How to Cut Skinny Project Parts
Safely rip pieces for bent laminations, edging, inlays, and more.
Learn safe, shop-tested techniques to cut on the straight and narrow.
If your first inclination for cutting a thin strip involves crowding the tablesaw rip fence next to the blade, take a moment to review these methods. Although the tablesaw serves well in many cases, for some jobs a bandsaw or handsaw may work better. And even at the tablesaw, the options shown here can make the task safer, and give you better results. Whichever method you choose, plan on a pass with a hand plane, or some light sanding, to remove blade marks.
Note: Ripping strips from the edge of a board yields workpieces with a thickness (faceto-face dimension) greater than the width (the dimension across the grain)—the opposite of many typical workpieces.
Tip! A strip of painter’s tape serves as a temporary zero-clearance insert—but keep an eye on the tape. Repeat passes may peel up the leading edge.
Tip! A thin-kerf blade may yield eight strips from a blank where a standard blade yields only seven.
Quick, clean tablesaw cuts
The tablesaw excels at cutting multiple strips of consistent thickness, and the cut surfaces require the least cleanup. Outfit your saw with a zero-clearance insert around the blade to prevent strips from diving into the saw cabinet, and install a riving knife or splitter. If the splitter has anti-kickback pawls, you may need to remove them or secure them up out of the way to avoid trapping strips between them and the splitter.
The first two methods let you set the rip fence once to cut multiple strips of identical width, plus they work with blanks with only one straight edge. Don’t rip strips narrower than 1⁄4" with these techniques, or blanks with knots or cracks that bisect the edge—you risk the workpiece shattering and kicking back.
For strips less than 12–18" long, depending on your saw’s table depth, make a lay-flat pushblock from sheet goods or solid stock [Photo A], and attach a heel to one end, extending about 1⁄4" beyond the left edge. Set the fence to the pushblock width plus the desired strip width. Move the pushblock and a blank past the blade.
To cut strips of any manageable length, rip the strip between the blade and fence [Photo B]. Because you use a heeled pushblock that passes over the blade, this works with a riving knife installed, but not a splitter.
Cut strips narrower than 1⁄4" to the outside of the blade, allowing them to fall free [Opening
photo]. You can cut strips of any length this way, but the blank must have parallel edges. Make the jig from 3⁄4" plywood, installing a threaded insert in the edge [Photo C]. Thread a roundhead machine screw into the insert, then set up the jig [Photo D]. Rip a strip; then nudge the fence to again butt the blank against the screwhead, and repeat. You can rip strips until the blank becomes too narrow to safely feed between the fence and blade.
Bandsaw wide work
The cutting capacity of a tablesaw limits strip thickness to about 31⁄4", and at the upper end of the range, all that exposed blade can be unnerving. So for cutting thin pieces, such as for veneers, head to the bandsaw, where kickback isn’t a concern. You’ll need to allow a bit of extra thickness (about 1⁄16") for planing away blade marks. Tune your saw to eliminate blade drift so that guiding the workpiece against the rip fence achieves consistent thickness. For a workpiece more than twice as high as your fence, add a tall auxiliary fence to increase stability [Photo E].
Prepare your blank with a jointed face and one edge square to that face. Place the squared edge down and the jointed face against the fence. Between passes, joint the just-sawn face of the blank to provide a true reference surface for the next cut, and to eliminate blade marks on one face.
We’re all pulling for ya
A handsaw, whether western or Japanese, also serves well for cutting thin strips. We prefer the thin kerf cut by a Japanese ryoba because it wastes less wood. With a bit of practice, you can cut strips of any length that need just a light planing or sanding to bring them to final thickness.
Mark the strip width on both faces of the board and across one end. Because Japanese saws work on the pull stroke, cutting with the handle below the blade lets gravity help you. This may mean kneeling or sitting on the floor as you work. So, for a board shorter than your height, clamp it vertically in a vise; clamp longer workpieces horizontally on sawhorses. Start the cut with the saw at a 45° angle [Photo F], then grip the saw with both hands after establishing the kerf [Photo G]. Check both faces frequently to make sure you saw along the marks.