If you’ve spent any time in the wood shop making sleds for your table saw, you know that table saw runners are an important step to get just right.
However, for many beginners, the process can be a bit of a mystery.
- How do you make the runner fit perfectly without any slop?
- How do you properly attach it to the sled?
- How do you make it slide easily once attached to the sled?
- What kind of wood should you use?
- What about runners for tabbed miter tracks?
These are things I’ve learned over the years and I’m going to show you how to do it yourself.
Once you can make good runners, you’ll be able to make all kinds of table saw sleds.
And if you’re anything like me, you love making jigs and sleds for your wood shop. These are fun projects, and they make future projects easier, and future cutting more accurate.
So let’s jump right in…
A Few Prerequisites
Zero clearance throat plate – If you don’t have a zero clearance throat plate for your table saw, I would strongly suggest making one first. Factory throat plates typically have a wide gap next to the blade.
For help with this, read my guide here on making your own zero clearance table saw insert.
Many manufacturers sell these throat plates for their table saws, so you can check into that as well.
We use the zero-clearance because cutting small pieces (like runners) can be dangerous, as the work piece at a certain point will be barely resting on anything, and free to drop down beside the blade, which is an unsafe situation. See image here:
Wood Shaving Jig – I designed this specifically for shaving off roughly 1/64″ or less from the edge of runners and inlay.
It’s essentially planing the edge, but instead of moving the plane across the wood, you’re moving the wood across the blade.
I offer plans for it as part of Wood Shop Essentials, which you can see here.
This jig is not 100% necessary for making runners. Although, it does make it much easier to make them fit tight.
Thin Rip Jig – you’ll want to use a jig or push block made for cutting thin strips of wood when cutting your runner strips.
This is too thin to safely use a standard push stick.
Digital Caliper – Also, you’ll need to know the inner dimensions of your miter slot. A digital caliper is ideal for this, and is a precision tool you need in a wood shop.
Best Wood Type For Table Saw Runners
I strongly recommend using a good hard wood for your table saw runners.
I’ve used plywood and softwood in the past, and these do not hold up as well, or slide as smoothly as a nice hard wood.
Oak is readily available and pretty cheap in my area. Plus it’s got really good hardness. I’ve also made jigs and runners with hard maple, which works great.
But for me, the maple is more expensive, so I prefer oak.
The Overall Process
These are things to keep in mind as you go along making your runners.
First, plan on making several at a time, even if you only need one or two right now.
That way, you’ll have some set aside for the next sled you make.
Also, pay attention to grain direction. Solid wood expands most along the grain, tangentially, more than any other direction. This page shows a good diagram of this:
That means your miter slot runners should be oriented like this if at all possible.
This way you have the least expansion as possible going from side to side, which is what would make your runner tighten up as it gains or loses moisture, due to changes in relative humidity.
For larger, heavier sleds, you’ll want to use 2 runners, assuming its a sled that rides over both miter slots.
But small sleds, and one-sided cut-off sleds can use just one.
The table saw runners should typically run from the back of the sled, and protrude out the front of the sled an inch or so.
However, your runners don’t have to be that long. I’ve recently made a miter sled that is pretty small, and I used some runner stock I had laying around from my previous sled.
The runner is actually shorter than the sled base itself, which you’ll see in a minute.
Before you begin cutting, you’ll need to know what your miter slot dimensions are.
My miter slots are 3/8″ deep, by 3/4″ wide. This is basically standard, but it does vary. It depends on your table saw’s brand.
Many small table saws have what are called tabbed miter slots.
So be sure you know the dimensions, including the tabs, of your saws miter slot. The process will be a bit different for making runners that need to fit tabbed miter slots.
See the pictures on this page for a simple way to make these “stepped runners”. But basically, you’ll make 2 sections for each runner, the lower and the upper section. The lower fits in the miter slot snuggly, and rides underneath the tabs. The upper section fits between the tabs, not as snug, and is tall enough to reach up and touch the sled.
Then you’ll glue the 2 sections together.
Cutting the 2 sections will be similar to the following steps. I’ll note the different steps for stepped runners in italics as we go along.
Cutting The Runners
A hardwood runner should be about 2/3rds the depth of your miter slots. I usually make mine a little more than 1/4”, and my miter slots are 3/8” deep.
So I would start by cutting several 1/4″ strips from 3/4″ stock. These strips will later be laid on their side and trimmed down to fit my 3/4″ miter slots.
So before starting, you’ll want to turn the stock your using on its edge and make sure it’s thickness is wider than your miter tracks.
With that confirmed, go ahead and cut the 1/4″ strips.
