Either you have a Craftsman table saw or any other, a zero clearance insert (ZCI) is a great and practical modification to your table saw.
The purpose of using a zero clearance insert or zero clearance throat plate is to bring the distance between the saw blade and the nearest supporting surface down to zero.
Today, we will discuss how you can make a zero clearance insert for a Craftsman table saw. Don’t worry if you have a table saw from any other brand as these instructions can be used for making zero clearance insert for any other brand like Dewalt, Bosch, Skil, Ridgid, Ryobi, SawStop, etc.
How to make a Zero Clearance Insert for a Craftsman table saw?
Making a zero clearance throat plate for a Craftsman table saw is a simple process, but you will need some materials and tools before getting started. Here’s a list of things needed to make zero clearance blade inserts for a table saw.
- Sanding Machine
- Drill machine
- ¾ inch hardboard or plywood, Masonite, or MDF sheet.
- Wood glue
- Safety gear (compulsory for any task)
These tools are usually available at a workshop or a DIY setup. However, if you don’t have these supplies with you, you can also buy an aftermarket zero clearance insert plate for your table saw. Make sure that it fits your table saw.
The Process: Making Zero Clearance Insert for Craftsman Table Saw
Step 1: Preparing your Tools
Check that your saw is up for making some cuts. Check the blade and ensure that all other tools mentioned above are available. Double-check your safety gear before you start cutting. Remove the riving knife; refer to your saw’s user manual to see how you can remove it.
Step 2: Preparing the Zero Clearance Insert Plate
First of all, you need to cut out a piece equal to the width of the insert plate. To do this, remove the insert plate on your table saw and place it between the rip fence and the blade to set the rip fence to cut the sheet of the exact size.
Place the insert plate over the blade and now cut the sheet using a featherboard. Lower the blade and see if it fits nicely. Make sure you cut at least 4-5 pieces to make zero insert plates for different cuts.
The next step is to prepare the sheet of your choice for a zero clearance insert plate. Remove the factory-fitted blade plate and place it on the sheet intended to make the ZCI plate. Use a pencil/marker to trace it out.
Use your jigsaw to cut the sheet as per the trace marks. Make sure you do it carefully and don’t hurry into the process as a slight mistake or overcut can render the integrity of the sheet, and you will have to start from scratch.
Sand out the edges of the cut sheet using a sanding machine. You just have to make them smooth; make sure that you don’t reduce the size of the piece.
You’ll want to reinforce the center section by gluing a wood piece on the bottom side of the zero clearance insert plate you are making. Use a smaller sheet of a hardboard strip so it can fit under the zero clearance insert plate. Measure out this plate as shown in the image below.
Use a jigsaw to cut out this piece and attach it to the bottom of the zero clearance sheet with some wood glue. Clamp the piece of wood or place some weighted objects over it so that it sticks nicely.
Step 3: Cutting the Slot
The next step is to cut out the slot on this plate. Depending on how your Craftsman saw is built, this step may take some time.
If the blade on your saw drops down below the tabletop so that you can place the zero clearance insert, you can skip the below-mentioned two points.
If the blade doesn’t drop down all the way on your saw and you notice that some tabs around the blade don’t let you fit the plate snugly, you can raise the screws by losing them slightly, so the plate gets held by something.
If you don’t have screws, you can set something like tape or a little piece of wood. Make sure that the pieces or support you add must not be too big that the plate doesn’t fit in the slot.
Place the insert plate over your blade so that the bottom side comes on the top. Move the rip fence and set it against the bottom support plate. Use a 2 x 4 wood piece on the other side to hold down the piece for additional support.
Now it is time to cut. Lower the blade as far as down it can go. Now turn on your saw and start raising the blade to its maximum height. Make sure you keep your hands away from the blade plate. The ideal position to cut will be your one hand resting on the wood support piece and one hand on the blade lever.
Flip the insert plate and cut the other side of the insert plate. If you have raised the screws or added some support before cutting, tighten the screws or remove the support as you don’t need it any longer.
Step 4: Add Space for Riving Knife
The riving knife on a table saw is critical safety equipment for your table saw, and you must always work with it unless you need to remove it due to the cut’s demand.
