Cutting a dovetail joint using a table saw

The two most basic cuts that a table saw performs are rip cuts and crosscuts.

Cutting along the length of a solid-wood board with the grain direction is referred to as a rip cut. The cut is nearly always guided by a rip fence attached to the table saw. The cut will be most accurate if the edge that runs along the fence is straight. When you rip a board you are cutting it to a specific width.

Using Rockler crosscut sled to make table saw cuts
Crosscutting (here using a crosscut sled to make a 45-degree angled cut) is one of the two primary cuts performed by a table saw. A crosscut sled helps to make crosscutting safer and can add functionality.

Crosscutting is when the saw is cutting across the grain of the lumber. The length of a board is determined in a crosscut. Crosscutting on a table saw is safely done using a fence that is set at 90 degrees to the saw blade. A crosscut sled or miter gauge are the most common means of creating accurate crosscuts.

Using a table saw to make simple miter cuts
Cutting miters, which is a special form of a crosscut, is another highly useful operation at which the table saw excels. In this photo a miter gauge is being used to guide the stock through the cut from behind.

The terms are a bit less accurate when cutting sheet stock. Plywood, MDF, particleboard and the like do not have true grain direction that determines the type of cut being made. Even so, the table saw is still adept at cutting sheet stock into precise panels. Once again the pieces being cut are guided by a fence of some sort.

Advanced Common Cuts

Using dado stack to cut segments of a box joint
Using a shop-made jig and a stackable blade called a dado set, table saws can form box joints safely and accurately.

While that old-fashioned saw of my youth faithfully ripped lumber day after day for years on end, that was really about all it was good for. Modern table saws, on the other hand, are tremendously versatile and can cut and shape wood in a variety of ways. Some of the more advanced but still common cuts are miters, tapers,grooves and dadoes as well as forming tenons, bridal joints, box joints, half-lap joints and more.

Box joint cut using a stacked dado on a table saw

Miter and taper cuts require an accurate and safe miter fence or jig to hold workpieces at an angle to the blade. Grooves or dadoes are typically made with a special cutter known as a dado blade, and raising tenons can either be done with a miter gauge or a special tenoning jig. The same is true of box joints; a shop-made or manufactured jig is required to cut a series of repetitive slots and fingers that fit together within close tolerances.

More Advanced Cuts

Using Rockler cove cutting jig to make decorative cut in corner joint
This cove-cutting jig from Rockler guides wood diagonally across a saw blade. This configuration shaves the wood into the shape of a cove as the stock is pushed through the jig.

Occasionally you can employ your table saw to make even more interesting cuts such as cove cuts. Again making use of a jig, they're easy to do. And while we may properly consider raised panels the bailiwick of router tables and shapers, in a pinch you can make perfectly functional raised panels using your table saw and a standard.

Another ability of the table saw is that it can be used to create decorative shapes. Bevels or grooves in repeating patterns are easy to form with a table saw. And spline joints, which can enhance a miter's strength or simply be decorative, are a piece of cake to make.