All table saws come with an insert plate or also called a throat plate. It rests on the table and has an opening from which the blade comes out. You can remove the insert plate to access the blade for removing it. The factory-installed insert plate works fine for most of the cuts. It has a wide opening that allows you to tilt the blade for making bevel cuts.
When you are cutting something very small or a thin piece of sheet that can drop down in the gap, you need to replace the insert plate with a zero clearance blade plate. But what is a zero clearance insert?
What is a Zero Clearance Insert Plate?
A zero clearance insert (ZCI) or a zero clearance throat plate is one of the most important accessories you will buy or make for your table saw. It replaces the factory-fitted insert plate, eliminates the distance between the blade and the nearest supporting surface, and brings it down to almost zero.
This article will discuss how you can make a zero clearance insert for your table saw. We will also highlight the benefits and downsides of a zero clearance insert alongside some informative knowledge about zero clearance inserts.
Let’s learn how to make zero clearance inserts!
How to Make a Zero Clearance Insert for a Table Saw
Making a zero clearance insert is easy. You will need basic tools and supplies for making a zero clearance insert plate. Make sure you go through all the steps and arrange all the supplies beforehand.
- ¾-inch hardboard (you can also use plywood, masonite, or MDF sheet)
- Safety gear (glasses, face mask, and hearing protection)
- Sanding machine
- Drill machine
- Wood glue
Time Needed: 30-40 minutes
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Cutting out Pieces for Insert Plate: The first step is to cut out the width of the plate. You can do this by removing the insert plate and placing it between the blade and the rip fence. Lock the rip fence and put the insert plate back over the blade. Now cut 3 pieces from the sheet you intend to use for making zero clearance inserts. One-piece will suffice if you plan to make a zero clearance insert for only rip cutting.
Marking the Pieces: Place your original throat plate over the recently cut piece and trace out the curved ends on all sides. Cut out the piece with a jigsaw according to the marked dimensions. It is best to leave a little bit of space around the marked line so you can fine-tune the edges with a sander. If you don’t have a sanding machine, you can also use sandpaper. Lower the blade and check the piece by placing it over the insert opening.
Reinforcing the Inner Section: Now you need to reinforce the inner section. For this purpose, you need to cut a rectangular piece of wood. The size of this piece will be 1-inch less than the insert piece on all sides. You can use a jigsaw to cut the piece. Attach both the piece with wood and place some weight over it while the glue dries.
Cutting the Blade Slot in the Zero Clearance Insert: To make the slot in the plate, place it upside down over the lowered blade. Move your rip fence adjacent to the base piece and lock it down. Place a big piece of wood on the other side so it doesn’t move when you cut. Turn on the saw and start moving the blade up. The blade will tear the sheet and come out. Stop the saw when it reaches 1-inch height. Flip the piece and cut the other side. Raise the blade to its maximum height.
Making Space for Riving Knife: Some people don’t make space for a riving knife, but it is better to make it due to safety reasons. To check that your plate has enough space for a riving knife; install the riving knife, place the insert over the blade and raise the blade. You will notice that the riving knife will not come out all the way, and the backside of the knife will start moving the plate upwards. To make enough space for a riving knife, you will need to extend the cut on the plate.
To do this, remove the riving knife and place the insert upside down over the blade. Now start the blade and raise it to its maximum length. Turn your saw off, install the riving knife back and place the plate way over the blade. Raise the blade. Now you will be able to cut 2x4s with the riving knife installed.
Making a Hole in the Plate: You will need to install a hole in the insert plate so you can remove it easily. To do this, mark a point near the edge of the plate and use a drill machine to drill a hole in it.
That’s it. You are done making a zero clearance insert plate for rip cuts. The last step is to polish the insert with finishing wax. It will minimize friction during cutting.
How to make a Beveled Zero Clearance Insert Plate
Another common application of a table saw is beveled cuts. You would need to make beveled cuts on small pieces, and for it, you will need a zero clearance insert. In this section of the article, we will discuss how you can make a zero clearance insert for beveled cuts. Since a 45-degree cut is the most common bevel you are going to make. Therefore, we will explain how to make a zero clearance insert for a 45-degree cut.
Set up the Blade: Turn your blade to the required angle and double-check with a digital angle gauge. Lock the blade at the desired angle and lower it down all the way.
Make the Cut: Set up the spare insert piece over the blade and lock the rip fence over it. Place a piece of wood on the other side and turn on your saw. Raise the moving blade to its maximum height.
Make the Hole: Make a hole in the plate so that you can lift it easily. Follow the directions given above for making the hole. Polish the insert for a frictionless surface.
Please note that you don’t have to install an additional base while making a zero clearance insert for beveled cuts. You can make zero clearance inserts for any angle by setting the blade to the desired angle and following the rest of the procedure as explained above.
How to make a Zero Clearance Insert for Dado Blade
If you own a dado blade, you are going to need a zero clearance insert for a dado stack. Making a zero clearance insert for a dado is easier compared to making a zero clearance insert for rip cuts and beveled cuts.
All you need to do is put in your dado blade, lower it down all the way and place the insert plate over the blade. Don’t forget to wear safety goggles and a face mask before starting the blade, as dado blades create a lot of debris. Turn on the saw and raise the blade 1-2 inches. You can make a hole for lifting, but it’s really not needed as the plate already has a lot of space in it.
Benefits of Using Zero Clearance Insert Plate
Safety: A zero clearance insert ensures that small pieces don’t fall over the blade and prevents dangerous kickback. You cannot safely cut small pieces with a factory-fitted insert plate because it has a lot of space around the blade.
Finer Cuts: Zero clearance inserts produce finer cuts by ensuring that the work piece gets maximum support and stability around the blade. It minimizes tear out and chipping. Please note that chipping can also happen due to a dull blade.
Dust Collection: Zero clearance inserts enhance dust collection as they provide no space around the blade for debris to fly here and there. All the waste goes into the dust chute directly.
Downsides of using Zero Clearance Inserts
A zero clearance insert is calibrated to a specific cutting angle or a specific blade. They are not versatile and not multipurpose. You will need a zero clearance insert for every specific angle and cut. Hence, making a zero clearance insert is best for rip cuts, and 45-degree cuts since these are the most common cuts you will make with a table saw using a zero clearance insert.
Which is the Best Material for making Zero Clearance Insert Plates?
You can use plywood, MDF, hardboard, hardwood, phenolic resin, or hard plastic for making zero clearance inserts. Each of the materials listed here works fine but has some limitations and advantages over each other.