July 5, 2009

Feather Boards

No I am not talking about controlling people, I am talking about getting good quality cuts on a table saw. It does not matter if you are working on a big 10 inch table saw (shown in the photo) or on a miniature tablesaw because a tablesaw is a tablesaw and no matter the size they cut the same way.

There are three aides shown in this photo for achieving better control. One is a push stick that does not really look like a stick, it looks like a shoe. You don't have to go out and purchase fancy pushers, you can make them out of scrap wood. This one is about 9" long by 4" tall. You don't have to match those exact dimensions, it just needs to be tall enough to keep your fingers out of the blade and long enough to put some pressure over a greater distance than one tiny spot. There is a notch cut along the bottom edge leaving just a little tab at the tail end. The notch has to be less in height than the wood you are going to push. Easy to adjust by cutting the tab a little shorter if needed.

You will notice how the plywood on the pusher is chewed up along lower edge. That is because I often cut very thin strips on my full size table saw and the shoe shaped push stick lets me do that safely. It is OK if my table saw blade takes a little nip out of the pusher, in fact it covers up the sharp blade and protects my fingers. I have this same kind of pusher for my miniature sized table saws.

The second aid shown is a feather board. The end of the board with all the feathers cut in it is angled. You lock the feather board into position just in front of the saw blade putting just a little bit of pressure against the board you are going to run through the saw. What happens is the feathers will flex one direction and keep the board against the fence while resisting the board you are cutting being pushed back towards you. The angle cut on the end of the feather board creates that special one way control. Hey you don't have to work so hard with your hands trying to keep the board against the fence while you push and that is a good thing. Now you can concentrate on smooth and steady feeding of your piece of wood to get a nice smooth cut.

The third aid is a zero clearance throat plate. That is the red piece you see surrounding the saw blade. The one in the photo is only used for making 90 degree cuts, I have another for making 45 degree cuts and a couple more for other small ranges of angles. The idea is you always have good support of smaller sizes of materials right next to the saw blade. Only draw back is all the saw dust does not get sucked down into the saw and gets tossed around in you face. Oh well maybe someday I will get a bigger dust collector and have suction up on top too.

The 1:12 structure I am building is a birdhouse. I decided I wanted to make it a little taller so it is more visually pleasing to me so I am adding on a band of half timber detailing. There are going to be brackets built into this band that support the roof overhang. The bracket detail will give the piece additional visual interest as you look upwards to the birdhouse. It does not look so great at the moment but I can see it in my mind even if you can't.


Debby said...

Hi Karin, thanks for letting us have a peak in your workshop and at your gadgets. By the looks of it you're well equipt.

I read your usefull information and will certainly try the shape of your pusher. Maybe you have weird shoes (?) as I don't recognise the shape, but it doesn't matter; I see it has big advantages (fingers out of the way, and more steering control than a stick) Thanks!

I have one question for you though. I have a featherboard as well, and removed the spacer (don't know how to call it in English) that was behind the blade. It's a piece of thin metal, the same thikness as the blade itself. It separates your material after the cut and I think it is used to prevent the material from vibrating against your blade. With it came a huge plastic protectioncap that covered up the blade and thus taking up a clear view so I removed it. You have to see what youre doing, don't you? Now for the question.

I have the trouble that my material starts to vibrate after the cut and thus gets messed up against the blade and looses the cleanliness of the cut. I think it's because removing the spacer, but I don't know. There's no such thing on your table and my guess is that you may have run into the same trouble. I'am a bit apprehensive to use my left hand to guide the material at the (back) lefthand, but think that's the only way. Is that so?? And if not, how did you solve it, or is there an other reason and youre not confronted with this problem, but I do?

DJee, a long story but I hope my english makes any sence to you

Karin Corbin said...

Hi Debbie, the little piece you are writing about is usually called a splitter. It does have an important function in safe and accurate cutting. Wood has grain and growth rings and sometimes when you cut into the wood moves in odd directions such moving together and closing up the gap the saw blade just created. That does indeed create saw blade marks in the wood just as it passes the back edge of the blade.

I often don't use the splitter such as when I am cutting plywood or cutting wood on which I like seeing a rough, uneven texture such as for the Timber Frame houses I build. The pieces I was cutting in the photo were for some structural blocking that won't be visible after the birdhouse is finished so I don't care if it is a bit rough.

You can make or purchase short splitters. The important thing is the splitter must match the thickness of the saw blade you are using and be behind and exactly in line with the saw blade.

Here is a link to a small splitter that will give you an example of one way to handle the problem. For a miniature saw you will probably have to make something like this for your own use.

It is impossible to cut narrow strips between the fence and the blade with those guards in place. However I am of course required to tell you "that for you own safety you must follow the safety instructions that came with your saw and that I only have the safety guards removed so you can clearly see things in the photo".

Debby said...

Hi Karen, thanks for you quick and clear explanation. Working with powertools needs time and attention and most of all caution to get to know all its do's and don'ts. Just like a new oven; you can't bake the perfect cake the first time round. I've worked with powertools over decades now but I am still in the process of getting to know my mini tablesaw. It's good to know that my assumptions were right, the splitter hás its function and can not be removed whitout consequence. It's just that working in miniature some things don't work as well as it does in regular size. And with the amount of jigs and tricks around I thought you might have found an adaptation of some sort to solve it. As you said it; there isn't. Now I only have to find a way around that monstrosity of protectioncap... As it's klinged to the splitter I think I'll make my own (ofcourse with the requirements as mentioned in your answer)

Many many thanks again, I'm off to my workshop
with kind regards Debby

Karin Corbin said...

Debby after more thinking about your comment I did remember another name for the piece behind the saw, it is also called a riving knife. They are a little different than a splitter, a fixed splitter is usually only effective at 90 degrees. A riving knife is attached to the arbor support system of the table saw and rotates as the table saw rotates.

You could make one of them by copying the hole patterns on the riving knife that is built into the tablesaw guard. Which miniature tablesaw do you own? I might be able to create a pattern for you sometime in the next few weeks. I have been meaning to make one for myself and I thank you for the push to get that task done.

Debby said...

Thanks again Karin. My saw is a Proxxon, the FKS/E. It's blade can tilt 45 degrees, so the splitter should be called a riving knive I presume? All this technical englisch sometimes make my head spin, but its good to know :-)

Good luck with making your own, I'll have a try at it too.