How To Setup, Tune And Maintain A Perfect Table Saw For Years

how to setup table saw
A table saw is a very precise power tool capable of delivering consistent results over time. It doesn't need much attention from you once it's properly setup but cannot be completely neglected either. Annual or bi-annual maintenance procedures are recommended. Besides, issues can arise every now and then and you should know how to troubleshoot them. A new table saw should be run through a few checks and setup correctly to ensure that one, there are no manufacturing defects and two, you get accurate cuts.

These steps apply whether you are about to use a brand new table saw for the first time or want to do some maintenance work on the one that you have been using for a few years.

It's usually a good idea to check a brand-new table saw for accuracy and a few other issues. Similarly it's advisable to carry out similar checks and clean out the table saw that you have been using for sometime. Doing this can even prevent certain issues from coming up in the future. It's a good idea to schedule a check up and clean up for your table saw once a year. Just put away an afternoon and spend a couple of hours putting the table saw back in shape.

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You don't have to go through all the steps listed here for your annual maintenance check up. Things like checking the ‘arbor’ should be done once when installing a new table saw and then once every few years.

So here are about 10 steps for the maintenance and tuneup of a table saw.

Cleaning the table saw of residual sawdust.

This is the first obvious step.

1) Remove the insert plate and the blade to expose the parts of the table saw underneath. If you have been using the saw for sometime you probably have a lot of saw dust accumulated in there. Sometimes an indicator for a table saw cleanup is when the handles for raising and tilting the blade become hard to even crank. That's actually a good indicator that you have left this maintenance step for too long.

2) Anyway, take a can of compressed air and low it into all spaces inside the table saw. You should see a lot of accumulated sawdust come out specially if you have a cabinet type table saw.

3) Once all the loose stuff is out you will notice that difficult dust is still stuck in nooks, crannies and metal surfaces. It's time to grab a few more things from your arsenal. You need a solvent spray and some brushes. I prefer to use a dirt and grease dissolving spray, the kind that you must have seen in the automobile industry.

For the brushes, a brass bristle brush and an old toothbrush amply serve the purpose. The brass bristled brush is effective in wedging out stubborn dirt where as the old toothbrush can be heated and bent into an angle to reach difficult areas.

4) Not only the insides but the tabletop and the attached wing surface also gets dirty. Ideally you should use a solvent and wipes to clean off the surface every time you finish using the table saw. However, a lot of gunk can accumulate on the surface if you have neglected to clean it up over a long period of time. Use a slightly abrasive material if you have built up gunk on the surface.

5) Once you have that cleaned up, use a surface or floor wax and buff the tabletop. This will protect the surface as well as provide a smooth movement for you wood boards and furniture pieces across the surface. It also makes cleaning up easier easier after each use.

Table saw arbor alignment

The most important step for table saw tuneup is proper blade alignment. That is primarily what determines the accuracy, trueness and ease of cutting. This step starts at cleaning the arbor. The arbor is the steel shaft that holds the table saw blade. It consists of the shaft, the washer and a nut that you tighten against the blade.

1) The first thing you want to check the surface of the arbor that comes in contact with the blade, if there are blemishes, build up or burrs that could prevent the blade from being tightened completely flush with it.

2) If there is any such aberrations you can use a metal file to smoothen the surface. The same goes for the washer that presses against the other side of the blade. Lay some sandpaper flat on a table and move the washer over it in circular motion till you get a smooth, even the surface without any burrs. This is essentially the cleanup phase of the arbor. Also clean the threads of the arbor with the brass brush.

3) The next step is to check if the arbor runs true.This is the only step that needs you to purchase some specialised equipment in order to check the run out of the arbor. Ideally, one should take this step with a brand-new table saw as well because in case there is a problem, it can be resolved on the manufacturers warranty.

The special equipment that you will need is called a dial indicator and is used for various purposes in the wood shop. It's a tool that lets you measure the precision of moving parts and can be used for other woodworking tools such as power drills. It can also be used to adjust a table saw fence. Here is a link to the product listing on Amazon: All Industrial Tool Supply TR72020 Dial Indicator. You can easily purchase one for about $30.

Dial indicator is basically a tool that measures the unevenness in the movement of any surface. It consists of a measurement dial with a needle like extension coming out of it. This needle can be placed against a moving surface and the dial measures how even that surface is and how linear the movement is.

