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I've heard lots of rip cut guides say that you should have your workpiece between the blade and the fence and the offcut on the free side of the blade.

The thing that bothers me about this advice is surely it should be based on which side is wider / narrower.

For example let's say I have a long board that is 200mm wide and I want to rip it into 4 strips of 50mm width, ignore the Kerf for this example. For the first cut should the there be ~150mm of wood between the blade and the fence or should there be ~50mm?

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    Out of curiosity, what makes you think the thicker piece belongs between the blade and the fence?
    – Becuzz
    Oct 5 at 15:49
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    95%+ keeper piece is against the fence, with offcut on the left side. I think this implies that moving the fence for each cut is correct procedure for many users, sawing a second time for final width.
    – Volfram K
    Oct 5 at 16:39
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    Forgot to mention I was coming at this question as a novice user concerned about safe cutting Oct 5 at 17:58
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    Since you are a novice I want to mention there are a few things you should bring yourself up to speed on, including all the basics of saw operation and adjustment. I presume from your use of metric that you're in Europe? If so you won't have to contend with a long rip fence so that's one worry avoided. Now look at why you might want dedicated rip and crosscut blades rather than just a GP blade. Research feather boards and similar, and use them as much as you can. Make yourself a range of push sticks/blocks and use them or a commercial option all the time; every cut, without exception.
    – Graphus
    Oct 5 at 22:47
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In your example, you'd set your fence to 50mm (~4" for those who like Freedom Units ;) and run it through that way. If you should happen to mis-set the fence a bit and you get it at 49.9mm or 50.1mm, at least your strips are all the same. If you put the "off cut" portion between the blade & fence, you have to adjust the fence for every single cut. I've never seen anyone do this.

While 50mm isn't much room to get your hand safely past the blade without risking losing a finger, this is what a push stick/block is for.

One thing you do want to consider is NOT having the fence on the same side as your blade tips to if you're making an angled cut. In this lovely ASCII art, you'll see that the cut piece between the fence and blade can get pinched, and that's where you get kickback:

  +--+         <--- Fence
  |  |   v--------- Work piece: this part could get pinched and cause kick back
  |  |
  |  |------\----
  |  |-------\---  <--- Tilted blade
---------------------   Saw table

Instead, you'd want to put the fence on the other side to significantly reduce the chance of kick back:

              +--+
              |  |
              |  |
  ---\--------|  |
  ----\-------|  |
---------------------------

In this scenario, the off cut piece won't get pinched between the tilted blade and the fence - it's free to move if it needs to. The "keeper" piece would be free to rise up some if necessary.

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  • Ok so from a safety perspective there isn't much difference but it's much more efficient if you are doing multiple cuts to have the workpiece be between the fence and blade ? Oct 5 at 17:57
  • If by "work piece" you're referring to the piece you're after (the 50mm one in your example), then yes. To me, the "work piece" is the piece of wood being cut. From the "work piece", I get the "final piece" (or "keeper") and the "off cut". It's just a terminology thing, I don't think there's anything "official", and I may be the only one who thinks of it that way, but I want to be clear what I mean so as to not confuse others.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 5 at 18:21
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    Good answer. To address the safety question in the comment above, it’s safer to always do an operation the most familiar way. So no goofing around flipping the fence to the other side because that changes how your body is positioned and how your hands are working. Oct 5 at 20:49
  • @LukeDeFeo, "Ok so from a safety perspective there isn't much difference" Actually there is. Narrower pieces (even not narrow narrow as when cutting thin strips) are more likely to deflect, and when this occurs between blade and fence it increases the chance of kickback. I can't find a reference online, but IIRC old-school table saw practice exclusively called for the narrower piece to be left of the blade.
    – Graphus
    Oct 6 at 7:38
  • "to the left side of the blade", @Graphus? But which side of the blade is the fence on when the narrow piece is on the left? Isn't it really more of an issue of "between the blade & fence" or "not between the blade & fence"? Maybe older table saws could only have the fence on 1 side, but everything I've seen in the last 30 years could have it on either side.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 6 at 12:09
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I've heard lots of rip cut guides say that you should have your workpiece between the blade and the fence and the offcut on the free side of the blade.

It's not really a hard and fast rule, and there are several factors to consider: safety, accuracy, feasibility, efficiency... Normally, you want the workpiece between the blade and fence because you set that distance directly with the rip fence scale; there's no need to measure the stock and then subtract the fence setting and the blade kerf. Also, unless you've already trimmed the far edge of the stock (by running it through the saw with most of it between blade and rip fence) you can't count on the edges being parallel.

The thing that bothers me about this advice is surely it should be based on which side is wider / narrower.

I'd only consider that insomuch as it impacts one of the factors (above) that I care about. Most saws have a rip capacity of at least 30"; any cut that you can make safely within your saw's range should be OK.

For example let's say I have a long board that is 200mm wide and I want to rip it into 4 strips of 50mm width, ignore the Kerf for this example. For the first cut should the there be ~150mm of wood between the blade and the fence or should there be ~50mm?

I'd set the fence to 50mm and make the cuts. That guarantees that they'll all be the same width, which is often important, and it saves the trouble of moving the fence after every cut. It's no less safe than starting with the fence at 150mm because the fence is going to be set at 50mm for the last cut, so I need to make sure I can do that safely anyway -- use a push stick/block.

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