Several times now, people have asked how to make raised panels on
a table saw. I have been very successful at this so, I thought I would
share how I do it with all of you.
1. The first step as shown below is to cut the "reveal" in the face
of the panel. I show it here being done with a router and a 3/8" dia round
nose bit, but you can also make these cuts with a table saw blade raised
up 1/8"-3/16". To me the round nose is easier to work with and leaves
a more appealing panel (My wife likes it better for cleaning also). Make
a couple of test pieces for the next step as well while your router is set
2. Next you need to tilt the blade so that it makes the angle to
go from the tangent of the bottom of the groove you just cut to the thickness
you want at the edge of the panel. Typically I make this 3/16" so I can
cut a 1/4" groove in the rails and stiles. The angle will make the panel
1/4" thick at the point where it meets the top of the groove in the stiles.
I usually draw a pencil line on the back side of a test piece and set it
on the far side of the blade and align the tilt by eye to match my line.
You need to also set the fence so it is the proper distance away from the
inside tooth of the blade to achieve the edge thickness you are after. A zero
clearance insert will make this set up much easier and provides needed support
as you push the pane through the blade making the cut. An open throat
plate may allow the panel to tilt as you make the cut, which is not desirable.
3. Once the blade angle is set and the fence is positioned, I locate
two feather boards as shown above. The one in front of the blade pushes
the bottom edge of the panel against the fence as it enters the cut. The
one behind the blade pushes against the panel just above the cut area (black
plastic piece through the handle of the featherboard) to keep the panel
against the fence as it exits the cutting area. The magnetic feather boards
work well for this, although I have done this with conventional home made
feather boards as well. Note: I use a 24 tooth ripping blade for this cut
as it is a ripping cut and a crosscut blade will tend to burn the wood.
4. To help guide the panel through the cut I clamp a guide piece
across the back that rides on the top of my fence. This gives you good
control of the panel and a place to put your hands far from the blade,
which will be exposed. You can't use a guard when making these cuts so watch
your fingers. Also the cut offs do tend to kick back because they are under
the tilted blade, so don't stand behind the blade. My feather board placement
will stop them.
5. When everything is set, I usually make a test cut in a piece of
scrap that also had the grooves routed in it just to make sure the blade cuts
exactly tangent to the bottom of the groove. I make test cuts in scrap until
I get it right. Then I place the panel to be cut in position as shown above.
I always cut the cross grain first, then I cut the the long grain. You can
either cut both ends then the sides or work you way right around the panel,
both methods will work. Cutting the cross grain first eliminates any chance
of tearout damage on the sides.
Here is the finished panel ready for sanding. I put the cut offs
next to the area they came from so you can see what got cut off. I use
a Porter Cable 5" adhesive disc random orbit sander to remove the saw marks
and to even out the cut with the groove a little if it needs it. The paper
on mine sticks out from the edge of the disc about 1/4". This paper will
curve nicely up the remaining groove and give a good transition from the
flat cut area into the groove. The slight ridge you see on the end
grain of this panel will be removed by sanding. The cut offs are shown
next to the area they were cut from.
Okay a few notes.
My fence is about 7" tall and has a metal face that is flat on top and parallel to my table surface so the guide board stays on the top all the way across the table. The metal fence cover and magnetic feather boards are available from Grip Tite (800) 475-0293
Your panels need to be reasonably flat. The wider the panel the flatter it needs to be. A curved panel will not produce good results as it will not track the same all the way through the cut area.
Your fence needs to be perfectly aligned with your blade. If it pushes the board toward the blade or lets it fall away from the blade, the results will be less precise. Fences set so the tail away from the blade will also produce less desirable results.
Your blade needs to be sharp. I use a 24 tooth Freud teflon coated thin kerf blade. The cuts you are making are more of a rip cut than a cross cut so the ripping blade works better. The important thing is to get a cut without burn marks or tooth marks. Push the panel smoothly all the way through the cut. I use a craftsman 10" saw with the standard factory motor and it handles this task very well. You can push too fast and stall the blade. Just let the blade cut.
Finally, creating raised panels this way is very rewarding. It will amaze your woodworking friends and non-wood working friends alike who think you need thousands of dollars in fancy equipment to make panels like these. You do have a lot of blade exposed and no guards can be used, so be very conscious of where you leave your fingers. I keep mine firmly attached to my hand at all times and up on the guide board that rides along the top of the fence.
I hope this helps. Feel free to write to me if you have questions.