Almost all woodworkers start with a relatively small table saw. That’s because smaller saws and saw frames are more common, more affordable, and portable. Small table saws for beginners are a good investment, but at some point, you’re going to need to upgrade to a bigger saw.
There are two options when you get to that point. You can buy a bigger saw, or you can build a larger table for your current saw.
Knowing how to make a bigger saw platform for your table saw is a valuable skill, even if you can afford to purchase a bigger saw when you need one. You don’t know when you might need to upgrade even the largest saws.
Not to mention that you’ll use the skills you’ve used to make your table saw bigger over and over again while woodworking.
Step 1: Subframe
The first thing you need to do when you want to make a bigger table saw platform is to build the subframe that will support the saw. It’s important to make sure the subframe is solid before you move on to other steps because a weak leg or framing section can cause problems no matter how strong the rest of your setup is.
We recommend using 2×4” for the entire frame. If you want a slightly sturdier build, or are making a very large platform, you may want to upgrade to 4×4” for the legs to provide additional stability.
It’s also important to measure all of the lumber you’re planning to use to get exact dimensions. It’s common for 2×4” to be off by about a half an inch in both dimensions, while other sizes of lumber can vary differently.
If you’re using lumber from different drying batches, or are using some compressed and some uncompressed lumber, you can also expect that each piece will vary slightly from the rest.
When you’re designing the frame for your saw, measure and label each piece to make sure you’re designing for the exact dimensions you’re working with, not the theoretical dimensions of the lumber. The tighter a fit you can get, the longer your new saw platform is likely to last.
The subframe is essentially just a big square or rectangle on legs. The nice thing about building a saw platform for yourself is that you can customize the height and dimensions to exactly fit your workshop.
Here are some things to consider while you’re designing the subframe:
- What’s the right height for you to work at your table saw?
- Which dimensions need extra space for the kind of projects you do?
- What parts of the table are likely to get the most stress?
- Where would you like the table to be weight-bearing?
- How much space do you need for an effective fence?
If you’re designing with these things in mind, you’re likely off to a good start. That’s a big part of why we aren’t providing dimensions for you. Having a specific plan for your new saw table can limit your willingness to customize. Custom tables will almost always perform better and be more comfortable in the long run than tables made with a standard plan.
The last thing we want to mention is that you’ll need to get a good square (the tool) before you get started.
Adjustable squares tend not to be as consistent and don’t perform as well as non-adjustable versions. 1-piece framing squares will work, but you may want to go the extra mile and invest in a set of machinists’ squares for the best possible accuracy.
Step 2: Surfaces
The surfaces of your saw table are almost as important as the subframe. They need to be able to hold the weight of your saw and any materials you’re working with, handle the vibration of your saw in operation, and anything else your workshop can throw at it.
That means getting a better kind of plywood than average to make sure you’ve got the strength and durability you’ll need. Shop-grade birch is a good and reasonably affordable option, though Baltic Birch offers better strength.
Of course, you don’t have to use birch, you can use any plywood made from reasonably hard materials. Particleboard is not suitable, however. Ideally, if you choose to go with a different kind of plywood, you should work with Exterior 1 rated plywood, grade B or C, and preferably made from hardwoods like birch, maple, and oak.
Grade A plywood is also an option, but unless you’re planning to paint directly on your saw table without sanding it first it’s more expensive than necessary.
Melamine is also an affordable and effective option for surfaces, though you probably won’t want to do the whole table in melamine. Melamine is both a little heavier than plywood, and not quite as strong as hardwood plywood.
However, it can be a more affordable option for areas that don’t need to hold as much weight, like your outflow or staging area. Just remember that melamine can be more difficult to cut and to screw into since it’s prone to splitting.
A good clamp system can help keep the melamine more stable, making it easier to work with. You don’t need a specific clamp to use on melamine. Any wide clamp will do, or a doweling clamp, any other system that can help hold the melamine in place and prevent it from splitting.
