How to Use a Table Saw for Beginners

A table saw is often intimidating to a beginner. Here is everything you need to know on how to use a table saw safely and build amazing projects.

Anika cutting a plywood on a table saw

A table saw is one of the most commonly used saws in woodworking. Unfortunately, it is also the most intimidating to beginners, and for good reason. The fast-spinning blade is exposed and can cause severe kickback and injury. However, learning how to safely and confidently operate a table saw can open up a whole world of possibilities in your woodworking projects.

Video Tutorial

The best way to learn is to watch everything in action. As always, I have a detailed video for you. A written tutorial follows below. I highly recommend both, watching the video and reading the article to get the most information.

***This post contains referral or affiliate links. It is a way for this site to earn advertising fees by advertising or linking to certain products and/or services.  Please read my full disclosure here ***

What Can a Table Saw Do?

A table saw can make most of the cuts you can make with other saws. The main difference between a table saw, and common woodworking saws like miter saws or circular saws are that you push the wood through the blade instead of pushing the blade through the wood.

The main advantage of a table saw is that it is handy for making highly accurate cuts quickly. The types of cuts it can make are:

  • Rip cut – cut in the same direction of the grain. You are changing the width of the material.
  • Cross-cut – cutting perpendicular to the direction of wood grain – you are changing the length of the material.
  • Miter cuts – cuts at an angle perpendicular to the grain
  • Bevel cuts – Cuts at an angle along the length of the grain.
  • Dados – grooves in the material.

The only type of cut a table saw cannot make is a curved cut. You will need a jigsaw for this.

Types of Table Saw

  • Job site saw/portable table saw —These small table saws are light enough to be transported and make excellent starter saws.
  • Cabinet saws —These essentially have a cabinet underneath and are large, heavy, and hard to move. They are also much more powerful than a job site table saw.

Parts of a Table Saw

The first step to using a table saw safely and confidently is to understand the function of each of the parts.

This is the table saw I use. It is a job site saw that I added to my table saw stand with folding outfeed table. It is a great budget-friendly starter table saw.

picture of the front of a table saw with parts labeled.
  • On/Off Switch: Controls the power to the saw.
  • Elevation and Tilt Wheels/Handles: These are used to adjust the height and angle of the blade above the table.
  • Angle Guage: Tells you the tilt of the blade.
  • Angle Lock: Locks the set angle into place. This must be opened to be able to adjust the angles.
parts on the top of a table saw labeled
  • Table: The flat surface on which the workpiece rests during cutting, providing stability and support.
  • Blade: It is mounted in the middle of the table with the teeth facing you. Blades come in various sizes and types, depending on the cut required.
  • Rip Fence: This is a guide that runs parallel to the blade and can be clamped on the table to get various widths. It helps ensure that cuts are straight.
  • Ruler (or scale): This is often found on the rip fence or the table edge. It helps in making precise measurements for cuts and ensures the accuracy of the workpiece’s dimensions.
  • Miter Gauge: This is a guide used for making angled cuts. It fits into slots (miter slots) in the table and can be adjusted to various angles.
  • Riving Knife or Splitter: A safety feature behind the blade prevents material from pinching the blade and reduces the risk of kickback.
  • Anti-Kickback Pawls: These are attached near the riving knife or splitter and are designed to prevent the workpiece from moving back toward you in the event of a kickback.
  • Throat Plate (or Insert): A removable plate around the blade on the tabletop. It’s designed to be flush with the table and prevent small pieces from falling into the saw’s interior.
  • Extension Wings: Flat extensions that can be pulled out to the sides of the table to increase its surface area for supporting larger workpieces.
  • Blade Guard: A safety feature that covers the blade to protect you from direct contact. It also helps minimize sawdust and wood chips from flying upwards.
woman attaching dust collector hose to the dust collection port
  • Dust Collection Port: Designed to connect to a dust collection system or shop vac to help manage sawdust and keep the work area clean. I attach it to my dust collector but you can also attach it to a Shopvac.


A discussion about a table saw cannot start without a discussion of safety. Like with any other power tool; you always want to start by reading the instruction manual and getting familiar with the tool.

  • Make sure you don’t have any loose hair, jewelry, or clothing.
  • Use hearing protection, airway protection, and eye protection.
  • Use special safety devices with a table saw. Safety devices can be used together or separately – safety blocks, push sticks, and feather boards. We will discuss these in more detail once I explain the saw’s operation so you understand their role in safety.
  • Choose a flat, stable surface in a well-lit and spacious area.
  • The saw should be on a stable base or stand. Adjust the feet or add shims underneath to stabilize, if needed.
  • Ensure there’s enough room around the saw for the size of the materials you’ll be cutting. You should be able to move freely and safely.


Kickback is one of the most common and dangerous hazards when using a table saw. It occurs when the saw blade catches the wood and throws it back toward the user at a high speed. This can cause severe injuries and damage to both the user and anything in their path. It is the most common reason for table saw injuries.

Understanding and preventing kickbacks is crucial for your safety.

What Causes Kickback?

Table saw kickback happens when the board binds or pinches the blade or the workpiece twists and gets thrown back. This can happen because of a board that is not supported properly or improper use of safety setup.

