Straight-Line Rip-Saw for a Small Shop?

Should a two-man cabinet shop acquire a straight-line rip-saw? The discussion balances cost against quality and productivity issues. March 13, 2014

We are a two cabinetmaker shop. Currently we purchase lumber straight lined on one side. We are doing our ripping by way of hand feeding on a table saw. We then dimension with a 4 head planer. I am wondering if the expense of a straight line rip saw will be worth it. How much time is it actually going to save? Keep in mind that there are only two of us building cabinets. We produce roughly 18 kitchens per year, along with other case goods and custom furniture. Those of you that went from table saw to straight line rip, what has your experience been?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From Contributor O:
You are well ahead of the game with the 4 head - bravo! A straight line rip like a Diehl or similar will cost about 5k: 2k at auction, 1k to move it, and 2k (min) to get it running right. That last part could go as high as 10k if you want 16' glueline rips. Letís assume you run at 20 fpm. One easy day can yield over 8,000 l/f of rips, or 4,000 l/f of lumber. I'm betting that one day would rip out a kitchen, or 1/18th of your needs per year. Therefore you would run the thing about 110-140 hours a year. Don't count on running sheet stock through it. It will mar the surfaces with the feed tracks.

If you spend 10k for the machine, and pay it back in five years the $2,000 per year will spread over the 110 plus hours, for a cost of $18.00 per hour. I'd add another 20% for incidentals. If you have the cash, it may be worth it.

Back to the 4 head - you sound like a European shop - small (personnel) but well equipped. The biggest problem with a ripsaw is space. The Diehl I had (SL55) needed about 18' on either end and was 7' long and 6' wide. For what it is worth, I have never heard anything good about the Chinese ripsaws, and the SCMI's are rated OK. The Diehlís are available as a result of the crash of the American Woodworking Industry, and parts and service are still available.

From contributor H:
I build approximately an above average sized kitchen and two baths a week. Iíve been ordering S2S1E on random length and width, then sawing the other edge on a table saw with 3 wheel feeder. Iíve been bringing in stile and rail material gang ripped at 2 3/4" wide and it really speeds up production on RP doors.

My previous supplier stated that material could not be straight lined on both edges. I don't even want it parallel, just edge one side, flip it over, return it, and edge the other side. Any slight taper (boards are straight on both edges) gets removed after the blanks are glued up (oversize) and netted to size on the Striebig. We go straight off the truck to cutoff saw for length, layup for width and into the RF gluer and itís been working great. I looked at adding a SLR but for the very minimal upcharge. I can't justify the purchase, much less the labor and mess involved with sawing the other edge. I don't see the SLR saw differentiates between the first or second edge.
Am I overlooking something?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. Since we really don't do that many RP doors, maybe another table saw with a feeder would be just as good? We did look into a Diehl, 27k new. Itís pretty hard to justify that kind of money. I'm not opposed to buying used, but the auctions seem like kind of a gamble.

From Contributor B:
From my small shop perspective, if your hand feeding for rips I think a dedicated saw with a feeder or even simply moving a feeder to your existing saw for a session of ripping would likely surprise you. If youíre considering a SLR you are aware of the space needed and for cheap money you could try out a feeder/TS ripping setup.

We do all our rips with a feeder, also buying S2S1E, and a single guy can fly out a lot of material. We donít have a 4 head planer but do make a lot of our own doors and even if I had the space I couldnít justify a SLR unless volume was monumentally more, and I donít want that. For what we pay for SLR1E it would be a very long payback for the investment.

From contributor L:
I don't think you can really justify a SL rip but they have considerable advantages over a table saw and feed. Seven years ago I bought an Extrema SL (Taiwan - their small one, 15hp) with max feed rate 99'/min. This is what we run it at except for 8/4 material. We SL then rip to width for either glue-up or molder blanks. Edge quality is excellent, no issues going directly to the clamps. Advantages are that the glue surface is fresh, no compressed fibers, no snipe. As for the space it takes up, about 3' more than a table saw with the same in and out space for the boards. When I bought SL material from the suppliers I figured out I was losing about 1/2" on every board. We do considerably better here. The cut quality left a lot to be desired and required another pass on something to make it fit to glue. We have a larger shop and there is no question that the SL has been worth it here. Comparing a SL to a table saw and feed is like the old apples and oranges thing.