You also don’t need to get huge sheets of plywood. 12” shelving board or other smaller cuts of plywood are perfectly acceptable as long as they are long enough to reach across at least one dimension of your saw table. Building your table this way might cost a little more in nails and screws, but it’s much more affordable when it comes to other materials.
Step 3: Biesemeyer Fence Layout
Other than ensuring your table is stable enough to stand up to the rigors of regular table saw use, nothing is more important than having a good fence system to keep your project materials, and everything else, secure.
Building your own fence is a good way to make sure it’s stable, easy to adjust, and easy to keep square. The fence that comes with your saw is a good start, but they can be notoriously difficult to keep square while you’re working and making adjustments.
A fence that isn’t square means there are pieces that haven’t been cut properly.
A Biesemeyer fence might not be a new invention, they’ve been around a long time, and they pull themselves square so that you don’t have to worry about them being off by a degree or two and ruining your next project.
Your local metal supplier will probably be able to provide a length of metal of the right length and weight for a Biesemeyer fence. You want something no thinner than 2/16th of an inch, but not thicker than 3/16ths. We recommend 3/16ths because it’s more durable and less likely to warp over time.
Thicker than that and the metal starts to get heavier and harder to work with when you need to adjust the fence. You’ll also need the extra thickness if your design, or the length of your fence, requires a lot of bolt holes. Remember that every hole you bore through the metal weakens the part slightly. Too many holes in a thin piece of metal and it’s much more likely to warp with use.
Aluminum extrusions are a better option than steel when it comes to your fence and slide rails. It’s much lighter overall, while still being rigid enough for the job. However, it can be harder to find locally, so you may need to order the slides.
If you don’t want to wait for shipping, steel works just as well. It’s just heavier.
Step 4: Finishing the Fence and Alignment
Once you’ve installed the main guide rail on your table saw frame, you’ll need to build supporting brackets to make sure the sliding fence stays in position.
You’ll need clamps for this next section. Even if you were able to get aluminum rails for your fence, it’s still going to be heavier than you want to hold while you’re getting everything finished, especially since precision is important here.
It’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got the table square before you start attaching the rails since they are what will hold your fence in place.
There are two options for your fence rail and guides. The fence can run along the rails with just a couple of metal brackets holding it in place, or you can use nylon tipped bolts to help it glide more easily across the rails.
Plastic along the bottom of the fence will also help it glide more smoothly across your table, but beware that you can mess with the alignment of the rail if the plastic at the bottom is too thick.
Once your fence is assembled and moves smoothly across your table, you’ll need to test and make sure it’s aligned with the blade of your saw. Mount the saw to your table (if you haven’t already) and align the blade with the miter (if you haven’t already).
It’s important to use hardwood that won’t compress easily, ideally cut a length you’ll be able to use later so you aren’t wasting the wood.
Cut the full length, running against your fence as normal. There may be a little more pressure on the wood so take your time and move slowly. When you’re done, the fence should be perfectly aligned with the blade and ready to use.
Step 5: Cutting
Of course, there is one more step that will help protect you, your saw, and your fence before you’re completely finished. Instead of leaving the fence a piece of exposed metal, it’s a good idea to cut a strip of wood to run along the side of the fence.
There are a few reasons to add this piece to your fence. Perhaps most importantly, the wood will help your pieces slide more easily through the saw since it will create less friction than the metal.
It also works to help bring your fence flush with the table, further eliminating the possibility of catches and snags while you’re ripping with your saw.
Lastly, it helps protect both the saw and the fence in case you end up moving the fence too close to the blade. The wood is much more replaceable than the metal of the fence itself, and also much easier on the blade of your saw in case of an accident.
Once you’ve got these basic steps completed your extended saw table is ready to use. You can always work on upgrades while you’re using the table, things like cabinet doors or drawers built-in for your supplies, better fence protection, and so on.
By following these steps, the basic table design is finished and ready to go to work.