That’s a Rip!

So, now that its meat powered saws only around the ole workshop, I thought I’d post about how exactly one goes about ripping a board without the electron sucking digit chomper around… goes.

When it comes to woodworking, when you cut a board lengthwise along the grain, its generally called ‘ripping’. Cross-cutting is….you got it…cutting across the grain perpendicularly. Ripping is a much more common task in the shop….I find myself ripping a heck of a lot more than cross cutting, so its a great skill to focus on.

Generally speaking, there are three different ways I rip in the shop…the first two ways are for rips of any length and the third involves the face vise and is for shorter rips only..usuually anything less than a foot or two. But when I need to reduce a whole board in width I turn to my workbench, or my saw bench.

First, lets talk about ripping at the workbench. Its simple enough….secure the board to be ripped on the top of the bench with the waste portion over hanging the edge. This is to allow for the saw to do its work unhindered by the benchtop. Here you can see our lovely demonstration board fixed to the bench with holdfasts….you can use regular clamps, but they are much more likely to hinder your work, don’t grip as well, and are a pain in the @$$ to set up.

Now that the board is secure, I grab the rip saw and have at it….but lets cover a quick few points before we start hacking away. Grip and stance are very important. For ripping at this height (my bench is 32 inches off the floor) its important to use a modified  grip called ‘overhand’ once you get the saw started in the kerf . It looks like this…

No, there’s nothing wrong with my saw…that’s how it was meant to be held….old saws have a cutaway to allow for this overhand grip. You’ll see below, that once you get the saw going, its much easier to thrust down and pull the saw on the up stroke at this height using a overhand grip. While I do use a combination underhand grip to begin the kerf, once I’m a few inches into the work, I switch to the grip above and saw with a motion that looks like I’m pounding my fists up and down onto the benchtop. Its also important to note that you stand aside of the work with the saw directly in front of you. Here’s how I start…

And after an inch or two, switch to the full overhand grip as such…

With this stroke, the work is quick and only takes a few seconds to rip the length. This particular board is black locust harvested locally here in the Ocean State, and my friend Mike calls it ‘…kind of like an American Teak’…its dense and hard as heck. Just about as durable a wood as you could ask for…it makes white oak look soft… point is this board is about 5/4 (a little over an inch thick) and rips pretty easy with a 5 and 1/2 point saw. Not too bad for about 500 year old technology. ;o)

So that’s ripping at the workbench. Let’s now take a look at ripping on the saw bench. A saw bench? What’s that? Well, my friend, its a bench you saw on. (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that because its painfully obvious, but it makes me sound like I’m smart. …….ish) Here’s a pic of my saw bench cuddling with my favorite antique Disston #7 rip saw. Aren’t they cute together?

The saw bench is custom sized to rise to just below the knee cap of the craftsman (me, is this case) and that means about 19 or 20 inches. Needless to say, that’s a good deal shorter than the workbench, so a whole different stance and grip are called for. This process is probably much more familiar to everyone…its kind of intuitive and uses body weight to hold the work. Here’s what our lovely model looks like demonstrating its use…

I kneel on the board to hold it, using my quite substantial and daily increasing body weight to secure it. The thumb keeps the saw on track in the initial back stroke and then its away we go with the familiar plunging thrusts of sawing. Now, the first time I beheld a saw bench, I thought, “Wait, that’s never going to work….you’re gonna saw right through the top of the bench and cut it all up.” But alas, in my naivete, I was unaware of that great leap forward in saw bench evolution known as …………..The Ripping Notch!!!! Its that triangle shaped cutaway portion of the top that’s, well, for ripping. Here’s what ripping in the notch looks like as its happening…

So that’s a real quick ‘How To’ on ripping in the Pork Powered Woodshop. As I mentioned above, the third form is only for little rips…maybe if you’re still awake this time tomorrow, we’ll go over it as well.

Ta ta for now and thanks for lookin’

Keep makin’ saw dust!


Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have always been a “down on the sawbench” sawyer and I recently tried this English style at the workbench and I was really happy with it. I has an old Disston 5 ppi with the extra thumbhole and it really “rips” through the work. I also found that I can almost guarantee a plumb cut with way. The overhand grip and gravity seem to conspire to make it very hard to saw out of square. Great post!

