by Randall Davie
When I was getting ready to build a cedar-strip kayak, just the thought of ripping about 900′ of 1/4″ x 3/4″ cedar strips was daunting. Pushing 18′ planks through the tablesaw 50 times was not how I wanted to spend my time—I’m rather impatient and like getting jobs done quickly. I started playing with the idea of gang-sawing, putting more than one blade on my tablesaw to make multiple cuts with each pass. Using four blades to make just 13 passes for the kayak strips I needed sounded a little more reasonable.
A full-sized saw with an arbor long enough to take a stack of blades and spacers is required to do this. I have a 10″ tablesaw that can accommodate a stack of four blades with spacers. I didn’t need 10″ blades to cut the 3/4″ stock I needed for strips, so I bought four identical 7-1/4″ narrow-kerf carbide-toothed blades. The smaller blades are cheaper and, being lighter, don’t strain the motor when starting up. I don’t recommend using more than four blades; it would make for an awful lot of material for your tablesaw to remove.
The three plywood spacers between the blades needed to be thicker than the strips I would be cutting to make up for the difference between the kerf cut by a blade and the thickness of its body. A 5/16″ plywood spacer gave a strip just shy of 1/4″.
I can cut strips of any thickness, four at a time, by varying the thicknesses of spacers. Any high-quality panel stock—MDF, plywood, acrylic sheet—can be used for spacers. A hole saw and a drill press are nice for making the spacers but not absolutely necessary.
You’ll need to replace your saw’s table insert to accommodate the multiple blades. I make zero-clearance inserts of 1/2″ birch plywood and #6 x 3/8″ round-head screws, one in the tail to prevent kick-up and four on the bottom for height adjustment. I mark my sets of spacers and their matching inserts according to spacer thickness and the thickness of the strips they produce.
A purpose-built push block clears the strips all the way through the blades with almost no chance of kick-back. A thin strip can shoot back like an arrow, so even with the push block it’s always best to stand to the side.
With some careful setup of the fence I’m ready to rip. I found the gang-sawing process produced more consistent results than using a single blade. With any setup on the tablesaw, accuracy and safety are the secrets to success. I hope this saves you time, materials, and fingers. Work safe.
Randy Davie is a certified carpenter and tile setter living near Powell River, British Columbia, who often goes to work by boat. He has built several boats and intends to build many more, enjoys sea kayaking and canoeing, and happily notes he has “an awesome shop and an awesome wife.”
You can share your tricks of the trade with other Small Boats Monthly readers by sending us an email.
We welcome your comments about this article. If you’d like to include a photo or a video with your comment, please email the file or link.