How to use tablesaws, plainers, and shapers.
Island on a river Cabinetry
Using stationary tools
Sorry, I don’t have any money so don’t try suing me.
All power tools are dangerous. The better a tool works the more dangerous it is. If a saw can cut through hardwood with no difficulty, it can cut bone just as easily.
While using any power tool these rules at the minimum must be followed.
Even if you don’t get cut or maimed by these tools you can still be hurt or die. Eye and ear protection are a must for most operations. Hearing problems are almost universal among wood workers. I saw a piece of wood fly off from a table saw and it stuck in someone’s eye. It just stuck straight out about an inch until the cut was complete and it was pulled out. Constant exposure to wood dust is as bad for your lungs as smoking. Wear a mask when in dusty surroundings (if it smells bad brush your teeth). While spraying finish or applying contact cement use a gas mask (unless you don’t value your IQ). Common sense and proper protection will stop all of these dangers. These are injuries through stupidity.
For all tools your work environment must be stable. The saw or materials should be at a height that is comfortable. The area around the power tool must be free of anything that could fall distracting you, land on the material, the tool, a helper, or you. The area must be large enough for you to operate the tool without the material, a helper, or you bumping into anything. Your work area must be free from distractions. You must be calm and awake enough to do the job. The material must be supported at all times. Use out feed tables and supports under the sides so that the board doesn’t tip. If you have to push hard to keep the board from falling or tipping away from the fence you risk injury through stupidity. Use good in feed and out feed tables. They can be made out of almost anything. Get help if you need it.
The E.R. is a lot more expensive than any helper. And it takes a lot more time than setting up the saw right.
The easier material moves over the tool the less pressure you need to push it. If you are pushing hard and slip you can’t catch yourself quickly. One way to make the material slide across the tool is to wax the bed. Wax where the material will be supported while it is being cut and any infeed or outfeed tables. I like to use a paste wax. Some people use wax paper and rub it on the top. I’ve even used candles and scraped off the extra before it got on the wood. Spray wax seems to last only a little while. My dad heats up the metal with a torch and puts candle wax on it. The heat draws the wax into the grain of the metal. You may need to wax your table several times a day depending on how you do it and how much you use your tools. I like to wax my tools when I have free time especially when they haven’t been used for a while. Don’t ever wax the rollers on a power feed, like a plainer. You should wax the bed but never the rollers. Don’t use anything with Teflon, like WD40, anywhere in your shop. It can hang in the air for days and can ruin your finish.
These are not cover my butt rules. Ask any professional wood worker about these rules and he will agree.
If you are nervous about using a power tool, get familiar with it before you even turn it on. Unplug the tool, grab the blade or bit, tug it from side to side, and feel how solidly it’s in the machine until you know it won‘t come out. Some tools are not as precise and have a little play, movement, in them. If there is a fence examine how it works and make sure it doesn’t move when it’s locked in place. Firmly push on the fence. If it moves and by operating the lever or knob can’t be made firm, have someone who knows about your tool help you adjust it.
It’s time to turn on the tool. If the lights dim when you start the tool you need a better power source. If the tool seems to slow down easily you might need a shorter or lower gauge cord. The lower the gauge the larger the wire in the cord. If the tool is right by the outlet and you have a 100‘ cord supplying power to it, it’s the same as being 100‘ away from the outlet. Your tool should hum or wine while spinning not spit and sputter. If it starts slowly it was probably designed that way, some of the good ones are. If the tool hums and doesn’t move you have a problem. Shut the tool off immediately. Usually when this happens there is something stuck in the tool, a belt is slipping, or the motor is shot. Unplug the tool and look for the problem. Spin the blade and see if it moves. If the blade doesn’t move something is probably stuck in the tool.
If there are some sparks inside the motor while the tool is running this could be normal, within reason. If you are concerned or if the sparks come from any of the wires, switches or panels don’t use it until it’s fixed! Carefully unplug it. If the plug in is hot to the touch quickly turn off the breaker in your breaker box. If the tool gets very hot under light use stop using it immediately. These are really dangerous situations. Don’t work with a tool that has electrical problems, or you should make sure your life and dismemberment insurance is up to date. A shock while you’re using a tool can cause you to loose a part of your hand. Without going near the blade or bit, touch the bed. The bed is the place the wood is on while you operate your tool. It should be stable, not tipping from side to side. Feel the vibration of the tool.
Don’t put your hand in any tool while it‘s running, at all, ever! Don’t put your hand by infeed rollers such as a plainer or power feed. If it has adjustable speeds, change the speeds and feel the difference.
