Make your own chopping sled
A good table saw is one of the first tools you should buy when you start woodworking. These saws make long, precise, straight cuts essential for safe joinery and clean, professional edges. Table saws are also incredibly versatile, as you can build many jigs and sleds to expand their capabilities. Personally, I have a jointera taper jiga box gasket jigand most useful of all, a bucking sled.
Cross-cut sleds allow you to cut wood accurately and safely to a precise length. Plus, by adding a stop block, you can make fast, repeatable cuts, perfect for grouping large numbers of the same size pieces. When cutting wood for drawers, for example, I always use my crosscut sled to make sure all the pieces are the same size.
Of course, you can do the same job with a miter saw, but I have found that the crosscut sled offers more control and gives a better cut. I use my miter saw to cut the wood to rough length, then grab my crosscut sled to cut these boards down to their final size.
Warning: DIY projects can be dangerous for even the most experienced makers. Before proceeding with this or any other project on our site, make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment and know how to use it properly. At a minimum, this may include safety glasses, face shield and/or hearing protection. If you use power tools, you need to know how to use them correctly and safely. If you don’t, or if you’re not comfortable with anything described here, don’t try this project.
- Time: 2 to 3 hours
- Material cost: $50 to $75
- Difficulty: Easy
1. Decide on the size of your sled to be cut. Its size depends on two things: the width of your table saw and the dimensions of the largest wood you want to be able to cut. The sled may hang a few inches over the edges of your table saw, but you don’t want it to sag. Likewise, the entire board you cut should fit on the sled, with minimal overhang. I wanted to cut 24 inch boards, so I made my sled 36 inches wide. This gave me 12 inches on one side of the blade and 24 inches on the other.
2. Cut the plywood to length. One sheet will be the base of your sled, while the other will be cut into pieces and used to build the fence and stabilizer board. Because these are structural components, both sheets should span the width of your crosscut sled. Cut them to this size (in my case it was 36 inches).
- To note: The guide will keep your work perpendicular to the blade, while the stabilizer will simply keep the sled from collapsing.
3. Cut the fence and stabilizer boards to width. For greater stability and strength, the fence and stabilizer should be made of several boards glued together. My fence is made of three strips of plywood glued together, while the stabilizer is made of two. Both the fence and the stabilizer should be higher than the fully raised blade of your table saw. In my case, the blade goes up a little over 3 inches, so I ripped all five fence and stabilizer panels at 4 inches wide each.
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4. Build the fence and outrigger. Glue three of the plywood boards together, face to face, for the fence, and the other two face to face for the stabilizer. Try to keep the boards as close to flush as possible to make them easier to flatten and square. steps 6 and seven .
- Pro tip: If you have a long enough level, attach it to the face of the fence while the glue dries to keep it perfectly straight. A twisted fence means twisted cuts.
5. Cut the miter slide rails. The sled slides will slide freely in the miter slots of your table saw, and the better they fit, the more accurate your cuts will be. Properly fitted skids will also make moving the crosscut sled easier. The slides should be the same length as your sled, the same width as the miter slots on your table saw, and about 1/16 inch shallower than the depth of the miter slot. I made mine with scrap wood, but if you don’t have any you can just buy a small piece of pine or poplar.
- Pro tip: Err on the side of making runners too tall at first. You can always cut or sand them to fit. The slides should slide freely in the miter slots without any sideways movement.
6. Square and flatten the fence. Once the glue on the fence is dry, flatten the bottom of the piece and place it to the face of the fence. The easiest way to do this is with a jointer, but if you don’t have one, you can do this on your table saw. Once the bottom and face of the fence are square, flatten the top of the piece as well.
7. Flatten the stabilizer board. You don’t need to be as precise with this piece as you were with the fence. Simply flatten the bottom so it lines up the full length of the sled.
8. Install the base on the slides. Place a penny or two or washers in each of the miter slots and fit the sliders over them. The pennies should hit the tops of the runners just above the table top. Put a few dots of CA glue on each of the pads.
