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How to Cut and Rip Boards and Plywood

Before cutting and ripping large boards or sheets of plywood, know the proper table saw technique. Use these step-by-step instructions to properly set up the table and make the cuts.

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Step 1: Clean the Table

First, keep the table clean and polished. Rust and debris can cause friction that will inhibit a cut.

Ripping is running the blade along the grain of the wood. A crosscut runs across the grain.

Since plywood is a manufactured material with several layers of wood bonded together, generally with each layer at a right angle to the next, there is no specific grain direction. In this case a rip cut would be cutting lengthwise and a crosscut would be cutting across.

Step 2: Place the Plywood Against the Fence

When ripping a large sheet of plywood (Image 1) on a table saw, use an outfeed table (Image 2) or roller stand to support the board as it comes off the saw.

Put the best edge of the wood against the fence and push the corner of the board into the fence to keep the board tight against the fence throughout the cut (Image 3).

Step 3: Adjust the Blade and Rip the Board

Stand to the left of the blade -- out of the "danger zone" between the blade and the fence.

Make sure the blade is at the correct height for the cut. A good rule-of-thumb: the blade height should be set to a tooth above the depth of the wood that is being cut. After the cut, wait until the blade comes to a complete stop before leaning over to pick up the wood.

Step 4: Use a Miter Gauge for Crosscutting

Do not use a fence when making a crosscut. The wood will bind between the fence and the blade. Instead, use a miter gauge for crosscutting. Attach a sacrificial fence to the miter gauge to help keep the board even during the cut.

attach sacrificial fence to miter gauge

Step 5: Support the Board and Make the Cut

Use a roller stand to support the board as you move through the cut. Set the roller stand so it’s just below the level of the wood. Make sure the roller stand is in the proper position to actually support the board as it separates. After the cut, wait until the blade comes to a complete stop before leaning over to pick up the wood.

use roller stand to support board while cutting