A good tablesaw sled makes perfect crosscuts easy, accurate and very safe. In addition, a well-designed sled can be used for bevel cuts, dadoes and with a few shop-made jigs, you can make tenons or repeated miter cuts at any angle.
I used to handle crosscuts with my sliding miter saw (with inevitable tear out). For wider stock, I employed the miter gauge on my tablesaw and sometimes fit it with all sorts of Rube Goldberg-style contraptions to handle various specialty cuts. But I always felt a little queasy with these devices because they put expensive stock (not to mention my fingers) in serious jeopardy. This sled is a much better way to crosscut.
For this sled you’ll
need Baltic birch plywood
(one 5x5 sheet),
plastic laminate (one
4x8 sheet), plastic runner
and guard material,
of which will cost
under $100. An equivalent-
model sells for
about $350 but isn’t
designed to handle dadoes or bevel cuts
without wrecking the table and fences.
Without any mistakes, you should have
enough material left over for a miniature
sled for lighter, smaller crosscut work.
Tailor the sled to suit your work
The sled shown in this story handles
material up to 24-in. wide, such as cabinet
sides and most furniture parts. I
haven’t seen many
larger sleds, but some
people prefer smaller
ones. Size your sled
wide enough to handle
the work you usually
do. Some woodworkers
sleds for wide work
and lighter, smaller,
more portable ones
for narrow cuts.
Two sleds from one sheet of plywood
Six hours of shop time will produce this
sled. We used a sheet of Baltic birch plywood,
and had enough to make a sled for small tasks and the larger model
shown here. You can use any 1⁄2-in.-
or 3⁄4-in.-thick, cabinet-grade plywood—
as long as it’s flat.
The runners are made of ultrahigh
molecular weight plastic (1⁄2-
in. x 4-ft. x 4-in. sheets run about
$20; see Sources, below). Slop-free
sizing of the runners is crucial for an
accurate sled. They should be the
same length as the sled table, just
under 3⁄8-in. thick (so they won’t
bottom out in the miter slot) and
should slide in the slots easily with
no side-to-side movement.
Centering the blade in the table
allows for the necessary 2-in. overhang
for the stop (Photo 13) on the
left side of the saw table and access to
the adjusting screw for the fence.
Check your saw to confirm that the
dimensions of this sled (built to fit a
Delta Unisaw) will allow enough
overhang. If not, either make the
table wider or offset everything so the
sled has at least 2-in. overhang over
the left side of the saw.
Front stiffener and fence
Shape the stiffener and fence contours
however you wish, but leave at least
41⁄2 in. about 5-in. away from the left
and right sides of the saw blade. The
stiffener and fence are all that’s holding
the right and left halves of the table
together after cutting through the sled
table, so they need to be stout and stable.
To size the shorter left- and right-hand
areas, I tested various heights and found
that a 3-in. height was comfortable for my
fingers to wrap over the fence and easily
hold 3⁄4-in. material. Ease or round over
the sharp edges.
Don’t be overly fussy about mounting the front stiffener. Clamp it flush with the rear
edge of the table and fasten it with countersunk
21⁄2-in. drywall screws spaced about every 3 in.
Keep all screws outside the area where the 41⁄2-in.-
wide throat plate will be. Proper, square placement
of the rear fence is the key to a successful sled
(Photos 7 and 8).
Seal all exposed wood surfaces with a coat of
polyurethane if you like smoother, stay-clean
surfaces. Waxing the saw table also helps smooth
operations. We installed a couple of eye hooks in
the stiffener for stowing the sled on the wall.
Replaceable throat plates and clear, plastic saw guards
Impact-resistant polycarbonate plastic (see
Sources, below) is best suited for guards and
can be machined with woodworking techniques
and tools (Lexan and Cyrolon are two common
brands), but bending and burnishing edges
requires either a heat gun or propane torch and
a bit of patience.
If you want smooth, clear edges on plastic,
joint or sand off saw marks and run a torch
over the edge to get slightly rounded, translucent
edges (a “flame finish”). Practice on a piece of
scrap before bending or softening the edges on your guard to get the feel for
using the torch or heat gun without
damaging the surface.
After you get the plastic parts
cut, polished and clamped, weld
the sides on with polycarbonate
cement (Photo 12) using a gluing
syringe, eye dropper or a “worm
blower” (available at fishing
You’ll find that a well-made
tablesaw sled, like a lead sled
dog, is dependable, solid and
holds up over the long haul.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Click any image to view a larger version.
