Quick and Accurate Equipment Setup
Using Dial Indicators
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Dial indicators are a huge time saver in the shop. They also have the added benefit of being very accurate, down to the thousandths of an inch (0.001"). Some would argue that this degree of accuracy is not necessary for woodworking. The goal is not to enable you to machine wood to within thousandths of an inch, but rather to help you align your woodworking tools quickly and accurately without the need for trial and error (i.e. test cuts).

There are several uses for dial indicators in the shop that many woodworkers are either unaware or confused about. Therefore, my intention below is to describe a few of their uses and hopefully make things a little more clear.

With the exception of the dial indicator magnetic-base used below, the jigs discussed can be made from scrap lumber.

Align a Table Saw Blade and Jointer Fence to 90°

  • Use a dial indicator to align a table saw blade and jointer fence to 90°. This method is a huge time saver. The dial indicator is first zeroed with a 90° reference.
  • See a video demo.
  • After the jig is zeroed it can be used to align table saw blades and jointer fences to 90°.
  • There are several advantages to using this method which include added accuracy and speed. I've also heard comments from older woodworkers with bad backs that this alleviates the need to bend down in front of the table saw and sighting for light in between a square and the blade.

  Use of Dial Indicator to Adjust Table Saw Rip Fence
  • Use of dial indicator to adjust table saw rip fence parallel to blade. The jig shown below is easy to construct and runs in the table saw miter track. As you push the jig from front to back of the rip fence, the alignment can be measured directly.

Adjust Table Saw Sled Fence and Miter Gauges to 90°
  • Use of dial indicator to adjust table sled fence to 90°. By using a good quality square and a dial indicator attached to a magnetic base, the sled fence can be quickly and accurately adjusted to 90°. This same process can also be used to adjust a miter gauge to 90° as well. The sled fence is attached with one screw from below (right side looking at photo) so that it can pivot/adjust. By pushing the sled forward the direction and amount the needle moves on the dial indicator tells the operator which way to adjust the fence and by how much on the fly. This is much faster than the popular 5-cut method because you are measuring the error as you are making the adjustments. The 5-cut method also relies heavily on trial and error and may take several attempts.
  • A higher degree of accuracy can be achieved by getting the dial indicator plunger as close to parallel with the table saw surface as possible. A dial indicator offset bar will help to achieve this.
  • See a video demo.
  • See more details here.
  • The same procedure above can be used to align your miter gauges as well.
  • A higher degree of accuracy can be achieved by getting the dial indicator plunger as close to parallel with the table saw surface as possible. A dial indicator offset bar will help to achieve this.
  • See a video demo.

Use of Dial Indicator as a Height Gauge
  • Use of dial indicator as a height gauge. By attaching a dial indicator to a jig that has a base and vertical block, it can be used as a height gauge for router bits and table saw blades. This would alleviate a lot of unnecessary trial and error.

  Capture and Transfer Angles
  • A dial indicator can also be used to capture table saw blade angles for later use. See a demo.
  • Or they can be used to transfer the captured angle to your jointer fence. See a demo.

  Check Table Saw Arbor and Flange Run Out
  • They can also be used to check your table saw for arbor and flange run-out which is a critical measurement to take for any serious woodworker.
  • See a demo.

  Jointer Top-Dead-Center
  • With a dial indicator you can very easily find top-dead-center of your cutter head so that you can install the knives correctly.
  • See a demo.

  Bandsaw Blade Tension Gauge
  • Accurately set the tension of your bandsaw blades using a dial indicator and easy to build jig.
  • Read a few technical details here.
  • See a demo.

  Miter Saw Aligment

  • A neat jig which is easy to calibrate to 90° and allows you to align you miter saw blade quickly and accurately.
  • See the build video and demo.
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