Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

Over the years, I’ve tried many different ways to set up a machine correctly. The available tools to do so and techniques that accompany them are quite dizzying. I break it down into two levels; machine calibration and machine setup. Calibration is usually an hour+ process involving calipers, machinist squares, and a bit of harsh language. Thankfully I only put myself through that once every few months. Machine setup on the other hand is something we do pretty much every time we hit the start button. So, for me, that process needs to be streamlined as much as possible.

When looking to get faster and more accurate at machine setup, keep your tooling and techniques simple, consistent, and efficient. I mainly use three “tools” for setup; a digital height gauge, brass setup blocks (and a 1/2/3 block), and some type of straight edge.

Setting Up Table Saws for Saw Blades

If you have a common table saw fence, then setup tools are a must. Parallax, or how an object can look different depending on the angle you view it at, can foil even the best attempts at aligning the fence to a certain mark on the tape. Therefore, I wouldn’t trust my eyes to tell me the fence indicator is correctly aligned over the correct measurement. I would turn to a setup tool if accuracy was essential.

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

So, how would I set up a table saw cut quickly then? Let’s say my width is 1 ¼”. I would use the 1” side of my 1,2,3 block along with the ¼” brass bar. Then measure to the teeth, not the body of the saw blade (photo 2). The teeth slightly overhang the saw body (tooth set) and your piece will come out a hair thin if you align to the saw body. I find two teeth spaced out over a few inches and lay my gauge up next to them. Then I sneak the fence up to the other side, just enough to barely touch the setup block. Finally, lock the fence down. Careful not to put too much lateral pressure on your fence! The saw blade might flex slightly if you push against it too hard. Then, once you lock in your fence and remove the gauges; the blade will return to its original, unflexed position. Again, leaving your cut piece thin.

Cutting Dados and Grooves

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

When cutting dados or grooves, I lean towards a digital height gauge. Zero it first on the flat cast iron table of your machine. Insure no bits of saw dust are underneath either the base or the measuring arm. Set the height of your gauge to the desired depth of cut and lock it in with the set screw. Then find the apex of the height (photo 3). Manually spin or move the tooling back and forth until you just barely feel or hear a brushing sound. You are there. I also use it along the fence for getting the protrusion of the shaper or router tooling (photo 4). Find the apex of the swing of your tooling using the same process we used to determine the height.

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

Setting Up a Router Table for Router Bits

On router tables where it’s not ideal to remove material in one pass, the gauge works well using it incrementally to find your final, desired height or depth.

Amana Tool Router Bit in Router Table
Obviously, you want to turn the router off and unplug it before you make any adjustments between cuts. No hobby or profession is worth permanent removal of your body parts. Shown in above photo is Amana Tool Solid Carbide Spiral Flute Plunge 2 Flute-Up-Cut Router Bit item #46210.

Selecting Gauges

When shopping for digital height gauges, go ahead and spend a little more on a metal version. The plastic ones have too much play and I like that most of the metal ones have a magnet in them. Keeps it from tipping over if you happen to bump it while setting up. The lock also tends to be a bit beefier and the measurement tip won’t wear down as fast after repeated rubbings from finding the tool height.

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple
For split fences, I use a straight edge to make sure the fences are parallel (photo 5). Nothing irks me more than being on the router table and as I pass the piece along it either hangs up on the edge of the other fence, or the back side drops down and cuts deeper than the rest of the cut.

What About Tape Measures?

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

Don’t get me wrong. I have seven of these things laying all over my shop. However, I only use them to give me a rough estimate of things. I.e. rough cutting parts to size, checking if a particular piece of wood is long enough for my needs, etc. I never use my tape for machine setup and almost never when I’m in the process of fine furniture building. The loose hook adds too many variables. One trick with tapes – get yourself an accurate ruler around 24” long or so. Then measure your tape against it (photo 6). Be sure and pull it taught against the end of your rule. Then check its marks against the rule’s marks (photo 7) You will most likely find you will have to bend the “teeth” of the hook with some pliers one way or another to get it to match your ruler (photo 8). Check it every couple of weeks for accuracy.

Table Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made SimpleTable Saw and Router / Shaper Table Machine Setup Made Simple

Whatever method you choose for machine setup, make sure it is simple, consistent, and time efficient. I love spending time on my machines, but that’s usually after I’ve hit the on button.



Brandon Larkin
Larkin Woodworking

Please visit Safety Guidelines for Saw Blades
Please visit Safety Guidelines for Router Bits

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