January 2017

Product Review

Thin Rip Table Saw Jig

by Christopher Cunningham

The ball-bearing equipped jig, along with a shop-made zero-clearance table-saw insert, makes ripping strips for laminations safer than sawing thin stock the on the fence side of the blade.photographs by the author

The ball-bearing equipped jig, along with a shop-made, zero-clearance, table saw insert, makes ripping strips for laminations safer than sawing thin stock the on the fence side of the blade.

If I had my druthers, I’d make knees, breasthooks, and stems—all those angle-reinforcing structural parts of boats—out of grown crooks, but they’re hard to come by and take time to season. Laminating these parts is a good way to get the wood grain in them to turn around corners, and they’re fairly easy to make. The part of the process that I like least is cutting the required thin strips of wood on my table saw.

For decades I’ve set the rip fence up close to the saw blade and run the stock through with push-sticks. At the end of each cut it was always a struggle to get the new strip pulled past cleanly the blade. If I walked around to the back of the saw to pull the strip through, I’d interrupt the steady feed of wood through the blade, and the strips could easily bend or twist into the blade, resulting in some gouges or burns. There was also the risk of having the saw shoot the strip across the shop.

I recently came across a better way: thin-rip jigs. There are a few different versions available from woodworking supply stores, and a number of do-it-yourself versions described on the web. I bought Rockler’s Thin Rip Table Saw Jig. It has a metal device on the bottom that locks into the table’s miter track. The top of the jig slides side-to-side, and a knob locks it at a chosen setting. A ball bearing acts as a gauge and a guide for the wood being sawn.

The bottom of the jig has a metal bar that fits and locks in the table saw's miter track. The ball bearing reduces friction as the wood being sawn is pushed by the jig. The zero-clearance jig shown here is made of ash and is splined at the ends to prevent splitting.

The bottom of the jig has a metal bar that fits and locks in the table saw’s miter track. The ball bearing reduces friction as the wood being sawn is pushed by the jig. The zero-clearance jig shown here is made of ash and is splined at the ends to prevent splitting.

When working with any thin stock on the table saw, a zero-clearance insert is better for the wood and safer for the operator. If the gap in the saw’s standard insert is wider than the strip, the strip won’t be supported and can get pulled down by the saw blade.

I ran the stock through the saw blade (taking off just a bit of wood to assure that the stock had parallel sides), set the jig in the tracks, and placed it so its ball bearing could be set against a saw tooth that would be cutting the kerf on that side. The jig’s scale is marked in 1/16″ increments, making it easy to slide the bearing away from the blade to set the thickness of the strips. Partially tightening the knob locks that setting and leaves the jig to slide back along the track away from the blade; further tightening the knob locks everything in place.

With the rip fence pressing the stock lightly against the bearing, sawing can begin. At the end of the cut, a strip falls safely to the side of the blade with no binding, burning, or gouging. For every subsequent strips, the fence gets unlocked and moved to put the stock again against the bearing.

The last bit of each board may be thick enough to provide another strip, but the jig won’t be able to work with it because the fence would come in contact with the blade. The remnants could be run through a planer or carefully fed through the table saw in the conventional manner, between the blade and the fence.

The Rockler Thin Rip Jig is economical—it would cost me more in time and materials to make a jig that would work as well—and makes reducing a board to a pile of uniform, ready-to-laminate strips a whole lot faster and safer.

Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.

The Thin Rip Table Saw Jig is available from Rockler for $26.99.

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  • Matt says:

    Awesome! Way better than going between the fence and the blade.

  • Michael Hamburg says:

    How about a bandsaw splitting a lamination? I mean how much trouble could it be.

