About 90% of the finish carpentry I do involves the miter saw,
so it's important to me to have a saw table that goes together
quickly, serves as an efficient workstation, and then breaks
down into small enough pieces for me to load in my van. You can
buy a ready-made saw station, but it means settling for someone
else's design. I built my first saw table years ago and have
been refining the design ever since. My current setup consists
of a miter saw, portable table saw, shop vac, folding stands,
and a customized duct system and extension tables.
At the core of this station is my DeWalt model 705 12-inch
single-compound non-slide miter saw. This saw has the capacity
to make all the cuts I need without the added weight, expense,
and complications of a slider. The saw is supported by a
Stanley WorkMate 400 (now 450). This sturdy, stable tool folds
flat for transport and is able to resist all the turning stress
of left/right mitering. The earlier generations of my
workstation had homemade wooden stands that quickly became
wobbly under the side-to-side stress of swinging the saw.
The saw is bolted to blocks that fit between dogs on the
WorkMate's top and are clamped in place by its vice. The blocks
are sized to put the table at 38 inches, which is my favorite
The wings don't have to be strong enough to support framing
lumber, but I like them to work as a light-duty workbench (see
Figure 1). I made the wings by ripping 9-inch strips off a 1
3/4-inch hollow-core door, pushing back the cardboard
honeycomb, and gluing in a 3/4-inch plywood strip to fill the
edge. My saw will cut boards up to 8 inches wide, so the 9-inch
wings are plenty. The extra inch is to the rear of the fence so
I can store spring clamps there. If I used a bigger saw, I'd
make wider wings.
Figure 1. The extension
wings are made from a hollow-core door. They can be used with
the miter saw alone or in conjunction with a portable table
The hollow wings provide a lightweight work surface that's
stiff enough for tasks such as belt sanding, routing, and
coping. They're not as good as a separate bench, but they're
much better to work on than the extensions on most commercial
Connection hardware. The
9-inch strips came off an 80-inch door, so the wings provide
over 7 feet of support on each side of the blade. I attach the
wings to the saw with 6-inch bed rail fasteners, the kind that
mortise in. I got them by mail order from Rockler Woodworking
and Hardware (800/279-4441, www.rockler.com). The slotted half is
mortised into the end of the wing. The hooked half is mortised
into a piece of plywood that is bolted to holes I drilled in
the edge of the saw table (Figure 2). I like this hardware
because it locks the wings to the saw left and right while
supporting them up and down. To keep the wing from coming
loose, I drop a 16-penny nail through a hole drilled in the
wing. The wings won't come off unless you remove the
Figure 2. The wings are
tied to the saw by bed rail connectors. The author prevents
them from accidentally popping free by jamming the hardware
with a nail.
The ends of the wings are supported by simple fixed wooden
legs. I've tried using adjustable legs, but it's not worth the
trouble. It's easy enough to level the wings by shimming the
legs or leaning them at a slight angle.
I use a 10-inch Makita table saw that's equipped with an older
PortaMax fence and table extension (Rousseau Co., 800/635-3416,
www.rousseauco.com). This fence works
better than the one that comes with the saw and gives me over
24 inches of rip capacity. A second WorkMate supports the table
saw at the same 38-inch height as the miter saw. The saw is
bolted to blocks that are grasped by the stand's dogs and vise
(Figure 3). Because the table saw is deeper than the miter saw,
I leave the lower legs in the folded position. The upper part
of the WorkMate is offset to the rear, so I face the saw
backward in the stand so it won't tip over when I rip.
Figure 3. Blocks bolted
to the bottom of the saws are grasped between the dogs on top
of the WorkMates. In this setup, the saw is connected directly
to the vac, which exhausts the dust out the
With this arrangement, the miter wings double as outfeed for
the table saw and the table saw gives me another 2 feet of
support for 16-foot MDF moldings. The wings aren't that wide,
but they're big enough for the narrow stuff I usually rip. If I
need to rip sheet goods, I set up the saw by itself and use an
18-inch or 30-inch hollow-core door for the outfeed.
A recent addition to my saw setup is a dust transport system.
I don't call it a dust collector because I'm not saving the
dust; I'm just moving it away from me. This is very important
with all the MDF trim carpenters use these days: It creates a
lot of fine dust, so it's great to get rid of it.
The dust system is powered by a 16-gallon Craftsman shop vac.