    • Shannon
      Thanks for the comment! This style of ripping was a revelation for me as well…I love that you can get your whole body into it and use your weight to do the work (I’ve got a lot of weight, so I can REALLY saw! ;o)

  2. Wow, what an interesting blog you have and I really appreciate all the things I’ve learned from it- especially how to do an effective rip cut with a hand saw. I would like to get started with hand ripping, but am unsure where to start. If you had to have just one or two rip saws which ones would you get first? Keep up the good work and thanks for inspiring me to do more with hand tools.

  3. Thanks Anthony.

    As far as what rip saws to get first, I’d say go with a 26 or 24 inch 6 or 5 1/2 point (PPI)saw. One of these will rip 4/4 and 5/4 stock with ease.

    If you’re going to look at rehabbing an old saw, you’ll find a lot more 26 inch rippers than 24, but the 24 is easier for a novice to wield effectively and just as handy. If you can find a 24, start with that, if not, the 26 will do a little more work given the longer plate.

    For a second saw, I’d say get a 20 or 22 inch 7 point (PPI) saw. Saws of this size get a lot of work in my shop…I cut joints, small parts, and thin stock with them all the time. In fact, my 22 inch 8 point Disston project saw (see Let’s make a saw parts 1 -4) has become my go to tenon saw.

    And as a final note, my general motto on rip saws is you can never have too many! 🙂


  4. Matt:

    Great blog I am pioking up some useful tips and insight from your blog. You compare the grip to that of a golf club easy for me to get your point. Please take your analogy a little further. With regard to stroke are you using the entire blade or do you limit the stroke like you would a backswing with a golf club? Are shorter blades appropriate for shorter folks? Aside from the blade jerking out of the kerf or the time advantage of longer cuts per stroke with the big blade can you advise on the optimum saw stroke/blade length for accuracy. My sawing is like my golfing, hooking and slicing nothing straight down the middle.

  5. Hi David
    Thanks for the support and glad you’re enjoying the blog. Here’s my thoughts on your questions:

    First, I’m glad you identified with the golf analogy, but instead of taking the analogy further and confusing myself (very easy to do!) I think its easier to just explain sawing in real terms.

    1)Do I use the entire blade when ripping? Well, yes and no….if you mean every last tooth from toe to heel, then no. That would take some pretty amazing control…but the idea IS to use as much of the blade as possible in your stroke. I usually thrust down and stop about and inch from the heel, then return (draw the blade up) until about an inch from the toe and thrust down again and back so on. IF you thrust too wildly and and aren’t paying attention, you risk pulling the saw blade out of the kerf and bashing the nose of the saw as you thrust down again…a sure fire recipe for kinking your saw plate! OUCH! 😦

    2) That said, you do want to match your height and more importantly, your stroke length to a propper sized saw. Just like in golf, if you don’t have the right sized club, you’re not going to hit the ball properlly. There are lots of old school methods for matching your stroke to a saw, but the easiest one for most people involves a tape measure. Hold the body of the tape in your dominent hand and place your same dominant side knee on a saw bench or whatever you rip on. Press the hook of the rule on the bench top next to your knee with your other hand and draw the tape measure back as if drawing the rip saw back in your saw stroke. Stop drawing backwards when you would naturally stop in your back stroke. Do this motion a few times to get comfortable with it….drawing the tape measure back and forth, letting it rewind and unwind from the body of the tape measure in your hand. Now the last time you draw it back, lock the tape at your stopping point and check the measurement. This is the length of your stroke. Use a saw the next size up. So, if your stroke is 24 or 25 inches, use a 26 inch rip saw. For most people, 26 inches is the best size. Some guys like a 28 inch saw. Because I rip a lot on my work bench, 26 works for me.

    3) If you are having difficulty with sawing and not getting accurate cuts, it may not be you…in many cases, its the saw that’s inaccurate. The key to ripping well by hand is having a well tuned rip saw. A saw that is sharpened and set properly will track a straight line without any effort to steer on your part. I would say if you are steering left and right with your sawing, it sounds like you have a saw with too much set in the teeth (a very common problem), creating a kerf that is too wide and lets the saw wander in the cut, thus creating cuts all over the place.

    I hope this helps. Good luck and let me knwo if you have other questions!


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