How to square a board with a table saw

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Thickness planers are fantastic, I just don’t have one…

These machines aren’t cheap, you can get one for under $1000 but when it comes to thickness planers you really do need to invest in quality.

Which is why I don’t have one yet, most of my projects don’t require it or I can achieve the same results using other methods, such as using my hand planes and winding sticks, plus a shooting board.

Or as I’ll show you below my trusty table saw.

The need for a thickness planer just isn’t there yet, not while I have other tools on my list which I’m currently more interested in.

That said, there are times when I get ahold of some rough sawn timber which needs to be taken down to a consistent thickness or has areas that need to be smoothed out and leveled.

I could pick up my orbital sander and go to town on the rough areas, I would mark my required thickness with my marking gauge then go to town with my scrub plane, my number 7 jointer and a shooting board for the edges.

Those will work well, but… they take time and sometimes time just isn’t on my side.

This is where I bring in my table saw.

Reference faces

If you have a square edge and face then this will be a breeze as you can use those as reference faces against your table saw fence.

Note: This process exposes a of the table saw blade, you will be working in close proximity of the blade, if this feels unsafe to you at all stop. It’s not worth the time saved, just grab your orbital sander, shooting board, and planes and go to town, hell if you keep your planes sharp the sander won’t be needed. Better to take your time than to lose a finger or worse.

Make sure that your table saw has a splitter of riving knife installed, this device helps prevent kick back and without it you won’t be able to pull this off.

Mark your reference face and edge with a pencil, you need to make sure that those edges are against the table saw top and fence, Otherwise you run the risk of putting the board out of square.

Pass your board through your table saw blade, keeping your reference face tight to your fence at all times.  I keep my boards tight to the fence by using a featherboard, it applies equal pressure to the board as you pass it through your blade.

Make sure to use push sticks and pads to keep your fingers and hands away from the blade remember you must use a riving knife or splitter, if you table saw doesn’t have one I recommend that you create a throat plate which includes ones.

Aim to take off ~1/16 – ~1/32 of an inch an a time until you can a full clean pass from edge to edge. By that I mean after each pass, more your fence ~1/16 – ~1/32 of an inch closer to the blade and pass your board through the blade again.

You are looking to just graze the board on each pass, taking on small amounts, what you are looking for is a consistent graze from the start to the end of the board, when that happens you’ve square the face.

Repeat on the edge that is out of square and job done.

No reference faces

When you don’t have a square edge and face, there will be more work involved.

Not much more work but we need to create a straight edge, a reference face and to do that we need a straight piece of timber.

Personally I use some scrap ¾ inch plywood. It needs to be 1-2 inches wider than your board and at least as long and have at least 1 straight edge, remember we are looking to create a reference face that can ride against the fence.

Attach your board to the plywood making sure that the board doesn’t affect the plywoods ability to be a reference face against the table saw fence.

You’ll want to make sure the board is securely attached, some people have used double sided tape, personally I feel more secure with a couple of well placed screws.

If you do use screws, make sure to position them so that they never come in contact with the table saw blade which really want to be as sharp as possible.

From here we’re going to follow the section above for the most part, so the needs for a splitter/riving knife remain as well as your own safety concerns, if you don’t have a riving knife/splitter or have any concerns about safety, stop now.

With the board securely attached push the workpiece through the table saw blade removing any defects and squaring up the edge.

With that done, flip the board around and use the freshly cut edge against the table saw to give you the second square edge, do this for all your edges.

For your faces, use the plywood you have as a backing board and place wedges around the board to create bring your board into level.

Secure wedges with double sided tape and screws, remember to bring the screws in through the bottom of the plywood as the board will have its face passed through your table saw blade and the last thing you want is your blade to hit some screws!

Once your got your edges and one face all squared up, you can take the plywood off and pass the final face through the table saw blade.

Ultimately you are doing the same as mentioned in the reference faces section above the only difference here is that we are using a piece of timber in my case a scrap piece of plywood to create a reference face to work from.

And that’s it, it’s simple enough to square up a board on a table saw, whether or not you have reference/square edges or not

How to square a board with a table saw