How to Operate a Table Saw: Ripping the Right Way

plank of wood

Did you know that almost all injuries that are table saw related are avoidable if you use the right techniques? Learning how to operate a table saw safely can prevent injuries and ensure you achieve the desired results. If you learn how to safely make a variety of cuts, including rips to straighten crooked boards, skinny rips, and long rips, you can save plenty of time and hassle in your workshop. These saws will be used for a couple of basic cutting types that most woodworkers rely on the most: ripping and crosscuts.

Here, I’ll go over the basics of ripping lumber, which involves cutting your wood to a specific length. This is often the trickiest task for the beginner and it requires focus and precision, otherwise, you can end up cutting your wood too short.

How to operate a table saw is simple, if you’ve read the included user’s manual, adjust the height of the blade based on the wood you’re ripping, set up the fence to the correct height of depth, and refrain from removing any of the preinstalled safety features, such as the blade guard. Always go slowly when you’re feeding the wood through the blades, standing off to the side, to avoid any kickback. Using the antikickback pawl and a push stick or shoe ensures the wood is fed through the blades safely. Having an outfeed table in place will also come in handy since it’s designed to catch any processed wood that has gone through the blade.

Do I Need a Table Saw?

When you’re new to woodworking, there are a lot of hand tools and power tools you’ll need to buy. But the best portable table saw, such as the SKIL 3410-02, is probably one of the most important investments, since it’s a tool you’ll find yourself using the most.

If you’re serious about your new woodworking hobbies then you’ll want to invest in a table saw since this is a tool you’ll find yourself using often. This is an excellent tool for making repetitive cuts, precise cuts ,and fast cuts. This type of power tool is a great choice for any type of large or small DIY wood projects, but it will also come in handy if you’re remodeling your home, building furniture, or any other type of woodworking project big or small.

carpenter tool

You can expect to pay around $300 to $500 if you’re looking for a high-quality model. A 10-inch sized saw is the most common and it’s perfect for most woodworking jobs. However, you can also find 8-inch models that are a great choice for smaller workshops. Learning how to operate one of these saws is simple if you follow the included instructions of use and set up and keep all of the necessary safety accessories in place.

With accessories such as jigs, stops, and clamps, you can pretty much make any type of specialty cut, such as rabbet joints, compound angles, dado cuts, and more. However, a woodworker will usually rely on a table saw for only two types of cuts, crosscuts and ripping. Crosscutting refers to cutting material to a specific width, while ripping is commonly used to cut material to a certain length.

Adjusting the Blade

Before you get started ripping, the first step is adjusting the height of the blade, so that the top of the wood you’re sawing is even with the bottom of the blade. A standard table saw will come equipped with an anti-kickback pawl and a blade guard assembly that includes a splitter. Now’s the time to read your instructions manual and reinstall the blade guard if you’ve taken it off at some point. Keeping the safety equipment installed and working perfectly is crucial for safety. The blade guard keeps a user’s fingers safely away from the blade, while also working to deflect any flying debris.

A table saw splitter will prevent the lumber from pinching the blade, which can result in kickback. Lumber kicking back at you is further reduced by the pawl. This component features small teeth that will latch onto the board, preventing it from flying toward you if the blade binds or pinches during use.

Safer operation will begin by adjusting the blade height. Basically, saw operation is much safer when less of the blade is exposed.


In order to keep the board tightly pressed against the fence, you can use your thumb and hook it behind of board, while keeping your little finger in constant contact with the fence to rip. Focus on keeping the edge of the board in constant contact with the fence as you push the lumber through the blade using a steady slow pace. The lumber should be completely pushed past the blade and the pawl. Next, you’ll turn the saw off and carefully stay out of the path of the blade, so you won’t be injured if the cut board catches on the blade and causes kickback.

Even if you do have a blade guard in place, you’ll want to avoid placing your hand anywhere near the blade. It only takes a second to stop concentrating on the cutting process and you’ll end up losing a finger. If you use a push stick this will allow you to have your hands placed at a safer distance from the blade if you’re working with thinner lumber.

A push shoe is another option. The shoe’s handle shape provides users with a better grip for improved control while minimizing the chances of the user’s hand slipping. You can buy a push shoe online or at your local home improvement store. If you want to make a push stick you can use a piece of plywood. You’ll want to avoid using lumber since it can fall apart and split while you’re pushing. Both push shoes and sticks are the safest way to guide thinner lumber past the blade.

Outfeed Table Setup

a man making

When you’re cutting boards that are narrower than 6-inches you’ll want to use the same type of techniques that you do for ripping wider boards. When your dominant hand reaches the edge of the table, take a push stick or shoe. Make sure you’re standing to the side of lumber and not directly behind it as it’s cutting. You can use an outfeed support or table to hold the board as its leaving the saw.

When you’re dealing with cutting long boards, they can be tricky since they will fall off the end of the table. This often temps users to reach over the blade in order to catch it. You can support the end of the board as it comes off the back of the saw in order to do this safely.

You can also purchase saw stands that come equipped with devices such as rollers that will support any out-fed wood. Building a small table that’s approximately the same height as the table saw is often a better solution. If you have the space, you can also build a type of permanent outfeed station. If you do, make sure that the table supports the lumber behind the saw, which will prevent you from reaching over the blade in order to catch it.


  • To avoid kickback, make sure you stand to the side of the blade, at the side, instead of directly behind it. You should also make sure that no other people are in this danger zone. The saw should be placed in an area in which walkways, windows, and doors aren’t in the blade’s path.
  • Whenever you perform an adjustment or blade change, make sure that the saw is unplugged. It should also be kept unplugged when not in use.
  • During operation, wear hearing protection and safety glasses. If possible, wear a respirator or dust mask if you’re taking on a big project in a confined space.

Sawing Precautions

In order to safely rip boards, make sure you clamp a plywood L-shaped extension to the fence. Next, you’ll adjust the fence to the required ripping width. You can cut the thin strip by guiding the board along the fence extension.

When it comes to cutting up strips of wood for plywood edging, a table saw is the best tool. The problem here is that the guard assembly often interferes with the fence since it doesn’t offer enough space for a push stick. Build your own fence extension using strips of plywood for safer operation

Final Thoughts

Learning how to use a table saw the right way allows you to quickly rip thick and thin lumber in preparation for your next woodworking project. But as you can see, there are a number of things that can go wrong especially if you’re new to table saw use. Follow the included safety instructions and tricks that I’ve included here to prevent any injuries, while also learning how to quickly rip through that large pile of lumber, in no time.