This article is from Issue 95 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Use these fingers to keep your own out of harm’s way
Featherboards, also called fingerboards, are time-honored shop helpers for holding stock against a machine’s fence and/or down on its table. Primarily used on a table saw or router table, a featherboard is basically a body of wood or plastic with thin, flexible angled fingers that press against the workpiece. The angle of the fingers allows forward movement while resisting the cutter’s rearward force. The body can be fixed into a machine’s table slots or simply clamped to the table. Alternatively, it can be mounted onto the fence for downward pressure.
Featherboards are crucial safety accessories for a number of operations, none more so than when ripping on a table saw that’s lacking a splitter or riving knife. Here, the primary cause of kickback is when the workpiece wanders away from the fence and encounters the rising rear teeth of the blade. In lieu of a splitter or riving knife, a featherboard will help prevent that. Featherboards will also help keep a workpiece from bowing away from the fence or up off the table, ensuring accurate, consistent grooves, rabbets, and other cuts. This is particularly useful when working with thin or narrow stock.
Many shapes and sizes of featherboards are available commercially. I’ll also show you a few different types you can make from scrap wood. Whether commercial or shop-made, featherboards will do a lot better job than you can with your own fingers, which you really should save for better purposes.
Styles and setups for safety and stability
Featherboards are available in a variety of configurations to suit specific machines and setups. Better versions offer a wide span of fingers for improved pressure, and two-point attachment to prevent swiveling. Table-mounted models are often affixed to miter gauge slots, as shown in the photo on the facing page. Alternatively, they can be clamped directly to the table at its edge. Fence-mounted models can be clamped or bolted to a tall auxiliary fence, or to a shop-made mounting block that sits atop a fence.
Strong downer. A fence-mounted featherboard provides downward pressure on a workpiece to ensure grooves and rabbets of consistent depth. This commercial model attaches to a shop-made mounting block that anchors into the rip fence’s T-slots.
Featherboard/guard combo. This two-part router table setup is for raising panels. The fence-mounted featherboard ensures consistent downward pressure, while the guard protects against the intimidatingly large cutter. The featherboard is just a bit thinner than the guard’s clamping board to allow it to sit behind the guard’s cantilevered arm.
Workin’ high and low. The bottom unit of this tandem featherboard keeps the work pressed against the fence at table level to ensure a consistently placed groove, while the top unit helps prevent workpiece lean while feeding.
Elevated status. Raising this featherboard above the cut keeps the pressure where you need it while allowing the offcut to fall freely away instead of being pushed into the blade, which could shoot it backward.
Braced for business. This featherboard can be cobbled together in about an hour from scrap and screws. The brace allows for substantial two-point clamping to the edge of the table saw.
When making a featherboard of any sort, use a piece of tough hardwood like oak or ash that’s free of defects. Do not use plywood or composition board. A thickness of 3/4" suits most jobs; I wouldn’t go any thicker than that, nor any thinner than 1/2". Lay out the fingers in the direction of the grain and cut the business end at a 30° angle. I make the fingers 1/8" to 3/16" wide and 3" to 4" long. The exact width isn’t as important as making the widths consistent so that they provide even pressure. The photos here show you how to make a slot-mounted featherboard that will probably serve the majority of your table saw needs.
Slot-mounted table saw featherboard
Using the guidelines shown here, lay out the featherboard on a 3⁄4 × 8 × 16" piece of stock with a 30° angle on one end.
Locking hardware. This slot-mounted featherboard attaches to a saw’s miter gauge T-slots. For hardware, I use 1⁄4-20 carriage bolts recessed into Micro-Jig’s “zero-play stops” (top). Alternatively, you can screw 3⁄8"-diameter all-thread into barb-less T-nuts whose edges are ground to fit in the miter gauge slots.
Setting up a featherboard
Setting up a featherboard involves a basic understanding of proper placement and a bit of adjustment nuance. First of all, always point the fingers toward the direction of feed. As for placement, you’ll usually want to locate a featherboard forward of a table saw blade to avoid pushing the offcut into the blade. However, for non-through cutting—such as grooving the edge of a standing board at the table saw, or edge-profiling a board at the router table—locate the pressure right at the cutter to ensure cut accuracy. Locating a featherboard just above the cut area is a good approach to sawing a rabbet, as shown in the “Elevated status” photo on p. 29. Attachment and adjustment depends on the type of featherboard, as shown below.
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