Did you even know I have a table saw?
Ohhh, I do.
This beautiful sawdust is proof!
In fact, I took a pretty photo shoot of this very table saw last summer after spit polishing it, because I had plans to sell it on a bidding site!
Let me put it this way. IMO the beast was eating up valuable real estate in my compact one car workshop/garage while it was busy storing camping gear on top.
And I don’t camp any longer either.
So… back a million years ago when I had a sign company, I purchased this Ryobi table saw for my company, and my then partner in life used it to cut wooden sign blanks.
Eventually the table saw followed me to my current home. And there it sat. Piled high with a big fat inner tube on top of a cooler on top of who knows what.
I didn’t use it because I didn’t know how.
Nor was I really interested to learn how. There’s something slightly unsettling about purposefully moving your hands towards a very loud moving blade going so fast you can’t even see it spin. On purpose even. Did I mention on purpose?!
So there the table saw sat, collecting dust for many years. In fact, when my neighbour Jake used it one time, he reported there was something amiss with the switch, so he had to turn it on and off by plugging / unplugging it. That didn’t sound safe, giving me yet another excuse to avoid it.
So when my brother paid me a visit before Christmas and I took him into my workshop for something, his eyes locked onto the buried with crap table saw.
You’ve met Les before in THIS post about scavenging wood from the family farm.
“Don’t you use this?!”
“NO. Want it?”
“I have one just like it! In fact, I was the one that told you to get this one!”
Well, dang. My memory is not the same as it use to be it appears.
“The switch doesn’t work on it though… I really just want to get rid of it anyway.”
And thennnnnnn it started.
Les would have nothing to do with that nonsense. He pulled out the saw to examine the switch issue. Then he started to take the saw apart. Then I helped him take it apart. Then suddenly, he was carrying parts to his truck because he was bound and determined to get that thing working so I could use it for the first time ever!
If I could be perfectly frank right here? I was not nearly as excited as my brother. But I let him do what he was led to do. While I felt very appreciative, dread was indeed mounting full force.
Here’s where things got interesting…
Being that the saw is now obsolete, finding the missing switch part would not be easy.
Les walked into our favorite tool store, where the guy behind the counter didn’t think he stood a chance of finding the part. Until he paused for a moment ,then said, “Wait a minute…I think we do have a box of spare random parts. Can’t hurt to look.”
After much digging, it wasn’t looking good. Until right at the very bottom of the box, the very last piece standing was a complete duplicate switch. Complete with our missing lock part.
What in the world are the chances?!
That right there is miracle talk. Since then, there was no doubt left in my mind that this table saw thing was meant to be.
After Les got it working at his place, he brought it back to mine, then we set it back up on the stand once again.
It took awhile. We had to figure out what each screw did and this and that and everything else.
Know what? I’m glad I helped. Now I know what all those sliding parts and what not actually do.
The steps it took made me fully realize once again, anything can be figured out.
Plus, we had the BEST time. Chatting it up. Sharing tips on everything under the sun, while we put it back together, piece by piece.
We have lots of common interests. From biking to woodworking, to collecting…
Then it was finally time to make the first cut.
Only, the blade was really dull.
So we took advantage of that moment to head to the local hardware store for a new blade then go out for lunch to talk some more.
After returning, a couple of effortless test cuts by Les later, he then held up his plastic push stick and said, “Let’s make a project… one of these!”
Now we’re talkin’! To have one of Les’ hand crafted wood specialties is always a keepsake!
He’s into fine woodworking, so, the total opposite of my much more rustic approach.
So he brought out a chunk of red cedar from his truck so I could take advantage of its amazing fragrance as an added treat. Goodness…
How to make a table saw push stick
- A piece of red cedar was thinly cut on both sides, exposing the inside wood.
- A plastic push stick was placed on top of the cedar, then traced with a pencil.
- The shape was hand cut with a jigsaw.
- The cut push stick was then smoothed out against an upside down belt sander (with a grit of about 80 I think) balanced on one leg.
- The push stick was finished off with 320 grit sandpaper (wrapped around a sponge block then done by hand) to achieve a super smooth finish.
Les says a big no-no with quality woodworking is ending your sanding with a machine. To always ALWAYS end it with hand sanding of the finest grit possible. And he uses sanding sponges to hold other sandpaper, never the sponge sander itself.
- The edges were then slightly rounded so you could see the woodgrain from one side to the other when rotated in your hands. Interesting.
How and why a push stick is used
The red zone on my table saw indicates the area in which your hands are never to enter for safety’s sake.
Yet, that’s where you need to saw your wood!
The idea behind the push stick is to push the wood towards, through and past the blade, while keeping your hands at a safe distance.
You actually need two. One to push then one to hold the wood down as it passes through the blade.
