What is a Riving Knife on a Table Saw

A riving knife is a safety device installed on a table saw, positioned just behind the saw blade. It is a thin, flat, and usually metal plate that aligns vertically with the blade and follows its up and down movements during cutting. 

Unlike a traditional splitter, a riving knife is designed to be closer to the blade, reducing the risk of kickback while allowing for greater versatility in cutting operations.

Although a riving knife is part of the blade guard assembly, it differs from other components like splitters and blade guards. 

While a blade guard provides overall protection and covers the top of the blade, a riving knife focuses specifically on preventing kickback by reducing the likelihood of the workpiece binding against the back of the blade. 

Unlike splitters, which are typically fixed in position, a riving knife adjusts its position in conjunction with the blade’s up and down movement.

During a cutting operation, the riving knife remains aligned with the blade, maintaining a consistent distance from the rear of the blade. As the workpiece is fed into the blade, the riving knife prevents the wood from closing in on the backside of the blade, reducing the risk of kickback. 

By maintaining a space slightly wider than the thickness of the blade kerf, the riving knife prevents the material from pinching the blade, allowing for smoother and safer cuts.

The primary function of the riving knife is to prevent the workpiece from binding and kicking back, which can cause serious injuries and damage to the workpiece or the table saw itself. 

By keeping the wood aligned and separated, the riving knife greatly enhances the safety and stability of the table saw cutting process.

The Purpose of a Riving Knife

One of the primary purposes of a riving knife is to prevent kickback incidents during table saw operation. Kickback occurs when the workpiece is forcefully propelled backward and out of control, towards the operator. 

This can happen when the material becomes trapped between the back of the blade and the fence, causing it to bind and suddenly release. 

A riving knife helps prevent kickback by ensuring that the cut kerf remains open and preventing the material from closing in on the backside of the blade. By reducing the risk of kickback, the riving knife plays a crucial role in maintaining a safer working environment.

Maintaining kerf width and preventing binding

Another important function of a riving knife is to maintain the width of the blade kerf throughout the cut. The kerf is the width of the cut made by the blade in the material. 

As the blade moves through the material, the riving knife follows closely behind, keeping the kerf open and preventing the wood from squeezing back together and binding against the rear of the blade. 

By preventing binding, the riving knife ensures smoother and more accurate cuts, minimizing the chance of kickback and enhancing the overall cutting performance of the table saw.

Enhancing user safety and reducing the risk of accidents

The presence of a riving knife significantly enhances user safety and reduces the risk of accidents when operating a table saw. By preventing kickback and binding, it helps maintain control over the workpiece throughout the cutting process. 

This reduces the likelihood of sudden movements that can lead to injuries or damage to the material and equipment. The riving knife acts as a crucial safety barrier, reducing the chance of the workpiece being propelled back towards the operator or causing the saw blade to jam.

Types of Riving Knives

Standard Riving Knives

Standard riving knives are the most commonly found type and are often included with table saws from the manufacturer. They are typically made of metal, such as steel or aluminum, and are designed to be compatible with specific table saw models. 

Standard riving knives have a thin, flat profile that aligns with the blade and maintains a consistent distance from it. They may have adjustment capabilities to accommodate different blade heights and angles.

Typical applications and limitations

Standard riving knives are versatile and suitable for a wide range of woodworking applications. They provide effective kickback prevention and help maintain kerf width. 

However, due to their fixed design, they may have limitations when it comes to handling non-through cuts, such as dados or grooves. 

Some standard riving knives may not be adjustable for different blade angles or require additional accessories for compatibility with specific cuts.

Splitter-Style Riving Knives

Splitter-style riving knives are a variation of riving knives that include additional features for improved versatility. 

In addition to the basic function of preventing kickback and maintaining kerf width, splitter-style riving knives often incorporate a splitter mechanism that can be separated or removed when needed. This allows for non-through cuts, such as dados, without having to remove the riving knife entirely.

Splitter-style riving knives provide increased flexibility for various cutting operations. By enabling the removal or separation of the splitter component, woodworkers can perform cuts that would otherwise be limited by a standard riving knife. 