Make sure the table saw blade is fully down, then lay the base of the sled flat on the skids, using the table saw fence to keep the plywood as perpendicular to the table as possible. The closer this step is to square, the easier it will be to square the fence later.
Give the CA glue the manufacturer’s recommended dry time, then turn the sled upside down. Countersink three holes along the center of each slide, with one at each end and one more in the middle. Secure them in place with ½ inch wood screws.
9. Install the stabilizer board. On the other side of the sled, install the stabilizer board, by drilling holes in the bottom of the sled base, then using 2-inch screws to secure it in place. You can just line it up against the edge of the sled – it doesn’t have to be perfectly square. As a reminder, you want it to stand straight along its long edge, like you’re building a wall around your sled.
10. Make a cut three-quarters of the way through the sled. Move the sled out of the way and raise your table saw blade about 1 inch. Place the sled slides in the miter slots, turn on the saw, and push the sled through, stopping when the blade reaches 5 or 6 inches from the edge of the sled fence. This creates a line that shows exactly where the blade will run on the sled.
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11. Align the sled guide to the blade and install it. Position the fence along the near side of your sled, the same way you installed the stabilizer. Next, use your square to make sure it’s perpendicular to the saw’s line of cut. Countersink a hole in the bottom of the sled base at one end of the guide, approximately on its center axis, and screw it to the sled using a 2-inch screw. This screw will serve as a pivot point when you fine-tune the position of your fence with your square.
Once the fence is as square as possible, install a second countersunk screw on the other end of the fence, roughly mirroring the pivot screw. This locks the fence in place. If you’re lucky, the fence will be perfectly square, but you’ll have to test it.
12. Check that the fence is square using the five-cut method. There are many videos on how to use the Five Cuts method, and I recommend this one from Bike City Woodworks. It makes the process simple to understand and has a calculator you can use for math.
In a nutshell, you’ll cut a strip from all four sides of a rectangular board, working clockwise, then cut a one-inch-long strip from the first side you cut. Measure the far and near end of this last strip with good digital calipers. Plug those measurements into the calculator, along with the distance from the pivot screw to the end of the fence, and it will tell you how much you need to adjust the fence. If you have a pair of mechanic’s feeler gauges, these can help you make tiny adjustments. If you don’t, like I don’t, you can use playing cards, business cards, old IDs, or any other thin items lying around the store. Simply measure what you use with your stirrups to find out how thick it is.
If the numbers indicate that your fence needs adjustment, remove the pinless screw from the fence, adjust its position according to the calculations, then reinstall the fence using a brand new hole. In theory, your fence should be square, but you should repeat the five-cut method to make sure. Adjust as needed until you are within a tolerance you are comfortable with – usually a thousandth of an inch is excellent.
When the fence is square, countersink holes the full length of the fence and use more 2-inch screws to secure it. I put three screws on the short side and four on the long.
- Warning: Be sure not to put any screws where the blade might hit them. Hitting a screw with the saw can damage your sled, damage your saw, and possibly send dangerous shrapnel.
13. Install a “don’t touch here” block. The main danger of using a cross-cut sled is not paying attention to where you are pushing from. If you let your thumb slide over the blade area and push the sled all the way, you’ll cut your thumb. So I glue a piece of 2 by 4 to the back of the fence, hiding the cut line. This is a physical, visible reminder of exactly where never to put my fingers.
14. Wax the runners and underside of the sled. The final step is to make sure the sled slides easily and smoothly on your table saw. You shouldn’t need a lot of force to push it through. Applying a coat of paste wax to the bottom and runners will help it glide.
Using a clean rag, rub the wax over all of the bottom surfaces, making sure to get the sides of the pads. Let the wax dry for a few minutes, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then buff it out. The sled should move almost effortlessly over the saw.
And then cut! If you’re like me, you’ll find the crosscut sled much easier, more precise, and less stressful to use than a miter saw.