Safety first is always the rule in our woodworking shop. We want to preserve all ten digits, the flesh on our forearms, and our pretty faces.
Safety first also applies to the tools we use. We’ve invested good money in our tool inventory, and we want the maximize the value of that inventory and investment. Using tools safely is not just for our own sake; it’s for the sake of the tools, too.
Such is the case with our table saw. This power tool can be dangerous if you aren’t careful in its use. Digits do get lost, flesh does get broken, and kickback can do a job on your face.
But, there is also a danger to the saw, and its important accessory – the rip fence – when making cuts, especially cuts where the fence needs to be very close to the table saw blade.
The fence is an essential accessory that aids in making accurate cuts. It sits to the right of the blade and is used to keep your workpiece in place as you make a rip cut along the grain.
But what if you want to make a rabbet cut on a 1x workpiece? The fence will need to be very close to the blade, and an aluminum fence runs the risk of being dinged by the blade.
This is where a sacrificial fence comes into play.
What is A Sacrificial Fence?
A sacrificial fence is a wood construct, shop-made, that “sacrifices” itself in place of and up against the aluminum fence that came as a table saw accessory: for those cuts where a fence will be very close to the blade, the wood gets cut, not the aluminum fence.
While usually made of wood, plastic can also be used. The point is to use a material that will not be harmful to the blade and something that is attached to the existing fence. These materials, in close proximity to or in direct contact with the table saw blade, are not liable to be harmful to the saw blade while still guiding the workpiece for the desired cut.
Sacrificial fences can be made of solid wood but also of MDF or plywood. Depending on the thickness and grade of the material, MDF will tend to be cheaper and is perfectly suitable as a sacrificial fence on your table saw.
Sacrificial fences are easily custom-built to accommodate your particular accessory fence model. A few measurements, some careful thinking on dimensions and height based upon the cuts you are likely to make on your planned projects, and that fence becomes your next project.
In a pinch, though, you can also simply clamp a piece of wood to the blade side of your existing fence. This will work as long as the clamps will not get in the way. Again, safety first.
How Tall Should Your Sacrificial Fence be?
It is easy simply to build a cover for your aluminum fence with your chosen material – two sides and the top. But, you should consider building a sacrificial fence that is higher than your existing fence.
There may well be cuts on the edge of that 1x workpiece, and a high fence allows the use of a guide piece and clamps atop to attach the workpiece for the cut. A tall fence allows the use of clamps without them getting in the way of a cut, and increases the thickness of the workpiece possible.
The Common Reason for Using a Sacrificial Fence
Rabbets. Not the furry kind, the cute little bunny rabbits. Rabbets are the most common reason for wanting to use a sacrificial fence on your table saw.
A rabbet is a recess or groove cut into the edge of a workpiece. Looking at a rabbet cut in cross-section, it’s two-sided and open to the end or edge of the workpiece into which it has been cut. It creates a lip that can then fit snugly into a groove on a second workpiece. It’s especially useful when building furniture that uses panels, like a bureau or chest of drawers. It’s also useful in cabinet-making.
To make a rabbet cut, the fence will need to be close to the stacked dado blade used for them. Customarily, a sacrificial strip of wood is secured to the fence and then moved against the dado set, covering a part of the blade as needed and measured for as the cut to be made.
Custom-building a sacrificial fence, as well as a feather board to clamp to it for such rabbet cuts, is a fine solution that will come in handy over and over for those and other cuts where the fence needs to be close to the blade.
The use of a feather board bespeaks the advantage of making your sacrificial fence tall. Clamping a feather board to a tall sacrificial fence keeps the clamps well above the blade and out of its way.
The purpose of a feather board is to apply pressure against your workpiece, thus keeping it flat against the table and the fence. While you can purchase a commercially made feather board for anywhere from $7 – $15, you can also make your own with a piece of scrap 1x laying around your shop using your table saw and a custom-made sacrificial fence.
Designing Your Own Sacrificial Fence
You are limited in the design of a custom-made sacrificial fence only by the limit of your imagination. Simple or complex will depend on the projects you usually take on and the types of cuts you need to make on your table saw. No special wood is required to make such a fence, and you may very well have scrap pieces from past projects that can easily become one.
In preparing for this article, we watched a lot of videos showing great imagination in the design and construction of sacrificial fences. We finally decided on one for you that the woodworker calls the “Ultimate Table Saw Fence.”
It’s not essential that your sacrificial fence be as elaborate as that in the video, but one does come in handy. Make it tall enough to give yourself a generous clamping area for any cut you need to make, and have fun in its design. After all, woodworking is supposed to be fun.