The ability to switch between a standard riving knife and a splitter configuration offers convenience and versatility, making them a popular choice among woodworking professionals who frequently work with different types of cuts.

Riving Knife Installation and Adjustment

To install a riving knife on a table saw, follow these general steps:

  1. Ensure the table saw is turned off and unplugged for safety.
  2. Remove the blade guard or any other components that may obstruct the installation of the riving knife.
  3. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific table saw model to understand the installation process.
  4. Slide the riving knife into the designated slot or mounting bracket on the backside of the table saw, aligning it with the blade. Ensure it is inserted fully and securely.
  5. Use the provided locking mechanism or fasteners (such as bolts or screws) to secure the riving knife in place. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper tightening or adjustment.

Aligning the riving knife with the blade

Proper alignment of the riving knife with the blade is crucial to ensure its effectiveness and safety. Here’s how to align the riving knife with the blade:

  1. Lower the saw blade to its lowest position using the height adjustment mechanism.
  2. Visually inspect the alignment of the riving knife with the blade. It should be parallel to the blade, maintaining a consistent distance throughout the blade’s up and down movement.
  3. Adjust the alignment if needed. Some table saws have adjustment mechanisms that allow you to fine-tune the alignment of the riving knife. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for specific adjustment procedures.
  4. Check the alignment from various angles to ensure the riving knife remains parallel to the blade throughout its vertical range of motion.

Adjusting the riving knife for different cutting scenarios

The riving knife may require adjustment when performing different cutting scenarios, such as changing blade heights or angles. Follow these steps for adjusting the riving knife:

  1. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your table saw to understand the recommended adjustments for different cutting scenarios.
  2. If the blade height is changed, ensure the riving knife maintains its alignment and distance from the blade. Adjust the riving knife position if necessary to align it with the new blade height.
  3. For angled cuts, adjust the riving knife to match the angle of the blade. Some table saws have adjustable mechanisms to accommodate angled cuts.
  4. Test the riving knife’s position and alignment before proceeding with the cutting operation. Verify that it maintains a consistent distance from the blade and follows its up and down movement accurately.

Safety Considerations and Best Practices

When working with a table saw, it is important to utilize the riving knife in conjunction with other safety devices for optimal safety. Here are some key considerations:

  • Blade Guard: While the riving knife helps prevent kickback and binding, it is advisable to use it in combination with a properly installed and functioning blade guard. The blade guard provides additional protection by covering the top of the blade, reducing the risk of accidental contact and flying debris.
  • Push Sticks and Push Blocks: To maintain a safe distance from the blade and improve control during cutting, always use appropriate push sticks or push blocks to guide the material through the cut. These tools help keep your hands safely away from the blade and provide better control over the workpiece.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Wear the necessary personal protective equipment, including safety goggles, ear protection, and appropriate clothing. PPE helps protect against potential eye injuries, hearing damage, and flying debris.

Regular maintenance and inspection of the riving knife

To ensure the riving knife functions effectively and safely, it is essential to perform regular maintenance and inspections. Consider the following:

  • Cleaning: Regularly clean the riving knife to remove any buildup of sawdust or debris that may affect its performance. Use a brush or compressed air to remove any particles from the surface.
  • Alignment: Periodically check the alignment of the riving knife with the blade. Make sure it remains parallel to the blade throughout its vertical range of motion. Adjust if necessary.
  • Integrity: Inspect the riving knife for any signs of damage, such as cracks, bends, or excessive wear. If you notice any issues, replace the riving knife promptly to maintain its effectiveness.


A riving knife is a critical safety device that plays a significant role in table saw operation. By understanding its function, types, installation, and safety considerations, woodworkers can work more safely and efficiently with their table saws. 

The purpose of a riving knife is multifaceted, including preventing kickback incidents, maintaining kerf width, and enhancing overall user safety. It acts as a vital safety barrier, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries while ensuring smoother and more accurate cuts.

Remember, safety should always be the top priority when operating a table saw. By utilizing a riving knife, practicing safe techniques, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and following best practices, woodworkers can minimize the risk of accidents and work confidently and efficiently with their table saws.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, seek proper training, and prioritize safety at all times. Happy woodworking!

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