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Build a Simple Tablesaw Sled for Perfect Picture Frames
Tools and Materials
Learn how to build a simple tablesaw sled for the construction of beautiful 8x10 hardwood picture frames. Our step-by-step instructions take you through the entire process.
Picture frames can be quite expensive, and hobbyist woodworkers always tend to have lots of scraps laying around the shop—scraps that are just perfect for building frames.
By building this simple tablesaw sled, you'll learn a great deal about building woodworking jigs in general. Plus, you'll have a tool that will last for years, and will help you to build plenty of beautiful frames—either for yourself, or as gifts.
This sled has been specifically designed for the construction of 8x10 frames but you could also use it to build 8x8 or 10x10 square frames, so it is somewhat versatile. You can download a rough sketch of the sled which includes some of the angles and measurements required to build it, right at the top of this blog post.
How to Make
Step 1: Cut Sled Base and Runners: The process begins by cutting a piece of 3/4-in. MDF to 16-1/2-in. x 33-in. MDF, or "medium density fiberboard" is available at most home centers and lumberyards. Just be sure to wear a dust mask when cutting this material to size, the glue that binds it all together is formaldehyde-based. With your base cut, turn your attention to the hardwood (any hardwood will do) runners that will actually slide into the miter gauge slots on the top of your tablesaw. All tablesaws have these slots—from beefy cabinet saws like this one, to portable/jobsite tablesaws.
Step 2: Runners Should Fit Snugly: My tablesaw slots happened to measure in at about 3/4-in. wide x 3/8-in. deep, but sizes can vary, depending on the saw. Be sure to make the depth of your runners slightly less (about 1/16-in. less) than the depth of the actual slots they'll be fitting into. Your runners should fit snugly but shouldn't bind up. You want these runners to be able to glide effortlessly along the slots, without any side-to-side "slop" that might lead to innacurate cuts when using your tablesaw sled later on.
Step 3: Mark Your Sled Base for the Runners: Your runners will be attached to the bottom of your sled base. Begin by marking for only one of the runners. Set your sled base atop the tablesaw, with an equal amount of overhang extending beyond each of the miter gauge slots (left and right). Then, use a small square or ruler to accurately transfer the slot location to the edge of your sled base. Now strike a straight line down the sled base. You'll use this line to align your first runner.
Step 4: Drill and Attach Your Runners: With your first runner aligned to the layout line you just made, clamp it in place and drill three holes with a standard twist-drill bit. Then, using a countersink bit (widely available at hardware stores), drill a countersink in each hole. This allows your screw head (I'm using drywall screws) to sit just beneath the surface of your runners and will ensure that screw heads don't rub against your tablesaw base. Now just slide your sled onto your tablesaw base (with the runner in its corresponding miter gauge slot), mark the position of the other runner, and drill/screw it into place.
Step 5: Make a Kerf Cut : Adjust the height of your tablesaw blade so that it's about 1/4-in. higher than the MDF you'll be cutting into. Now, slide the sled base into the miter gauge slots and cut a saw kerf about 6-in. into your sled base. This saw kerf is where all the magic will happen once you begin cutting picture frame parts.
Step 6: Mark for your Fences: A word of caution: take your time with this step—accurately laying out these angles is crucial if you want to end up with perfect, tight picture frame corners. Take a piece of scrap wood and slide it up against the saw kerf you just cut—it should catch on the edge of the saw cut. Now, slide a right triangle into place and strike a 45-degree line that begins 3-1/8-in. down from the top of your sled base. Do the same, but in reverse, on the other side of the saw kerf. You should now have two pencil lines that look like an obtuse, upside down "V." These are the lines you'll use to align your fences.
Step 7: Cut Up Some Fence Material: Begin with a piece of hardwood that's about 1/2-in. thick x 18-1/4-in. long x 2-3/8-in. wide. Rip that piece in half. You'll end up with two pieces that are 1-3/8-in. wide.
