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This article was published in the Summer 2006 edition of Woodturning Design. 

Adapt-A-Sled as a 3 page pdf








A couple years ago I made a dedicated Pen Sled to make it easier to cut small parts for pens, such as center bands.  It works nicely, and it’s robust as well, I merely rescue it from some pile of shop debris and plop it on the table saw and it’s ready to go.  But it was complex to make.  To allow for different thickness and lengths of stock required five parts and a strangely shaped stop block.  Lately it dawned on me that if I was willing to regard the Hold Down as semi-disposable, it would be a whole lot easier to make and just as effective in use.  Considering that it would take about 5 minutes to make a new one, assuming 3 minutes to find what I did with the sheet of self-stick foam, I didn’t regard that as much of a sacrifice.


This article describes how to make and use this Hold Down.  It lets you cut small parts accurately on the table saw while keeping your fingers out of harms way.  You can use it with any table saw sled with no modification.  If you don’t have a sled, I’ll also describe how to make a quick and easy to make sled based on your miter gauge.  The added bonus of the Miter Gauge based Sled is you can use it to make angled cuts.

Making the Hold Down

The Hold Down only has two parts.  The only one you’ll have to buy is self-stick foam.  If you check in any craft store or department you’ll probably find some.  I got an 8 x 10 inch of 2 mm thick foam at Wal-Mart (hadn’t seen the DVD yet).  The foam gives a more secure grip, as it allows for minor roughness in the stock to be held and slight errors in the angle you hold it.


You’ll also need a scrap piece of wood or sheet goods.  I used a 4” x 7” x 3/8” piece of particle board.  It doesn’t matter a lot what size you use, as long as it’s comfortable to hold.  But do keep the thickness appropriate to the size stock you’re cutting.  You should be able to see the stock under the hold down.  3/8” or ½” thick is appropriate for pen sized parts.


Start the Hold Down by cutting your selected stock to a comfortable size.  Although you only need one straight edge, a rectangle makes the most sense.  Next cut a piece of foam to fit the straight edge of the Hold Down.  Place the Hold Down along one side of the paper back of the foam and trace the outline with a pencil.  Then use scissors to cut on the line.  Remove the paper backing and stick the foam onto the Hold Down.  That’s all there is to it.


Fig1:  The completed, and slightly used, Sled Hold Down.


Using the Hold Down

Before using the Hold Down, check on the condition of your sled.  If the slot is enlarged, or there are any chip outs or other defects that are a significant size compared to the size of parts you want to cut, fix this first.  An easy way to do this is mix up some Bondo or other gap filler, spread it over the defects, and sand the filler smooth and flat when dried.


To use the Hold Down, set your stop block to the length of piece you want to cut.  Set the blade height about ¼” higher than the stock to be cut.  Place your stock at the back of the sled up against the stop block, and press the Hold Down, foam side down, on the stock.  I suggest using both hands so you can exert firm even pressure while having no fingers directly above the blade.  Then push the sled through the blade far enough to cut the stock and then return the sled to a safe position in front of the blade.  Remove the Hold Down and the cut stock.

Fig2:  Although they’re of no use that I can think of, cutting ¼” cubes demonstrates the control in cutting small parts that’s possible with the Sled Hold Down.  I started with a strip ¼” x ¼” x 1 ½”.  This photo shows me about to cut the third cube.  Two already cut cubes are visible to the right of the blade.  The strip is now barely longer than ½”.  There were no flying pieces, no “twangs” as blade destroyed work, and no screams from bitten fingers.



The saw blade will remove part of the Hold Down for each different length stock you cut.  When it becomes too notched, either turn it around and use the other end, put foam on the opposite edge and use that instead, cut off the overly serrated portion, or take a couple of minutes and make a new one.

Making a Miter Gauge Sled

A Table Saw Sled is a great tool for making cross cuts, and even for rip cuts of limited length.  But they can be a bit fussy to make.  You have to get the back rail exactly perpendicular to the blade kerf, and the runners have to be both exactly parallel and the correct distance apart.  For pen sized parts you can get away with a lot less work because the parts are much lighter and shorter.  In fact, the miter gauge you already have will do just fine with a simple L-shaped add on.