Remove the blade plate and install the riving knife. Place the blade plate back and raise the blade to see how high it goes before it dislodges the plate. Remove the riving knife now and place the blade plate bottom-up over the blade so that the place where the riving knife made contact with the blade plate is towards your body.
Turn on your saw and raise the blade to its maximum height. Power off the saw, remove the blade plate, install the riving knife, and put the plate back. Keep the saw powered off and raise the blade to its maximum height to check if you have successfully made space for the riving knife.
Step 5: Adding a Hole to lift the Insert Plate
Your zero clearance insert plate for a Craftsman table saw is almost ready. The last thing is to add a hole in the plate so you can lift it easily and replace it with other blade plates.
Mark a small hole with a pencil, preferably the size of your finger. The hole must be located towards the side where you stand while working and not near the blade. The image below shows the ideal position.
Use a drill machine to drill out the marked hole.
That’s it. Your zero clearance insert plate is now ready. You have just saved yourself a handsome amount of money.
How to make a Zero Clearance Insert Plate for Angled Cuts?
You would regularly need to make angled cuts on your Craftsman table saw for your projects. Small pieces might fall if you are not using a zero clearance plate. Here’s how to make a 45-degree zero clearance insert for your Craftsman table saw.
- Cut out an insert plate but don’t attach the back support.
- Lower the blade as far as it can go, and then place the strip over the blade.
- Adjust the rip fence and the support block like you did for making a rip cut zero insert plate.
- Turn on the saw and raise the blade angled at 45-degrees as far as it can go.
- Please note that you can’t make space for your riving knife in this insert plate, and that’s ok because you don’t make angled cuts as frequently as you rip cut on your table saw.
- You can make zero clearance insert for other angles using the same procedure.
How to make a Zero Clearance Insert Plate for Dado Cuts?
A dado cut is used for interlocking applications. You can make dado cuts on your table saw, and the good news is that you can make a zero clearance insert plate for a dado blade too.
Let’s learn to make a zero clearance insert plate for a Craftsman table saw.
- Remove the conventional blade and install the dado blade.
- Drop down the dado blade to its maximum height and place the zero clearance insert over the blade.
- Make sure you use the bottom support plate this time.
- Adjust the rip fence and the support block.
- Turn on the saw and raise the dado blade to its maximum height.
- Safety tip: This will produce a lot of sawdust, so make sure you use safety goggles and a face mask while making this cut.
How can I protect my zero clearance insert plates?
It is important to protect your zero clearance insert plates, so you don’t have to make them after every few weeks. You can polish the plates and keep them in bags safe from external elements like air, dust and humidity. Moreover, the choice of material also impacts the durability of DIY zero clearance insert plates.
Zero Clearance Insert Plate – Benefits and Drawbacks
You must be thinking, what’s the point of making a zero clearance insert for your table saw if there are no benefits? Well, ZCI plates have some advantages and a couple of drawbacks.
Fine Cuts: Zero clearance insert plates provide maximum support to your pieces near the blade, resulting in finer cuts. Moreover, you can also cut small pieces with zero clearance inserts as they let you place the piece adjacent to the blade.
Safety: ZCIs prevent kickback by reducing the chances of small pieces falling in the blade’s path. The factory-fitted insert plate isn’t a great option if you are cutting pieces smaller than 1 inch on your table saw.
Dust Collection: A ZCI multiplies your table saw’s dust collection capability. All the waste goes directly into the dust chute as there is no space for it to fly around.
Durability Concerns: You may need to use costly materials to make your ZCI durable.
Accuracy: There is a high chance that you may end up making inaccurate throat plates. Hence, it can affect the accuracy of your whole project.
Versatility: You will need to make different zero clearance insert plates for each angle. This is practically impossible. The best you can do is make a few plates for the angles you commonly cut on your saw.
So now that you know how to make a zero clearance insert for your Craftsman table saw, you can make one for yourself as per your preferences. You may find some variations from the steps explained above while making a DIY zero clearance insert in the tracing and cutting steps. If this happens, follow the plate’s design that came with your saw.