Ripping Thin Strips of Wood on the Table Saw

At some point, we all need to rip a thin strip of wood for some project. Maybe you want to make some edge banding for a plywood shelf? Perhaps you need a runner for a drawer or jig? Whatever the project, there are a few tools and techniques to consider in order to cut thin strips safely on the table saw.

A Splitter Prevents Kickback

Of all the safety tips, one of the most important is to make sure you have your splitter or riving knife installed. A thin strip of wood is much more likely to bend or flap around as it comes off the blade. A splitter or riving knife will keep that strip from connecting with the back side of the blade and kicking the board back at you.

Use a Zero-Clearance Insert

When ripping really thin strips, there is a danger that they could fall down the gap between the blade and the table saw throat plate. Not only would this ruin the piece, but it creates the potential for kickback. In this case, make sure to make and install a zero-clearance insert for your table saw. This is a handy accessory to have for a variety of tasks, so it's worth taking the time to make one now.

Wider Strips Can Use the Fence

If the pieces you need to rip are not too thin, you can do so using the table saw's rip fence, as usual. Just set the fence to the width of the strip you want to rip and run the piece through. As you get to the end of the board, make sure to have a push stick ready. If your splitter has anti-kickback pawls or some kind of guard, you'll need a push stick that is long enough to push the piece past the back of the blade while still keeping your fingers well away from danger.

Use a Jig For Very Narrow Strips

It may be that you cannot move the fence close enough to the blade to get the thickness you want. The anti-kickback pawls might be in the way, you don't want to risk damaging the fence, or it's not possible to make a push block thin enough to control the strip as it goes past the blade. In these situations, it makes sense to build a ripping jig.

Thin Strip Ripping In Use

A thin ripping jig consists of two pieces: a short runner that rides in the left miter slot and a wider flatter piece with a slot cut in it and a point on the blade end. The slot allows the jig to move left and right, adjusting the width of the cut. The idea of a ripping jig is that the thin strip is cut on the left side of the blade. The majority of the board is between the fence and blade, where it is easy to control and the cut-off falls harmlessly away on the left.

For the jig to work, start with a board that has has parallel edges. So, first, prepare the board as usual. With that done, place the jig in the miter slot and adjust the distance between the blade and jig to the desired thickness of the cut. Slide the jig back so that it's in front of the blade. Now, place the board on the table with one edge against the jig and slide the fence up against the other edge and lock the fence in place. Remove the jig and run the board through the saw. Re-install the jig and repeat the process: board against jig, fence against board, remove jig and cut.

An Alternative: The Band Saw

If you don't have a table saw or you don't feel comfortable ripping thin strips at the table saw, the band saw is a viable alternative. Using the band saw can even have a few advantages. First, it doesn't have the kickback potential of the table saw. Second, stock can be pushed or pulled through the blade safely, reducing the need for push sticks. Finally, because the blade is quite a bit thinner than that of the table saw, there's lest waste, allowing more strips to be cut from a single board.

The main downside to using the band saw is that the final cut tends to be a bit rougher than that of the table saw. To account for this, cut your strips a bit wider than you need and run them through the thickness planer. This not only cleans up the rough edge, it also ensures the pieces are a consistent thickness. If you're cutting a lot of strips, joint both edges of the board, cut a strip off each edge and the re-joint each edge with the jointer set at about 1/64 inch depth of cut.

With these tips, it is possible to rip thin strips safely and consistently. What do you do to cut thin strips for your projects?

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