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I'm looking for the type of saw that will most easily, reliably and precisely cut a piece of wood lengthwise without the need for a lot of preparation or cleverness. I also want it to be a reasonable thing to own (in terms of price and space) for someone who isn't (yet) especially dedicated to woodworking and isn't extremely wealthy or poor. In other words, I don't mind spending a couple of hundred bucks on something that I probably won't use very often but when I do use it, the job will be a lot easier. I do mind spending a couple of thousand bucks on such a thing.

Background:

I'm not really a woodworker at all. It's interesting to me so perhaps one day I will pursue it when I have more spare time. However, I do do a lot of DIY projects for fun and as needed. Pretty much every single time that I've needed to cut some wood, I've had to do a lengthwise cut (I think it's called ripping but not 100% sure). While my circular saw can do a decent job on width-wise cuts (cross-cuts, I believe), when it comes to length-wise, it always comes out poorly and setting it up is difficult.

Now, I've seen videos where people build all kinds of jigs and clamp things down in clever ways. That's all really cool but most of the time when I'm doing a project, I'm just not going to be that clever and/or I'm not going to have the spare wood lying around. I just want the wood cut to the right size so I can focus on other things.

So, for example, I want something where I can easily split a 2x4 in half lengthwise.

What kind of saw should I be looking for?

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    "So, for example, I want something where I can easily split a 2x4 in half lengthwise." I wish you'd led with this! Until this I was visualising you doing rips on much larger stock, up to and including large pieces of plywood. Anyway, unfortunately for the type of ripping you're enquiring about there's really just one ideal tool and that's a table saw. But be aware, a decent one is not cheap, and they permanently take up floor space. Now I don't wish to be a scare-monger but I have to mention they're considered the most dangerous power tool in woodworking, and by a significant margin. [contd]
    – Graphus
    Jun 26 at 8:57
  • You could possibly make do with a bandsaw, and these can be small enough that they reside on a counter, even a small rolling cart, or tuck away in a corner when not in use (small ones are not heavy). Bandsaws are handy and versatile, a while you won't generally get long rip cuts as clean, and certainly nowhere near as fast, as with a table saw you can do it with some practice and the right blade. A dedicated rip blade is best, but they do make combo or multi-use blades for bandsaws same as for circular saws and table saws. So, had you considered & discarded either of those two options already?
    – Graphus
    Jun 26 at 9:03
  • I'm seeing table saws at home depot for ~$200-$600. That's totally fine. And they don't look to be too big. Other than having to take care when using one, is there really a good reason not to get one then if that's the tool that's designed for the task?
    – Dan K
    Jun 26 at 17:04
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    Table saws are, to some degree, like any tool: if you use and rely on one it's a must-have. But other people don't have it and don't feel the lack. Many serious woodworkers (including a few pros!) don't own a table saw and have no intention of ever buying one. Each of them structures their workflow around what the table saw gives its owners by working in other ways. Now all that said, if you have the bread and the space for one, and are willing to treat it with the respect necessary — it wants to eat fingers and potentially kill you, I'm not exaggerating — then by all means go for it. [contd]
    – Graphus
    Jun 26 at 17:44
  • It is perfectly possible to use a table saw, even one with fewer or less-well-designed safety features, with absolute user safety by religiously observing good shop practice and by not paying attention to how many YouTubers use theirs. I can't stress this last piece of advice enough; it's very easy to get lulled into a false sense of safety watching not a few YT woodworkers with sloppy (or outright dangerous) working practices, and subconsciously buy into the idea that their methods are OK. So bootstrap yourself about how to use one safely and follow the safe methods, each and every time.
    – Graphus
    Jun 26 at 17:48
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In terms of quality, table saw would give you the best results in terms of cleanliness of cut, accuracy and repeatability. It comes with a few caveats. I'll touch on circular, jig, and bandsaws as well.

Table saws

Quality of the tool is obviously important. I don't have a fancy cabinet saw, nor even so-called contractor saw, but I'm fortunate enough to use my father's serious DIY saw (BT3100-series system, interesting modular beast with loyal following that was sold in early 2000s by Ryobi, then couple years as Craftsman) that was in $400-500 range new. It has decent fence that latches both front and back (important feature), and maintains repeatable square (although I check it every time before important finish cuts) without deflection. It has relatively wide capacity, allowing to work with large chunks of sheet goods, and above average built-in detachable crosscut sled (nothing like, say, precision Incra or Kreg, but much better than throwaway mitre gauges).