If you are confident enough to try the tool, set it up to cut a scrap piece. Make sure the scrap piece is long enough or it may bind in the machine and do bad things. If the tool has something cot in it shut off the tool, unplug it, and look for the problem. If a board is caught get it out before you use the machine. Use wood that is free from staples, dirt, knots or nails. A little staple on the end of a board can damage a blade or bit before it even touches wood.
Always let a tool get up to operating speed before you use it. Follow the manufacturers directions if they are different from my thoughts. If you don’t have the instruction manual get one online. If we could find the instruction manual for my daughter’s 1914 sewing machine surely you can find the instructions for your tool. The manufacturers know their tools far better than I can (they designed it and I haven‘t even seen it). These are general instructions and not complete. Basically it might be better to have these than nothing at all. If you know someone who knows how to operate your tool get his or her help. These instructions are for stationary tools, tools that stay in one place and you move the material.
If the tool is designed to have a fence or covers for blades or motors get them. Most suppliers would love to tell you all about their safety equipment (get what you need, but don‘t go overboard). Some “safety” equipment is dangerous. If you must operate the machine without being able to see your hands it’s not safe. Not knowing where the blade is can be dangerous. Most stationary tools have some type of fence or safety devise. Be careful not to set the fence in a position that is dangerous. One dangerous setting is a one that puts your fingers close to the blade with no protection. If you think your fingers might be to close, use a push stick. There are push sticks for most situations. Even push sticks can be dangerous if not constructed well. If you make your own push stick make sure there are no nails, screws, or staples in it. Use new lumber or plywood that is all one piece with no cracks. Manufacturers make the supplies to safely operate most tools including push sticks. Another dangerous condition is if the fence is not parallel to the blade, at an angle toward the back or front. Table saws are very bad for binding, putting stress on the blade making it burn, slow down, and kick, jumping in the opposite direction of the intended cut. Creeping out from the fence is another problem if the fence is further from the blade in the back. If the blade is dull the material will creep also. The fence must be firmly attached to the tool. Most tools have a safety guard.
If possible use a dust collection system of some kind. Even a vacuum can help. Use something to get the sawdust away from the blade or especially a bit. If you don’t, the sawdust will get between the cutter and the board making it jump alarmingly. This could cause you to jump maybe even loosening your grip. At the least this will cause bumps in your hard work. If you do get bumps and you’re using a bit that runs on a bearing, clean off the sawdust and run it again. Don’t let your dust collection attempts get in the way of operating the tool.
All power tools move at a high rate of speed. The teeth of blades or bits stick out further than the body of the blade. When the tool is running the teeth are invisible. Remember the cutter is slightly larger than it appears to be.
Don’t operate any tool with loose clothing, mittens or scarves on.
On every tool know where the off switch is.
Never touch or startle a person using a power tool of any sort. Rough housing can be fun but not in the shop, ever. In my shop I will kick you out forever!
Eye protection is needed with this tool. Depending on the saw hearing protection may be needed. If the saw is putting out dust you will need a mask or a dust collection system.
Here are my thoughts on how to operate a table saw. The first thing you need is a saw that can cut the material you are using. I recommend at the very least a 2 hp saw, and a sharp blade. If you plan to cut thick hardwood or wet green treated wood you will need a larger saw and a good ripping blade. The right blade will work a lot better than an excellent blade designed for a different application. One example is a beautiful, new from the box, 100 tooth, high attack, negative hook, veneer blade it will be very difficult to rip green treated 4”x4”s. A sharp heavy duty 24 tooth ripping blade will destroy a piece of plywood with an expensive veneer. If the saw is on a cabinet you need something to draw the sawdust away from the blade. If you don’t it will build up in the cabinet and start flying into your face. A dust collector is the best tool for the job, but a good vacuum may help. A saw with an open bottom doesn’t have this problem. If you’re buying a saw and you don’t have a place to put it inside, buy a contractor saw with an aluminum bed. They are built for what you are doing. The new T fences are very easy to use. All you have to do is make sure sawdust hasn’t built up between the saw and the rail, slide the fence into place, and push down on the lever. The fence is always square and parallel to the blade. If the fence is as close to the blade, as twice the width of your fist or less, use a push stick to push the material through for the last foot or so. Using a push stick and good out feed tables far to often won’t hurt a thing. For a beginner get lumber that is straight on one edge. If the board is not straight you shouldn’t cut it on the saw without straightening it. There are several ways to straighten a board. Two of them are, using a jointer or make a jig for the table saw (this is a good jig to have around but I‘m not going to describe it here). Some wood has tension in it causing it to spring either shut and pinch the blade stopping the saw or kicking the wood back at you. Or it could spring open, cracking half way through the cut causing it and probably you to jump. A board with this much tension in it is useless unless you are cutting it into very small pieces. Kiln dried wood usually doesn’t act up this way. If it does and for more than one piece, send it all back. If the material is up from the table because of a bow in the material or not being held down it will jump up and down making it very hard to control. If the saw isn’t cutting the board well or it’s burning, stop and find out why. Is the blade sharp or is it full of pitch? Is the blade on backward (I‘ve done it)? Keep a good quality, sharp, combination blade on the saw for general use. If you use your good veneer blade all the time, when you need it, it will be dull.
