Whenever you’re looking for the best table saw, there will be a number of factors that contribute to any particular model that is right for your needs.
One of the most important, is the quality of the rip fence.
With a poor quality fence, you will be left frustrated by having to continuously measure and re-square the fence, otherwise you’ll be left with inaccurate cuts. Sometimes, the wrong fence is just outright difficult to use.
In this guide we’re going to talk about choosing a unit with the best table saw fence, and we’ll also look at a popular aftermarket option for times when you need absolute precision cuts from your tools.
Knowing what to look for will help you to make better purchasing decisions, and could help you to avoid ending up with a dud when you’re looking for your next table saw.
What is the Purpose of a Table Saw Rip Fence?
The fence on a table saw is used as a guide that will allow you to make accurate cuts in the safest possible manner.
It runs parallel to the blade of the saw, and with professional tables, you’ll be able to adjust the fence along the length of the table.
Because the fence performs the important task of ensuring that the material is square to the blade, it can help to prevent kickback and is therefore an important safety feature, just as it is critical for accuracy.
If you end up with a table that has a poor quality fence, then you’re going to quickly become frustrated, and you may even be putting yourself in danger.
Knowing What to Look for in the Best Table Saw Fence
Professional table saws, such as jobsite table saws, will almost always come with rip fences included in the package.
Manufacturers use the quality of their fences to differentiate their products, and if you take a look at some table saw reviews, you will find that a significant portion of the review is spent talking about the fence and how well it performs.
If you’re currently in the market for a saw, then you’ll need to know all about evaluating a rip fence for table saw.
One of the very first things that you’ll need to look at when evaluating a fence, is the material that it is made from.
If you use a table saw, you will be working with wood a majority of the time. Even if your ideal saw supports cutting plastics and composites, you’ll still need a robust fence that can withstand the usual wear and tear that can be expected of any power tool.
Too much plastic on a rip fence will mean that durability is compromised, and low quality metals will mean that the fence can easily be damaged, losing accuracy in the process.
Ideally, look for a fence that is made from a sturdy piece of aluminum. This is an ideal material because it is lightweight while being fairly resilient to wear and tear.
If some elements of the rip fence are made of plastic, ensure that these are well formed and that the plastic is hardened for professional use. Even the best table saw fence on a mid-range saw will incorporate some plastic parts.
Design of the Rip Fence for Table Saws
Aside from the material that the rip fence is made from, the design will also be critical.
There is a trend in the entry level and mid-range table saw market where the fences use simple clamping and sliding mechanisms. This means that the fence simply rests on the table surface, and then clips into grooves at either end of the table.
With many of the lower end table saws, this kind of design can easily catch and jar during adjustment, which means that operators are forced to make continuous micro adjustments, sometimes having to reset the fence after every rip. This can quickly become frustrating, and is a sure way to turn people off of an otherwise high quality table saw.
There is a better system, and it’s one that is featured on a number of DeWALT table saws.
We recently reviewed the DeWALT 745, which includes the improved system.
The system is known as a rack and pinion rip fence.
Instead of being a loose removable fence, this type of fence sits on a toothed rail and is adjusted using a gear. This allows for quick and accurate adjustment that won’t fall out of alignment.
It’s the perfect system for mid-range saws, and if you find a tool that includes a rack and pinion type rip fence, then you can be almost certain that it will outperform those with inferior designs.
Table saws that incorporate rip fences into the design, such as all in one portable jobsite saws, will include a positioning scale on the edge of the table.
This scale will allow you to easily measure the material that you are ripping, and it is just as important for accuracy as the other aspects of the fence.
The best positioning scale will be one that is highly visible and easy to read. Some fences will include a magnifying window where the fence moves over the positioning scale, allowing for micro measurements and adjustments.
If you purchase a table saw that doesn’t include a positioning scale, then you’ll be forced to measure manually with every piece of material that goes across your table.
Using Aftermarket Rip Fences for the Highest Levels of Accuracy
No matter how good the fence is on your contractor style table saw, there’s a good chance that it will never be as accurate as a precision third party fence.
There are always compromises that need to be made to achieve the portability and price point that jobsite table saws are offered at, and the rip fence is often one of those areas that is compromised.
If you need something that provides pinpoint accuracy for use in a workshop, then you may need to opt for a third party system.
There are many aftermarket rip fence for table saw products, and we’re going to take a look at one of them so that you have a good reference point.
Remember that aftermarket options will almost always compromise portability, and on a mid-range table saw they can cost more than half of the price of the table itself. These are mainly for use in precision scenarios and are ideal for custom tables used in professional workshops.
The Vega PRO Table Saw Fence System is currently one of the highest rated third party solutions available.
Vega offers their fence in different sizes, with one of the most popular being the Pro 50, which offers 50” of ripping to the right of the saw blade.
This add-on solution can be mounted to a table and it has its own rail system, so you’ll never have a problem with accuracy or any difficulty moving the fence.
Smooth movement, square cuts, and durability are some of the highlights of this fence.
The hardware is mostly made from machined aluminum, so it is both lightweight and durable. The mounting and adjustment system is particularly impressive, as is the maximum rip capacity. Considering that many smaller table saws can only rip between 16” – 30”, the 50” capacity of this product is significant.
Always Look for the Best Table Saw Fence When Purchasing a Full System
Whether you are looking for a table with an integrated fence, or if you need an upgraded fence for your stationary workshop table, this is one area where you don’t want to cut corners.
Although precision third party fences are the most accurate types available, they’re rarely necessary for general contractor work. Even so, the fence on a jobsite table saw should be hard wearing, accurate, and designed for ease of use.
A rack and pinion or other railed system will always beat those that clamp directly to a table, so keep this in mind when you are looking to purchase your next saw.