How to Prevent Kickback

  • Use a Riving Knife or Splitter: These tools keep the cut in the wood from closing and pinching the blade. They are essential for preventing kickback.
  • Keep the Blade Sharp and Clean: A dull or dirty blade can grab the wood improperly, increasing the risk of kickback.
  • Properly Adjust the Blade and Fence: Ensure your blade and fence are aligned correctly. Misalignment can lead to kickback.
  • Never Free-Hand Cuts: Always use the fence or a miter gauge to guide your wood. Free-handing can lead to uneven pressure and kickback.
  • Keep a Firm Grip and Use Push Sticks: Maintain control of your wood at all times. For narrow cuts, use push sticks to keep your hands away from the blade.
  • Stand to the Side: Never stand directly behind the blade. Standing off to the side reduces the risk of injury if a kickback occurs.
  • Crosscuts: Never use the fence during crosscuts. Always use a miter gauge and firmly support the board.

Always approach your work with safety in mind, and don’t rush cuts. Taking the time to set up correctly and work safely is always worth the effort.

Setting up the Table Saw

Setting up your table saw correctly is essential for your safety and the accuracy of your cuts.

Step 1: Adjust Blade Height

adjusting lade height for a table saw

For most cuts, adjust the blade height so that the top of the blade is about a quarter-inch or one tooth above the material you are cutting. This ensures you get a good cut while keeping most of the blade out of the way.

Step 2: Adjust Blade Angle

checking if the saw blade is perpendicular to the table

The blade should be set to 90 degrees for standard cuts. Use a reliable framing square to check this. For bevel cuts, adjust the blade to the desired angle using the tilt mechanism. I prefer using a digital angle gauge to dial in the angle reliably.

Step 3: Check Alignment

checking the alignment of the saw

Make sure that the blade is aligned parallel to the miter slots and the fence is parallel to the blade. Misalignment can cause inaccurate cuts and increase the risk of kickback.

Step 4: Plan for Supporting Your Workpiece

A table saw stand with a folding outfeed table.

It is extremely important to support the workpiece before the cut and after it exits the cut to ensure it doesn’t tilt or fall, messing up your cut or, worse, causing kickback. You can use stand rollers or an outfeed table to do this. I built the table saw stand for my job site table saw to have a folding outfeed table.

Making Basic Cuts on a Table Saw

Making a Rip-Cut

Step 1: Set up the rip fence

  • Set up the distance of the rip fence from the blade according to the cut you need.

If your table saw scale is calibrated well, you can use that. Or you can manually measure using a tape measure. Be sure to take the kerf into account when setting up.

measuring the distance of the rip fence from the blade with a tape measure

Even if you are using the table saw scale, it is always a good idea to double-check the setup with a tape measure.

  • Make sure that the fence is parallel to the blade to avoid binding. The best way to do this is to measure the distance from the blade at multiple points.

Step 2: Test the cut

With the table saw off, model the cut to figure out where you need to support the workpiece during and after the cut.

Gather your safety devices – a push stick and/or a push block. The ones I highly recommend are:

making a rip cut on a table saw using safety devices

You always want two directions of force on your board during cuts –

  • towards the fence
  • downwards against the table

Use the safety device to ensure that you maintain consistent forces throughout the cut.

Step 3: Make the cut

  • Hold the wood firmly against the fence and feed it steadily into the blade. Don’t push; let the blade do the cutting.
making a narrow rip cut on a table saw using a grr-ripper block

Keep an eye on the fence and make sure that the material is always touching the fence.

Making a Crosscut

Step 1: Remove the rip fence

For crosscuts, do not use the rip fence. It should be out of the way because you don’t want the crosscut to get pinched.

Step 2: Use the miter gauge

  • Install a miter gauge in the miter slots. Miter gauges usually come with the table saw. You can also buy a separate cross-cut sled. or you can make your own as well.
  • Hold or attach the wood to the miter gauge securely. Make sure the miter gauge is set to the correct angle (90 degrees for a straight crosscut).
miter gauge in a table saw

Step 3: Align the material to the blade

Based on your measurement, align the board to the blade and hold it against the miter gauge. Be sure to take the kerf into account.

how to set up a cross cut on a table saw- aligning the mark with the blade

Step 4: Make the cut

With a firm grip on the miter gauge handle, feed the wood through the blade smoothly and steadily. Again, don’t force it; let the saw blade cut at its own pace.

making a cross cut on a table saw

Making a Bevel Cut

Step 1: Adjust the blade angle

Loosen the bevel adjustment on your saw and tilt the blade to the desired angle, usually using a gauge on the saw. I like using a digital angle gauge to ensure I get the precise angle.

setting angle on table saw using a digital angle gauge

Step 2: Set up the blade height

Set the height so the blade extends just above the thickness of the material.

Step 3: Make the cut

Use the rip fence (for rip cuts) or miter gauge (for crosscuts) as a guide, depending on the cut’s direction. Feed the wood slowly and steadily.

making a bevel cut using a table saw

Cutting Large Sheets of Plywood

Large sheets can be unwieldy and difficult to manage on a table saw.

  • Support Table: Use outfeed and side supports to help manage large sheets. This prevents the plywood from tipping or binding during the cut.
  • Measurement and Marking: Measure and mark your cut line clearly on the plywood.
  • Use a Guide: For straight cuts, use a fence or a straightedge clamped to the plywood as a guide for your circular saw.
  • Steady Feed: If using a table saw, feed the sheet steadily, keeping it flush against the fence and flat on the table.

A table saw is a powerful and versatile tool in woodworking, but it demands respect and careful handling. Always prioritize safety gear, understand the workings of your saw, and never rush into a cut without proper setup and consideration.

Practice is key to mastering the table saw. Start with simpler tasks and gradually build your skills. Each cut, each project brings more familiarity and confidence with your table saw.

More tutorials:

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

Similar Posts