If you’re using a dado blade make sure you use a push stick. You may not know exactly where the blade is.
Horsing a board through the saw with a dull blade or a dry table is a good way to slip and loose part of your hand. Different saws have different safety devices. Follow the manufacturers guidelines (they sometimes know what they’re doing).
Steps to operate a table saw.
1 Make sure the bed is stable. If necessary shim the legs until you are satisfied.
2 Make sure the blade is the right height. Usually just the teeth of the blade should stick above the material at the board’s thickest part. This is not just for safety. Most blades are designed to operate at this depth. If the material is chipping you can sometimes adjust this by raising or lowering the blade.
3 Set the fence. Make sure that it’s at the right width for your cut and that it’s stable.
4 Start the saw. Let the saw get up to speed before using it.
5 Set the material on the bed of the saw and make sure it will ride against the fence correctly. It can’t rock side to side or be up from the bed of the saw for any reason.
6 Push the material through the blade at a steady pace while holding it snuggly against the fence. It must be fast enough that the material doesn‘t burn, but not so fast it stalls the saw.
7 Make sure you use push sticks if necessary.
I think the table saw is the most dangerous stationary tool in the shop. It has an open blade most of the time. It is used through out the day and familiarity breeds contempt. This tool is very efficient at its job. Treat it with continued respect.
Hearing protection and a mask may be needed with a jointer.
The only tool that has bitten me was a jointer. I was pushing a very thin, short, piece of oak through the jointer, while I was tired, with the guards removed, and no suction. My thumb slipped off from the end of the board when the board jumped. It jumped because it was so thin and there was a buildup of sawdust in the tool. Fortunately my thumb only touched the blades before the tip hit the back bed of the tool. I still have the six lines where individual knifes cut thin skin. The moral is don’t remove the guard. If you do remove it (there are good reasons at times) put it back before you’re tempted to use it as is. The guard is easy to put on. Don’t push thin pieces of wood without a push stick. The fence on a jointer moves from side to side, this lets you use a fresh part of the blade when necessary. With sharp blades and a waxed bed you can cut with very little pressure. The extra force you use to push the board through a machine with a dull blade and a dry bed instantly turns into momentum when you slip. Check often to make sure your jointer is square. A jointer that is out of square is worse than worthless. And don’t use thin wood without push sticks. Don’t use very short boards on the jointer. They will dip into the blade area and can kick or spin into the blade with your hand still on it.
Steps to using a jointer.
1 Make sure the jointer is stable, the guard is in place, the bed is waxed, and the fence is square and firmly where you want it.
2 Determine which way the grain runs. The grain of wood is indicated by the lines running down it. If the lines point down when the wood is on the jointer the blades will dig in, causing chipping and the board to jump. Turn the board so that most of the grain lines point up. Running the board just slow enough that it will not burn can reduce chipping in wild grained woods.
3 Start the machine and let it get up to speed.
4 Set the material so that it’s firmly against the bed of the jointer.
5 Determine if a push stick is needed. If your board is thinner than the height of the fence you may need a push stick.
6 Repeatedly push the wood at a steady pace over the jointer until the edge of the wood is straight. This can be a little tricky at first. The trick is holding the board so that it doesn’t rock back and forth while being pushed through.
If used correctly this tool is reasonable, yet challenging to start out on.
Ear and eye protection and a dust mask are necessary with this tool.
Plainer blades are inside the machine and are harmless unless you are in the machine (duh). There are a couple of other dangers with plainers. Plainers pull the boards through by themselves. This is the most dangerous part of the machine. If you get caught between the board and part of the plainer it will pinch extremely hard, even braking bones. If you get caught on the board by a splinter or in between the board and the tool it won’t stop unless you turn it off. And if you ever try to clean out the back while it’s running you risk injury through stupidity and can loose your hand or more. The plainer will run for months even if it has you pined. It won’t turn off until it’s turned off or until you don’t pay the power bill.
On every tool know where the off switch is.
