Table Saw Taper Jig

Other than my crosscut sled, this straight edge/ table saw taper jig is the accessory that I use the most with my table saw. I love how simple it was to build, and how many versatile applications it has proved to have in my shop.

What does a taper jig do?

A tapering jig does just what the name implies. Whilst running a board through a table saw using only the fence, it is impossible to cut more wood from one end of the board and less from the other. The taper jig allows the user to cut a varying amount of wood (typically on two sides with most furniture) with the use of a movable fence attached to a sled.

Tapered table legs
An example of tapered legs on an end table

The design

There is a tonne of plans and examples of these types of jigs on the internet – from super-advanced with all the bells and whistles, tracks, clamps, and angles – to very simple hinged designs.

hinged tapering jig
And example of a manufactured, hinged tapering jig. (photo from Eagle America)

When I set out to make my table saw taper jig, what I was really in need of was a straight edge jig. Since I don’t have a jointer and I use a lot of reclaimed wood for my projects, I needed something that I could use to create a straight edge on one of my boards, so that I could then flip it and run that edge against my table saw fence to create a board with both straight and parallel edges.

So, I knew needed a straight edge jig, but I also knew that I was going to be doing some tapered legs for an upcoming coffee table build. This is why, instead of building a simple straight edge jig AND then later having to create a simple taper jig, I decided to go with a design that could accomplish both tasks.

Homemade tapering jig

I’m not sure where this particular design originally came from, as I’ve seen several people build similar designs. The most in-depth video I have found on this type of taper jig is from King’s Fine Woodworking.

If you haven’t seen his videos or checked out his site, I definitely recommend it. He has very informative and well-presented projects and plans.

It’s a simple design consisting of a base, a fence and three slots – one in the fence and two down the sides of the base to allow for a type of swiveling motion with the fence.

My jig varied from King’s design in one key area, and that is that I didn’t use a runner at the base of the sled. Instead, I used my table saw fence as the guide for the jig.

I did this for two reasons:

The first is that, because I wanted to also be using this jig to joint the edges of boards, I didn’t want to have a fixed capacity for the jig. Having the sled use the mitre slot as a guide meant that if I had a particularly wide board to straight joint, I wouldn’t have the room. Using the fence as the guide allows me to simply move the fence back in order to cut wider boards.

The second reason is due to somewhat of a laziness/cost factor. I didn’t want to purchase more metal runners, and I haven’t had the greatest luck with wood runners lasting any amount of time in the Australian weather.

The build

For the base of my jig, I chose a piece of 18mm BBC ply that I had left over from my waterfall bedside table build. I’ve seen other builds from MDF or thinner plywood – but I think the best material is always what you have on hand that will work for a project. 😉 I have definitely been bogged down on occasion with waiting to do a project until I had the ‘perfect’ material. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, as they say!

cutting the base of the tapering sled

I wanted a good amount of length and width in order to, as I mentioned before, accommodate for various sizes of wood. In the end, the length of my sled is roughly the length of my table saw and the width is 400mm.  These are the dimensions that worked best for me, both in terms of the materials that I had on hand and the applications that I wanted to use the sled for. I have seen numerous sleds with a much thinner base in terms of width, but for the purpose of straight edge jointing, I wanted to have a wider base for my boards.

Cutting the slots

After cutting the base of the sled and fence to size, it was time to cut the slots that would allow the fence to move and accommodate for hold-downs.

planning the slot layout for a tapering jig

I decided where I wanted these slots to be based on moving around the fence at various angles.

marking the slot positions on the base of the taper jig

I’m sure there are specific calculations, but this worked for me and didn’t take too long.

I marked where I wanted my slots and then used a Forstner bit to drill a hole at the start of each slot – only to the depth that I would be routing my slot. I have a fixed based router and I prefer to drill clearance holes as opposed to tilting the bit into the wood – to each their own if you would like to skip that step and opt for tilting instead.

drilling a clearance hole before routing the slots

A t-bolt sitting in the drilled recess
Just deep enough to recess the head of the bolt 🙂

I then used a straight edge piece of plywood as a fence and routed a wide slot with a 20mm mortising bit, just deep enough to allow the head of the bolt to not protrude, allowing for the sled to slide smoothly across the surface of the table saw.

Routing a groove for a t bolt

I followed this with a drill bit and put a hole the size of my bolt in the centre of this slot and completely through the wood.

Drilling a recess for the straight bit

Then, leaving the straight edge guide in place, I changed to a straight bit and routed a channel through the base of the sled.

Routing a slot in the base of the tapering jig

I then repeated this method to route the slot in the top of the fence for the hold-downs.

Routiing the slot in the fence of a tapering jig

If you don’t have a router, you can also cut these slots with a jigsaw!

And that was it! The build was complete! Talk about easy.

Taper jig with hold down clamps

If you’re interested, I used these hold down clamps from Powertec. They are relatively cheap and work great!

Using the jig

To use the jig, I simply place the sled on my table saw top just
touching the blade, then lock down the fence. Taper jig using the table saw fence as the guide

I tested on a scrap piece of 75 by 35 treated pine. Not an ideal leg piece, but again it’s what I had! I marked the shoulder of the leg where the taper would begin and then marked at the base of the leg how far I wanted the taper to extend.

cutting a taper on a table saw taper jig

I then lined up my marks, the shoulder at the top, and the taper at the bottom of the jig, set the fence, and clamped everything in place.

Aligning the bottom of the taper to the edge of the taper jig

After the first pass, I flipped the piece and unclamped the bottom of the fence in order to move it in to accommodate the newly acquired taper. Normally, a two-sided taper is done on two adjacent sides. This approach would be even easier as the fence wouldn’t need to be moved at all after the first cut. Simply rotate your leg ninety degrees so that the cut face is up, and then run your jig back through the saw. Since my test piece wasn’t a square piece, I simply tested putting tapers on two parallel sides. 🙂

cutting a taper

Easy done, two-sided taper.

For straight edges, the jig is super simple and effective. I simply place whatever wonky edged board I have on top of the jig and clamp it so that a continuous edge is hanging over the side of my sled. I then run this through the saw, remove the board from the jig and place my freshly cut edge against the saw’s fence to create a straight, parallel-sided board.

This view from the bottom of the jig shows the piece protruding over the edge of the sled.

edge jointing with a taper jig

straight edge from the taper jig
The best jig in my shop?

Well, look, my crosscut sled is probably my most used jig, but this is definitely one of my favourite jigs, and I use it all the time to straight joint boards either before a glue-up, or to clean up rough, reclaimed lumber for a project. I’m definitely glad that I spent the extra time to build a jig that could do both tapers and straight edges as it’s saved me loads of time and space in my small workshop!

Do you have a favourite design for a taper jig? Let me know in the comments!

 

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