There are several ways to cut a board. The kind of cut you want to use depends on a lot of things, including the way the board is cut from the lumber yard (check out this article for more info on that), the way the grain is running, and on a more practical level what tools you have available. Let’s take a look at the three ways to cut boards: cross-cutting, re-sawing, and ripping.
Cross-cutting is more or less what it sounds like: cutting across the grain of the wood to make the board shorter. In general, boards are cut at lumber yards so that the grain of the board runs from end-to-end. This helps to make sure that the board is stable and helps prevent warping and twisting. Good tools to use for cross-cutting include miter saws, radial arm saws, and hand and circular saws. There are even specific blades for saws, both hand saws and power saws, that are designed specifically for cross cutting.
Depending on the type of wood that’s being cut there are some things to take into consideration. Softer woods like pine have a higher chance of tear-out, or losing small chunks of wood on the edge of cuts. Harder or more dense wood tends to cut more cleanly, but they are also tougher on the blade and may make it dull more quickly. A tip for preventing tear-out is to score the cut line with a thin blade before making to cut. Slicing across the grain cuts the fibers of the wood so that they are less likely to chip out accidentally when the saw blade comes into contact with them. You can also put a piece of blue painter’s tape on the line before making the cut but that can be more difficult to see and measure.
Ripping is a similar idea to cross-cutting in the sense that you are making a board smaller in a specific direction. However, instead of cutting the board across the grain, ripping cuts a board with the grain. This is used to make boards skinnier. While boards at lumber yards are typically milled to a certain thickness (or close to it), they are not milled to a standard width. Note: “lumber yard” here does not refer to home stores that sell milled and dimensioned lumber. It refers here to businesses that sell boards as they are milled from the tree with no rounded edges and not milled to certain dimensions. Because the boards at lumber yards are not a standard width it is often necessary to cut the width down to match the side needed for a project.
Typically when ripping a board, the widest edge is laid flat on the tool (usually a table saw) and it is pushed through the blade. If you don’t have a table saw, a circular saw or even a hand saw can be used. If you use a hand saw or circular saw it’s a good idea to use some kind of guide to keep the cutting line straight through the whole cut.
Because ripping boards by definition means cutting with the grain instead of against it, there is less of a chance for tear-out. You can even further reduce the chance by making sure the saw blade is sharp and by using either the scoring or taping methods outlined above. Always use a fence when using a table saw to keep the edge of the board stable and avoid kickback on the saw.
Re-sawing is slightly different in terms of what dimension of the board you are changing. Where cross-cutting is making the board shorter and ripping is making it skinnier, re-sawing is making the board thinner. Boards from lumber yards are often milled to a certain thickness so that they can be easily stacked and priced at the lumber yard.
Re-sawing is especially useful for turning one thick board into several thinner boards of the same length and width. This is a great way to conserve lumber as well as add some interest to your design by using different sizes of boards.
The best saw to use for re-sawing is a band saw or a sharp hand saw. Just like with the other types of cuts, there is a specific type of hand saw that is designed for re-sawing. Band saws are an excellent choice for re-sawing because the board needs to be set on its edge, and band saws are designed to cut from top to bottom in a straight line and are adjustable to match different widths of boards. I’ll talk more about band saws and other power saws in a different article.
There is some danger of tear-out when re-sawing, but generally the major danger is not getting a straight cut from a band saw. You can use a fence on a band saw and set the blade to adjust for any twisting of the blade, but it’s something to be careful of when making a re-saw cut.
Whether you’re cross-cutting, ripping, or re-sawing there are pros and cons. Using a little planning and careful setup can hep you get clean, useful cuts every time.
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