How To Rip Boards Safely On a Table Saw

Here's the right way to make rip cuts.

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Table saw injuries are avoidable if you use the proper ripping techniques. Learn the safe way to make a variety of rip cuts on your table saw.

Tools Required

  • Clamps
  • Table saw

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Install the Blade Guard

A blade guard assembly that includes a splitter and an anti-kickback pawl is standard equipment with every table saw. If you’ve set yours aside, now’s the time to dust it off, dig out your instruction manual and reinstall it. Keeping this safety equipment on your saw and in good working condition is crucial for safe cutting. The plastic guard keeps your fingers away from the blade and deflects flying debris. The splitter keeps the board from pinching the blade and kicking back at you. Kickback danger is further reduced by the anti-kickback pawl, which has little teeth that grab the board and prevent it from hurtling toward you if the blade pinches or binds during the cut.

Safe ripping starts with adjusting the blade height. In general, the less blade exposed, the safer your sawing operation.

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Step 2

Save Your Fingers With a Push Stick

Even with a blade guard in place, you don’t want your hand anywhere near the spinning blade. A moment’s lapse in concentration or one little slip is all it takes to lose a finger. Push sticks allow you to keep your hands a safe distance from the blade while ripping skinny pieces. Notably, some of the woodworkers we’ve talked to prefer the push shoe design over the push stick. The handle on the shoe shape gives you a better grip for more control over the wood and reduces the chances of your hand slipping off. Make a push shoe yourself or buy one online or from a store specializing in woodworking supplies. Always make push sticks out of plywood, not lumber that could split and fall apart while you’re pushing. Push sticks and shoes are the only safe way to guide a thin board past the spinning saw blade. Make a habit of keeping a push stick or shoe within easy reach whenever you use the saw.

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Step 3

Follow These Commonsense Safety Rules

  • To avoid being hit by a board if it kicks back, stand to the side of the blade when you’re cutting, not directly behind it. Also keep onlookers away from this danger zone. If possible, orient the saw so that doors, windows and walkways aren’t in the blade’s path in case a kickback occurs.
  • Unplug the saw whenever you perform a blade change or adjustment that puts your fingers close to the blade. Also unplug the saw when you’re not using it.
  • Wear safety glasses and hearing protection. Wear a dust mask if you’re sawing in a confined space.
  • Unplug the saw before resetting a tripped circuit breaker or replacing a fuse.
Step 4

Keep Boards Tight To the Fence

Hook your thumb behind the board and keep your little finger in contact with the fence to rip boards 6 in. and wider. Concentrate on keeping the edge of the board in full contact with the fence while you push it through the blade at a slow, steady rate. Push the board completely past the blade and kickback pawl. Then switch off the saw, being careful to stay out of the path of the blade in case the ripped board or cutoff piece catches in the blade and kicks back.

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Step 5

Support Long Rips With an Outfeed Table

Ripping long boards is tricky because the board can fall off the backside of the table, tempting you to reach over the spinning blade to catch it. To do it safely, you must support the end of the board as it comes off the back of the saw. You can buy manufactured stands that incorporate rollers and other devices to support this “outfeed” lumber. But a better solution is to build a small table that’s the same height as your table saw. Or if room permits, build a permanent outfeed platform. Just make sure to support the lumber behind the saw so you’re not tempted to reach over the blade to catch it.

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Step 6

Ripping Thin Strips Safely

A table saw is the best tool for cutting thin strips of wood for plywood edging, jamb extensions or lattice. The problem is that the blade guard assembly interferes with the fence and doesn’t provide enough space for a push stick. The photos below show how to rip thin strips with the blade guard in place using a couple of easily constructed table saw accessories.

Here’s how to build and configure the fence extension:

  • Screw a 3/4-in. x 2-1/2 in. strip of plywood to the long side of a 10-in. x 24-in. rectangle of 3/4-in. plywood.
  • Simplify fence adjustments by ripping the finished assembly to exactly 10 in. wide.
  • Then simply add 10 in. to your desired ripping dimension when you set the distance from the blade to the fence. Glue and clamp a 1-3/8 in. wide strip of 1/4-in. plywood or hardboard to a 6-in. x 8-in. rectangle of 3/4-in. plywood for the push block. Don’t use metal fasteners to attach the thin strip.

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Clamp the Extension

  • Clamp the L-shaped plywood extension to your fence.
  • Adjust the fence to the desired ripping width.
  • Rip the thin strip by guiding the board along the plywood fence extension.

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Push the Strip Through

  • Complete the rip by using the L-shaped push block to push the thin strip past the blade and anti-kickback pawl.