A miter saw can be used in a woodworking shop as a permanently installed tool or on the job site as a portable or semi-portable tool. I will discuss the construction of saw tables appropriate to both types of installations because without a miter saw table, you miter saw will be difficult or impossible to use.
The purpose of a miter saw table is two-fold: (1) to elevate the saw to a comfortable working height for the operator and (2) to provide a surface to the left and/or right of the saw for the extension of the fence and to provide support for long materials while being cut. If you have ever tried to cut a 45-degree miter at one end of a 2x6x12, you know why a saw table or roller stand is absolutely required.
Very often, miter saws are used to make repetitive cuts of the same length. Some sort of saw stop comes in handy and greatly speeds production time for this sort of application. A saw stop must mount to something on the miter saw table to hold it in place, usually the fence. You can make your own miter saw table fence out of a very straight piece of wood or metal or you can do as I did and purchase a commercially available movable stop that slides along an aluminum track that includes a stick-on measuring tape.
PERMANENT MITER SAW TABLE FOR SHOP USE
Since I buy lumber in lengths up to 14 feet long, I decided to build a very long miter saw table in my woodworking shop. You may not have the physical space for this in your woodworking shop so you will have to reduce my measurements accordingly. The longer you can build it, the better off it will be for you but any length of miter saw table is better than no miter saw table at all. My miter saw table measures 8 Feet to the left of the saw blade and another 8 feet to the right of the saw blade. This way, I can support the full length of a sheet of plywood on either side and I can cut lumber as long as 16 feet.
The table is constructed over 2×4 framing and contains multiple storage drawers below the table which I use to store small tools and supplies. If you prefer, the space underneath the miter saw table can be left open for shelf space or lumber storage. I suggest that the top surface be ¾ Melamine or Formica over ¾ particle board. If you can use the entire 4-foot width of the Melamine or particle board, by all means do so, especially if your miter saw is of the sliding compound miter type. As for overall table height, I would suggest that you build the miter saw table so that the top of the table comes to your belt line when standing. This will give you a comfortable working height and still allow you to bend over the table.
There should be a gap cut through the miter saw table top in the area where the saw is to be mounted. This gap must be exactly as wide as the top of your miter saw and must be open to the front of the table. The gap should close behind the top of the miter saw. The saw must be mounted in this gap so that the top of the miter saw table is flush with the top of the saw table. The miter handle must be free to move its full travel in both directions.
Anticipate the need for this gap as you are framing the underside of your miter saw table because you will need to construct a shelf underneath to support the weight of the miter saw. You might want to make this shelf adjustable in micro increments so that you can get the top of the saw platform exactly flush to the top of the miter saw table. You can do this with lag screws with washers in sliding slots through the shelf sub-structure and into the table framing. Slightly loosen the lags and tap the table up or down with a rubber hammer before tightening the lags fully. Use a long straightedge in all directions to make sure that the miter saw and the miter saw table are flush with each other. Mount the miter saw securely to the shelf using lag screws.
Once the miter saw is mounted, you can begin to construct the fence or fences. A simple, inexpensive fence can be constructed using 1×4 or 1×6 clear fir boards. These boards should be hand selected for straightness and jointed on one edge. One board will be the actual fence and the other will keep it straight from behind. The fence sits with its jointed edge on the table top and the back-up board lies flat on the table top, behind the fence, with its jointed edge joined to the bottom of the fence.
Before joining the two boards together, slotted holes should be cut into the back-up board for the purpose of mounting and adjusting the fence position on the table top with reference to the fence on the miter saw. These slots should be slightly wider than the shaft diameter of the lag screws you intend to use to mount the fence to the table. Cut a few equally spaced slots in the back-up board perpendicular (at right angle) to the fence. A 2×4 joist should be located under the table top, centered underneath the slots in the back-up board. This will give the lag screws something solid to bite into.
Before mounting the fence or fences to the miter saw table top, draw a pencil or chalk line where the front of the fence is to be positioned. Take a long straightedge, lay it flat on the miter saws metal table and push one edge of it long the miter saws metal fence. Keeping it in this position, draw a pencil line along the table top, out as far as possible. Repeat on the opposite side of the saw if you have tables on both sides of the saw. Extend this pencil line as far as possible.
Place the fence along the pencil line with the end of the wooden fence almost touching the end of miter saws metal fence. (Leave a 1/16 gap between the wooden fence and the metal fence.) Drill appropriately sized holes for the lag screws through the miter saw table top and into the 2×4 joist underneath the miter saw table top (one for each slot). Screw the fence to the miter saw table loosely so that it can be adjusted. Use the long straight edge on the miter saws table and on the front of the fence to align the wooden fence perfectly and then screw it down tightly. Repeat for the other side of the miter saw table if there is one.
For the left fence, place a “right to left” reading stick-on measuring tape along the top of the fence. For the right fence, place a “left to right” reading stick-on measuring tape along the top of that fence. Before sticking down, the tapes must be aligned perfectly. The left tape is measuring the distance from the left side of the saw blade and the right tape is measuring the distance from the right side of the saw blade. With a simple wooden fence like this, you can use wooden stop blocks clamped to the fence with C-clamps for repetitive cuts.
A slightly more expensive and far better alternative is to use a metal track or tracks with a flip-up stop and measuring tape built in. Such a device is manufactured by Kreg Tools and is available in 4-foot track lengths that can be butted together to make longer lengths. My table requires four 4-foot tracks, two for each side of the saw. The track is mounted to the top of the wooden fence you just made. You will have to adjust the height of the wooden fence (2 ¼+ above the table top) so that the bottom of the flip-up stop clears the table by about 1/16 in the down position.
The nice thing about the flip-up stop is that it can be flipped up out of the way without loosing its measurement setting along the measuring tape. If you were making repetitive cuts and you needed to stop to use the saw momentarily for a different kind of cut, you could resume your repetitive cutting immediately without losing any accuracy.
PORTABLE TABLE FOR JOBSITE USE
A jobsite table is usually made with the miter saw mounted to the extreme right end of the table. I have found that most miter saw manufacturers make their metal table surfaces so that they are 3 ½ above the table on which the saw is resting. A very straight, milled 4×4 (3 ½ x 3 ½) can be mounted onto the table top, almost abutting the left side of the metal table of the saw. The 4×4 should extend out the full length of the supporting table to the left and be mounted to the supporting table.
A fence can be attached to the back side of the 4×4. Use a 1×6 or 1×8 clear fir board for this purpose. As in the permanent table above, the front of the fence must align perfectly with the miter saws metal fence. If a wider support surface is needed, a second 4×4 can be mounted directly in front of the one with the fence attached to it.
A Kreg Trak system with a flip-up stop can also be used on this portable table. Just make sure the wooden fence is ripped to the proper height to allow the flip-up stop to clear the table by 1/16. (Fence is 2 ¼ + above the top of the 4×4.)
As for the support table, I have used a plastic fold-up table from Costco. They come in various sizes to suit your particular need. Or, you can make your own table out of 2 x 4s and ¾ plywood. Design it so that the legs can fold up for transportation and storage.