A taper jig lets you make angled rip cuts on a table saw. It's a fairly simple tool, and easy to use safely once you get the swing of it. But please do make sure that you understand how the jig operates before you turn on your saw. Below, Michael Dresdner and Rob Johnstone cover the basics in their response to a Woodworker's Journal eZine reader's question.
Q. I just made [a taper jig], now how do I use it?
A. Michael Dresdner: "In the film "The Mask of Zorro," the elder Zorro is about to teach his student the art of true swordsmanship, and asks him scornfully "Do you know how to use that thing?" The younger man nods, and answers matter-of-factly "The pointy end goes into the other man."
"Taper jigs are a bit like that. The simple answer is that you place the wood you want to taper into the notch of the jig, with one side along the angled side of the jig, and move the wood and jig past the blade. The jig should be set so that it clears the blade and both the bottom and top of the tapered board are the widths you require. Some taper jigs run in table saw tracks; others use the saw's fence to set the distance of cut. If you have not guessed already, this is the time to cut a lot of scrap wood until you understand the consequences of each different setup. I don't know what your taper jig looks like, but please make sure that when it is in use, your hands are nowhere near the blade, and the wood being cut is secured in some way."
A. Rob Johnstone: "I just love your question, because it is such a familiar situation to me. I've just bought (or made or was given) a widget, and now I have to figure out how to use it. And Michael's answer is very practical. In fact, I would even go so far as to recommend that you put the jig on your saw with the blade fully lowered and make a few passes just to see how the geometry of your system works. Sometimes it can be just a bit counterintuitive."
From the Woodworker's Journal eZine archives
You can make a taper jig, or you can buy one that's all set to go, like Rockler's Precision Taper Jig. The store-bought jig has a few features that would take a little time and thought to replicate in the shop - the angle scale and the adjustable stop, for example. But whether you build or buy, be sure to make a few dry runs before you start cutting. It's extremely important to understand the relationship between the jig and the blade throughout the range of angles the tool covers. After that, you might consider making a few cuts in a nice, wide piece of scrap to get a feel for the procedure. With a little practice, you'll get a sense of what you can do safely with the jig, and you'll be all set for projects that require accurate, perfectly straight tapered cuts.