    • Christopher Cunningham says:

      As a rule, bandsaw blades drift, so you have to set a fence at a slight angle to get the stock to feed through without binding or deflecting the blade. My 14″ Delta bandsaw didn’t come with a fence so I bolted hardwood blocks to the front and the back of the table to make it easier to clamp a fence in place, but even then I found it fussy to set up a fence and get the saw to cut true. I usually have a 5/8″ blade on my bandsaw and that’s the blade I’d use for ripping laminates, but if I had to change blades, it would take time to swap blades and reset the guides and bearings. I don’t get as smooth a cut with the bandsaw as I do with the table saw—the sides of the carbide teeth on a table-saw blade plane the kerf smooth where the set teeth of a bandsaw blade score it. The table of the bandsaw is also much smaller and doesn’t support the stock as well.
      The bandsaw does have one significant advantage: It cuts a narrower kerf and you get more strips and lose less stock to sawdust. If the stock is scarce or expensive, I’ll consider using the bandsaw to rip laminates.

      • Andy says:

        You can always buy a 1/16″ table saw blade. Most of the 10″ ones are really expensive, I bought a 7 or 8″ one from Duckworks for around ~$25 which works great. For ripping you don’t normally need the full depth cutting capability and the smaller blade works fine.

  • Jeff Patrick says:

    Why does one need a jig at all? Simply set the saw by its rip fence guide or mark a line on the table surface and line up the board’s edge with it. There will be a very slight variance in thickness but not enough to matter. In fact, some strips will be a bit small and others a bit large, thereby evening things out.

    Or have I missed something that this jig is providing?

    • Christopher Cunningham says:

      Uniformity is one of the chief benefits of the jig. It’s true that you could just make a mark on the table and the variation in the thickness of the strips would be acceptable, but using the jig would likely be faster than eyeballing the resetting of the rip fence each time. The jig also serves as a featherboard, keeping the stock tight against the fence. That’s especially helpful with longer stock. You could, of course use a mark on the table and a featherboard, but the jig would again likely be faster and produce more uniform results.

  • Bill says:

    I’m with Michael. A quality sharp resaw bandsaw blade such as Highland Hardware’s Wood Slicer can produce veneers uniform enough for furniture making. Yes, you need to joint one side of your workpiece(s) if you need it to show, and I always go through a complete tuneup-setup, including setting the fence for drift, but this is routine, for me at least when changing blades. Also, I think the bandsaw here is inherently safer. I’ve cut plenty of thin stuff on the tablesaw, but I’ve seen a guy impaled with a broken off shard hurled by that blade.

  • mike reiner says:

    I do a ton of thin strips/staves to birds-mouth stuff for various things like hollow oars and hiking staffs—I just did the staves of a couple hiking staffs yesterday. I was gonna jump all over this jig, but then I realized I rip all the staves off of the same board, and I’d have to reset the jig and the fence after each stave due to the changing width of the stock to use this as shown. I will likely still continue to cut the strip between the fence and the blade. I do use a spacer piece for the first half the blade, so that if the cut wants wants to open up after the blade it can, if you go with just the fence and a cut really wants to open up but can’t, it could cause binding issues or more likely uneven cuts as Chris mentioned. But on second thought, the knob on that jig looks pretty easy and convenient to adjust to me, and like Chris says, even if i just use it as a feather board with my current set up, it’s is going to be much safer, especially when my stock starts getting narrow but there are still another 3 to 5 staves left in it.

    • Christopher Cunningham says:

      If the strips and staves are going to be sawn to the same dimension, the jig stays at one setting. You do have to move the fence for each cut and I thought that would be an extra time-consuming step, but I soon got used to it. The jig was a good excuse to clean up the fence’s rack-and-pinion mechanism to get it to work smoothly. (Several stray drips of epoxy had flowed down into the rack teeth.)

  • Tim Hannert says:

    Using this jig on an old Craftsman table saw, fitted with a zero-clearance insert, thin kerf blade, and 16′ infeed and outfeed tables, I was able to rip 1,300 linear feet of 18′ western red cedar strips (3/4 x 1/4) for my Adirondack Guide Boat with few errors. Had to clean up some with 80-grit paper and sanding block. Highly recommended.

  • Alex Zimmerman says:

    Never knew such a beast existed. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
    Your description of what you used to do sounds exactly like what I have been doing.
    Next project, I’ll invest in one of these.

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