Most of the time a plainer is quite safe. Just respect the machine. Get a helper for anything more than a couple boards. And give the tool a little room (on the infeed stand back a couple of feet).
The steps to run a plainer.
1 Make sure you have a place to put the wood after you plain it.
2 Start the plainer. Let it get up to speed.
3 Put the material on the bed and feed it into the plainer. Hold the wood so that it is level with the bed while plaining.
4 After running the material through the machine set it on the pile the same side up as it went through. If both sides are rough flip the board every time you run it through. This will straighten the board some. If just one side needs to be planed just run that side. This is a good starter tool.
Thickness sanders are operated the same as a plainer but are a little delicate.
Eye and ear protection are needed with this tool. A dust mask will be needed with inadequate dust collection.
Shapers are a fun tool to work with. The shapes and sizes are almost infinite. You can make very straight repeatable cuts. Or, you can create art if you are familiar with this machine. The guards for the shaper make it relatively safe among power tools. This machine can be used by a beginner or challenge an expert. Doors are a common production use for the shaper. It’s also used to make things like spiral stair cases. The thing that usually gets people into trouble is over confidence. Cleaning off the machine while it’s running removes fingers fast. Shapers have more complicated set ups than most equipment and if not done correctly can be dangerous. If not kept clean sawdust builds up around the blade and causes the material to jump.
Running the shaper is different than most tools because the setups are diverse and it’s operated differently each time. For example the blade can turn backwards for one operation. You need to run the shaper with the grain pointing away from the blade if possible.
This is a tool that needs someone experienced to set it up. With a little caution and good guards this is a beginning operator tool.
Band saws and Scroll saws
Eye protection is needed with this tool.
Small band saws are relatively safe. The blade has a guard that is kept close to the wood being cut. The blade is very well protected. Over confidence is the problem. Not setting the guards or horsing the material through can be dangerous. Cleaning the bed of the machine while it’s running is dangerous with all tools. If operating correctly the blade just stops running when it brakes and they do brake. Scroll saws make a lot of noise when the blade brakes. The trick to cutting curves with a band saw or scroll saw is keep the material moving, even a small amount.
Steps to operating a band saw.
1 Mark where you wish to cut.
2 Set the guard to the thickness of your board.
3 If you are using a fence set it.
4 Start the tool.
5 After the tool is up to speed, steadily push the board through following your lines.
This is a good starter machine.
This saw always needs glasses and ear plugs. If you are doing a lot of cutting you will also need a dust mask. Chop saws are one of the most common tools in shops. The blade of a chop saw spins away from you. Always use a sharp blade on all tools including this one. The tool will run better. The cut will be smoother. It will be less dangerous.
If the board is not straight against the back of the saw it will bind.
When operating this tool your arms should never cross. This can happen when you try to use your right hand to pull the trigger and the other hand to hold the material on the trigger side of the saw. Keep your fingers away from the blade (duh). Use good side tables. They should support the material and usually provide a place to set a stop, a small piece of wood or metal that is attached to the side table. A stop gives you the option of repeatable lengths for your cuts.
Chop saws have adjustable angles. It can usually cut from 0* to 54*. The most used cuts are 0* and 45*. When you adjust the angle the saw clicks into these common angles. Check to make sure that it’s accurate. After you get the angle you want lock the saw into place with the knob by turning it clockwise. If you don’t know how to use this saw don’t use the compound angle part of the saw. Just check the gauge on the back of the saw to make sure that it’s set to 0*.
Never operate the saw if the guard is sticking. It can stick up and be dangerous or it can stick down and take force to move it. This is especially dangerous when operated on the ground with you kneeling. Your knee will come very close to the blade. This saw is designed to be operated standing up.
The steps to operating a chop saw.
1 Place the material on the saw. It should set against the fence even if you aren’t holding it. Please hold onto your board.
2 Start the saw. Let it get up to speed.
3 If you have a sliding saw lightly set the blade onto the board and pull it back toward you. All you are cutting is a shallow groove.
4 Push the blade down into the material. If you have a sliding saw firmly push down and away from you. If you cut fast your material may chip. Cut to slow and it will burn.
5 Let the saw up and wait until it has stopped before removing your board. If you are cutting small parts hold the saw down until it stops.
This saw can be used by most people.
A stroke sander is a table with a long sanding belt running over it.
The belt is pushed down until it contacts the material resting on the table. This tool is capable of fine sanding or removing lots of material fast. Usually this tool uses 60-220 grit belts. It can do a lot with an experienced operator. Don’t sand yourself.
This is a good tool for a beginning operator.