Tablesaw Fundamentals: How to Rip Safely
Mastering this fundamental task requires understanding and finesse
Synopsis: There are a number of things that can go wrong when ripping wood on the tablesaw, chief among them kickback. But ripping is a safe practice if you understand the mechanics of the task. Here, Bob Van Dyke explains a handful of techniques that will keep your rips true and your body safe from kickback. Chief among them are proper milling, understanding blade rotation, where to stand, how to position your hands correctly, when to use push sticks and pads, and how to handle oversize boards.
A tablesaw is the best tool for ripping a board’s edges parallel, but safe and successful ripping on the tablesaw depends on understanding a handful of essential techniques and practices. This article will explore and explain these factors so that you can master the mechanics of ripping.
One important concept to keep in mind is the rotation of the blade. Think of the blade as having a front and a back and remember that as they cut, the teeth in the front push the wood down onto the saw table. At the back, the teeth are rotating up away from the table, and if wood contacts these rising teeth, they’ll exert upward pressure, creating the possibility of kickback. Kickback happens when the back of the blade contacts the edge of the wood with enough force that it grabs the stock and propels it back straight toward you at great speed. I once saw a piece of molding shoot 20 feet across the shop before going completely through two pieces of 3⁄4-in.-thick particleboard. Fortunately, as long as certain practices are followed, kickback is easy to avoid and should never be common.
Another important concept is that ripping requires more force than crosscutting. Picture the board’s grain as a bundle of straws. Cutting across the bundle does not require as much force because once cut, the fibers don’t exert pressure against the blade.
When ripping, however, the blade cuts lengthwise through the straws. Because the grain is not always straight, picture a bundle of bendy straws instead of straight ones. This irregularity, plus the fact that these fibers are usually under tension, means that as the fibers are cut, the tensions within the board change and it can push against the blade, thus requiring more force to cut through the wood. To overcome this, install a more aggressive blade for rips, one that has fewer teeth (24 is standard for a rip blade) and
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