Oh, crosscut sled! Is there anything more researched, planned and built amongst wood workers than you? I would be interested to know what it would be, if so! After so long, I have finally built my dream table saw crosscut sled with dust collection.
I’ve wanted one of these mean machines since I picked up my table saw at the beginning of last year – actually I’ve wanted one since well before I even had a table saw, but I understood that the table saw must come first.
Since I had spent so much time looking up the sleds before I even had the table saw, I had a pretty good idea of what it was I wanted my sleek, accurate, super crosscutting machine to look like.
I wanted it large enough to support panels for cabinetry. I wanted it to have tracks for hold down clamps – both on the base and on the fence for a stop block, and I wanted it to have some type of incorporated dust collection.
There are so many designs out there, and in the end, I went with simple and effective for my first build. (or, so I thought at the time, it did turn out to be a little more complicated than I had originally planned, as is often the case with my builds!)
The first step was cutting the base to size. I went with 12mm plywood for the base, as it’s what I had on hand, but I knew that this wouldn’t be thick enough for the tracks that I planned to embed in the base. So, I grabbed a piece of 6mm MDF that I also had on hand and laminated it on top of the ply. I preferred this design in the end anyways, as I was able to ensure a flat base (12mm plywood from Bunnings isn’t known for its ability to stay flat after all!) after gluing the two together on top of my table saw (the flattest surface I had).
I used a sanding block to chamfer the back of the MDF where the front fence would attach. This helps to ensure that dust doesn’t build up by the fence and start to affect the accuracy of your cuts.
I cut both the back “fence” and front fence from the same sheet of 12mm ply and laminated three pieces together to end up with two fences at 36mm thickness.
The back fence, since it’s used only to keep the sled together, didn’t need to be perfectly straight, so I didn’t fuss so much with the glue up.
The front fence, however, needs to be a perfectly flat reference surface for the wood to be cut against – so I clamped it to my level during glue up to ensure it stayed flat.
Once the base was dry, I was able to set about cutting the slots for the tracks to sit in.
I used my router with a 20mm mortising bit, and clamped a straight edge to guide the router.
Since I don’t have a plunge router, instead of using the tild method, I simple used a forstner bit to to remove 5mm of material in the plywood base so that I could start up the router without it being in any material. I employed my trusty buddy Kenny to do two passes, taking 5mm at a time, to end up with a 10mm deep slot which fit my track perfectly.
The same process was used for the second slot. The tracks are attached with screws through the predrilled, countersunk holes in the aluminium. I love these little tracks from Orange Aluminum they are significantly cheaper than the ones we all see in every YouTube video sponsored by Rockler, and I think they work as well as any hobby wood worker would ever need. I usually just buy a long piece to keep and cut it to whatever size I may need for a particular project.
For the runners, I chose two pieces of oak hardwood that I ripped to about one mm less than the width of the mitre slots on my table saw. I cut them thinner than the slots so that I didn’t have to worry about getting them to fit perfectly without any play – I would instead address the positioning during attachment.
To attach them, I placed the small plastic spacers that came with my feather boards into the mitre slots on my table saw to lift the runners a bit out of the slot. I then placed shims into the mitre slot where I had a gap in order to press both runners tightly against the blade side of the slots. This meant that the runners were only referencing off of one side of the mitre slot – eliminating any play without the need to cut them perfectly to size.
I placed double sided tape onto the rails and used the fence to position the sled, angling it down onto the rails and pressing firmly to ensure good tape adhesion. I could then flip the sled over, drill and countersink screws through the runners and into the sled.
Attaching the back fence
The next step was attaching the back fence. I did a woopsy earlier when I had cut some really nice curved designs in the fence, and then realized that – since I was offsetting the sled – I had cut too much off the fence, and the blade would rise directly beneath the lower curved section.
Oops. Clumsy Raff.
Luckily, I still had the piece I had cut off, so I simply glued it back on and it’s really not that noticeable in the end.
Before attaching the fence, I also cut two slots into the face of it that would line up with the T-tracks in the base of the sled. This would allow me to drop in and later remove the bolts for the hold downs.
I attached the fence to the base of the sled with predrilled and countersunk screws through the base, and then moved on to the front fence.
Squaring the front fence
The front fence needs to be perfectly square to the blade. So, I popped the sled into the rails and cut through the front half of the sled, stopping before going all the way to the front fence.
I then predrilled and countersunk one screw into the right end of the fence, and used a carpenters square to roughly square the fence to the blade, before putting another single screw in the left side of the fence.
Here comes the math!
If you have never seen William Ng’s video on his “five cut” method to calculate how square your fence is – you really must watch it. It’s lengthy, but I think it really changed a lot of woodworking for me. He explains in detail how to use math to calculate exactly how off your fence is, and the method is incredibly accurate – like…. Down to .005 mm accurate. AND GUYS I CANNOT DESCRIBE HOW MUCH I HATE MATH, BUT THIS GUY MADE ME THINK IT WAS SO COOL. (There are a couple of high school teachers who shall not be named who could learn a thing or two from him.)
It’s not something I could in any way explain well enough ( So, you should definitely watch the above video) – but essentially, because you measure for your error after you have taken a series of cuts off a panel, whatever error you may have is compounded – which means tiny errors that you wouldn’t normally be apparent become pretty in your face.
With his method I was able to get my fence down to .016mm of error over 1 metre. I think that’s pretty darn good – and definitely more accurate than anything else in my shop.
Once I got that accuracy, I clamped the fence down to ensure it wouldn’t move, and attached several more screws through the base.
Stop block and fence T-track
As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to have a t-track on the fence that I could use a stop block on. For the track itself, I used a Powertec track that I purchased from Amazon. In a similar way to the tracks in the base of the sled, I’ve found these tracks to be extremely useful at a fraction of the price of the Rockler one. This one even come with hold down clamps, so it was the perfect package for everything I needed to finish my sled. After cutting the track to size, it was easy to install through the predrilled holes into the top of my fence.
The stop block was constructed out of two scraps of plywood with a bolt and nob, super simple!
Most people use their brains, with a bit of preventative safety, to put blocks at the back of the crosscut sled to ensure that your fingers don’t accidentally wander over the area of the sled that the sawblade will protrude through. Since, I was going to put a block there anyways, I decided to try to attach dust collection in this area as well.
I built a simple three-sided box with glue and brad nails, and used a hole saw to cut a hole the size of my dust collection hose.
I attached it to the base with predrilled and countersunk screws through the base.
It’s definitely not as effective as having the dust collection over top of the blade, but I do find that it keeps the sled significantly cleaner than using it without!
And then, to be extra sure that I didn’t let my errant thumbs wander in the direction of that box, I wrote a big ol’ NOPE on the top.
And with that, I was finished!
I love this sled. Since building it a few months ago, I’ve used it on nearly every project that I’ve built. It’s heavy, but I love how accurate it is, as well as its capability to cut larger panels. It’s definitely my most used table saw accessory! In the future, I’ll likely build a smaller version as well and I’m certainly keen to build a mitre sled accessory in the future so that I can kill two birds with one stone (my gliding mitre saw will be a bit peeved to be left out, but it needs to calm down anyways)
Hope you’ve enjoyed this build! Do you have a crosscut sled? How has it changed the way you use your table saw? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!