Cutting a taper can seem like it is difficult and potentially dangerous, so understanding how to approach the table saw and use it to help you get the best possible taper cuts is incredibly important.
Perfect for outdoor furniture with a stylish finish, taper cuts that are done well will add an excellent skill to your portfolio so you can impress your clients. But, how to make a taper cut with a table saw?
First things first, we need to make sure we know what a taper cut is and where we would use it.
What is a taper cut?
Taper cuts are a special kind of rip cut (a cut along the grain of a piece of wood) that runs and cuts non-parallel to the edges of the board.
This gives the wood a slanted finish that looks excellent in a number of situations. You will often find taper cuts on table legs and outdoor chairs as they give an elegant, artistic finish.
They can easily be made by using a table saw to cut aboard. There are a number of techniques we can use for this and we’ll look at two – using a jig and using a guide board. We recommend the guide board method, but depending on the equipment you have, you might want to use a jig.
How do we make a taper cut safely and properly?
The process for making a taper cut is relatively simple but can lead to sloppy finishes or serious injury if you don’t give the table saw the respect it deserves.
Because you’re going to be sliding the board over a spinning blade facing upwards, there is a possibility of chips flying towards you or a slip causing a serious injury.
Taking time to consider how you will approach the cut before the blade is spinning will allow you to make a safe plan before there is any potential for danger. A good plan beforehand will save you money and fingers, so think carefully before powering up the saw.
Before you even start, getting the correct equipment and understanding how to use everything is important. Here is the basic equipment that you will need:
- A jig or a guide board
- A table saw
- A board to cut
- Some small pieces of scrap wood
- Ruler or tape measure
- Push stick
- Blade protector
- Safety equipment such as goggles, dust mask, and ear protectors
How to Cut a Taper on a Table Saw?
When you have all your equipment together, you are ready to start. Make sure to double-check that everything is working as intended and that you understand how to work it. Carelessness with a table saw can very easily lead to lost thumbs and fingers.
Because a table saw points its teeth upwards towards the user, there is a possibility of splintering or loose chips flying off the board if you are using low-quality wood.
This is why it is important to wear goggles or any other eye protection and a dust mask. Your eyes are incredibly important to you in this trade, so don’t take any chances with them.
Table saws can also be very loud, especially if used over a long period of time. In this trade, we expose ourselves to loud noises throughout the day, and failing to protect them can lead to long term damage, especially in older age. Make sure that you have ear protectors or earplugs and wear them during any cut.
You might also want to wear gloves to give your hands extra protection against splinters, but make sure that you are not wearing baggy clothing on your arms. As you approach the blade, this could get caught in the mechanism and lead to serious injury.
2. Marking the cut
If you have not done so already, you need to mark the cut on your board. Using a pen or pencil is the easiest way to do this. Draw two marks at either end of the wood and connect them using a ruler or tape measure.
Think about how you want the wood to look when finished. A steady and straight line is important, so take your time when drawing your angle.
When the mark is made, you are ready to get on with the cut.
3. Setting up
Your table saw will need very little manual configuration for this kind of cut, but make sure that it is in the correct position. If you have access to a blade protector, this gives the blade itself added security and stops it from wobbling and giving you an uneven finish.
When this is confirmed, you can lay the jig or guide board on the table and set it up safely. Regardless of which technique you are using, you will need to rest them against the fence.
Make sure that when you set the fence that it’s secured and does not move when pressure is applied to it. A loose fence could allow the entire set up to slip as you are cutting, definitely moving the cut and potentially moving your hands into the way of the saw’s teeth. Once you do that then start the saw.
4. Using a Jig for a Taper Cut
If you are using a jig, you will want to position it against the rip fence on the table saw table.
These most commonly come as two arms attached by a hinge at one end. Set the jig to the angle that you need to cut and secure the bolt that holds the arms in place.
You don’t want to cut half of your board at one angle and then find out that the jig has slipped – this will ruin the job and the wood.
The board that you want to cut is then placed alongside the jig. It should be tight against the arm and line up cleanly with the saw. Before moving towards the saw, make sure that the jig is secured and that you can apply some pressure to the board without anything moving.
