How To Rip Narrow Boards With A Circular Saw

May 7, 2021

Woodworker sawing narrow board edge carefully with circular saw.

Do you need to rip a long, narrow piece of wood, and you don’t have a table saw? We have good news for you! You can use a circular saw to achieve your desired results, and we’ll show you how.

For many woodwork enthusiasts who don’t own a table saw, the circular saw is the perfect substitute. Indeed, a circular saw can carry out an entire range of woodwork operations – from straight cuts to bevel cuts. It also has a powerful motor that spins the blade at high speeds to make your work fast and accurate. These features make the circular saw ideal for cutting many building materials.

However, if you ask most woodworkers if they can use the circular saw to rip wood thinner than five inches, they will likely deem it an impossibility.

Well, they have their reasons for this train of thought. After all, the G clamps of the guard may obstruct the circular saw motor or even its sole. To avoid this, the assumed alternative is to not clamp the guard to the board, which drastically increases the difficulty of the operation. Besides, cutting without guides can be scary and unsafe.

However, we are here to tell you differently. You can accurately use the circular saw to rip pieces of wood (say ⅛ inch from a ¾ inch board) without taking unnecessary risks. Indeed, at the end of this article, we’re confident you’ll add ripping to the list of operations you can carry out with a circular saw. All you need is precise and detailed information on the techniques and steps to follow.

Not to worry, you’re in good hands. Keep reading to find out how to rip narrow boards with a circular saw. 

Items You Need for a Rip-Cut with a Circular Saw

Before we dive into our step-by-step guide on ripping narrow boards with a circular saw, here a list of items you should have. Don’t worry. They are all standard tools and materials which you can quickly obtain. Here is the list of the essential materials for rip-cuts with a circular saw:

  • A marker for marking out the cut path.
  • Two clamps.
  • A measuring tape.
  • A large piece of board (broader and longer than what you want to cut).
  • A square.
  • Personal protective equipment.
  • And of course, your circular saw.
  • Once you have all these items, you are now ready to start ripping narrow woods with your circular saw.

A Step-by-step Guide on How to Rip Narrow Boards Using a Circular Saw

The first thing you should know about how to rip narrow woods using a circular saw is that it is not a complicated process. Moreover, we’ve done our homework (and practised it). So, you can rest assured that we bring you the best tips on rip-cuts with a circular saw. That said, keep reading to discover the steps to achieve these cuts.

Step #1: Choose An Appropriate Platform

Your platform comprises a wood slab or a combination of slabs on your workbench. The number of slabs you use depends on the height you need. However, these slabs should be straight and long as your circular will sit on them. 

Ensure that these pieces of wood are as long as possible. Also, make sure the slab is higher than the board which you plan to rip. The reason is simple – the circular saw has to be higher than the material it rips.

Step #2: Clamp the Circular Saw To the Platform

You will need to clamp the sole of your circular saw to the platform you’ve created. To make sure that clamp holds the soles tightly, you may need to add some small pieces of wood on it. 

This way, you can be sure that your circular saw does not move around during cutting. We are confident we don’t have to tell you the implications of a loose circular saw that’s spinning. Just in case – it may affect the accuracy of your work and also poses a safety hazard.

Step #3: Conform the Circular Saw To The Required Width

The next step in this guide to how to rip a narrow wood with a circular saw is to adjust its width. Not to worry, we walk you through how to do it. First off, you need to locate the front of the machine. This is essentially the side from which you’d typically push the saw into the wood. Now, once you find this front, turn on the circular saw.

Then, carefully feed a ‘sacrificial’ wood piece into the saw’s blade. The purpose of this is to achieve a reference cut. Once you have this, use your measuring tape to measure the thickness that the cut gives you. If this is the thickness you need, all well and good. Otherwise, you will need to move the front of the saw until you achieve your desired thickness.

Step #4: Adjust the Circular Saw for Parallelism

While this may sound like a decidedly tricky task, it really is not. All you need to do is rotate the blade of the saw such that it is parallel to the face of the platform. Otherwise, the blade may warp while you’re cutting and you don’t want this. A warped blade will strain the saw’s motor, may misalign the shaft, thereby ruining your work and can even shatter the blade itself.

How then do you make the blade parallel to the platform’s face?

Take another ‘sacrificial’ piece of wood and feed it into the blade from the front. Then, turn it over (but with the cut end facing the blade) and carefully feed it through the back of the circular saw. You may need to move the blade’s guard out of your way. Once you’ve done this, check if the cuts on both sides meet at the same point at the edge. The blade is only parallel if both reference cuts align perfectly.

Step #5: Adjust the Height of the Blade

Since the board you want to rip is on the surface of your worktable, the blade of your circular saw must be on that level too. In other words, you may need to adjust the height of the blade. So, bring down the height of your saw blade until it reaches the table. The goal is there should be only enough space for a piece of paper to pass underneath the blade.

Step #6: Crosscheck the Saw’s Parallelism

By now, you already know why your saw blade must be parallel to the face of the platform. Therefore, since you may have shifted the blade while adjusting its height, you’ll need to crosscheck. Moreover, the body of the circular saw should not be at an angle to its sole. Instead, it should be perfectly perpendicular. To correct this, you may wedge a piece of wood between the sole and the saw’s motor casing.

Step #7: Start Making the Narrow Rip

Once you’re done with the above steps, it is time to start ripping the narrow board. But first, if you feel like marking out your rip path will improve your accuracy, you should do it. In fact, we recommend you do it. Use a marker and a square to draw a straight indicating the path your saw should follow.

Then comes the easy part. First, press the trigger to start the circular saw and then lock it in place. Then, slowly and carefully, begin feeding the board through the blade. Generally, it is best to complete the entire ripping process without stopping. However, your first few times may not be as smooth. But with time and consistent practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

Safety Tips You Should Know When Cutting Narrow Wood

While you already have the technical know-how of cutting narrow wood with a circular saw, we have some more tips to share. These will make your entire cutting operation as safe as possible and can even aid better results. Here are some useful tips you should know.

  • Always wear an eye protector before you start using the circular saw to prevent dust, splinters and whatnot from entering your eyes.
  • A circular saw can generate a lot of dust while cutting. Therefore, we recommend wearing dust masks while in the workshop to protect your respiratory health.
  • Make sure that the blade of your circular saw is sharp. Blunt blades may cause splinters, ugly cuts and will reduce the general efficiency of the machine.
  • If you need to change the blade on your saw, always turn off and disconnect the machine before you do so.
  • Do not wear loose clothing while using the circular as they can get stuck in the spinning blade, which may lead to injuries.
  • While working, we advise you to stand on one side of the saw to prevent kickbacks. It will also make your cutting much convenient.
  • Finally, maintain a tight grip on the circular saw while it is working to prevent it from twisting.

In Conclusion

Admittedly, a circular saw may not be your first choice for ripping narrow wood if you had a table saw. However, it can do the job just as effectively. Hopefully, our guide on how to rip narrow wood using a circular saw has equipped you with the necessary knowledge. All you need now is to apply the knowledge in your workshop.

Do you have further questions about ripping narrow wood with a circular saw? If not, let us know how the operation goes. We’d love to hear from you!

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