What Is A Miter Gauge & Rip Fence? (How-To)

Aside from the blade, the miter gauge and rip fence are major components of a table saw.

But what is a miter gauge and rip fence on a table saw?

  • A rip fence provides a cutting guide that runs from the front of the table to the back. This is parallel to the cutting plane of the blade.
  • A Miter gauge holds and guides material at a specific angle to make a precise cut. The locking mechanism pivots from 45 to -45 degrees and slides into a slot (miter slot).

Like the saw blade, I wanted to write a piece on the rip fence and miter gauge as it warranted its own article. There’s plenty to take in.

Both elements I see as an important component when working with a table saw. Get this wrong, and you’ll have trouble being able to rip material.

With all table saws, you’ll want to cut wood to a specific width. This will be where the fence or rip fence will come into play.

Not long after, you’ll likely want to perform a crosscut or other complex cuts. To do this, you’ll have to depend upon a miter gauge.

If both terms are unfamiliar to you, I’ll make sure to explain it in detail below. This will give you a greater understanding of their uses.

My guide to everything table saws is here if you’ve missed it. I want you to understand all the basics first before diving in and reading this.

Ok, let’s first discuss rip fences and their capacity.

Rip Fence & Capacity

Rip Fence

The fence, also known as a rip fence, provides a cutting guide when you’re cutting material. The fence runs from the front of the table to the back and is parallel to the cutting plane of the blade.

The fence would usually be mounted to the right of the blade. This type of design allows you to use the fence on either side with some configuration. Other table saws allow you to only use the fence on one side.

Be mindful that a sliding table will not allow the fence to operate left to the blade.

So how do you use the rip fence?

The rip fence can be adjusted in a horizontal and vertical direction. They also have to be rigid and stable for you to be able to make a precise cut. I.e. they should not move once locked into place. They should also protect you while making a cut.

There are a few fence types that can be used with table saws. The most commonly known is the T-square fence. A major manufacturer of this kind of fence comes from Biesemeyer.

This style of rip fence is easy to adjust and operate. They’re made from steel and assist you with accurate rip cuts – or any other cut for that matter.

There are a couple of differences to the type of rip fences available. Some require you to bolt the fence to the T-square head on some hybrid and contractor models. While on most cabinet saws or heavy-duty models have the fence welded to the T-square head.

Many high-end cabinet models require you to purchase a rip fence separately. This provides the user to customize their setup with their own components. You can then adjust to your own requirements.

NOTE: Sometimes you may find that your rip fence becomes rigid. If you do find this to be the case, I suggest you apply a wax to the fence. This will help it free up and help it move.

What To Look For In A Fence

Here are some things to look for in a quality rip fence:

  • Micro adjustment capability
  • T-square bar
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Easy to read positioning scale
  • Potential for a 50-inch rip capacity
  • Easy to position and adjust

Rip Capacity

The rip capacity is another important option to consider. This is the distance from the saw blade to the greatest distance the fence travels to the right of the blade. That determines your rip capacity.  

For any table saw you use on a job site, you’ll require rip capacity of more than 24″. This equates to half the width of sheet material.

Miter Gauge

The miter gauge guides material at an angle you specify when you’re trying to make a precise miter cut.

So what’s a miter cut?

A miter cut refers to an angled cut on the face of the material to create a corner. This then becomes a miter joint. A miter joint used by cabinet makers requires two pieces of material to be cut at 45-degree angles. When both pieces are joined together, it will equate to a 90-degree corner.

The locking mechanism can pivot from 45 to -45 degrees and slides into a slot (miter slot).

NOTE: Be sure to confirm whether you’re miter slot is standard and not proprietary. You’ll prevent less frustration that way. Especially when fitting other accessories to your table saw. Items can include a miter sled.

Are you wondering how you use the miter gauge? Here’s how…

First, you slide the miter gauge backward to the front edge of the saw table. Also, place a board against the flat edge of the gauge. I.e. move it towards your body.  

You then mark the material where you want to make crosscut (angled) and align the mark with the saw blade. Turn on the saw and guide the miter gauge forward until the cut is made. Be sure to keep the material firmly in place against the straight edge of the miter gauge.

Simple right?

The miter gauge comes in real handy and provides a woodworker with many options to cut material.

One of the easiest cuts to make using the miter gauge is the simple square crosscut. All you have to is set the miter gauge at 90 or 0 degrees (depends on the markings), and push the board toward the blade.

You can also make other angle cuts at whatever angle you like by adjusting the miter gauge.

Do you want a 38-degree cut? Easy. You have to adjust it to the specific angle and you’re on your way.  

It also gives you the ability to not only make crosscuts, but compound cuts as well.

A compound cut consists of two angle types – the miter and bevel. To do this, you adjust the blade tilt with the hand wheel, and miter gauge to the set angle.

A Small Tip

Be sure to carefully push the material toward the blade. The miter gauge may move and you end up with a cut that’s not precise. You don’t want to waste your material.  

To prevent this from happening, secure the material to the gauge using a clamp. It works a treat.

Safety

Whenever you’re using your table saw, safety is paramount.

If you’re going to make a crosscut, avoid using the fence and miter gauge at the same time.

So why is that you’re asking?

When you push the material towards the saw blade using the miter gauge, it can bind against the fence. Doing so will cause a nasty kickback.

Trust me, it will. And it’s not a pleasant experience. Not only will the material do some serious damage to your property, but it may also seriously injure you!

That’s not something you want to happen.

To prevent this, remove the fence and away from your workspace.

Summary

The rip fence and miter gauge are critical components when working with a table saw.

When you want to make a rip, miter, or compound cut, you have to understand how to use each element.

Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of using each one quickly. Be sure to use it correctly from the get-go to prevent any bad habits as well.

Remember, safety is paramount. The last thing I want to hear about is someone getting injured.

I hope I’ve covered as much as possible about the rip fence and miter saw. The whole point is for you to understand their specific functions.

Let me know by leaving a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

2 thoughts on “What Is A Miter Gauge & Rip Fence? (How-To)”

  1. I have a Rockwell 10 in tale saw now but am I interested in a new one! I noticed on several that I looked at and the miter gauge was a bit sloppy in the track! My saw is old but I like the snug fitting that the miter gauge has in this saw! Is that a common characteristic in new table saws! Thank you, wally

    1. Hi Wally,

      I do find that some of the newer miter gauge’s aren’t built like they use to, unfortunately. I myself have an old one lying around that’s trusty and have stuck with it ever since.

      Cheers,
      James

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About The Tool Square

James Thomas

Hi, I’m James. I created The Tool Square to help as many understand and know how to use Table Saws, and many other tool-related products. About Me.

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