In past pieces here on Obsessed Woodworking, we’ve written extensively about table saws. Whether it was distinguishing the different types of table saws, or table saw riving knives, table saws vs miter saws, or how to prevent table saw kickback, we’ve offered a number of helpful and practical tips for their use. If you’ve followed our site, you’ve likely incorporated some of those tips in your woodworking projects.
In many instances when we’ve written about table saws, we’ve also mentioned ripping plywood on them. But, what exactly is ripping? And what does rip capacity on a table saw mean?
Let’s dig into this together.
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What Does Rip Capacity Mean On a Table Saw?
Rip capacity refers to the distance between the edge of the saw blade to the greatest distance the rip fence can be moved from it. In short, it defines the longest length of wood that can be ripped on your table saw.
For instance, if you are making a new cabinet, you likely will need rip cuts of 30 inches. You must be able to move the fence on your table saw 30 inches from the edge of the blade. It’s the rip capacity you’ll need.
What Are The Common Rip Capacities on Table Saws?
There are basically three common rip capacities for table saws:
- 28 inches: the most common capacity for inexpensive and mid-priced table saws. You can rip a 48” piece of plywood in half with this capacity.
- 30 inches: the most common capacity for most woodworkers and can handle most of your ripping needs. Cabinets, for instance, as we mentioned above, will call for 30” dimensions.
- 50 inches: the largest rip capacity, and only with the best and most expensive table saws. Again, though, it’s likely much more than most woodworkers will need.
To put this into practical perspective, plywood sheets, irrespective of grade, are 48” x 9 irrespective of grade. Both a 28” and a 30” rip capacity table saw will be able to give you two 24” x 96” pieces of plywood. Most woodworkers will want to spend up just a little for the larger rip capacity table saw, although that will depend, too, on the types of projects you are most likely to tackle.
As you can see, rip capacity has nothing to do with blade size. Table saw specs for rip capacity are most responsible for determining a table saw’s cost.
Blade size will determine how thick a piece of wood your table saw can cut. A 10” blade will be able to cut a 3’-thick piece of wood, but a 12” blade will be needed to cut a 4”-thick piece. And, obviously, manufacturers are not going to use a larger/stronger motor on a smaller table saw.
Portable table saws, because of their small size, are going to have a smaller rip capacity; usually, 28”, than a table or cabinet saw.
How To Extend Your Table Saw’s Rip Capacity
Now that we know what rip capacity is and why it is important, what if your table saw’s rip capacity isn’t enough for your needs anymore? You started out small in both size and investment to get your woodworking shop started. But you’re not a noob anymore and are tackling more sophisticated projects that require greater rip capacity from your table saw.
There are three primary options available to you. Some of them might require a little imagination from you in using readily available materials already in your shop.
Here they are:
- Add a larger table to the side of your saw;
- Adjust the fence-sliding rails of your saw; or
- Purchase a table saw fence extension kit made specifically for your table saw make and model
This can be a cheap option if you have material available already in your shop. Some MDF and 2 x 4s, glue and screws, clamps, and some careful measurements to the height of your table saw, and you can build a table extension adjoining your saw.
A fence from the same materials can complete the DIY project. Clamps tightly applied will hold your homemade fence in place to your measurement needs. Again, the rip capacity is measured from the side of the saw blade facing the fence to the fence.
The careful measurements are for the height of the homemade extension table. You could even add some castors to the extension table if you won’t be using it all the time. Depending on its height and the height of any other workbench in your shop, you might be able to fit it beneath the workbench to save floor space.
This separate table may even have other uses to which it could be put. It’s a table surface with wheels on it, so moving heavy things around your shop might be one of those uses.
Here is a video to show just one example of a table extension. The DIY project is a bit extensive, but it’s also an example of what can be done with a bit of homemade imagination.
And here’s a second example, a little less complicated but nonetheless effective.
There is one other consideration. Many table saw manufacturers will also sell you extension tables specifically built for particular table saws. You can spend up for this option if you aren’t the DIY type. But, table extensions are not especially difficult projects, and with careful measurements, will work quite well.
Adjust Fence-Sliding rails
Many table saws have adjustable rails, and the process is actually pretty simple. Moving the rails to the next bolt or two bolts down along the table will extend the rails out wider than the factory set width, thus increasing the rip capacity of your table saw.
No new materials are needed for this option, and the tools necessary to make the adjustment are likely already in your shop. Remove nuts and washers, move the rails down a bolt or two, and attach the rails again with the same nuts and washers.
It may not sound like much, but if your 28” rip capacity table saw can be extended to 30” capacity, you’ve moved up in the world of ripping. Of course, your table saw rails must be adjustable to accomplish this, but if they are, just a little bit of your time and labor will give you the greater rip capacity you want.
Here’s a video to show you what we mean.
Table Saw Fence Extension Kits
Yes, there are such things. They can be purchased from both the large DIY stores and even online at Amazon.
They come with instructions matched to your particular table saw brand and are relatively easy to install. However, they do not prevent the necessity or the advisability of a table extension. Since homemade table extensions can include a homemade fence clamped tightly to the table, spending money for an extension kit might not be necessary.
Additionally, you’re in a woodworking shop to make things from wood. You’ve invested in power and hand tools and have created the space for a table saw. Shame on you if you then choose to spend up for an extension kit when you likely have the wherewithal and the materials necessary to build your own.
One fly in the ointment of the homemade table extensions, extension wings, and adjustable rails projects is the rack and pinion fence. We’ll offer just a brief word about them as it relates to increasing rip capacity.
This is not a loose, removable fence; instead, it sits on a toothed rail and is adjusted using a gear. There is no tap-tap-tap to move a pinion fence into place as there is with the more common removable fences. The gear is more accurate and more secure in moving and holding the fence in place.
Extending it, however, is not an option. It is what it is, as the common expression these days goes. DeWalt table saws use rack and pinion fences, and they will be happy to sell you extensions for them. It’s a project to install, though.
As a final word, we will remind you again that you are in a woodworking shop where you make things with wood. If you are an active woodworker, you likely have materials leftover from previous projects.
Why not be inspired by this piece, and the videos we’ve suggested, to build your own extension wing or table extension to increase rip capacity? Have fun with it. After all, that’s why you have a shop in the first place.