Rip and cross cuts are two of the most commonly made cuts in wood working. Basically all cuts you can make fall under these two categories (with exception to bevel cuts). Whether you are a contractor or DIYer it is essential that you know the difference between these cuts. Lets take a look at the key differences. Then we will dive into the saws and blades that make these cuts best.
Rip cut vs cross cut
Rip cuts vs cross cuts, the difference is in the direction the blade travels through the material. Rip cuts the blade travels in the same direction as the wood grain. This occurs vertically. Cross cuts, the blade travels across the wood grain. These occur horizontally.
Simply put a rip cut is made when the blade travels in the same direction as the grain of the wood. These cuts are made in a vertical direction and help you split a board from end to end.
These types of cuts are most commonly made on pieces of plywood.
When making a cross cut the blade travels across the grain of the wood. These cuts are made in a horizontal direction and allow you to cut across the narrow face of your material.
These cuts are commonly used to shorten 2×4’s, fence posts and so much more.
Quality of the cut
Before looking at the quality of the cut, lets discuss the make up of wood. Every piece of lumbar is made up of a longitudinal wood grain. This wood grain travels vertically in long fibers. This has a huge impact when it comes to cutting wood. Each cut is made with or against these fibers.
When making a cut it all comes down to; How difficult is it to separate the fibers of the wood?
In general rip cuts are quicker and easier on the blade then cross cuts. This is because rip cuts travel with the grain of the wood. The fibers of the wood are not fighting the blade as much. When making rip cuts the saw is splitting natural weak points in the grain. This allows for the blade to smoothly and more efficiently cut the wood. However due to the speed of the cuts you often get rougher edges when compared to cross cuts. Often after making a rip cut you will need to sand the piece of wood.
Cross cuts are made against the grain of the wood. This means the blade has to separate many more fibers that run vertically along the board. The blade is making many more individual cuts during this process. This is much more strenuous and slower then the rip cut. These typically lead to smoother and cleaner cuts.
A good example of this is chopping wood. When chopping wood it is much easier to chop logs from the top then it is to cut them from the side.
It took me one swing to make the rip cut shown above. I was about 10 swings in on the cross cut and only about halfway through the log.
Best saws for each cut
Without a doubt the table saw is the best saw for making RIP CUTS. This is a large stationary saw that has an open blade. This allows you to push large pieces of wood through the blade. Most table saws also come with a fence that is called a rip fence. This fence runs parallel to the blade. You can set the rip fence to any distance you want using tape measures often found on the saw. This helps make even rip cuts on long pieces of wood. It acts as a guide as you push the wood through the blade.
Table saws can make cross cuts but they require the use of a miter gauge. Most table saws come with 1-2 gauge slots that these miter gauges slide into. These tend to be less accurate for cross cuts compared to the miter saw. These can also be dangerous especially when cutting smaller pieces of wood.
There are a ton of different table saws out there and I encourage you to do some research before buying one. With that being said the saw that I have is the Dewalt 8-14th inch compact table saw. This saw has been great for me and my DIY projects.
The miter saw is by far the best saw when it comes to CROSS CUTS. It has a fence that runs perpendicular to the blade. This allows you to rest your wood against the fence and pull the blade to the wood.
The wood you are cutting does not have to move at all. By doing so you get a perfect cut against the grain of the wood every time.
Technically miter saws can make small rip cuts but this is VERY DANGEROUS and not recommended. There is no fence to stabilize the wood when using the miter saw for a rip cut. This makes for a very unstable piece of wood when trying to cut. Also it is much harder to make even rip cuts on this saw. With that being said it is possible to make these cuts but BE VERY CAREFUL if attempting!
Rip cut length will depend on the miter saw you have. A standard miter saw that does not slide can rip 5.5-7.5 inches (depending on blade size). A sliding miter saw will be able to rip up to 12-15 inches (again depending on the blade).
If you are looking for a saw that will make rip and cross cuts, the circular saw is the one. This saw is great because it is portable, light weight and has a lot of power. While it can make both types of cuts, it tends to be less accurate then the previously mentioned miter and table saws. This is a free hand saw so it requires much more accuracy from the user. There are no fences or guides with this saw. Also because it is free hand it is much more dangerous to use.
There are a number of different accessories out there that will help improve your accuracy when using a circular saw. Even with these the cuts tend to be slightly less accurate then table saw (for rip cuts) and miter saw (for cross cuts). But if you can only afford one saw and will be making both types of cuts, look into the circular saw for sure.
There are other saws out there that make rip and cross cuts including jig saws and multi-tools. They are significantly less accurate and effective in making these cuts then tools that use larger circular blades. The small blades and less power leads to worse quality and less accurate cuts.
Blades for each cut
When it comes to making rip and cross cuts the blade matters. Each cut is best made by some subtle differences in the blades. Lets take a closer look.
The best rip saw blades tend to have fewer teeth. They are commonly found with 24-40 teeth on the blade.
You will also notice on rip blades the space between the teeth (gullets) tends to be deeper. This design is key for the efficient fast rip cuts. As we talked about prior these cuts require less demand on the blade since traveling with the grain. They make faster cuts, due to less resistance so each tooth has less work to do. The deeper space between the teeth also allows for saw dust to be removed very quickly.
Cross cut blades have more teeth. The best blades for cross cuts typically have between 60-80 teeth.
These blades also have shallower gullets. This is required because each tooth has a heavier workload due to cutting across the grain of the wood. These blades actually lead to smoother cuts because of the high tooth count. This is very important as cross cuts are more prone to tearing and splintering. Each tooth takes a small piece of wood off which leads to less saw dust removal needed, hence the shallow gullets.
The combo blade is best designed to make both cross and rip cuts. These blades tend to combine the large gullets (key for rip cuts) and high teeth count (key for cross cuts). These are often used when you need to make frequent cross and rip cuts. When using these blades you do not have to change blades each time you make a different cut. This allows for much more speed. They are not as accurate as the blades above for the given cuts but they will get the job done.
- Rip cut
- Cross cut
- Quality of each cut
- Best saws for each cut
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- Circular saw
- Other saws
- Blades for each cut
- Rip blades
- Cross blades
- Combination blades
I hope this was helpful. If so please let me know in the comments!
A current home owner and dad of two, who loves to fix things. I have spent countless hours fixing and repairing things around the house. I started this blog to share my knowledge with you. I hope you find what you are looking for!