What is a Rip Fence and How to Use It?


Have you ever wondered how people can cut wood quickly and yet guide it so accurately during the process? Maybe you’re thinking about ripping lumber and need some tips to make it happen.

rip fence
Image by Paul VanDerWerf via Flickr

Most of the time, it happens because of the use of a rip fence to help guide the wood. This fence acts as a stop and a guide, giving you the ability to move quickly and accurately at the same time.

Take a look at this guide where we will share with you just exactly what a rip fence is and walk you through how to properly use one as well.

What is a Rip Fence?

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The rip fence is sometimes also just referred to as a fence. While it was pretty much designed to help rip lumber, it can be used for other things as well. There are different types and styles of rip fences out there. Most of them allow you to make specific adjustments for your project.

The rip fence typically works by lying parallel to the blade. The material you are cutting butts up against the fence and pushes through the blade.

Now, a fence on some saws, like the miter saw, is a little bit different. In this scenario, it’s almost like a backstop but it’s still called a fence. This is not a rip fence so it serves a different purpose but is still similar.

Most of the time, a rip fence is mounted on the right side of the blade. However, some saws actually allow you to move the rip fence and work with it on either side of the blade to give you some additional versatility. This depends on the saw and the table of course.

A rip fence in the capacity we are discussing them here is usually on a table saw. Remember that other saws have fences but they most likely are not actually a rip fence.

This fence is aligned and then your materials run alongside the fence. Ultimately, it’s a guide that helps to hold your material straight all of the way through your cutting process. It’s called a rip fence because people who know how to use it can rely on the fence to rip lumber quickly.

That means that you can set your fence and then quickly make a bunch of repetitive cuts on the saw, thanks to the fence. Most rip fences will run the length of the table but some fences actually are longer than the table as well to give you added guide.

If you know how to align your rip fence and make sure it’s square, that’s really the hardest part of using the fence.

Setting Up Your Rip Fence

table saw with fence crosscut sled made of plywood
Image by Mitch Barrie on wikimedia

Before you just start using your fence, you need to plan to align it so that your work will move straight and be where it should be. The fence really does not good if it’s so far over that it doesn’t touch your wood.

It also isn’t helpful if you don’t get it aligned as this will cause your cuts to not be straight most likely.

You’ve got to align your fence, which means getting it squared up and straight. This alignment happens in accordance with the blade itself. The whole purpose is to get an accurate cut but it also prevents burns, cuts, kickbacks, and even pinches in the process.

The alignment actually starts with the track. Align your blade to the track first and then move on to aligning the rip. It’s easiest to align with a compound square that you can extend. Otherwise, you’ve got to measure and level out until you get it perfectly straight and aligned for your cut.

If you have a compound square, follow these steps.

  1. Insert the combination square into the track and extend it to the necessary length. Lock the square at the extension.
  2. Push the rip fence against the end of the square to make contact and lock it in place.
  3. Now, move your square down the blade that is locked in place. Make sure the rip fence is in contact with the square the entire trip. If it is not, you will need to adjust the rip fence to align with the square’s path.

That square is perfectly aligned so making your rip fence flush with the blade of the square will help get the rip fence properly aligned. Be sure you lock the rip fence into place when you’ve got it perfectly aligned.

How to Use a Rip Fence

table saw with a rip fence
Image by Santeri Viinamäki via wikimedia

Now, you are ready to use the rip fence. Honestly, this is the easy part of the job. You will use the rip fence to guide the wood away as you are cutting. Since you know the rip fence is properly aligned, you can easily move quickly and just keep making cut after cut without making adjustments if all of your measurements are the same.

Obviously, you need to work safely so only work as quickly as you can do so safely. It’s important to keep track of the blade and always keep your fingers and body parts well away from the blade.

Follow these steps to cut wood using a rip fence. We’re assuming you’ve already aligned the fence at this point.

  1. Line up your wood with the measurements, placing it flush against the rip fence. Make sure it is straight against the fence.
  2. Be sure to put on your safety goggles to prevent eye injury from flying wood and dust.
  3. Power up the saw.
  4. Stand in the no kickback zone of the saw and keep a firm grip on your wood.
  5. Push the wood forward towards the blade and continue pushing until the cut is complete.
  6. If you have more wood with the exact same cuts, you can continue with the next board following these same steps.
  7. When you are finished with your cuts, power down the saw and unplug it until next time.

There you have it! This will help you rip lumber quickly but it also helps you to simply make accurate cuts with no worries of getting off track or accidentally cutting a line that isn’t straight.


A rip fence is incredibly helpful for acting as a guide on your table saw. It will help you with accuracy and speed at the same time. Just be sure that you take the time to make sure your fence is properly squared up and aligned. Otherwise, your accuracy won’t be what you are hoping for in the end.

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