Some say that a workshop is not complete without a table saw. But do you know what truly makes a table saw a mark of impressive, professional workmanship rather than an amateur one?
A table saw fence, that’s what. Like it or not, the quality of woodwork done with the power tool greatly depends on it having a high-grade fence. It is a shame that one too many high powered table saws have lackluster stocks of these to accompany them, but that does not mean that there is nothing that can be done about it.
But first things first…
What is a table saw fence?
A table saw fence is best defined by its function. This part of the table saw is what the power tool relies on to keep the material you are working with straight and square. This is especially helpful when you need to do longer, more difficult cuts such as rip cuts and cross cuts, which is why you’ll occasionally hear these being called as rip fences or crosscut fences.
The quality of the work produced by a good fence is unmistakable as it is clean and precise, especially when compared to the product that was done with either a subpar fence or none at all.
These fences are pretty easy to identify — usually, they sit parallel across the blade. Due to its position, more difficult cuts can be done efficiently and safely. You can also adjust most models so that you can come up with the desired width for your cuts.
Would you need one?
To be honest, it depends. But often, we find that table saw owners have bought their power tools with less than impressive fences, frequently inadequate to do complex, repeated work and just enough to meet the bare minimum.
If you find that this is the same case for your table saw, then you can pick either one of two routes: making a fence on your own, or looking for aftermarket fences to fulfill your woodworking needs.
The first option would have you create a fence that is specific to your table saw, and it is not necessarily of less quality than its manufactured counterparts. Shopping for a fence, meanwhile, will take your mind off of having to think of the dimensions on your own. They are often comparably better than the fences you are supplied with on your purchase of a table saw.
The different types of table saw fences
There are many types of table saw fences, but we will be limiting the introduction to the two most commonly used among craftsmen.
First, we have the T-square type fence. Fences of this kind usually take the shape of a square. Another thing most of these have in common is the easy system of installing jigs and other fixtures. To make the fences stay firmly in their positions, this type employs a 3-pint locking system.
The surfaces on either side of the fence are often replaceable, and finding one to be used for this purpose is not a problem as they are ubiquitous in shops. Some of the more popular options are produced by manufacturers Biesemeyer, Powermatic and HTC.
The other type is generally made for sliding table saws, and can slide back and forth as directed. These are very intuitive and easy to use. With this type of fence, you can use the right portion of the blade safely and without kickback, as well as lay flat in case you need to work with thin materials. Reputable manufacturers of table saws often also create these fences, although they have to be purchased separately.
Should you go for an electric or a manual table saw fence?
Besides choosing between T-square and sliding type fences, craftsmen also find themselves torn between electric or manual table saw fences.
Electric fences are made for more convenience. If you have to work on your table saw often and for long hours, then you may benefit from not having to manually adjust the fence’s width at every move. All you are required to do is press a toggle switch to move it to either the left or the right. They are more expensive than the alternative though and are not necessarily as fast as one would expect.
Not everyone goes for electric, in fact, most would not. Others like the practicality of fences that have to be manually adjusted. Besides being understandably cheaper, these are dependable enough to do the job quickly and accurately. You will just have to apply a little more thought in its movements.
Other things to consider in buying a table saw fence
There are more things that matter beyond the type of table saw fence. One factor that a potential buyer must consider is the length of the fence and the distance of the predrilled holes from the blade. The fence has to be compatible with your table saw, so take measurements of the tool ahead of time. Another is its position relative to the blade; if the fence is perfectly parallel to the latter and secured strongly in its place, then those better guarantee that the rip cuts you will do with your table saw are more precise and accurate. Moreover, it needs to be easily adjusted, especially if you will have to use your table saw frequently.
In buying a fence, you also need to think of the projects you will possibly undertake. That way, you’ll know if you will have to go for something that will afford you a maximum rip. WIll you want a readable scale? How often you plan to use your power tool should help you decide.
These should be legible enough and should not be scrubbed off after a few instances of contact. There are digital readouts available in the market if you feel that that will help you. You might also need other accessories in the future such as micro adjusters and other modifications, so a comparison of the available products may be worth your time.