When designing this sled I opted for simplicity in the making at some loss of ease of adjustment.  I’ve left out a sliding stop block and a repeatable mount in favor of manual clamps.  I didn’t want the sled mounted directly to the miter gauge so it could be slid sideways to allow for mitered cutting.  So instead I mounted an extension board to the miter gauge that stays permanently on it, and the sled can be clamped to it.


Start by cutting the parts needed on your table saw.  Any stable sheet stock such as plywood, mdf or particle board will do.  I have quite a few medium sized pieces of ¾” melamine left over from “The Shelving Incident”, a particularly egregious violation of the measure twice, cut once, principle, so I used that.  The piece I used was 23” long, but anything in the 18” to 24” range will do.  Rip three pieces that are 3” wide.  Then crosscut a 2” length off of one of the pieces.  The 2” piece will be your stop block, the longer piece will be the miter gauge extension board.


Join the two full length pieces together at a right angle along the long edges.  Use a biscuit joiner if you have one.  You could also could glue them together, clamp, and reinforce with dowels. Just don’t use screws or anything else that could ruin your saw blade and your day.


To prevent slippage, cover the face of the miter gauge extension board and the stop block with fine sandpaper.  I used spray on adhesive and a roll of 180 grit gold sanding cloth.  Attach the extension board to your miter gauge with a couple of screws so that the sandpaper coated face is towards the back of the saw and the left edge is just short of the blade.


Fig 3:  The Miter Gauge Sled from the back of the saw.  The Sled Hold Down and Stopblock are in front of the sled.


Fig 4:  The Miter Gauge Sled removed from the Miter Gauge Extension from the back of the saw.


Fig 5:  The Miter Gauge Sled removed from the Miter Gauge Extension from the front of the saw.


Using the Miter Gauge Sled

To use the Miter Gauge Sled, put it against the Miter Gauge Extension Board, and slide it along so that at least the length of the piece you want to cut plus the width of the stop block project to the right of the blade.  Use any clamp to clamp it in that position to the Extension Board.  Mount the clamp to the left of the Miter Gauge so it won’t be in the way.  Set the height of your blade to about ¼” higher than the stock on the Sled and then push the empty sled through the blade.  This will give an accurate kerf to measure from.  Measure the length stock you want to cut from the kerf and clamp the stop block there, sandpaper side facing the sled.


Place your stock on the sled up against the stop block.  Use the Hold Down to hold it in place, using both hands for firm even pressure.  Avoid putting your hands right over the blade.  Push the sled through the blade far enough to cut the stock, then draw the sled back to a safe position, remove the Hold Down and the cut part.


Fig 6:  Using the Miter Gauge Sled and Sled Hold Down to cut a thin strip.


To make an angled cut, change the angle of your miter gauge.  Slide the Sled to a new position allowing for the length of cut plus the stop block.  Also check to make sure that the cut won’t intersect any previous cuts so you don’t saw out a chunk of the Sled.  Make the cut as before.  You can write the angle used on the sled next to the kerf so future set-ups will be easier.

Fig 7:  Making an angled cut with the Miter Gauge Sled.  I’ve moved the sled to my right on the Miter Gauge Extension so that the kerfs don’t intersect.


Fig 8:  This pen is an example of the design possibilities you could explore with the Miter Gauge Sled.  The center band was cut using standard right angle cuts.  To make the pen barrels I first drilled two oversize blanks, one maple, and the other walnut.  Then I cut each piece at three matching lengths and angles, increasing the angle each time.  I glued the pieces together right on the tube to simplify clamping.





Self Stick Foam, available at any craft department

Sheet Goods of some kind



David Reed Smith lives in Maryland , and apparently spends entirely too much potential turning time tweaking solutions to already solved problems.  He welcomes comments, suggestions and questions via email at  This article, plus an article on the earlier Pen Sled are available on his website:


Cutting some bigger cubes.  The edges are frayed 'cause that's my ripping blade.


Same picture with flash.