A rip cut is when a cut is made parallel to the grain of a piece of wood. It is the opposite of a cross cut, which is when the cut is perpendicular to the grain. While most saws can perform both cuts, there are specialized saws that work better when doing one or the other. In most cases, a table saw, ripsaw or band saw works the best when making a rip cut and a chop or miter saw works the best for cross cutting. The largest difference in the saw’s specialties is in the shape and positioning of the teeth on the blade.
The grain in wood is made up of long, continuous fibers compressed together very tight. This grain gives wood its structural stability and strength. While a tree is growing, the grain keeps it from cracking or bending and extends from the bottom of the tree all the way to the top. If something is going in the same direction as the wood fibers, then it is going with the grain. If something does not follow the fiber’s path, then it is against the grain.
When wood is cut, a rip cut is easier to make and will result in a smoother edge than a cross cut. This is because the grain will naturally part when forced. This means the saws require less energy when cutting and there are fewer broken and exposed plant fibers. Cross cuts require that every single fiber in the area be cut and will expose each fiber end along the cut edge.
A saw’s teeth and their arrangement determine the type of cutting for which it is suited. A rip cut is made using teeth shaped like small chisels. These teeth cut when they have to, but are better-suited to forcing the fibers to separate naturally. A cross cut is made with teeth shaped like little knives. These will cut the fibers as they pass over them.
The size and positioning of the teeth are different as well. A rip cut saw has much larger and thicker teeth than a cross cut. Generally, this is because a larger proportion of the cutting strength on a rip cut comes from the saw’s operator. Cross cut saws have small teeth, and more of them, since the majority of the cutting force comes from the teeth. A rip cut saw will have all of its teeth in a row whereas a cross cut saw’s teeth with have a slight alternating outward bend. These alternating teeth make a wider opening so sawdust doesn’t clog the cut.