So in the case of a table saw you need to measure two movements, vertical and horizontal.

1) In order to test the vertical runout, first fix the dial indicator firmly on the table saw. Depending on the kind of dial indicator you have you might be able to fit it in the mitre gauge groove or if it's magnetic, on any metallic iron surface.

2) Adjust the table saw blade in the 90° position. Needless to say that the blade and the plate need to be removed for this test.

3) Place the needle of the dial vertically and absolutely perpendicular to the arbor on the threads. It should just very lightly make contact.

The important thing to note here is that for this test, the tip of the needle should be flat enough to ride over the grooves of the threads and not go between them. If it goes between the threads it will result in an erroneous reading .

3) Turn the arbor slowly by hand. Before you do remember to turn and zero out the measurement dial. Turn the arbor slowly and note the fallout reading. You want it to be as close to 0 as possible. If it is not, check with the manufacturer if It is within their operational and acceptable margin. Usually you don't want a reading that's more than 1/2000 of an inch.

What happens if you discover the reading is off and there is some vertical run out? As it turns out you cannot do much. If the table saw is still within manufacturer warranty you might get a free replacement from the manufacturer. Otherwise you have no choice but to buy a new arbor at your own cost.

Look online. I highly recommend BusyBeeTools.com for finding a new arbor for your table saw. There actually aren’t very many places online that seem to be selling arbors. I couldn't find anything on amazon.com as well . But BusyBee has all kinds of arbors that start for as less as $10 depending on what model you are looking for.

4) Now you need to check for the horizontal run out of the arbor. For this test tilt the arbor to 45° angle.

5) Instead of placing the tip of the needle on the threads, place it on the edge of the surface that sits flush against the sawblade. Place the needle lightly just like you did before and turn the arbor. Remember that what ever run out you measure on the edge of the arbor will get magnified many times across the length of the sawblade. The good news here is that in case you get a reading for a run out, there are some things you can do to fix it.

In order to fix the problem first check whether there are any deposits, rust or any kind of burrs on the surface. If there are, you can use a file to even out the surface or you can even run the arbor against a flint block. If cleaning and evening out of doesn't help then like in the previous case you just might have to get a replacement.

You should also remember that sometimes the saw blade can be the problem. It might not be completely flat and all possible adjustments you do will still result in a run out. If this is the case it's probably time to get a new one or replace it under manufacturers warranty. 

tune and setup a table saw

Checking and replacing table saw bearings 

While you are checking the arbor, check the bearings as well. Slip off the belt from the motor pulley so that you can rotate the arbor freely by hand. Rotate it slowly and observe if the movement is smooth. Smooth is not the same as free rotating. If there is some amount of grease in the bearing, the arbor won't be free rotating and that's not a bad thing.

What you want to be feeling for is unevenness in the moment and if the bearing is getting caught at certain points of rotation. If you feel that it is be time to change the bearing as well. A bad bearing can cause the arbor to completely jam up in the future, causes strain on the motor, make your table saw more noisy and cause vibrations.

Another thing you should do is grab the arbor and pull it up and down as well as sideways. If there is much play that also is an indicator that the ballbearings are failing.

Most of the modern table saws come with a sealed ball bearing system so consult with your manufacturer how to proceed with the replacement.

Aligning the table saw blade

This step is a crucial one. All further adjustments are going to be based on getting this step right. How to make sure that the blade of the table saw is perfectly parallel to the mitre gauge slot. There are many ways to do this. But I will prefer that you use the dial indicator jig for this one as well.

The reason is that other methods involve using the mitre gauge and the mitre gauge might not be set at a true 90° itself which is what is required to align the table saw blade correctly. Setting the mitre gauge to the correct angle is a step that comes after the proper alignment of the saw blade.

So once again grab your dial indicator jig and fix it in the mitre gauge slot. What you need to do is choose one of the teeth of the sawblade and market with a pen or tape. Rotate the blade till this tooth is right above the opening of the insert plate. Place the needle of the dial indicator lightly on this tooth and zero out the measurement dial.

Next, rotate the blade by hand till the tooth is right above the other end of the insert plate. Slide the dial indicator in the mitre gauge slot to the other end and place the needle against the same tooth. If the reading of the gauge moves your saw blade is not parallel to the mitre gauge slot. You do not want a reading that's more than 1/5000th of an inch.