From Contributor E:
I agree with Contributor L on his take on the matter. The key to getting a long glue line rip is to have the stock supported well on the out-feed side. Contributor H, too bad you're not in my market. Your lumber supplier must not have a shifting blade gang rip with an in-feed system. Mine is set up to rip random widths (both edges) as they are fed into the saw, and provide a report on yield as well as a tally when done.

From contributor U:
If you had a SLR to use it would take about twenty nine seconds for figure out that it is worth every effort to acquire. It takes what is a somewhat dangerous situation (hand-fed table saw) and safely puts glue line quality into the rip process. Not to mention it will straighten it as well and is faster.

I had a large table saw (Ascom) set up with a power feeder (never changed the set up) however there is no comparison with a SLR. The table saw just will not rip as much or as fast and the change in thickness was a pain unlike the SLR. I am a one employee shop if that makes any difference.

From Contributor A:
I am not heavily experienced on a straight line rip, but I know they are typically large saws. Using one without another guy on the other side adds a lot of walking to your day. So if you aren't able to have someone catch for you, I don't see the purchase as worthwhile.

From contributor L:
Walking distance without a catcher isn't much different than a table saw with a feed. My table saw 38", my SL 52", but it is faster and a lot easier to have a catcher/sorter. We get random width material and first pass on each board is to SL, second pass is rip to width. With random width lumber you will need to change your fence often to maximize yield. The laser for SL positioning and the digital readout for width make it pretty easy. For sure get the laser or add an after-market one. For the small shop probably the biggest issue is space. You will still need a table saw. If you are dedicating a table saw and feed to ripping I'd go for the SL. Itís faster and better than jointing and TS ripping. I know I waited too long to get a SL. I didn't realize how much better they were than using my 10hp, 12/14" TS and feed and using a 16" jointer.

From contributor L:
Tailboys are great machines but they make the operator handle everything a second time while sorting and feeding and changing widths. The man tailing our rip saw is usually plenty busy. If all you are doing is SL'ing there is a simple return conveyor system that drops the waste off one side and returns the board to the operator.

Another item that would be nice is a wood chipper next to the saw to grind up the waste strips. We could go on and on with nifty things, your volume of work dictates what is able to make a ROI work. Itís often difficult to figure out when you haven't used the latest machinery, of course the salesman will make that determination for you!

From the original questioner:
We found a Delta rt-40, with a feeder, for a good price. The plan is to set it up next to the 4-sided planer. Since everything we glue up goes through the 4-sided planer first. I don't think an SLR will save that much time.

From Contributor E:
It will save you time if you don't already have a straight edge. If you are taking lumber that hasn't had a straight edge established and run it against the fence of a table saw, then the fence needs to be twice as long as the piece you are ripping to establish a straight edge, and that only works when you have two points touching the fence at all times, or the bow side against the fence.

The other thing is that with our straight line we're running at 100' per minute for glue line rips, and I highly doubt you'll be able to feed at that rate with your saw. It's not my intention to throw cold water on your new acquisition, and maybe at your volumes it's the right choice, especially if you're after moulder blanks. I did go back and re-read you original post and saw that you are buying your lumber already ripped on one edge, so it may just work out for you.

From contributor G:
Why go through a 4 side planer for glue ups? With a SLR you can glue up right off the saw.

From contributor U:
Find someone who will let you try their SLR. It is not possible with any had fed machine to work as fast or as accurately. The "no's" come from those who don't have one and have never used one.

From the original questioner:
The planer is used to achieve straight and flat stock. If you are getting stuff from your lumber supplier that is flat enough for glue ups, that is great. We are not.