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.
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.
Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.