Ripping Thin Stuff Safely

One of the issues of using a table saw safely is that many of the things intended to keep us safe don’t work well when you really need them. Ripping thin pieces on the table saw is a good example. In our shop, we have an overhead guard with built in dust collection. It’s a nice piece of equipment until you get the fence close to the blade. As it is with most table saw guards, there isn’t room for both the guard and a push stick. A lot of accidents happen when operators lose control of thin pieces so here’s a device I use to safely manage the would-be missiles.

This pusher rides on the table saw fence

The picture shows the basic construction – here are some of the fine points. The plywood piece that rides on top of the fence should be close to the width of the fence; just a bit wider so that the whole thing slides easily, but not wide enough to make it wobbly. If you need a number 1/64″ is a good one to aim for. The piece on the right, that rides along the outboard side of the fence is a scrap of hardwood. This piece is about 3/4″ thick x about 1 1/2″ wide. It’s attached to the plywood with glue and a couple of screws. The short piece is a similar scrap and is used as a handle. It’s also attached with glue and screws and if you want to make it fancy you can. I just rounded the edges a bit to make it friendlier to hold on to.

The vertical piece on the left is the part that does the pushing, and it should be almost as wide as the fence is tall. It is held to the horizontal plywood piece with screws only. The pusher is sacrificial and you should have a few different ones for different thicknesses of stock. The notch is a little less than the thickness of the material to be cut, and it extends from the far end to within a couple inches of the near end.

The notch keeps the material from rising up as the material is pushed

Notice that I have a zero-clearance insert around the blade. This is essential because it prevents just-cut skinny stuff from falling into the slot next to the blade. The long section of the notch provides downward pressure on the material, and the lower portion at the end provides the motivation during cutting. My right hand is well away from the blade as I make the cut, and the piece is controlled from beginning to end. If the cut is narrow enough, the blade can cut into the push block, but that’s not a problem. Enough material will be left behind the stock to safely push it well past the blade.

– Robert W. Lang

9 thoughts on “Ripping Thin Stuff Safely

  1. Eric R

    Better that getting cut up then my hand!
    Thanks Bob; that’s the next quick project while I’m waiting for some glue-ups to dry.

  2. als0677

    I just use a piece of 2×6 cut similar to the blade side profile of the jig above. The width and height of dimensional lumber works better for me and helps keep both hands safely away from the blade.

  3. PeteJacobsen

    I’ve constructed similar jigs. Like others, the place I need help is with keeping the workpiece against the fence. Yeah, a featherboard does fine, but if you are making repeated cuts of same-size pieces, the featherboard must be adjusted for each cut.

    I wish I had a tool that rides in the miter slot and has a spring so that it automatically adjusts over a range of several inches, providing roughly the same amount of sideways push regardless of spring position.

  4. edeverett

    I made one of these 5 or 6 years ago and it has proven invaluable. To make it a little more flexible, I made each side piece with a different notch height so that I can quickly accommodate varying thicknesses of stock without have to change out a side. Thicker or thinner stock? Just rotate the jig end-for-end and you’re in business. And in response to introp, I use my left hand to force the stock against the fence at the beginning of the cut, just like normal. As I approach the blade, I remove my left hand. I’ve found that the downward pressure exerted by the jig’s side piece on the stock is enough to maintain it tight to the fence in the last few inches of the cut.

  5. CessnapilotBarry

    That’s a really neat idea I haven’t seen before. I also use an overarm guard, and I like the way this tool would keep your hand clear to the right of the guard.

    A Gripper or push block centers your hand over or to the left of the blade and interferes with the guard / DC pickup. The Rockler thingie isn’t as quick to set up as the fence, but is good for a large number of cuts. This tool is a great addition to the quiver.

    I keep a set of zero clearance inserts set up with glued-in splitters of varying heights (3/16 – 3/8 – 7/8″), which do a nice job of keeping the already cut stock against the fence.

    Thanks! I’m going to make one of these.

  6. tyvekboy

    That jig looks safer than a push stick for stuff 1/4 inch and BIGGER. If you really want to control the wood around your saw blade, I think the Micro Jig GRR-Ripper (Rockler #62689) is a better choice for 1/4 inch and bigger.
    For REALLY THIN stuff, I prefer cutting that on the side of the blade AWAY from the fence using the Thin Rip Tablesaw Jig (Rockler #36833) along with a zero clearance insert and an appropriate sized push stick.

  7. TOD

    I could have used this article or should I say a reminder about a week ago yesterday when I experienced kickback. My push stick caught the edge of the saw blade and the result were 9 stitches in my arm. Lesson learned…..

  8. Robert W. Lang Post author

    I apply sideways force with my left hand, which (as can be seen) I keep well back from the blade until the far edge of the piece being cut is past the back of the blade. If it were shorter or thinner, I would use a conventional push stick or a scrap of wood to keep the stock against the fence.

  9. introp

    It’s a neat fixture, but I’ve a question: what provides the force to keep the stock against the fence? It seems like any pressure in that direction from your fingers in the picture puts you in the “one slip and your new nickname is Righty” category.

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