One of the trickier jobs you can undertake with a circular saw is using it to rip narrow boards. Unlike ripping wide boards, ripping a narrow board means there’s less available space to clamp down your workpiece.
This means you’ll likely run into difficulty making one continuous cut all the way through the board. You’ll need to reposition your clamps as your make your way through the cut, which can be tricky if you haven’t thought out a plan of attack beforehand.
I’ll break down the process of how to rip a narrow board with a circular saw in step-by-step detail, so you’ll know exactly how to complete the job yourself.
Tools & Materials
- Circular saw with rip fence
- Quick-release clamps
- Carpenters pencil
- Speed square or straight edge
- Scrap piece(s) of wood
How to Rip Narrow Boards with a Circular Saw – Guide
Making a rip cut across a narrow board presents several different challenges when compared with a wider board.
As there isn’t a lot of real estate to hang your board over the edge of your workbench, you’ll want to use some sacrificial scrap wood underneath to prevent damaging your workbench. I used a couple of small 2×4 sections in my case, but you can use anything you have on hand as long as it supports the board you’re planning to rip.
Step 1: Measure and Mark the Cut Line
First up, you’ll want to carefully measure and mark the cut line along your board.
I used a speed square and carpenters pencil to mark the line lengthwise, but you can use any straight-edged marking tool you have on hand.
Step 2: Clamp Down the Board
Next up, you’ll want to clamp down the board so you can begin ripping it.
The tricky part of ripping a narrow board like this is that there won’t be enough overhang for your saw to move freely all the way along the cut without butting into the clamps. That means we’ll need to move the clamps two times through the process to make room for the saw.
Set up the clamps with one at the far end and one at the middle of the board. This will give enough space that you can rip halfway through the board before you’ll need to reposition the clamps.
Step 3: Set Cutting Depth
Next, you’ll want to set the cutting depth of your saw so the blade extends just past the bottom of the board. This will ensure the saw works efficiently and means you won’t be cutting past your sacrificial wood and into the workbench below.
Step 4: Set up Rip Fence
A rip fence is the easiest way to make a long accurate rip cut like this. You can also do this will some type of straight edge or a fancy rip guide, but a rip fence will work just fine.
Insert the rip fence into your circular saw and position it so it hugs the edge of your board while the saw blade lines up with your cut line. Then tighten the screw holding it in place so it can’t move.
Depending on how wide your board is and the position of your cut line, you may need to set up the rip fence on the opposite side of your saw. It doesn’t matter which side you set it up on, either side is good as long as it will fit.
Step 5: Begin the Cut
Now it’s time to begin the cut. Start the saw and begin cutting carefully along the marked line.
When you get halfway through the board you’ll notice that your saw’s shoe will butt into the clamp you set up earlier. When you get close to the clamp, release the trigger and let the blade come to a stop.
Step 6: Reposition the Clamps
At this point, you’ll need to reposition your clamps in order to complete the next portion of the cut. Remove the saw from the channel and position the middle clamp towards the beginning of the board where you began the cut.
Step 7: Continue the Cut
Now you’ll want to place the saw back in place where you removed it from before. The blade guard will likely get in the way here, so slide it back and position the saw blade in the kerf right before where you stopped cutting previously.
Then, start cutting along the cut line once again until you reach the end of the board. Once again you’ll butt into the clamp at the far end of the board so you’ll need to reposition this clamp before you can complete the cut.
Step 8: Reposition the Far Clamp
Now you’ll want to reposition the far clamp towards the middle of the board. Make sure there’s enough room for your saw to fit without the back of it butting into the clamp you just repositioned.
Step 9: Complete the Cut
Next, it’s time to slide back the blade guard and insert the blade right before the point where you stopped cutting. Then start the saw and finish cutting along the line until you complete ripping the entire length of the board.
Tips for a Clean Cut
- Use a sharp blade with the appropriate number of teeth for the job. Rip cuts are less demanding on a blade than cross-cuts so require fewer teeth to cut through the material effectively.
- For a rip fence to work properly, the edge of your board needs to be straight. If it’s inaccurate, then your cut will be inaccurate by the same amount.
- If you want a faster way to rip narrow boards than a circular saw, then using a table saw is the way to go. Of course, these saws are a little bulky and expensive, so if you only have a few cuts to make then a circular saw can do the trick.