However you only need to really notch the one that pushes the wood. IF you use this type.
Table saw tips 101 beginner class is indeed in session! This stuff was all new to me.
I cannot even begin to tell you the countless tips my big brother shared with me. Every sentence Les says, I’m always grabbing my phone, opening Notes and jotting down a BIG shopping list.
How to adjust proper blade height
Pretend the blue box is a block of wood sitting along the side of the saw blade. (totally kicking myself for not staging this!)
Les likes to position the blade height so the wood is slightly above the top gullet. (that rounded part that separates the blade tips)
Reason? Should there ever be an accident, you will only knick your fingers vs. cutting them off. (slightly comforting…) and that there is no need for the blade to be any higher than that.
Makes perfect sense!
Other YouTube videos I’ve seen also suggest cleaner cuts.
Then from there, Les didn’t leave until I was comfortable making some cuts.
I sure had built up some major fear on this one! I felt physically sick with my plank of wood in front of that spinning blade with two push sticks ready to be put into action.
But once I went for it, I felt no resistance. That blade cut through that wood like BUTTER!
I tried a rougher cut wood after the fact which gave me some resistance. Kinda freaked me out a little but that’s part of the bargain you get when you work with irregular reclaimed wood. Something I’ll have to be prepared for.
I really like how Les talked me through it though. Here’s a few more tips he shared:
Les’ random table saw tips
“Think about all the variables that can come into play before you cut. Make a plan ahead of time and be prepared.”
“Examine your wood, and look for knots or irregularities. Expect you may get a little resistance in those areas and be ok with it. Just let the saw do its job without forcing anything through before its time.”
“Listen to the blade. If it starts to drag, back off a little.”
“Don’t rush. Pay attention to every single detail and think of nothing else.”
“Open the garage door a crack, and your back door a little, until you feel a slight breeze. Figure out which way the breeze is blowing, then ensure your sawdust is blowing away from you. You can even use a fan behind you.”
“If I purchased again, I’d get something in the (link to my Amazon store under tools) SawStop series, in which the blade stops if it makes human contact. But they ARE expensive…”
Brilliant stuff, right?
While this isn’t a tutorial, above is a short video of a few live moments that were part of our fun day!
So my dear friends, I have some homework to do.
First, I will honour Les’ passion to help me through this and his time spent by practicing making simple cuts until I get more comfortable.
My workshop is also going to get a little makeover to create more storage space for wood and more room for the table saw!
Little did I know that the very saw I purchased for my business 20 years ago…
… was meant for me to use all along.
Thanks to brothers like Les. And miracle-found switches.
To be continued…
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4 thoughts on “Pushing past fear with epic beginner table saw tips and making a push stick.”
What a beautiful post. Not so much about the saw (that was icing on the cake), but the closeness of you and your brother. I bet he’s your older brother. Brothers have a way of soothing their sisters when they’re older that is just so comforting. I lost my older brother to cancer about 25 years ago, but I still cherish the times where he was sooo patient in showing me how to conquer new things. I remember my brother teaching me how to set up a VCR (they just came out at that time). What warm & comforting memories that brings!
I’m sure Les gave you a warning about kickback. Never, never, never use both the rip fence and the mitre gauge at the same time when making a through cut. The piece will bind and come back at you at a wicked speed. Also whenever possible stand to the left side of the blade. A riving knife is highly recommended (although I’ve never used one), especially when you are ripping long pieces of dimensional lumber. I’ve been using a table saw regularly for about 40 years. The only incident I had was a kick back accident, right in the wedding tackle. I was in pain for a good 3 months. Did I say Grapefruit size. Now I new about kickback, and I pushed the rip fence over a couple of inches while using the mitre gauge, cause I knew better. However, it wasn’t over far enough and a piece of Acrylic with metal laminated to it took me out.
So now you know what not to do. Go have some fun. The table saw is the single more important tool to a wood worker. Safer than driving, cause you’re in complete control.
Rip fence… mitre gauge… riving knife… I had to google those words. Gah! Thank-you, I didn’t know this! I’ll talk to Les about it! Maybe I can help him?! hahaha Thank-you! P.S. One of your stickers still resides on my truck back window. Upside down no less?! Makes me laugh every time I see it…
So good to see this!! I bought a table saw…it sat in the garage for years…I then sold said table saw…FEAR of it!
Then LOW and BEHOLD, if I didn’t go and buy another one!! YEP, I did. And this one is in storage!! See we are in an apartment…hope to be in a house again…SOON!! I don’t feel so fearful now of my table saw!
I will go over this again and again. My second hand table saw number 2 will not be sold…I will learn to use it! I did my miter saw and circular saw as well as my jig saw!
Fear only get you no where!!
OH, and I will be making me a push stick or two!!!