The filter has been removed and the exhaust is vented outdoors
through a 2-inch ABS pipe. This probably affects the warranty,
but a $100 vac lasts about two years and I can live with that.
It is very satisfying to look out the window and see a big
plume of dust far away from me (Figure 4). Aside from the
health benefits, there's a lot less cleanup when the dust goes
Figure 4. The vac is
run without a filter and the dust is vented to the exterior
through a hose and pipes. The author would not normally dump
dust onto a finished lawn but is doing so here to demonstrate
how far the vac will send it.
Automatic switch. The heart
of the setup is an automatic switch called the Automater (R.F.
St. Louis Associates, 800/526-0602). It plugs into an
electrical receptacle and the saws and vacuum plug into it
(Figure 5). When you turn on a saw, the device sends power to
the vacuum (the vac switch is always on) so it can transport
the dust. To avoid tripping breakers, there's a half-second
delay between the start of the saw and the start of the vac.
After the saw stops, the vac runs for a few more seconds to
clear hoses. This setup may not be perfect for shop use, but it
works pretty well on site and breaks down into small pieces to
fit in my van.
Figure 5. The vacuum is
activated by an automatic switch that senses when a saw comes
on. A number of dust-collecting vacs are available with a
Homemade air valve. To
maximize suction, I rigged up a "valve" that prevents the
vacuum from drawing from more than one machine at a time. There
are ready-made products that do this, but they're expensive and
designed to be permanently installed in a shop. Mine is made
from inexpensive parts you can get at the lumberyard. The body
of the valve is an ABS 3x2 double-sani plumbing tee with a
2-inch reducer in the bottom. The vac hose connects to the
reducer and the hoses to the saws connect to the sides of the
tee. I take a short piece of 21/2-inch electrical conduit and
slide it into the top of the tee until it bottoms out. Then I
glue a short length of 3-inch ABS over the other end of the
conduit and cap it off with a test plug. There's a hole cut in
one side of the conduit so if you twist it one way it connects
one saw to the vac, and if you twist it the other way it
connects the other saw (Figure 6).
Figure 6. A homemade
air valve is made from standard plumbing and electrical
fittings (left). Rotating a piece of plastic conduit directs
suction to a particular saw. At right, the author has pulled
the conduit out to reveal the hole that directs the
It may sound like I go to an excessive amount of trouble to
evacuate dust, but it makes a difference to my bottom line.
Because I'm able to keep my work area very clean, many of the
contractors I work with allow me to set up inside the house
instead of outside or in the garage. This means I can spend
less time walking and more time working.
The best part of the system is its flexibility. Every house
presents a different situation and with a small supply of
2-inch ABS pipe fittings and some short flexible hoses, I can
always get the dust outside. Sometimes there isn't space to put
the table saw in the same room as the miter saw. That's not a
problem because I have two complete vac setups and separate
outfeed tables that work with the table saw alone. The outfeed
has its own support leg and clips onto the saw with an aluminum
angle and a 16-penny nail (Figure 7). Another Automator, shop
vac, and 2-inch ABS fitting complete the setup.
Figure 7. If the table
saw is used alone it can be outfitted with a wider outfeed
table (left). The outfeed connects to the saw with a piece of
angle and is held in place by a pin (right).
It takes about 45 minutes to unload and assemble the entire
saw station. Since I'm usually on the same job site for two to
four weeks, it's well worth the time. I own two complete miter
saw setups, so if I need to go to another job in the meantime,
I'll take the spare. This saves me from having to break down
the original setup and reassures the contractor that I'll be
coming back. (After all, if I was leaving, I would have taken
There are a number of smaller refinements to the system. I
always keep a scrap bucket nearby because there's no reason to
handle any offcut more than once. A power strip with enough
outlets for all my tools hangs from the stand. There's a
clothespin super-glued to the motor housing of my chop saw. I
always work from two cut lists. One is in my bib pocket and the
previous list is in the clothespin facing me on the saw (Figure
Figure 8. It's easier
to keep track of what you're doing if your cut list is where
you can see it and won't get lost. The author achieves this by
gluing a clothespin to the housing of his saw.
When I arrive at the saw with a new list, I switch from pocket
to pin and pin to pocket so I'm always ready to jot down a
Chas Bridge is a finish
carpenter in Sequim, Wash.