wood is
used, kiln dried quarter-sawn hardwood would be best. An aluminum extrusion could be used
as well as plywood glue-ups or torsion box construction. The main fence should be 1
1/2" to 2 1/2 wide and 2" to 3 1/2" tall. The fence height may need to be
higher in the area where the blade cuts through it.
Any of the basic sled designs outlined here can benefit from a few useful accessories.
- A flip-type stop block along with a tape measure to directly set
them greatly increases the utility of the sled.
- Adjustable vertical holding fixture. With a jig like this even
angled tenons or bevel cuts in short stock can be made.
- Hold-down clamps. These can keep large pieces positioned securely
on the sled during cutting.
The Problem with the Solution
Even though a cutting sled can solve the problems of
cutting large pieces accurately, getting consistent 90 degree cuts, and maybe even
accurate miters, this "solution" brings its own set of problems to the shop.
- If the device doesn't have a pivoting fence, you will still have a
hard time getting accurate miter cuts.
- They can be heavy, this makes them unwieldy and inconvenient to
take on and off of the saw.
- They take up storage space when not in use.
- Even if the tablesaw top is waxed and the bottom of the sled has
UHMW plastic tape, there is still some difficulty crosscutting a 24 x 96 piece of plywood
due to friction and balance.
- When cutting large heavy pieces, the sleds are prone to tipping on
the infeed and outfeed sides unless special precautions are taken.
To remedy the problems mentioned above, you could do the
- Buy a better aftermarket miter gauge for small crosscuts and
- If sized for the largest crosscut, make a smaller lightweight
version, this would suffice for about 75% of the typical cuts.
- Sorry, nothing you can do about that!
- You can keep the surfaces waxed but otherwise the problem remains.
- Use an outfeed table.
The point of this section is to illustrate that even when you
solve one problem, the solution can bring its own set of problems to overcome. As can be
seen, if you choose to go down this path, you will probably be spending a fair amount of
effort to arrive at an ideal system.
The Real Solution
There is a way to get ALL the benefits of the best crosscut
sled, the best miter gauge AND NONE (or very few) of the associated problems these
"solutions" have with them; that is to use a sliding table instead! Although
these devices are not cheap, when compared to all the effort that can be put into building
a few crosscut sleds and perhaps augmenting them with aftermarket miter gauge, they become
inexpensive by comparison.
A sliding table attachment will cost between $300 to $800, even
the cheaper ones are far better and useful than the best crosscut sled. The only down side
to these attachments is that some require an additional amount of static floor space.
For more on sliding tables, refer to the Survey
of Sliding Tables article.
- In my assessment the sliding table solution is so superior, a sled
system should not even be considered. Although even at $300 this solution seems costly,
they are one of the most beneficial accessories you could add to the tablesaw. A
sliding table will make a tablesaw fully twice as useful and safer as well.
- If you want to make a crosscut sled, you should make more than one.
A large one can be used for large plywood crosscuts and special jigs. This sled would
operate with a fixed 90 degree fence. I don't see any point in adding a miter fence to the
large one because it will be so big and heavy, you won't want to put it on the saw anyway.
For mitering, and smaller crosscuts you can continue to use the sloppy OEM miter gauge or
build a pivoting fence sled similar to the Dubby.
Having "been-there-done-that", I would re-recommend the Real Solution mentioned
above. I would even go so far to say that the Real Solution can be more economical than
building several sleds. One often neglected element of "building your own" is
that you usually end up re-making the jig later because of some deficiency in the original
- If you want to buy a crosscut SLED solution, I would recommend the
Dubby if you can locate one. It serves as a more accurate miter gauge, has a stop block,
and a relatively wide support surface. The Dubby or something like it will probably serve
acceptably well for about 80% of your needs.