In the course of woodworking, you will cut wood in two main directions, along the length, and across the length. The general rule that along the length is ripping and to length is to crosscut a board. There is much discussion on these two directions of cutting wood when using each type, the blades used for cutting, and so on.
When you rip a piece of wood, you cut it along the direction of the wood grain. If you cut it perpendicular to the grain, it is crosscutting. Ripping cuts are longer than crosscuts. A rip cut less load on the blade, therefore you need to use less force. However, the rip cut tends to be less precise than a crosscut.
Ripping vs Crosscutting
When you rip a piece of wood, you split it along the wood grain. Because the wood grain orients itself along the fibers you cut the wood between the fibers. With crosscutting, however, you split the wood across the grain. Technically, you wouldn’t “split” it in that direction – you would probably cut it with a sharp blade.
As we mentioned above, rip cuts are typically longer than crosscuts, take less power, and require less force. However, with a rip cut, the blade tends to wander, and the profile of the blade teeth tends to be shaped like a chisel.
Conversely, crosscuts are shorter in length. The blade that you will use for crosscutting will be smoother, harder, with knife-like teeth and you get a more precise cut.
Ripping vs Crosscutting: Workpiece Dimensions
Because the wood grain of the lumber that you buy generally runs along the length of the sections, you will rip along the length to cut the lumber into sections of the same length. The length of the cut while crosscutting tends to be less than while ripping.
But you should not distinguish ripping from crosscutting based on the length of the cuts. You can have a short rip cut (if you cut along a short board) or a long crosscut (if you cut against the grain of the same short board).
Why Ripping Takes Less Force Than Crosscutting
When you make a rip cut, you are moving the saw blade between the cellulose wood fibers. It is also why you don’t get an extremely straight cut because the wood fibers don’t lie in an exactly straight line.
When you cross cut, you have to sever the strong cellulose wood fibers. They cause more resistance against cutting, which creates the need for you to apply more force.
Take the example of cutting wood with an ax. Suppose you cut along the grain, and the wood splits easily. But if you use the same ax to cut a tree, the direction of the cut is more or less perpendicular to the wood grain and you need to exert more force.
Ripping vs Crosscutting with a Saw
It takes more power to crosscut wood with a saw than to rip it. But then, you can reduce your effort depending on the design of your saw blade. The orientation of your cut and the saw tooth geometry can make your task easier. When you consider the cut at saw tooth level, you cut the fibers and between the fibers as well.
You may have to exert more force in ripping as well in some cases. A prime example is the chainsaw milling of a log. In this case, the chainsaw bites into the wood from along the length of the log. The chain top plates repeatedly cut into the wood fiber.
Best Tools for Crosscuts
You can even make crosscuts with a table saw if you use the miter gauge function. Alternatively, you could make a crosscut sled. Take care NOT to use the rip fence of a table saw to do crosscutting work.
The rip fence is specifically designed for rip cutting. You will not get satisfactory results and it is a dangerous practice. In the same way, don’t use a table saw rip fence with a table saw miter gauge as that can also be dangerous.
Best Tools for Rip Cuts
You can make your table saw or circular saw longer (many saws have this provision), to accommodate rip cutting.
You can do ripping and crosscutting with most saws. But with some experience, you will realist that one particular type of saw will either be best for ripping or crosscutting.
For example, you can best resize lumber with a table saw for ripping operations. A miter saw, however, crosscuts the best. You can do both types of cutting with both types of saws but we have described above the BEST options for each type of cut.
Ripping vs Crosscutting: Blade Tooth Design
Depending on the intended type of cutting operation, the teeth of the blades are specially designed. According to these requirements, we get three major types of teeth – crosscut teeth, rip cut teeth, and hybrid teeth.
Blades with this type of teeth are meant specifically for cutting the wood perpendicular to the grain. The teeth and angle differ from the teeth of rip cut blades. The edges of the teeth are sharpened at an angle. Each tooth has a pyramid-like shape.
The sharpened side alternates between each tooth, optimizing the cutting efficiency of the blade. The size of each tooth is relatively smaller than the teeth of rip cut blades.
Rip Cut Teeth
You will not find beveled edges in the teeth of rip cut saws. The function of each tooth is to behave like a chisel, and it chips through the wood instead of slicing into it.
Rip cut teeth move along the direction of the wood grain, splitting and separating the wood fibers as they move along the length of the lumber section.
As you might have guessed, hybrid teeth share mixed features of rip cut teeth and crosscut teeth You can get saw blades that contain these dual-purpose teeth if you are unsure whether you will be doing more ripping or more crosscutting.
These blades are also useful to have if you are on a bulk production product where you don’t need too much precision. The advantage is that you save a lot of time since you don’t have to keep stopping your work to change blades.
Ripping vs crosscutting: Using a Chainsaw
How effective is a chainsaw with ripping and crosscutting? You can optimize a chainsaw for performing either type of cut, although most chainsaws are primarily designed for crosscuts.
The reason here is that the main function of a chainsaw is for use in milling, where the type of cut is crosscutting. Also, we associate chainsaws with chopping down trees which is a form of crosscutting.
However, you can fit a chainsaw with a ripping blade, effectively making it a ripping chainsaw. The blades here will be sharpened at angles of 5° and 10°. But even with this modification, you might not get satisfactory results by rip-cutting from a chainsaw.
Ripping vs Crosscutting: Level of Precision
When we compare the two types of cuts, you get more accurate dimensions and a smoother surface finish with crosscuts. If you look at freshly-cut lumber, you will notice perpendicular ridges on the front face and bottom face, which is a typical signature of rip cuts.
The irregular cut is due to a phenomenon called “blade drift.” It occurs due to the tendency of the blade to follow the direction of the grain which is only roughly and not exactly in a straight line.
When you work on wood, you need to familiarize yourself with these two types of cuts. As you progress with your project, you will automatically find yourself performing both rip cuts and crosscuts.
There are specific blades that depend on the way you need to cut your wood. If you want your results to be perfect, you will try to use task-specific blades. Then, there might be times when you are not sure of the type of blade you need. In such a case, you can use a general-purpose blade like a hybrid blade to get started.
Two factors may come into play in your project. First, budget considerations may restrict you from buying multiple types of blades. You can choose general-purpose blades.
If you don’t have budget restrictions, then the best approach would be to start with a general-purpose blade and then experiment with different types of blades until you get the best result.
We hope you have a clearer view of the two types of wood cutting – ripping and crosscutting after reading this post. Have a great time cutting your wood to size and creating great projects.