If there's one thing a table saw does better than just about any workshop tool, it's slicing or "ripping" materials into narrower dimensions. It's the "rip fence" that allows it to do this job so well. A "rip fence" is any guide that runs parallel to the blade. One side of the work piece stays in contact with the fence as the other side of the piece passes through the blade. The distance between the fence and blade determines the dimension of the piece being cut.
Good Fences Make Good Rips
While every table saw comes with a rip fence, they vary widely in quality and versatility. Some are more easily added onto than others, depending on design. Large, professional quality tables will have solid, heavy fences that remain straight and true; are easily and smoothly adjustable to precise dimensions; can be locked firmly in place; and will remain parallel to the blade. For these, a variety of attachments and jigs is often available. The smaller and lighter a table saw gets, the more likely there will be compromises made in the design and construction of the rip fence. A flimsy fence can be a nightmare to use, difficult to adjust, and even dangerous. Presuming that you've got a rip fence that isn't a total disaster, there are a number of things that can be done to make this accessory more versatile, and capable of handling a number of jobs.
Simple add-ons to a rip fence can correct two of the most vexing rip-fence shortcomings, and can be made with materials you probably have lying around the shop. Each involves clamping, or otherwise attaching, a piece of wood to the side of the fence that faces the blade. The most secure way to do so is to drill or use pre-drilled holes in the fence. Hold your attachment to the face of the fence, and attach with screws from behind the fence. Be sure that the screws are not so long that they penetrate through the surface of the wood facing the blade. If holes in the fence aren't available, clamps may be used to secure the attachment to the fence, keeping in mind that the clamps must be clear of the work sliding along the fence.
My Three Fences
Extending the length of the fence, both in front of and behind the table by attaching a long guide board to the fence will go a long way toward stabilising a long, straight piece of work, like the side of a bookcase. While making the cut, the extensions fore and aft will prevent the piece from wobbling and creating blade marks on the cut.
A tall extension that raises the height of the fence is perfect when cutting into a tall piece of work or cutting a bevel on a raised panel. A piece of one-by is usually good for this. The stability offered by the extra height allows you to confidently move the work through the blade firmly and smoothly, which makes for a smoother, cleaner cut.
Lastly, a long straight piece of wood or metal channel can be used in place of the fence altogether, as long as it's clamped firmly at the front and back of the table, and the distance of the fence from the blade is carefully checked to ensure that the fence is perfectly parallel to it. Once you start experimenting, there's no end to the ways that a rip fence can be enhanced to make this handy tool even more useful.