Supercharge Your Table Saw with a Tall Fence
The table saw is a reliable workhorse for many woodworkers, and most seasoned woodworkers will use it with jigs such as a crosscut sled to improve both accuracy and safety; however, the versatile tall auxiliary fence that I use is not as widely seen or utilized as I think it deserves to be. Let me show you how an easy-to-build tall fence and a couple of accessories can greatly enhance the functionality of your table saw.
The Tall Auxiliary Fence
My tall fence consists of three essential components: the sub-fence (about 3" × 33"), the main fence (about 9" × 33") and a pair of fence clamps. You can add a T-slot track if you want to use the jig with featherboards.
To make the tall fence, a dado was first cut on the main board to accept a 1/4-20 thread or 5/16-18 thread T-slot track. I then drilled holes near the ends on the sub-fence’s top edge for the fence clamps, and screwed the sub-fence and main fence together. The tall fence is ready once the T-track is installed.
The tall fence can be used alone or with other accessory jigs, as illustrated in the four examples below.
Image left: Unlike those heavy box-like tall fences, the fence clamps offer a better way of mounting an auxiliary fence. Image right: 3/4" thick plywood or MDF is ideal for making the main fence, the sub-fence, as well as other jigs for use with the fence.
Check the tall fence for square at three points: the front, middle and back along the fence.
Rabbeting a Tall Board
The standard saw fence does not provide enough support for vertical cuts such as rabbets on a tall board. The tall fence is the remedy; set the blade height and fence in position, and make the first pass with the workpiece on the table horizontally. Then reset the blade height and fence to cut the workpiece, this time vertically against the tall fence to remove the offcut. When you have only a few tall pieces to work on, this method may be quicker than using a dado cutter.
Image left: Make the first rabbet cut with the board flat on the table. Image right: Note that in the second pass, the waste is cut loose, falling away from the blade.
Raising Panels or Cutting Bevels
Another form of vertical cuts is a raised panel door, which can feature simple bevelled edges or raised fields with a shoulder. In both cases, angled cuts are made along all four edges of the outside face. The tall fence, used with a dual featherboard system and a top bar clamped to the door to ride on the tall fence, can handle angled cuts safely.
The author prefers to make raised panels on the table saw instead of using a router table and panel bit.
The upper featherboard keeps the workpiece to the fence, while the top bar guides the cut as the work is pushed forward.
Image left: The lower featherboard is set back for clearance to avoid kickback. Image right: The top bar keeps the work from dropping into the zero clearance insert’s opening as the cut ends.
Cutting Tenon Cheeks with a Tenoning Jig
Used with a simple shop-made tenoning jig, the tall fence makes cutting tenon cheeks a quick and easy job on the table saw. The tenoning jig is composed of a carrier body, a top bar and a vertical bar, which supports the workpiece. I bolt the vertical bar so it can be removed or replaced when worn from use.
Image left: For short rails, the author uses a push pad to keep the work to the carrier board and vertical bar. Image right: The inside edge of the vertical bar is chamfered to act as a dust groove.
Cutting Slots with a Miter Spline Jig
Splines can be used to add strength and a decorative element to mitered frame corners. To do so, I remove the vertical bar on the tenoning jig and mount a right-angled “V” cradle to the carrier board in the center to cut corner slots.
To cut a corner slot, drop one frame corner into the V-cradle, and hold the top bar to push the jig forward.
In making the miter spline jig, check that the “V” cradle is 90° between its fences and the cradle is at 45° to the table.
A tall fence is also useful for other sawing tasks such as resawing. This tall auxiliary fence is waiting for you to build – and explore its versatility!
Image left: The cradle is mounted roughly in the centre of the carrier board, and the fences are at 90 degrees to each other. Image right: The right-angled V-cradle stands at 45 degrees to the table.
Text and photos by Charles Mak
Charles Mak, now in retirement, is an enthusiastic hobby woodworker, teacher, writer and tipster. He formerly worked part time at his local Lee Valley store.