One of the main tools of the woodworker is the table saw. Very few woodworking shops are missing one. You can get away with many things using a circular (skil) saw and a straight cutting jig, but this is a time consuming way to cut sheets and other lumber.
There are different plates and inserts for the blade on the table saw. One of these is the zero clearance insert. What is this for exactly? Well, sometimes when you are making a crosscut, you have an issue with tearout on the bottom of the cut. THIS IS especially so if you are cutting veneered sheet goods such as plywood that has a thin veneer on one side. This plate lessens or eliminates the problem. Also, when you are ripping the material and all of the sudden there is a narrow strip of wood that drops into that slit in the insert it can get in the way or at least be annoying at the very least. The zero clearance insert prevents that from happening as well.
This insert simply replaces the plate that comes with your table saw. It is a plate that is the exact same size as the kerf on the saw blade, and so there is very, very little room between the blade on the saw and the plate itself. Again, this will help in preventing thin strips of wood from dropping inbetween your blade and the plate as you cut, and will lessen or even put an end to the tearout in the bottom of your cut that a regular insert can’t stop.
You can’t keep that plate on there at all times though. If you have to make a beveled cut on the table saw you will have to put the regular insert back on. There has to be more room in the slit in the insert in order for the blade to bevel.
You can purchase one of these inserts or even make your own. The only thing about making your own is that as the weather changes, the wood will fluctuate in size when it goes from hot to cold or vise versa. This could bring your plate higher or lower than the table on the saw itself, and that isn’t good.
You can make one out of plastic or even metal if you have the tools. You can also make it out of MDF – some say that even MDF will fluctuate some when the weather changes, but it definitely isn’t going to do so as much as using hardwood, softwood, and plywood.
Many after market plates are built from phenolic resin sheets, and this material is considered the best because it won’t change in density when the weather changes. But it will be up to you if you prefer buying one or making your own.
Here is a quick video on making their own. Enjoy:
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