One can achieve decent results with DIY/jobsite saw, but one needs to be mindful of capacities and aforementioned features to choose a tool that allows you to do adequate work without fighting it too much. I would skip entry-level (sub-$150 new) saws, but good deals can be had in that range used.

Space, as mentioned in the comments, is an important consideration, but jobsite saws often come in compact form-factors that can be stowed away (or incorporated into the workbench that also increases their outfeed and wide capacities), or with folding (sometimes also rolling) stands.

Last, but not least, there are safety considerations, both by themselves, and how they relate to quality and ease of use. Ripping long boards without help and/or adequate infeed/outfeed support is tricky. Blade guards are important, but I've worked with saws where blade guards would interfere with taller material, or, say, where when you do need to take a blade guard off (e.g., dado cut), it's inseparable from a riving knife, so you lose two safety features at once. I often work with open blade, but that requires experience, and extra care: good infeed/outfeed support, no clutter around the saw to eliminate tripping hazards, push sticks/blocks, not placing hands or body over, or in front of the blade etc. Healthy amount of respect.

Circular saws (and jigsaws)

Whilst it wouldn't be my first choice (as a matter of fact, I've never had to make fine rip cuts with these), it's possible with some preparation. Circular saw is hands down a must-have power saw for a DIY beginner (jigsaw can do in a pinch as well, but I wouldn't recommend it due to the fact that it's easier for the blade to deflect and wander), and second power tool after a drill, especially, where cost and space are prime concerns.

Whilst there may be better suited tools for particular tasks, fine work can be done with half-decent circular saw. There are entire fine furniture projects done only with a circular saw just to make a point. As an example of precision of a circular saw with a Kreg track, here are the parts for one of my projects, which were replicated with a flush trim router bit, but the initial part was cut with a handheld saw, and it was about the only way to do it, save for the CNC:

example of parts template cut with a circular saw

To rip a board with a circular saw with a degree of accuracy you'd need to fully support the work piece, elevate and support the shoe of the saw in line with, or above and parallel the surface of the board, and use a track. In a pinch, you can throw several 2-by boards next to one another on saw horses to provide support for the shoe, but finding straight boards like that is notoriously difficult.

Ideally, I'd place the board on a piece of hard foam insulation (I use it as a sacrificial backing for sheet goods), elevate the saw using another board or stacking sheet goods, and then use a long piece of plywood or MDF with a factory edge (absent of factory straight edge, or a track, such as those from Bora or Kreg) clamped down, as a guide for the saw.

Bandsaws

My experience with these is limited (I've only started using one couple of months ago), but it can be done. Problem with a bandsaws is that decent ones with large enough power and capacity are harder to come by and aren't cheap (although, with luck and patience deals can be had: because of seller's poor communication, I've missed out on 1980s 14" bandsaw requiring minimal tune up for $80 this spring). They're heavy (even my bench top 10" Rikon is beefy), take up space, it's harder to organize infeed/outfeed, and the rip cuts are relatively rough.

On the plus side, they're probably one of the safer saws. Because the blade moves downward only, there's no kick back, and you can let go of the work piece whilst the blade spins without the former moving.

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    Thanks, looks like a table saw is the answer. There seem to be a lot of reasonably priced ($200-$600) ones that aren't too large either. Maybe I'll look into picking up one of those.
    – Dan K
    Jun 26 at 17:09
  • Superb! +5 if I could.
    – Graphus
    Jun 26 at 17:49
  • I've literally made decent 2x2s from 2x4s using a circular saw and a guide. It is possible. A rip blade helps.
    – jdv
    Jun 28 at 13:59
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    Good answer. To the OP: if a smooth rip is what you need right off the saw, think about getting a quality rip (low tooth count) blade. If your material isn’t too thick, you might get away with a cheaper 7-1/4” blade (assuming arbor size matches, which it almost certainly will). Jun 28 at 16:58
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    @DanK You may be better off finding a used table saw in good condition for that price point. If it's something you decide you don't want to keep when you're done with it, a used "real" table saw has much more re-sale value than a plastic, big box model too. You could clean it up some, use it, and make a few bucks re-selling it.
    – gnicko
    Jun 29 at 21:02

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