A good table saw is one of the first tools you should buy when you begin woodworking. These saws enable long, precise, straight cuts—critical for secure joinery and clean, professional edges. Table saws are also incredibly versatile, because you can build numerous jigs and sleds to increase their capabilities. Personally, I have a jointer sled, a tapering jig, a box joint jig, and most useful of all, a crosscut sled.
Crosscut sleds allow you to accurately and safely cut wood down to a precise length. What’s more, by adding a stop block, you can make quick, repeatable cuts—perfect for batching out a lot of same-sized pieces. When I’m cutting wood for drawers, for example, I always use my crosscut sled to ensure all the pieces are the same size.
Of course, you can do the same job with a miter saw, but I’ve found that the crosscut sled offers more control and gives a better cut. I use my miter saw to cut wood to a rough length, then grab my crosscut sled to trim those boards down to their final size.
Warning: DIY projects can be dangerous, even for the most experienced makers. Before proceeding with this or any other project on our site, ensure you have all necessary safety gear and know how to use it properly. At minimum, that may include safety glasses, a face mask, and/or ear protection. If you’re using power tools, you must know how to use them safely and correctly. If you do not, or are otherwise uncomfortable with anything described here, don’t attempt this project.
- Time: 2 to 3 hours
- Material cost: $50 to $75
- Difficulty: Easy
- 2 (2-by-4-foot) pieces of ¾-inch plywood
- 2-inch screws
- ½-inch screws
- 2 pieces of scrap wood the same width, depth, and length as your miter slots
- Table saw
- Wood glue
- Countersink bit
- L square (or whatever square you have)
- Tape measure
- Paste wax
- CA (cyanoacrylate) glue
- Digital calipers
- Feeler gauges
1. Decide how big your crosscut sled will be. Its size depends on two things: how wide your table saw is and the dimensions of the largest wood you want to be able to cut. The sled can hang a few inches over the edges of your table saw, but you don’t want it to sag. Similarly, the entire board you’re cutting should fit on the sled, with minimal overhang. I wanted to cut 24-inch boards, so I made my sled 36 inches wide. This gave me 12 inches on one side of the blade and 24 inches on the other.
2. Cut the plywood to length. One sheet will be the base of your sled, while the other will be cut into pieces and used to build the fence and stabilizer board. Because these are structural components, both sheets need to span the width of your crosscut sled. Cut them to that size (in my case, it was 36 inches).
- Note: The fence will hold your work perpendicular to the blade, while the stabilizer will simply keep the sled from falling apart.
3. Rip the fence and stabilizer boards to width. For stability and strength, both the fence and stabilizer should be made of multiple boards glued together. My fence is made of three strips of plywood glued together, while the stabilizer is made from two. The fence and stabilizer should both be taller than your table saw’s fully raised blade. In my case, the blade rises just over 3 inches, so I ripped the five fence and stabilizer boards to 4 inches wide each.
[Related: Tune up your table saw the right way]
4. Construct the fence and stabilizer. Glue three of the plywood boards together, face to face, for the fence, and the remaining two face to face for the stabilizer. Try to keep the boards as close to flush as possible to make flattening and squaring them easier in steps 6 and 7 .
- Pro tip: If you have a long enough level, clamp it to the face of the fence while the glue dries to keep it perfectly straight. A crooked fence means crooked cuts.
5. Cut runners for the miter sled. The sled runners will slide freely in your table saw’s miter slots, and the better they fit, the more accurate your cuts will be. Well-fit runners will also make the crosscut sled easier to move. The runners should be the same length as your sled, the same width as the miter slots on your table saw, and about 1/16-inch shallower than the miter slot depth. I made mine out of scrap wood, but if you don’t have any of that lying around, you can just buy a small piece of pine or poplar.
- Pro tip: Err on the side of making the runners too large at first. You can always trim or sand these down to make them fit. The runners should slide freely in the miter slots without any side-to-side movement.
6. Square and flatten the fence. Once the glue on the fence is dry, flatten the bottom of the piece and square it to the face of the fence. The easiest way to do this is with a jointer, but if you don’t have one, you can do this on your table saw. Once the fence’s bottom and face are square, flatten the top of the piece as well.
