Zero Clearance Inserts

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Project by scamp238 posted 09-09-2012 03:56 PM 38374 views 7 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

These aren’t the first, nor do I think they will be the last. I want to share my experience nonetheless. I bought a 6 inch dado stack from Amazon a couple of months ago. Due to some unforseen family problems, I was unable to use it until a week or so ago. I wanted to make some zero clearance inserts for my table saw. I have an older Craftsman 10” contractor saw with just the stock throat plate. I didn’t want to spend any extra money, because I don’t have much to begin with. The blanks usually cost from $15 to $30 apiece.

Anyway, I decided to use some 1/2” plywood from an old entertainment center that had been given to me. I took the stock plate and traced around it to give myself 6 blanks. I then took this to my band saw and cut out the rough shape. I took the first one and taped it to the stock plate and went around it with a flush trim bit on my router table. When I went to fit it to my saw, I found there to be a little slop in it. I decided to try a different method. I took my hand held belt sander and clamped it to the top of a stool and sanded a little at a time until they fit nice and snug. I then took a 3/8 straight bit in my router and carefully measured the distance for the depth and width of the lip. I took my time (which is difficult for me) and snuck up on the depth. I would take it to the router table, chew a little off and then try to fit it to the table saw. Finally after several trips I had all of them right. I then took them to the drill press and used a 3/4 Forstner bit to cut out a finger hole to lift them out easily.

Now I needed to make the cuts. I started with the standard blade. I quickly found out that this wasn’t going to work with the standard blade. I found an old 7 1/4” plywood blade that saved me. I put it in and raised up the blade. Once I had done this, I replaced the small blade with the 10” and it worked just fine. I wasn’t looking forward to lowering that insert down onto a spinning blade. Visions of missing fingers danced through my head. Anyway, the rest went smooth because I only had a 6” stack. The pictures are here for you to see. I only made 4 because I wanted to keep 2 blanks just in case.

-- Brian, North Georgia

24 comments so far

View Kevin's profile


570 posts in 3177 days

#1 posted 09-09-2012 04:43 PM

Looks good. I have a similar craftsman contractor saw that I have made zero clearance plates for. I need to make a few more soon. I had the same problem with raising the blade for the 1st time to make the initial cut. I did the same thing you did. Thanks for sharing.

-- Measure twice, cut once, then sand a whole bunch

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

25287 posts in 3984 days

#2 posted 09-09-2012 07:14 PM

Nice job on those inserts!............Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Snookie's profile


173 posts in 3370 days

#3 posted 09-09-2012 08:56 PM

You did a good job on the inserts! Thanks for sharing with us!

-- Snookie, Jasper,GA

View Alexandre's profile


1417 posts in 3069 days

#4 posted 09-09-2012 08:58 PM

May I ask a question?
How do you raise the spinning saw blade into the zero clearance insert?
Like, I’m not afraid to make one, but the only thing stopping me from making one is that i’m scared of the blade catching the insert and throwing it around the shop… Also, im scared of the insert breaking…
Otherwise, nice!

-- My terrible signature...

View scamp238's profile


106 posts in 3379 days

#5 posted 09-09-2012 09:23 PM

Thank you all for the kind comments.

@Alexandre I used the rip fence and a couple of wood shims to hold down the inserts as I raised the blade. Just be careful to place the fence and shims out of the path of the blade.

-- Brian, North Georgia

View A10GAC's profile


191 posts in 3957 days

#6 posted 09-09-2012 09:53 PM

A common method is to clamp a piece of wood that is at least as wide as the insert and as deep as the top of the table saw (front to back…probably 27” in the case of this saw) over the insert and SLOWLY rasie the blade throuigh the insert. Make sure your clamps are secure and your hands aren’t anywhere near the blade.

One thing to watch out for, make sure that the blade you use to initially cut through has the same size kerf as the one you are making the insert for…otherwise you’ll end up with a hole that is wider than the blade and will lose a small amount of the advantage that the zero clearance insert provides. It will still be significantly better than factory, but, not a true zero clearance.