Clamp a 45-degree (or any other angle you need) jig to the fence to use the sled for cutting miters.
Cut tall stock by removing the top guard for clearance and using a stop block on the saw fence to prevent kickbacks.
1. Cover plywood with plastic laminate for the
base and two slightly larger squares of laminate for the top and bottom. Glue
the laminate onto both sides with contact cement, roll it down and trim off
the excess with a flush-trim router bit. Rip a 6-in. strip off the width for the
outfeed support and glue and nail on a stop block (see Fig. A).
2. Fit the plastic runners. They should slide
easily in the miter gauge slots
without any binding or slop. Cut
them to the sled table width.
3. Pre-drill and countersink five evenly spaced
holes for 3⁄4-in. No. 6 wood screws in
both runners. Mount only the first one
to the bottom of the sled using a
carpenter’s square with a metal
straightedge to hold the runner straight
and square. Drill the holes for the
screws slightly larger than the shafts
(9⁄64-in. for No. 6 screws) or the plastic
will bulge and cause binding in the slots.
4. Attach the second runner with double-sided tape.
Align the rear edge of the runner with
the back edge of the saw table. Slip the
sled’s attached runner into the miter slot
keeping the end of the runner flush with
the rear edge of the table and lower the
sled onto the taped runner. Carefully lift
off the sled, pre-drill through the runner
holes into the sled bottom and screw
the runner to the bottom of the sled
with five evenly spaced screws.
Test fit on the saw table for easy,
no-play movement. If the runners
are binding, lift off the sled and
inspect the runners for darker
areas where they rub on the
miter slot edges (usually bulges
around the screws). Remove the
runners and shave those areas
with a block plane.
5. Glue together two sets of
plywood strips for the fence and
stiffener blanks. Make the fence blank
about 42-in. long (use a jigsaw to cut
the fence throat plate recess in one
of the fence strips before gluing) and
the stiffener blank about 32-in. long.
Joint one edge, rip to final width, cut
to length and shape the curved edges.
6. Cut dadoes into the
centers of the two fence blanks to
receive the blade guard. (This step is
optional.You can also surface mount
the guards.) Use a band saw or
jigsaw to cut contours on the fence
and stiffener and ease the edges with
sandpaper. Attach the stiffener flush
with the edge of the sled with six
evenly spaced 3-in. countersunk
drywall screws. Keep all screws
21⁄2 in. away from the center of the
table for cutting the throat plate slot.
7. Attach the fence
at the right side of the table with a
countersunk screw and attach the left
side using a screw in a router-cut slot.
This allows for squaring adjustment.
Raise the saw blade to full height and
make a pass through the stiffener and
base, stopping the cut at the fence.
8. Make a test cut on a
straight-edged scrap of plywood. Flip
the left half of the plywood over to
see if the cut is square. Loosen the
alignment screw and tap the fence to
adjust. Re-tighten the screw and
make another test cut.When you
achieve a perfectly square cut, flip
over the table and install the rest of
the fence screws.
9. Cut the throat and fence plates, fit them to the recesses and fasten with
four 11⁄4-in. countersunk drywall screws.
10. Attach two rounded blocks to a
nailing block with glue and nails. Cut
two notched, rounded blocks (a 3-lb.
coffee can is a good curve pattern).
Fasten a nailing block to the back
side of the fence and glue and nail on
the curved blocks.
11. Bend plastic around the
blocks the fence and stiffener with
3⁄4-in. pan head screws. Bend the curve
with a heat gun or torch and apply
pressure to mold the plastic over the
blocks. Use a handsaw to cut off the
excess flush with the bottom of the
blocks. Pre-drill screw holes at all four
corners of the curved part of the
guard. Remove the guard and use the
sled to cut off the curved portion and
re-install both guards on the sled.
12. Weld the sides to the
underside of the guard with
13. Install one stop
in the side of the tablesaw
table and another in the left
rear corner of the sled table.
(Depending on your fence
guide, you may have to go with
a shorter bolt for clearance).
Raise the blade to maximum
height and make a pass through
the throat plate and rear fence
stopping the saw 1⁄2-in. short of
the rear plastic blade guard.
Clamp the sled to the saw
table. Center punch, drill and
tap a hole for the saw table