Pro Tips for Better Ripping

Ripping through a board on a saw horse
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Tips for straight rips

Making long, straight rips in boards or plywood looks easy, but it takes skill and practice to do it safely and accurately. We’ve assembled a few of the most useful tips from experienced carpenters and cabinetmakers to help make ripping simpler and safer.

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Use an 8d nail as a third hand

If you’re without a table saw and need to rip boards with a circular saw, here’s a tip to make the job a lot easier. Drive an 8d nail through the board and into the sawhorse to prevent the board from slipping while you rip it. When you’re done ripping, just pull the board off the sawhorse, flip it over and pound the nail through and pull it out. It only takes a few seconds and eliminates the frustration of a slipping board.

Build a custom push block
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Build a custom push block

Here’s a push block that works great and keeps your hand safely away from the blade. It’s just a piece of 1/2-in. plywood with notches to fit 1/4-in., 1/2-in., 3/4-in. and 1-1/2-in. boards or plywood. The notches help hold the board tight to the saw table, and the top handle slides along the top of your fence.  Make the notched plywood 11/16 in. taller than the height of your fence. Then glue it to a 3/4-in.-thick board with a handle attached. Always use a push block like this with a featherboard.

Check the fence alignment
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Check the fence alignment

It’s critical that the fence be parallel to the saw blade. If it’s not, the blade will bind on the wood and cause a burned edge on your board, or worse, a dangerous kickback. If you have a saw with a top-quality fence that locks down squarely, then you should only need to check and adjust the fence the first time you use it. Read your owner’s manual for instructions on adjusting your fence. Fences on less expensive saws can be inconsistent, and you’ll need to check every time you reposition the fence.

Make narrow rips safely
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Make narrow rips safely

The problem with making repetitive narrow rips on a table saw is that the blade guard and the fence are too close together to allow a push stick to fit between them. The solution is to move the fence away from the blade and clamp the sled base to the fence. Then build a push sled like the one shown to push the narrow rip through the blade. The sled slides under the blade guard and keeps your hand a safe distance from the blade, allowing you to make thin rips safely and easily.

Straighten a crooked edge
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Straighten a crooked edge

If you run the crooked edge of a board against the table saw fence, you will still have a crooked board when you are done. Or worse, the board will get bound between the fence and the blade during the cut. Here’s a handy, low-tech way to straighten the edge of any board. Just fasten the crooked-edge board to a straight strip of plywood, letting it overhang the edge. Then run the straight edge of the plywood against your table saw fence to make a perfectly straight edge on your crooked board.

Mount a featherboard for accurate rips
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Mount a featherboard for accurate rips

There are times when you want your rips to be super accurate, like when you’re building face frames, door parts or other cabinet components. The key to accurate rips is to keep the edge of the board in constant, tight contact with the fence. It’s easy with a featherboard mounted on your table saw top. This Kreg True-FLEX featherboard has expanding rails that lock into the miter gauge track.

Make table saw–quality rips with a circular saw
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Make table saw–quality rips with a circular saw

No table saw or track saw? No problem. Clamp a straightedge to the plywood and use it as a guide for your saw. On most circular saws, the distance between the edge of the saw’s base and the blade is 1-1/2 in., so you can simply position the straightedge 1-1/2 in. from your cutting line. But measure this distance on your saw to be sure. You can buy a straightedge or use the factory edge of a plywood sheet. If your straightedge only has one straight edge, be sure to mark it to avoid using the crooked side.

Support long boards
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Support long boards

Table saws excel at ripping long boards, but it’s dangerous to do it without supporting the board as it leaves the saw.

To rip large sheets, you need well-trained help
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To rip large sheets, you need well-trained help

Sometimes you need assistance to rip large sheets. The trouble is, most helpers try to be too helpful. They naturally want to grab the plywood and pull it or push it or steer it. Before you start, take time to teach your helper the right way. Instruct your helper to simply support the plywood, flat palms up, level with the saw bed, and let you do all the work. The helper should move along with the wood, but never grab the board or try to direct it. These simple rules will keep you both safe, and allow you to make a straight rip with no danger of binding or kickback.

Use a half fence for unruly boards
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Use a half fence for unruly boards

Wood with knots or wavy grain and wood that has been dried unevenly will often warp badly as you rip it. If the halves bend outward, one will push against the fence and could cause burn marks or a dangerous kickback. If this begins to happen, shut off the saw and remove the board. You can rip the board safely by clamping a smooth, straight length of 3/4-in. wood against the fence, ending at the center of the saw blade. This half fence gives the trapped piece (the section between the blade and the fence) room to bend without pushing back against the blade. Keep push sticks handy so you can work around the clamps and complete the cut smoothly.