Ripping Plywood

Table Saw Plywood Rip Guides

Ripping most wood on a table saw can be done easily and safely using a good rip fence and a push stick for when your hand begins to approach the blade. You can use the rip fence that came with your table saw in most cases but if you have to rip a lot of wood an aftermarket rip fence is helpful.

Ripping becomes more of a problem when working with sheet goods such as plywood or laminate. Plywood most comes in large (4’ X 8’) sheets and can be both heavy and clumsy to handle. If you work alone just getting the plywood to the table saw is difficult. Laminate is much lighter but much too flexible to handle easily on regular table saw setup.

The ideal situation is havpanelcarrying a shop with a table saw that is surrounded by runoff tables. During my years in the business, my table saw and the surrounding tables formed a work area that was 8 foot by 8 foot. A woodworker friend of mine who built multiple commercial cabinets of particle board (2 ½ times as heavy as plywood) had a work table surrounding his heavy duty table saw that was 11 foot’ X 11 foot. You don’t need to have either of these tables but you do need a way to rip heavy and clumsy sheet goods If you plan to use these sheet for wood projects.

The plywood handle in the photo at left is available online from Amazon and probably in other locations. I have used mine for years to carry even ¾ inch plywood sheets to a table for ripping or crosscutting.

I’ve always enjoyed working alone but as I’ve gotten older it has become more difficult to handle large, thick, sheet goods while ripping on my table saw. Recently, I decided to take advantage of an idea that I used years ago to cut doors. This involved using a standard circular saw with a good carbide tipped blade and a saw guide that not only kept the saw cutting straight but protected the surface of the material from being scratched by the metal base of the circular saw.

Since I wanted it exclusively for sheet goods it had to be much longer than the one I had for doors. I made two of them for ease of handling. One was an eight foot unit for ripping sheet goods and the other was a four foot unit for crosscutting sheet goods. The drawing below can be used as a guide to make both sizes. The important thing when building this rip guide is to leave the 1/4 inch plywood surface wider than necessary. After the guide is assembled then use the rip guide to cut the 1/4 inch surface with the circular saw you will be using to cut plywood. Then the 1/4 inch guide will always be in exactly the right location.

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To make the best possible use of these saw guides you need a good table that allows for cutting through the sheet without worrying about cutting the table. I built mine with some 2X4s to create a good cutting surface that could be cut without issue and they protected the supporting table from the saw blade. More importantly, it kept the sheet goods flat while I made my cuts. A drawing of this simple cutting surface also appears below. I built mine to fit a certain table but the size can be altered to fit any size table or work bench as long as it can accommodate a 4’ X 8’ sheet of plywood.

A set of quick clamps holds the saw guide in place so it can be attached on the diagonal pieces so they don’t interfere with the cutting surface. A detailed drawing of the table and saw guide appears above. This drawing illustrates the simplicity of the saw guide. Below are two photos showing how the saw guide is used for ripping sheets.

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Saw guides are not an original idea and you can purchase some excellent units that are quite easy to use. The really expensive ones come with a built in saw that is held in place throughout the cut. There are also metal rip guides you can use but these guide the saw but do not protect the surface and the base of the saw can scratch fine surfaces. My favorite is the Kreg Rip Cut jig because it allows you to rip pieces up to 24 inches wide and has a plastic base for the circular saw that protects the plywood surface. Unlike most rip cut jigs it doesn’t require clamping to the plywood as is the case with most rip guides. See the photo below.

Kreg1There is one disadvantage to many of these guides including the homemade one above and that is the saw is only guided on one side so it’s important to proceed with the cut carefully and use both hands to guide the power saw and keep it tight and flat against the guiding edge. This is easily done by using one hand to hold the switch handle and the other hand on the circular saw motor applying slight pressure toward the guide. Remember, if you have a good table saw setup these guides may be completely unnecessary. They are only offered as an option for those who find working with sheet goods difficult.

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