This Week in the Shop: Fixing a Broken Jet Table Saw Fence

In the classroom, I stress safety at all times.  After a few incidents my first year as a woodworking teacher, I changed the way I teach sawing.  This year, as I’m teaching brand-new students to woodworking, I’m starting from scratch.  At home, I apply the same principle.  This blog post, though, revolves around a fact of woodworking:  it is a risky activity, even when you do everything right.

This fall, I bought a Jet Supersaw with a sliding table, 52″ fence and some accessories.  I got it for a fair price on Craigslist and took it home in anticipation of things to come.  I should add that I’ve been woodworking for nearly 8 years now and this is my first saw.  It’s a relatively safe saw, as most crosscuts get done on the sliding table and the rip fence is solid and accurate.  I keep the blade guard installed and it comes with a splitter with pawns to hold the work down.

Even with these safety features, some cuts are more dangerous than others.  In my case, I was ripping a sheet of plywood.  Ripping the piece to width went fine, then I swung it around to cut it square.

All hell broke loose.  I thought I had put a square edge against the fence and then pushed the workpiece through the blade.  Somewhere, somehow, a small wiggle happened.  The saw kickedbacked, the workpiece jumped out of my hands, I heard a huge clunk of something broken and I hit the off-switch.  I had blown out the head of my fence.  It was completely useless.

I did have all my fingers.  So what did I do wrong?

As far as I can tell…I didn’t do a thing wrong in my cutting procedure.    Norm Abrams does the exact same cut, albeit on a larger workpiece, in his cabinetry work all the time.  Something in my fence set up or my workpiece was off by a small, unnoticeable amount to my inexperienced eye and that caused the accident.  If I had more experience with a table saw, I might have seen the fault.  Or if I used a better set up, such as a crosscutting sled, I might never have noticed the issue.  As it stands, I received a valuable lesson:  always be prepared for the situation to go sideways.

Always be prepared for the situation to go sideways.  When I ride a motorcycle, my traffic senses are on high alert – my life depends on the amount of traction a small, butterknife-sized piece of rubber makes with the road at all times.  Hit a turn to fast, too slow or too wet and my safety is at stake.  As a teacher, the line between pushing a student farther and shutting a student down is very thin – I have to use experience and intuition to find the balance.  And even when I make the “right” choice – whether the procedure to crosscut a piece of plywood, speed to enter a blind turn or the amount to encourage a student, I have to be prepared for it to fail and make a plan to mitigate the damage.

If you ever find yourself with a broken fence, here’s how to break a stock Jet fence down and replace the head.

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Make it very safe this weekend.  And keep the rubberside down.