With only the odd exception, most table saws come with a rip fence included as part of the package, although it has to be said that the quality of this vital part of the machine can vary from model to model. In some cases, woodworkers choose to upgrade the existing fence for something better in order to achieve a greater accuracy and repeatability of cut.
Before we look at upgrading a rip fence, however, what exactly is this component for? In woodworking, there will be times when you need to make cuts in the material across the grain of the wood (known as cross cuts), and others when you will need to cut the wood along its length. This latter is known as ‘ripping’. Because you are working with a longer length of material and you need the cut to be straight and parallel, a table saw uses a guide, called a rip fence, to ensure that the material remains perfectly parallel to the blade through the length of the cut. The rip fence can be adjusted to take account of the width of the cut, but it is important to note that each model of table saw has its own cutting range and so you need to choose one which is suitable for the type of work that you will be undertaking.
Working with a rip fence which is inferior in quality can cause endless frustration, not to mention wasting precious material, as poor quality and inaccurate cuts can be the result. Most complaints about poor quality rip fences stem from flimsy construction which causes the fence to flex whilst in use, alignment which is not exactly parallel and difficulties in making adjustments, especially fine adjustments. Of course, if you experience these problems, you will not want to replace the entire table saw, so what you can do is simply upgrade the fence.
What should you look for when upgrading your rip fence?
Table saws at the cheaper end of the market generally come with a poorer quality fence, so when you are upgrading, look for something which is both heavy duty and uses high quality materials in its construction. There should be no flex in the fence and it should have an accurate, machined surface to ensure perfectly parallel cuts.
A rip fence needs to be locked quickly and easily into place and should provide ease of adjustment. Poor locking mechanisms which allow movement of the fence while work is being carried out are probably the single greatest cause of frustration and can be dangerous for the user. Where possible, try to see the fence mechanism in action before buying to ensure that it locks securely and make sure that the positioning scales are clear, easy to use and offer the capability to make any fine adjustments that you may require.
Although table saw rip fences come in a range of sizes, the most commonly used lengths are 30 and 50 inches. For most projects, 30 inches is perfectly adequate, although if you regularly work with larger sheet material and have the space to accommodate a 50 inch fence, this will of course offer greater flexibility of use.
If you are considering upgrading your table saw rip fence, do not forget that different after-market models will only be compatible with certain table saws. Always check with your supplier to ensure compatibility.