How to Rip Narrow Boards with a Circular Saw

How to Rip Narrow Boards with a Circular Saw

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When it comes to using a circular saw, rip cuts are considered among the easier options for professionals and DIYers alike. After all, a proper rip cut with an adequate circular saw blade should effectively split a wood board or plank apart along one of its fibrous seems.

Typically, such cuts aren’t hard to make with the power and efficiency of a circular saw.

There’s one exception, though – rip cuts on narrow boards.

These tasks can be quite a headache, even if you have years of experience with a circular saw in hand. As such, it is important to learn and utilize a proper technique that will allow you to slice up those narrow boards. This guide will teach you how to do that while also avoiding some common mistakes.

How to Rip Narrow Boards with a Circular Saw

Let’s jump right into the process.

Step 1: Check your Saw and Don PPE

Before you begin the process of rip cutting a narrow board, you should ensure that you are ready to work safely and effectively.

As such, you should take a moment to don all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate to this job. In particular, you should wear eye and ear protection. Also, because you’ll be working with a power saw, all clothing you’re wearing should be snug-fitting.

Once your PPE is in place and you are aware of all the necessary safety precautions, you should begin to check your circular saw to ensure that it is ready for action.

In particular, you should check to ensure that you are using a saw blade that’s capable of making a cut with a tight kerf. Ideally, your chosen blade should also produce a relatively clean finish as well.

Also, before proceeding, check if your circular saw allows for adjustable blade height. If so, set your blade to around ¼ inch deeper than the plank’s total width. This will allow for a more efficient cutting process, overall.

Step 2: Measure and Mark Cut Lines

Next up, you’ll want to grab your preferred marking and measuring tools.

With them in hand, you’ll want to measure out and mark the precise location of your intended cut. Since you are working within a compact cutting space, you’ll need to ensure that your measurements and markings at this point are as precise as possible.

Step 3: Place Guide

After preparing your guides, you’ll want to grab a piece of scrap lumber with a flush edge on it. This scrap piece of lumber should be sized such that you can set it on top of your workpiece without it becoming unbalanced on your work surface.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to secure it in place during the next step, so it shouldn’t be too bulky, either.

Once you’ve picked out your guide board, you should place it squarely along your pre-marked cut line.

However, you will not place your board right on top of your cut line. Instead, it should be spaced back as far as your circular saw’s guide requires. To ensure that you have proper spacing on this front, be sure to place your unplugged saw beside the cut line to prevent any misalignment later on.

Step 4: Secure Boards

Once you’ve achieved proper guide alignment, you’ll want to secure both boards.

To do this, you should use a pair of large C-clamps that are tightened down such that neither board can shift during the cutting process. Alternatively, some folks prefer to nail down their workpiece while clamping their guide.

Both methods work well.

Step 5: Begin and Finish Cut

Finally, now that your workpiece and guides are in place, you can adjust your PPE, take your circular saw in hand, and begin the cutting process.

To do this, you’ll want to place the un-activated saw’s blade against your work piece’s edge. Then, you can pull the trigger to activate your saw. Bring it up to full speed and make a small initial cut all the way through your work piece’s width.

From there, you’ll want to pull back and check your alignment.

This can be done by stopping your saw and double-checking that its guide is flush against your makeshift guide. If they are still in line, then you can reactivate your saw and continue with your cut. Be sure to work slowly, though, as any small movements while sawing on a narrow board such as this can cause permanent problems.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

As you already know, rip cutting a narrow board can be a challenge all of its own. However, there are actually a few common mistakes that woodworkers routinely make that cause this job to become even more challenging.

For example, far too many skilled woodworkers think that they can make a narrow rip cut without securing their workpieces. This is a quick and easy way to cause your eventual cut to be crooked, so it is always best to use C-clamps to hold your workpiece in place.

This same requirement applies to any guides you may use as well because you don’t want them scooting around mid-cut.

Also, while it isn’t a “mistake” in the traditional sense, some novice woodworkers enter into this task thinking that the circular saw is the best type of saw for rip cutting narrow boards.

In truth, that honor goes to the table saw, which allows for a lot more precision when it comes to making narrow cuts of any kind. Just be sure to use guide sticks when making those narrow table saw cuts, though, so that your fingers stay well clear of the active blade.


Now that you’ve seen the steps to for properly rip cutting a narrow board with a circular saw, you can see that it isn’t such an intimidating task after all. In fact, as long as you follow these steps you should be able to complete this task as easily as most other rip cuts.

Don’t forget to always take your time when making these intricate cuts, though. Your patience will pay off when you are able to successfully accomplish this task time after time.