Measuring the margin of error is the easy part. Adjusting the blade to make it true is more difficult and depends on the kind of table saw you have. The cabinet type saw is easier to adjust than a typical contractor table saw .

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In a contractor table saw the assembly is mounted to the tabletop with four bolts. You have to reach underneath and loosen them. Loosen only three and very slightly loosen the fourth. The assemble is going to pivot on this fourth bolt when you make the adjustments. Take a wooden stick and a mallet and gently tap the assembly. You will have to measure the blade alignment every time you tap it to see if the desired alignment has been achieved.

Then it's time to tighten the nuts back. This is where it gets tricky and frustrating because the assembly can and probably will move ever so slightly when you tighten the bolts rendering your previous efforts useless. A solution for this is using clamps. When you have the desired alignment, remove the blade and insert plate and using a couple of C clamps, clamp down the assembly to the tabletop. Now it will not move when you tighten the nuts.

This entire process is much simpler with a cabinet table saws because the machine assembly is not mounted to the table. So if the blade is not aligned all you have to do is adjust the tabletop instead. You can do that by simply and quickly by loosening the bolts of the tabletop and gently tapping the table corners with a mallet till desired alignment is achieved.

I would like to mention here that different table saws might need a different treatment. So consult your users manual as well before implementing this or any other maintenance and tuneup step.

Align the table saw rip fence

Now that the saw blade is aligned we can proceed with aligning the rip fence and the mitre gauge. Now that you have the saw blade parallel to the mitre gauge slot you can make the fence panel to the slot which in turn will make it parallel to the blade as well.

The process is almost the same as previous one. We are going to use the dial indicator jig in the mitre gauge slot, this time facing the fence instead of the blade. Start at one end of the fence by placing the needle against the surface and zero out the dial. Now move the jig along the mitre gauge slot to the other end of the rip fence. If the dial shows reading it means your rip fence is not perfectly parallel to the saw blade.

A rip fence is meant to automatically be parallel to the saw blade once it is fixed. But in case it is not then there are screws you can tighten and loosen to adjust its alignment. Some rip fences come with special provision to make micro adjustments of this kind.

A rip fence is an integral part of a table saw that allows a woodworker to make clean, precise and safe cuts. By aligning the fence perfectly with the table saw blade, it minimises the chances for a kickback.

One off the debates about a table saw rip fence alignment is whether it should be perfectly parallel to blade or should it ever so slightly widen out to give some more room to the cut piece as it moves past the saw blade. The reason given for this is that wood after being cut some time tends to close behind the blade leading to an increased chance of a kickback.

This also makes sense because when you cut you are essentially creating a gap in between and therefore expanding the size of of the board. So there should be a little more room for it behind the blade after it has been cut.

Different woodworkers like to do the alignment differently. Some keep the rip fence completely parallel as they feel that's the way is to get most accurate cut, whereas others angle it out a bit as they feel that is an effective technique for preventing kickbacks. That brings us to the next step.

Fixing and aligning a splitter

As we just spoke about the tendency of wood to try and bunch up behind the table saw blade thereby increasing the chances of a kickback, the next step for table saw alignment involves attaching a splitter.

Splitter is simply a long piece of metal that attaches to the table saw behind the blade and keeps the two pieces of wood apart after the cut.

In order to align it correctly it shouldn't be placed in the centre of the blade. Its side should be flush with the blade surface, on the side that you are making the cut. If it is centred the wood pieces will either catch on it while passing the blade or you will get an inaccurate cut.

Aligning table saw insert plate.

The insert plate needs to be perfectly aligned with the table surface and sit firmly in place without any jiggles and movement. This is not very difficult to achieve. The insert plate typically has 4 adjustment screws at the bottom that rest on ear extensions just below the table surface. You can adjust the screws to fix the height as well as any jiggles.

Aligning table saw mitre gauge.

A mitre gauge usually has angles marked on it. Ideally setting it at 90° should make it fully parallel to the saw blade. But this is not always the case. You can use a perfectly cut piece of wood or better still use one of your combination squares to get the job done.

Fix the mitre gauge in the slot, please the square on it and use that to measure The 90° angle against the surface of the saw blade. If it's the same as already marked on the gauge it means that the angles marked on it are true.
Repeat the same process for a 45° angle as these are the two most commonly used angles and you want them to be true at all times. If you find that your readings differ from the readings on the mitre gauge, mark the new correct points on it.