7. Flatten the stabilizer board. You don’t need to be as precise with this piece as you were with the fence. Just flatten the bottom so it sits flush across the full length of the sled.
8. Install the base onto the runners. Place one or two pennies or washers into each of the miter slots and put the runners into place on top of them. The pennies should bump the tops of the runners just above the table top. Put a few dabs of CA glue onto each of the runners.
Make sure the table saw blade is lowered all the way, then lay the sled base flat onto the runners, using the table saw fence to keep the plywood as square to the table as possible. The closer to square you can get this step, the easier it will be to square the fence up later.
Give the CA glue the manufacturer’s recommended time to dry, then flip the sled over. Countersink three holes along the center of each runner, with one at each end and one more in the middle. Fasten them in place with ½-inch wood screws.
9. Install the stabilizer board. On the far side of the sled, install the stabilizer board, countersinking holes through the bottom of the sled base and then using 2-inch screws to fasten it in place. You can just line this up against the edge of the sled—it does not need to be perfectly square. As a reminder, you want this to stand tall along its long edge, as if you’re building a wall around your sled.
10. Make a cut three-quarters of the way through the sled. Move the sled out of the way and raise the blade of your table saw to about 1 inch. Place the sled runners into the miter slots, turn on the saw, and push the sled through, stopping when the blade gets to 5 or 6 inches from the fence edge of the sled. This creates a line that shows exactly where the blade will run on the sled.
11. Square the sled fence to the blade and install it. Position the fence along the near side of your sled, the same way you installed the stabilizer. Then use your square to ensure it is perpendicular to the cut line for the saw. Countersink a hole through the bottom of the sled base on one end of the fence, approximately on its center-line, and screw it to the sled using a 2-inch screw. That screw will serve as a pivot point as you fine-tune your fence position with your square.
Once the fence is as square as you can get it, install a countersunk second screw on the other end of the fence, approximately mirroring the pivot screw. This locks the fence in place. If you’re lucky, the fence will be perfectly square, but you’ll need to test it.
12. Test that the fence is square using the five-cut method. There are lots of videos on how to use the five-cut method, and I recommend this one from Bike City Woodworks. He makes the process simple to understand and has a calculator you can use for the math.
In a nutshell, you’ll cut a sliver off of all four sides of a rectangular board, working clockwise, and then cut an inch-long strip off of the first side you cut. Measure the far and near end of that final strip with good digital calipers. Plug those measurements into the calculator, along with the distance from the pivot screw to the end of the fence, and it will tell you how much you need to adjust the fence. If you have a pair of mechanic’s feeler gauges, these can help you make minuscule adjustments. If you don’t, as I do not, you can use playing cards, business cards, old IDs, or any thin object you have lying around the shop. Just measure whatever you use with your calipers so you know how thick it is.
If the numbers show your fence needs adjusting, remove the non-pivot screw from the fence, adjust its position based on the calculations, and then re-install the fence using a brand new hole. In theory, your fence should be square, but you should repeat the five-cut method to make sure. Adjust as needed until you’re within a tolerance you’re comfortable with—typically one-thousandth of an inch is great.
When the fence is square, countersink holes along the full length of the fence and use more 2-inch screws to secure it. I put three screws on the short side and four on the long.
- Warning: Make sure you don’t put any screws where the blade could hit them. Hitting a screw with the saw can damage your sled, damage your saw, and possibly send dangerous shrapnel flying.
13. Install a “don’t touch here” block. The main danger of using a crosscut sled is not paying attention to where you’re pushing from. If you let your thumb slip over the blade area and push the sled all the way through, you’ll cut your thumb. So I glue a scrap of 2-by-4 to the back of the fence, hiding the cut line. This is a physical and visible reminder of exactly where to never put my fingers.
14. Wax the runners and the bottom of the sled. The final step is to make sure the sled slides smoothly and easily across your table saw. You shouldn’t need a lot of force to push it through. Applying a coat of paste wax to the bottom and runners will help it glide.
Using a clean rag, rub the wax over all of the bottom surfaces, making sure to get the sides of the runners. Let the wax dry for a few minutes, per the manufacturer’s instructions, then buff it off. The sled should feel almost effortless as it moves over the saw.
And then get cutting! If you’re like me, you’ll find the crosscut sled far easier, more accurate, and less stressful to use than a miter saw.