Sleds are a very valuable asset. They provide a way to allow the work piece to travel parallel to the blade or cutter head to ensure an accurate cut on both large and small pieces, and even irregular shapes. They can have hold downs, clamps, and/or fences to hold the work piece secure during the cut, preventing the piece from flying off or moving out of parallel with the direction of cut. And most importantly, they help us keep our fingers away from the blade or cutter head. Have we ever had a small piece that needed just a “little cut here”, followed by a potentially stupid move?
Some time ago, George Vondriska posted a video called How to Make a Shop Made Sled, using the Zero Play Guide Bar System from Micro Jig. If making snug fitting wooden guides for sleds is a bit challenging for you, this guide system is a good alternative. It’s important that the guides are a good fit for the miter gauge slot.
So let’s have a discussion about sleds. This article gives you an overview of my four favorite sleds. With a little imagination and ingenuity on your end you’ll be able to adapt those you need for use in your shop.
The first one we all think of is the 45-degree miter sled. Mine is similar to the one George made, just bigger and I used oak for the guides. I found it useful to mark the location of the blade area with blue tape as a reminder where NOT to put my fingers.
Here I’ve added a piece of hard maple as a zero clearance fence.
This sled came in handy when writing the article Jake’s Tips on Making Miters to make cuts in very small and delicate 1/2” by 3/8” trim pieces on cabinet doors.
Panel Cutting Sled
The second sled, a panel cutting sled, is invaluable for cutting large pieces, such as plywood case parts and panel doors.
The fence is located at the top of the sled, perpendicular to the blade. The alternative is to place the fence at the rear of the base, but the size of the panel is then limited by the size of the base. Placing the fence at the top of the base allows for much larger panels to be cut. Note that I made the fence extra long to help stabilize longer panels. Making the panel sled for the left or right side of the blade is a matter of personal preference.
The third sled is a small version of a very traditional design.
A cross cut sled can be small, like mine, or cover the entire surface area of a table saw table. It’s designed to give maximum stability and accuracy for any cross cut operation. The sled has a beefy fence at the front and rear edges of the base to keep the base together, since the base has been cut in two to accommodate full travel of the sled through the blade.
This smaller version was built to hold small pieces of irregular shaped feet for planter boxes.
As can be seen in this picture, by using the sled the foot can be oriented as needed to insure that the top and bottom are cut square to each other not to mention how secure the piece is and how safe my fingers are when making these cuts.
Adjustable Box Joint Sled
The problem I have always had with making jigs to cut box joints (finger joints), is readjusting the locator key to loosen or tighten up the fit of the fingers. So I decided to make a sled with two adjustable tables instead of an adjustable key.
By cutting slotted holes for screws in the base, the key can be moved back and forth to adjust the spacing between the fingers of the joint. I also made the key longer because I was making multiple small boxes out of oak, and wanted to speed up the manufacturing process (I have highlighted the locator key with black marker). As this picture demonstrates, by making the locator key longer, several pieces of wood can be clamped together at one time and cut on the sled. I was cutting up to 10 pieces of 1/4” thick oak at a time with this sled.