Table saw fence – why would you need one
A decent rip fence will enable you to make long, accurate cuts across the entire length of the material.
It will also help maintain accuracy of repeat cuts where keeping the same dimensions for multiple pieces of wood is key.
A rip fence also protects users by ensuring that the material being cut is lined up properly so the grain of the wood is ripped neatly. Cutting across the grain or at an angle can be hazardous causing kickbacks which can injure the user.
To cover the basics, a rip fence is an additional tool that you attach to your table saw to help in lining up your cuts. The system is made up of a strong straight metal piece that includes guide rails and a clamping mechanism. There is also a smooth central bar that is designed to allow sliding of material towards the table saw blade, with very little friction and maximum precision and control.
Basically, a top quality table saw fence can mean the difference between a substandard finish and something you will be very proud of, while ensuring operator safety.
Woodworker’s tips for fence handling
Always make sure to push the fence and the material entirely past the rotating blade in order to avoid kickbacks and binding.
Remember to turn off the table saw before you pull the fence back and dispose of your cut pieces.
And since fences are not that long, keeping a long board against it can be quite difficult, especially for the DIYer who works alone. The wood can wander off the fence and lead to ruined cuts. Luckily, clamping a straight, long board to your fence can help you avoid this problem. Ideally it is easy to keep the material tightly against a longer fence than a shorter one.
Wood with knots or unevenly dried wood will usually warp badly when it is getting cut. In addition, material that has one half bending outward can cause kickback, uneven cuts, or even burn marks. If you see this happening, clamp a straight 3/4-inch board against the fence in a manner that it ends at the core of the blade.
When it comes to making several narrow, identical strips, you don’t have to move the fence for every cut. Simply attach a strip of lumber that’s thinner than the rip cut width. It will allow you to hold your material against it while pushing a jig through. A jig will allow you to rip material without having to move the fence, leave alone protect your fingers from the blade.
Obviously, price is a huge factor in any purchasing decision. With a rip fence, however, you will want to buy the best quality tool you can afford. The good thing is you can find decent models at any price point such as the options we have reviewed above. Just keep in mind that trying to save some bucks can hurt in the long run in case you end up with a fence that’s not up to the task. Furthermore, your results will suffer.
Features to consider while buying the best table saw fence
This is the part where you need to know why this and that matters. So let’s break it down:
Choose the size
The best fence size for you depends on how you use your table. If you have a large table saw and regularly deal with big woodworking projects, you will equally want a rip fence that can handle your work pieces. For ease of installation, you will have to match your machine to an ideal sized rip fence.
That said, there are two sizes of rip fences:
30-inch rip capacity
Most DIYers should find this one enough for the job. A 30-inch rip fence, such as the DELTA 36-T30 T2, requires little space to install is generally cheap. Whenever you will want to cut materials of larger dimensions, you can try the ripping from the other side. However, this is not recommended if the need to cut large materials becomes too often. In that case, upgrading to a 50-inch rip fence is not an option.
50-inch rip capacity
Those with large working areas and whose projects involve ripping longer pieces of materials, the 50-inch table saw fence is the perfect one to buy. Of course, there is a marginal price difference compared to the 30-inch models, but the kind of versatility you will get from a larger rip fence is too good to miss. You will be covered no matter the material you will need to cut, whether large or small.
Ideally, if you have the workspace, choose the large 50-inch table saw fence, while go for the smaller 30-inch option if you are limited on that regard.
Electric or manual?
Some woodworkers enjoy pushing the wood along to rip it but that won’t last long if you need to repeat the same action multiple times a day.
So if cutting large quantities of material is your full time job, then you will be better off with an electric rip fence doing all the heavy lifting for you. This will save you time and effort so you can focus on creativity of your work.
Electric fences are also perfect for when high precision work is needed. They easily switch between different measurements without you having to think too much.
Lastly, consider paying a little more for your table saw fence. This is a purchase that should last for many years and cheap options may not suffice. They are more likely to produce inaccurate results and be unsteady under heavy load. If you have to, save up for some time to get a durable tool that has been well-built.
Type of the fence
Rip fences can be classified into two primary categories; the standard table fence and the T-square.
The standard rip fence is particularly useful if you have a table saw that can slide. This fence will also be able to slide forward and backwards smoothly, allowing you to make more precise cuts. It additionally can remain flat and this is crucial when you have very thin material.
T-Square models are good for helping you get accurate geometric squares and rectangles. Some models that we have reviewed above are this type including the Shop Fox W1716, Shop Fox W1410 and DELTA 36-T30 T2. These also allow for attachment of other fixtures that promote even greater precision.
While a great fence doesn’t add horsepower to a table saw, it can make cuts straighter, more accurate and more repeatable. It has to be a solidly built unit, though this depends on the materials it is made from, which we discuss their importance below.
The best table saw fences are made of steel. Aluminum is also another popular fence material and tools made from this material are usually lightweight. Some models like the Shop Fox W1716 are constructed from a mix of these two materials, therefore, benefiting in terms of strength and weight. These metals provide additional support to your work piece.
You will want to avoid models that come with plastic components as those parts can break easily and keep you from using the tool.
While the top brands are well-known for accurate measurements, you might want to find out from woodworking forums and reviews regarding their accuracy. Well, accuracy it’s not something they will tell you at the retail store but you can get answers from people who have used the model that you are eyeing. Note that the fence assembly and the quality of the design will have an impact on accuracy.
This is such an important part of any good table saw fence. The locking mechanism will ensure that the face stays in position and does not move as a result of vibration when cutting with a table saw. This way, you can be sure of making accurate cuts each and every time. Some units lock on both the front and back and this too takes accuracy to a whole new level. The DELTA 36-T30 T2 is a good example in that respect.
If the rip fence can hold other accessories like jigs in place, then that’s a huge plus. It may not be something that you need straight away but it may become essential for serious projects. Purchasing a model that will let you use extra fixings with it widens the capabilities of your rip fence. If your choice doesn’t have this offering, don’t mind it because it is not a must-have thing. Most top brands, however, will allow this kind of modification.
The models we reviewed above have one to two-year warranties and that goes to tell you not to expect too much. Obviously, the longer the warranty, the more trustworthy the brand even if there are still well-built models without it.
Table saw fence alignment tips
- Make sure that the width between the side of the fence and the blade is the same. Otherwise, you will get errors in your project.
- Unlock the fence guide so that you can make adjustments as you desire. There should be a lever or knob for you to do so.
- Follow the measuring guide at the edge of your table between the rip fence and saw blade in order to cut to a specific width.
- If you need to move your fence to the opposite side of the table, unlock it and remove it from the side of the table. Then measure the distance you need and lock it.
- Always double check your measurements even after locking the fence in place.