This technique is very common, but there is a risk that the board will pull away from the fence when cutting. As you have to push the taper jig along with the wood, sometimes this can cause it to slip. This can lead to sloppy finishes.
Other styles of jigs are available which have clamps holding the board in place against the arm. Anything that gives added security to your board is a big plus in our eyes.
5. Using a Guide Board for a Taper Cut
If you are using a guide board, place the board you want to cut on top of the guide. Mark this with a pen or pencil. Because you want a tapered finish, you will need to measure the degree of your tapering onto the guide.
When you have the correct shape marked out, you can use screws or strong tape to attach the board to the guide. Although some people will want to avoid using screws for fear of damaging the finish, the tape is less reliable overall and is more likely to slip.
Attaching screws to the waste wood section of your board can allow you to get added security and make sure that your finished product does not have any holes in it.
For extra security, you can attach small pieces of scrap wood to the guide so that they are tight to the board. When the board is in place, put one or two pieces of scrap wood tightly on the other side and screw them to your guide board.
This will help you get the correct angle again if you need to make matching pieces of tapered wood or can be easily removed and replaced for when you move onto your next job.
6. Making the Cut
Now you are ready to make your cut, but safety still needs to be the first thing on your mind. A table saw is a powerful piece of equipment, so approaching it properly will protect your fingers.
As you will be pushing the board towards the table saw, you will have to account for your fingers moving in the direction of the moving saw.
Tapering wood also means that it will become narrow as you cut, so you are more likely to present your fingers if you are just pushing on the board. The easiest way to make sure that you are safe is by using a push stick.
You can buy push sticks from any good hardware shop, but they are not really very complicated pieces of equipment.
You can make your own simply by measuring the angle of your wood (which is probably 90 degrees) and cutting one end of a smaller piece of wood that is long enough to hold away from the blade. This will give you “two hands” on the board without actually touching it.
7. Using a Jig to Make a Table Saw Tapered Cut
If you are using a taper jig, you will want to use the handle of the jig in one hand and the push stick in the other. You should be able to grip the board securely when both are in place. Then all you have to do is simply push the board over the blade smoothly.
As you feed the board over the saw, the excess wood will be removed and give you the tapered finish you need. If there are any splinters, these can be removed with sandpaper for a clean finish.
Remember that jigs can sometimes have a tendency to slip, apply pressure to the taper jig that keeps it tight to the fence. If your fence is on your right-hand side, positioning your body so that you are standing to the left will give you more control over the cut and a better finish.
8. Using a Guide Board to Make a Table Saw Tapered Cut
If you are using a guide board, you will place the guide against the fence and hold it tight with the push stick. Again, this should feel secure. As the board is fed through the saw and the taper begins to narrow, you may want to put down the push stick and instead secure the cut by pushing against the guide board near the fence.
After you have made the cut, you will need to remove the board from the guide. Simply unscrew or un-tape the board and you will have your finished piece.
Because you have small pieces of scrap still attached to your guide, this technique is perfect for those that want to make multiple pieces of tapered wood with the exact same finish.
Regardless of which method you are using, you now simply feed the board into the saw and you will have your tapered wood. It is important to make your cut slowly and steadily in order to avoid excessive splintering, chipping, or slipping.
Even with a push stick in place, one slip can cause an unprofessional finish or serious injury – approaching the blade with proper respect and diligence is a must!
Using a table saw for a tapered cut is the easiest way to get clean, consistent finishes when approached properly.
Taking time to set up your workshop and gathering the correct tools for the cut will make this job safer, easier, and (best of all) quicker. A quick finish allows you to get on with more work and make more customers happy.
For the best finishes, we suggest you use the guide board method. It only requires you to spend a small amount of money on a wide board that supports the cut and can be used over and over to make the same excellent finishes.
You can also remove and reposition your scrap wood to reuse this same technique again with different finishes.
And this is it, this is how to cut a taper on a table saw. If you have any questions make sure to email or comment below.