Darwin Disclaimer: I am not advising anyone to follow my instructions…I am inherently dangerous and irresponsible and should not be looked on as a role model for anyone. Wear your eye/ear protection. Unplug your tools before use, after use, during blade/bit changes, and on holidays. If you think something is dangerous…it probably is and you shouldn’t be doing it. All of this will be on your permanent record and should be considered testable material.

Seriously though; the initial cut is dangerous and should not be done if you are in anyway uncomfortable with your setup. Most of the woodworking mags have articles on making your own inserts and videos showing how the initial cut is made. They also have staff lawyers reviewing their material for liability reasons, so they tend to take a more conservative approach, which, for people new to techniques is probably a great idea.

Be safe.

-- Men have become the tools of their tools. - Henry David Thoreau

View Alexandre's profile


1417 posts in 3069 days

#7 posted 09-09-2012 10:33 PM


-- My terrible signature...

View scamp238's profile


106 posts in 3379 days

#8 posted 09-09-2012 10:37 PM

There is another method that I have also seen used. It involves setting your rip fence even with your stock plate. You then use a push stick to guide your insert through making a kerf about 3/4 of the way through the insert starting at the back. This allows you to glue a splitter at the back side of the insert. Here is a quick video on this method:

Here is a video on how to make a zero clearance dado insert:

-- Brian, North Georgia

View Farrout's profile


188 posts in 4033 days

#9 posted 09-09-2012 11:18 PM

Another way to make the cut is to lay your sled on top of the insert when raising the blade.
What’s that you say, you don’t have a sled? Good time to make one.

-- If we learn from our mistakes, I should be a genius!

View BPS238's profile


26 posts in 3163 days

#10 posted 09-10-2012 12:14 AM

Great job here…they look really sharp. Way to make good use of scrap material and save money.

View scamp238's profile


106 posts in 3379 days

#11 posted 09-10-2012 12:16 AM

Thank you. I like to save money when I can.

-- Brian, North Georgia

View rdwile's profile


167 posts in 2990 days

#12 posted 09-10-2012 08:59 AM

I have made a few of these and never again going to pay money for one of these. I made mine from 1/2” Baltic Birch, which is a little thinner than the depth of the opening the insert goes into, I put thin strips on the underside to bring it up flush with the tabletop. I only made these for the dado set so had no problem starting the hole. I just masking tape’d it to the table, slid the fence til it covered the edge well away from the blade and cranked ‘er up – no safety concerns at all.

-- Richard D. Wile, IG: @rdwile

View scamp238's profile


106 posts in 3379 days

#13 posted 09-10-2012 09:09 AM

I am with you on not buying these. They are too easy to make. I just wish I had done these earlier. You never know if the store bought ones will fit right.

-- Brian, North Georgia

View Roger's profile


21030 posts in 3682 days

#14 posted 09-10-2012 11:40 AM

You did it the right way using a smaller blade. I also have a 6” dado set. I used one of those blades for the initial slot. This is one of the best things anyone can do as an upgrade to their table saw. My ‘50’s Craftsman ts was a bit tricky because of the very thin lip, but, ya just gotta keep nibblin away until you get a good fit. Nicely done.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6872 posts in 4858 days

#15 posted 09-10-2012 12:00 PM

Hi Brian,

Nice job on the inserts. I don’t see any sign of a splitter being used on your saw.

I can telll you as a pro woodworker, and someone involved in selling table saw accessories, (not splitters), most of the people I came across in woodworking shows, that had injuries from table saws, admit it probably could have been avoided had they been using a splitter. This includes kickbacks and amputations.

For a while I had a video on my website, showing a guy at the emergency room, with a 2” x 2” x 12” board sticking out of where his nose used to be. VERY GRAPHIC, but very real, too.

If you’re not using one, you should be.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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