How to Rip Narrow Boards on a Table Saw

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Table saws have the potential to give you very accurate cuts, and they can also be dangerous to use when working with narrow boards.

This guide will take you step-by-step through how to rip narrow boards on a table saw so you get clean, safe cuts for your DIY project.

The Benefits of Using a Table Saw

If table saws are so dangerous for these cuts then why would you want to bother with them?

For precise woodworking projects and finishing cuts, you won’t find a power tool that’s consistently more accurate. They also have the following advantages:

  • Cleaner, smoother cuts
  • You can make extremely fine cuts (less than ½ inch) accurately
  • Ease of use
  • Comes with a kickback guard (most)
  • Better stability
Close up of a table saw

The Challenges of Using a Table Saw

So now that you know the benefits, let’s look at some of the roadblocks associated with how to rip narrow boards on table saws:

The Challenge: Kickback

According to a study published in Science Daily, 75% of table saw injuries are due to kickback. Narrow boards by their nature are much more likely to get shot back at you, and the results can be devastating – picture a 2×4 sticking out of your wall like a scene from Twister.

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The Fix: Kickback Guard

While there are certain steps you can take to prevent kickback like cutting on the outside edge of the blade, the risk will never be completely gone.

That’s where your kickback guard comes in – it’s reverse-facing teeth are designed to bite into a wayward board and prevent it from turning into a projectile.

The Challenge: Making Repeat Cuts

When you’re working with very thin, repeated cuts on narrow boards, it’s a hassle to adjust the fence after each cut and you’re not guaranteed to get the same width every time.

The Fix: Use a Commercial Stop Jig

These commercial jigs fit into the miter slot on your medium range table saw, and all you have to do is adjust it so that the edge rests against your workpiece on the first cut.

From there, the jig will act as your guide for future cuts and you’ll adjust your fence accordingly.

The Challenge: Feeding the Board

Because there is so little space between the fence and the saw when ripping narrow boards, there’s also a lot less space for your fingers to stay safely out of harm’s way.

Person using a push stick in a table saw

The Fix: A Push Stick

This is the fancy, technical name for a tool that pushes the board from the back, which keeps you from having to place your hand on top. There are many different styles of push sticks available for purchase, or you can also make your own using scrap pieces.

But what about those narrow cuts when there isn’t enough room between the blade and the fence even for a push stick? For these rips you can buy a push block, or build a jig that sits over top of your fence.

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To make the jig, measure the top of your fence and cut a plywood board that is just barely (think 1/64 of an inch) wider so that the jig will ride across smoothly but not wobble.

Then attach a board on the outside of the fence that doesn’t go all the way down. The last piece will go on the inside, and you’ll want to cut a notch out of the bottom for your workpieces to fit in.

How to Rip Narrow Boards on a Table Saw

Whether you go with a push stick or your newly constructed fence jig, you’re ready to get ripping. Follow the steps below, which you can also see in action, and you’ll be ripping narrow boards in no time.

Step 1: Measure and set the fence

Use your ruler to measure the cut on the outside of the table saw blade, and adjust the fence accordingly. Cutting on the outside edge will help prevent binding as well as kickback.

Measure again to make sure the board didn’t move while you were lining up the table saw fence and then set your stop jig if you’re using one.

Step 2: Put on your safety equipment and turn on the saw

Make sure you’re working safely with eye protection, ear plugs, and a face mask. If you choose to wear gloves as well, make sure they are close fitting and there’s nothing that can snag in the saw. Then turn the saw on and let it come up to speed.

Man showing how to rip narrow boards on table saw

Step 3: Use your push stick or your fence jig to make the cut

Once the saw is warmed up, use your push stick on the end or your fence jig on top of the board to feed the wood through.

Try to make the cut in a single motion without stopping, and apply steady pressure without forcing the cut.

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Step 4: (For Multiple Cuts) Adjust your fence and repeat

If you’re making multiple rips on a narrow board, then you’ll want to use your stop jig to reset the fence and the board for your next cut. Repeat steps 2 and 3, and you should have pieces with virtually even dimensions.

Ripping Longer Boards

If you’re ripping an extra-long board, you’re going to want more stability than just the table saw’s stand will provide. You can use a sawhorse set to the same height as your saw or make a bench to support the board as you feed it, and you’re also going to want something to support the outfeed pieces on the other side.

This will keep you from reaching over the saw to catch the piece as it falls, which is a dangerous position to be in. All in all, you need more stability than your table saw alone can give for longer boards.

In conclusion, you have to take some extra steps with narrow boards to make sure you stay safe. Whether you use a push stick or a jig to feed the wood, you can rest assured that you know how to rip narrow boards on your table saw safely.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.