The rip fence is one of those things that can have a huge impact on your work, but is so basic that people often toss them out when they find them bundled with their circular saw!
These simple-looking metal contraptions are designed to help you make long accurate rip cuts using only a circular saw. The basic idea of the rip fence is a guide that attaches to the base of your saw and allows you to cut at a fixed distance from the edge of your board.
I’ll break down how to use a rip fence on a circular saw in more detail – so you’ll be able to make accurate rip cuts with nothing but a regular old circular saw and a fence.
Using a Circular Saw Rip Fence – Guide
If you purchased a circular saw and found a T-shaped metal rod at the bottom of the box, don’t throw it out! That metal rod is a rip fence and is highly useful for making long rip cuts without the use of a table saw.
Rip fences typically insert into a slot built into the circular saw’s base plate. The fence width can then be adjusted to accommodate whatever width you desire. The fence is then locked in place with a small screw or lever – ensuring it can’t move while you’re making the cut.
Most rip fences are designed to be used from either side of the saw. That means you can fit the guide from either side of the base plate to suit whatever cutting job you need to accomplish.
Let’s take a look at how to use a circular saw rip fence in step-by-step detail:
Step 1: Measure and Mark Cut Line
Before you start cutting, you’ll want to carefully measure and mark the cut line.
If you’re going to use a rip fence to make a clean rip cut, then you’ll want to start with an accurate cutting line. Otherwise, you might as well make the rip cut freehanded.
Step 2: Mount Rip Fence
Once you’ve clearly marked your cut line, you’ll want to line up the edge of the saw blade with the cut line you just drew. Then secure the rip fence in place and make a small test cut to see if the blade is lining up with your cut line precisely.
If you need to make any adjustments, loosen the screw securing the rip fence in place, adjust the saw position, and then retighten the rip fence.
Step 3: Make the Rip Cut
Now that your saw is positioned correctly and your rip fence is mounted in position, all that’s left to do is make the rip cut. The rip fence will do most of the work for you, so all you need to do is guide the saw along the cut line at a steady pace.
As you approach the end of the board, be careful to keep the saw blade aligned with the cut line. Because of the way rip fences are designed, when you finish a cut, the rip fence can leave the cut before your saw blade does, so the last little bit will need to be guided free-handed.
Tips for Using a Rip Fence
- You can actually increase the accuracy of your rip fence by extending its length using a piece of wood. Attach a straight section of wood to the fence using screws in the two holes in the fence and you’ve got yourself a makeshift rip fence extension. Note this won’t work on all rip fences, as some don’t have these built-in holes.
- A rip fence will only make accurate cuts provided the edge of your board is straight to begin with. If the edge of your board is curved or warped, then your rip cut will be off by the same amount as the edge of your board.
- A rip fence can help you make an accurate cut but it’s not perfect. You’ll still need to be careful while guiding the saw, particularly toward the beginning and end of the cut. If you need a perfect cut then a table saw or track saw will give you a more precise result than a circular saw with a rip fence.
- Rip fences are limited in terms of how wide you can make a rip cut. Depending on the dimensions of your rip fence, you’ll only be able to cut about a foot from the edge of your board, which is what makes rip fences useful for ripping narrow boards. Track saws or larger rip guides can come in handy when you need to rip wider boards.