Checking blade stop points.

There are two stop points you need to check on your table saw blade. Most table saw blades will tilt from an angle of 45° to 90°. These angles are also the two most common angles used for making a cut. You want to check if both the stops are absolutely true or not.

Crank the handle to set the blade at the fully upright 90° position. Take a combination square and place it against the blade. If it is not at right angle there are usually adjustment screws right in front of the saw blade that can be turned with an Allen key. Most of the modern table saws have these.There are two screws for both stop positions so repeat the process for the 45° position as well.

Usually this is not an adjustment that you have to make often but you can make it a part of your routine to check the true angle every now and then. It will tell you if your if your table saw tends to get un-aligned with use.

Height and tilt mechanism alignment

This is a slightly difficult adjustment in the sense that you have to reach inside the table to fiddle with a couple of nuts that are actually in a hard to reach place.

A table saw as two handles, one for raising and another one for tilting the saw blade. With the time some play can come into this mechanism or it can become too tight. If it's tight you probably need to do some cleaning and lubricatoin. If there is a play some adjustment needs to be made to the mechanism.

The first step is to locate the mechanism inside the saw. Take out the insert plate and the blade. Have someone crank the height adjustment and the angle handles while do you look in the table saw from the other side. You might need a flashlight.

You will see two different mechanisms move with each handle. Each of these mechanisms has a set of teeth that moves the table saw blade assembly. There is also a nut on them.

If there is play in the mechanism which means that when you turn the handles there is free movement before they catch on, you need to fix that as well for better accuracy in your cuts.

In order to remove the play loosen the nuts that you see on the mechanism assembly. There are two different assemblies for height and angle adjustment.

Adjusting these nuts will bring the teeth closer to the table saw assembly and remove the play. If you adjust to them too much you can also make the handles too tight to rotate. So keep that in mind.

Checking the motor pulleys for alignment

This applies to a contractor saw and all others that have a motor rotating the saw blade through a belt and pulley system. Most of the table saws do. There are two ends of this pulley system. One pulley is on the motor and the other one is on the arbor. It’s a good idea to check if both these pulleys are properly aligned and the belt is running straight. If it is not, two things will happen. There will be vibrations in the table saw and the belt life will be reduced.

The way to check this is simple. Take a long rule measure and put its edge flat against both the pulleys simultaneously. If the pulleys are correctly aligned the scale will lie flat on both pulley surfaces.

Since we are on the subject, it should also be mentioned that there are a couple of other ways of cutting down the vibrations in a table saw.
If you do not have vibrations to begin with you don't have to do anything.

But if you do you can try to minimise them by replacing your belt with a special vibration reducing belt. People have got some very good results from them. Similarly well machined pulleys run much smoother and you can think about replacing those as well.

If you are reading this as a first-time table saw buyer you can also consider hybrid table saws. They have set an advantages over the contractor table saws and do not cost much more in comparison.

Lubricating a table saw

Many wonder how they should lubricate their table saws to keep them running smoothly. Actually there is nothing much you can do in the way of lubricating the modern table saws. There are very points where lubrication will help with the overall performance of the saw.

1) If the handles for blade height and angle adjustment become difficult to turn you should clean the teeth and lubricate them. Follow the steps listed out in step number 1 for cleaning the table saw. Use some wax to lubricate the teeth. Grease is not advisable because this part is open to sawdust and grease tends to attract a lot of it.

2) The blade rotates on the arbor and mostly all arbors in the newer saws have sealed bearings. If the bearings go bad, you need to change them. If some older saws there is a small hole in the arbor that is visible once you remove the saw blade. If you squeeze some grease into this opening, the ball bearings inside get lubricated.

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3) Apart from this, you can have a look at the motor although most of them are pretty maintenance free.

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2 comments

  1. What does this sentence mean please?

    If there is some amount to grease in the bearing, the arbor it won’t be free rotating and that’s not a bad thing.

    1. Hello, thank you for that. Seems like there was a typo in the article. What the sentence means that when you are rotating the arbor by hand and it is properly greased, it will be smooth to rotate, but will not be ‘free rotating’. Free rotating is when there is no resistance and you can easily spin or move the part. It will not be so in this case. You will need to exert a certain force to turn the arbor. What you are trying to see is if it rotates evenly without getting snagged at a particular point.

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