If your slots are tabbed, you’ll be thin-ripping the upper piece of each 2-piece runner to be just thicker than the height of the tab itself.
After you’ve thin-ripped all your runners, now you can transition to cut the width of the runners, which will probably be very little cutting. Almost shaving.
Using your digital caliper, set the fence just a bit wider than the width of your miter slots. You’ll be barely shaving off a bit at a time until you get the fit just snug.
And again, for stepped runners, the top piece does NOT need to be snug between the tabs. But your lower piece will fit snug in the main part of the miter slot.
How to shave the runner, and basically “sneak up” on a snug fit:
Turn on your saw and slide the table saw runner in for the cut, but only about 1 inch, then back it out. See if that end can fit in your miter slot.
If not, move your fence in just a hair. This can be done by unlocking it and then just tapping it on the side near the back. Lock it in and repeat.
If your slots are tabbed, refer to this diagram.
Once the end is sized to fit snugly in the miter slot, run the entire runner through the cut. Be sure to use a push stick.
Note > If you’ve cut off too much from the end and there’s slop, turn that runner around and try again from the other side. If you screw that side up too, trim off that inch from both ends and start again (unless that makes the runner too short). So you will get several chances on each runner to get your fence just right.
Once the fence is set to cut your runners so they fit snug in the miter slot, you can run all your runners through to make them fit equally well.
Again, if you have a tabbed miter slot, then the entire process will be done twice, for 2 different pieces of your runners. And the top piece should go quickly, since you don’t have to make them so perfect.
Once your runners are cut, they should slide smoothly in your miter slot, assuming you had your fence set just right.
If there are any tight spots as you push the runner through, spend a little time sanding those down.
At this stage, you want your runners to be very smooth the whole way through.
With stepped runners, just be sure the lower piece runs smooth (snug, not loose). Now go ahead and set your lower section in the slot, and put a bead of glue along the length of it. Don’t use enough glue so there’s any squeeze out. Now rest the top piece on that piece and put weights on it. Let it sit for 30 minutes or so.
How to Attach Your Table Saw Runners
Attaching runners to the sled base is really straight forward, but if you don’t know a couple tricks, you may struggle getting it just right.
You can attach the first runner (and for some sleds, the only runner) with wood screws.
Position your sled where you want it, in relation to the blade. Then make marks on the front and back edges to indicate the location of the miter slot.
Extend the lines across the bottom to make it clear where the runner gets attached.
Predrill and countersink a hole about every 6 to 8 inches along the runner from underneath, and attach it to the sled with 3/4″ x #6 wood screws.
Yeah, so my runner fell kinda short. It’s what I had laying around, so I wanted to use it. Yours will probably be full length.
If that’s the only runner you’re using for the sled, you can move on. It should slide very smoothly and need no further tuning.
But if you’re going to attach a second runner, you’ll want to glue that one in place, then reinforce with screws.
First, go ahead and countersink your mounting holes in the second table saw runner, then continue to the gluing process.
Here’s the gluing process:
First set some washers or pennies in your miter slot. You may need to stack a couple of them. Then set the runner on top of the pennies.
The goal is to raise the runner so the top is just higher than the top of your table saw.
Now run a bead of glue down the runner. Be careful not to put glue on the end, if the runner is going to extend out the end of the sled.
Set the sled on top of the runner, allowing the first runner to fall into its miter slot.
Set weights on top of the sled and let it dry for 30 minutes. (I like to use boxes of screws and nails for weights)
If you want to expedite the gluing process, use hot glue. It will dry and be ready for the next step within minutes.
Then flip it over and insert the 3/4″ x #6 wood screws through the runner into the sled base.
Note – Attaching the runner (or runners) is done BEFORE you cut through your sled. Whether that cut be for trimming the side off of a 1-sided sled, or cutting the kerf through a dual runner sled. Before you cut, these runners get attached. For details on building a simple crosscut sled, see my project-guide here.
Make Your Sled Slide Smoother
Even though you made your table saw runners slide really smooth when they were by themselves, once 2 runners are attached to a sled, especially one with long runners, chances are there will be some tight spots.
First, take a marker and color in the entire sides of the runners.
Then force it through the miter slots and after a few pushes you should see some of the areas of the marker rub away. This indicates the tight spots.
Using sandpaper and a sanding block, or the edge of a card scraper, start taking off material at these locations.
Add marker to those spots again, and repeat the process.
This may take a few rounds, but once you get through all the tight spots, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do this:
Granted, this was after a few coats of wax, which by the way should do as well. Once you remove the tight spots, use paste wax on the sides of the runners, and on the base of the sled. It really helps.
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