Step 8: Attach the First Fence: Begin by setting the first fence atop your sled, aligning it with the layout line you drew earlier. Clamp it into place and drill four holes through the fence stock and a bit into the MDF (don't go through the MDF). Next, countersink those holes. Unclamp and apply glue to the bottom of the fence, re-clamp it in place and screw it down. Be sure to allow the fence to extend over the saw kerf you cut earlier (just a bit). Once the glue has dried, you can mount your sled to the tablesaw and nip that bit of overhanging fence material right off (see step 9).
Step 9: Attach and Trim the Second Fence: The same process applies for the second fence, except for the fact that you'll have to cut a 45-degree angle on the end of your second fence, FIRST - before screwing it down—otherwise, it won't be able to rest flat atop the MDF - it will hit the first fence you screwed into place. Just but fence number two right up to fence number one, glue and screw it into place. Then, trim the kerf once again, just like you did in step 8. Easy!
Step 10: Build a Stop Block: Next, I cut a 45-degree angle onto one end of an off-cut from my fence material. I glued on a small piece of 1/4-in. plywood (to the stop block - NOT the fence) and clamped it up to dry.
Step 11: Mark for Your Fence Positions: When cutting the components for an 8x10 picture frames, you'll be cutting two lengths of material (2 pieces for the 10-in. side and 2 pieces for the 8-in. side). You'll need to mark the position where your stop blocks (see red arrow) will be placed when making measured cuts. Remember, your stop blocks will only be needed on this one fence - NOT on both fences. Use your stop block to draw two lines: Measured from the saw kerf, the first line should be drawn 8-1/16-in. from the end of the fence. Line two should be drawn at the 10-1/16-in. mark.
Step 12: Drill Your Stop Block: These stop blocks are designed very simply. A hole is drilled through the top of the block which overhangs onto the fence. A bolt goes through the hole and is screwed into a threaded metal sleeve which we'll later insert into the fence. Whenever using either of the stop block positions, you'll simply lightly screw the stop block into place. Enlarge the image for a better view of the various components we'll be using for our stop block system. The first step is drilling the clearance hole throught the stop block. Once you've drilled the hole, align the stop block with each of the pencil marks you made in step 11 and mark the hole's position on your hardwood fence (you'll make two marks, of course - enlarge the photo for a better view).
Step 13: Drill Your Fence : Use a forstener bit that is as wide, or slightly wider, than the diameter of the threeded sleeves you'll be using. You're trying to countersink the sleeves so that your stop block can rest flush, atop the hardwood fence. Drill your countersink as well as the clearance hole required for the narrow threaded portion of the sleeve (be sure to drill straight through the hardwood fence and MDF sled when drilling the clearnace holes - you'll see why in the next step).
Step 14: Insert Threaded Sleeves: Begin by inserting a sleeve into one of the two holes you just drilled. Tap it into place with a hammer (1)—most threaded sleeves available at hardware store have little claws that will be driven into the wood. Now, flip your sled over and insert a long bolt into the sleeve - from underneath - and really tighten it down (2). Your goal here is to drive the threaded sleeve down into the fence, seating it snugly into the countersink you drilled earlier. Unscrew the bolt and flip your tablesaw sled over. This (3) is how your stop block assembly should look when it has been properly assembled.
Step 15: Mark Your Jig: I've written these step-by-step instruction in order to allow you to easily build a sled that's used to construct 8x10 picture frames using a certain size frame stock (we'll cover that in part two, when we actually build a frame using the sled). Specifically, this sled should be used with frame stock that has a rabbet in the back (where the glass and art are set into to) of a certain width and depth ( 1/2-in. deep x 3/16-in. wide ). Now is a good time to take a marker, and draw the profile of the picture frame's rabbet on your sled base, so you'll always know exactly how deep to make the rabbet. In a nut sheel; for this sled to operate at it's best, the rabbet should be as deep as the fence stock on your sled is thick (see attached photograph).
Step 16: Get Ready to Make Some Picture Frames!: Stand back and admire your work. You've just built a woodworking jig that will last years. And remember; not only can you use this jig to build 8x10 picture frames, but you can also construct 8x8 and 10x10 square frames! I'll be back next week with a new tutorial on how to put your jig to use as I build a beautiful mahogany frame.