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It can be hard to make a decision when there aren't many resources out there to understand the differences between a splitter and a riving knife.
After hours of research, we've found that one of these products is best suited for beginners that make simple cuts, and the other is suitable for experienced carpenters or those that use their table saw most days.
First, we'll look into the pros and cons of both products.
TL;DR: Table Saw Splitter vs. Riving Knife
In the section below, we've highlighted the various pros and cons of a splitter and riving knife, as well as who and what they'd be best suited for.
Someone that uses their table saw occasionally for cutting wood.
Someone that operates their table saw daily on projects from start to finish.
What is a Splitter?
Older table saws have a splitter built into them; the goal of a splitter is to reduce the chances of kickback. However, unlike a riving knife, the splitter is fixed behind the blade and doesn't move as the blade changes height.
What is a Riving Knife?
A riving knife and splitter often get confused for each other. However, there are some key differences. The riving knife often comes already included on modern table saws.
Riving knives, unlike a splitter, will follow the level changes of the blade. Riving knives also follow the bend of the blade, whereas a splitter would usually just be a stationary vertical piece of metal.
Relevant Characteristics Between Splitters and Riving Knives
Both of these products have the same purpose, to provide safety and reduce the likelihood of kickback. Therefore, it's obvious to note there will be similarities and differences between the two products.
Fixed In Place
Moves With Blade
Not As Common
Come With Every Modern Table Saw
Not As Compatible
Works With Most Attachments
Similarities and Differences
Now that we've highlighted the similarities and differences between the two products, it's time to dive deeper into understanding these characteristics. Most differences have a functionality effect on each other.
There are multiple differences between the two products, which makes them unique.
The differences in design are the most significant between the two items; as we know, the splitter is fixed in place behind the blade.
At the same time, the riving knife moves with the blade. This affects what cuts you can complete and other accessories that can be attached. The riving knife also curves with the blade, whereas most splitters are a vertical metal plate.
Older table saws will have a splitter included. Whereas more recent models will have a riving knife included. If you're looking for either of them in a hardware store, you're more likely to find riving knives in stock rather than a splitter as splitters aren't as popular anymore.
The connection is another defining difference between these products. The splitter connects to the trunion, which is why it's fixed in place.
In contrast to the riving knife, which connects to the arbor, this is the reason why the riving knife moves with the blade as the arbor moves the blade, taking the riving knife with it.
A common complaint of splitters is that they're not compatible with certain attachments; they can't be used along with blade guards as they'd poke into the guard. Whereas, because a riving knife moves with the arbor, they're compatible.
It'd be better for the user if they could have an anti-kickback accessory that's compatible with other safety devices, which is exactly what a riving knife provides. Splitters also have to be removed if you want to make a dado cut.
There's only one real similarity between the two accessories.
The only similarity between these two products is that they're made from metal; this would be the only material they could be made from.
A few DIYers have tried to create wooden versions, but they just break almost instantly. It is relatively easy to make a splitter as it's just a vertical piece of metal. At the same time, a riving knife has a more complicated design.
Advantages of Riving Knives
Below are some advantages of using a riving knife for the user.
Amazing Cut & Accessory Compatibility
Riving knives are suitable for any cut or attachment as it attaches to the arbor which moves the blade. It doesn't need to be removed to complete a cross-cut, unlike a splitter device. The riving knife also sits closer to the kerf, which means there's an ever-greater reduction in the chance of any kickback.
Moves With The Arbor & Blade
The riving knife attaches to the arbor, which holds the blade in place. The advantage of this is that it allows the riving knife to move with the blade, which in turn allows the riving knife to be used on cuts like a dado and used alongside other safety attachments like a blade guard.
Included With Modern Table Saws
Many safety regulators require that newly manufactured table saws are required to have a riving knife provided. This means you'll not need to purchase a riving knife with your initial purchase. If you ever break your riving knife, you'll most likely find a riving knife in your local hardware store.
Advantages of Splitters
Splitters aren't as common anymore. However, they're still useful with their own range of benefits listed below.
Simple To Make Your Own
The splitter is just a vertical piece of metal, which isn't easy to make. All you have to do is take the dimensions of one from the internet or trace the outline of the one you currently have and then install it onto your table saw.
Great For Beginners
Due to their simplicity and lack of compatibility with certain cuts and accessories, splitters are best used by beginners that do occasional woodworking. The splitter attaches to the trunion, which is why it doesn't move. It can't make dado cuts or non-through cuts. Therefore, a beginner that does mainly simple cross-cuts or ripping is best suited to a splitter.
With the simplicity of the design of a splitter, they don't cost as much money as their riving knife counterparts. Older models of table saw come with splitters, meaning there's no short supply of splitters in hardware stores across the country.
What About A Kickback Pawl?
The purpose of both a riving knife and splitter is to reduce the risk of kickback, which is exactly what the kickback pawl's job is.
The kickback pawl looks like two small saws stuck together, and as your table saw operates, the blades constantly apply pressure which, if left uncontrolled, could throw your workpiece towards you.
The pawl grips the wood and pulls it the way you're feeding it through, therefore reducing the chance of uncontrolled kickback. The design and method are completely different from both a riving knife and splitter, but the purpose is the same.
When and Why Would I Use a Riving Knife?
There are certain times and people that would require a riving knife to complete projects.
To Complete Intricate Cuts Safely
By intricate, we mean anything more than simple through-cuts like a cross-cut or ripping cut. The issue with a splitter is that you'd have to remove the splitter to be able to complete grooves or dado cuts as the splitter just gets in the way.
If You're Operating The Table Saw Every Day
The great thing about a riving knife is that it doesn't need to be removed, as it is connected to the arbor, it won't get in the way of other tasks or attachments. If you do ever need it removed for maintenance or cleaning, they're easy to take off.
If You're An Employer That Values Safety
The issue with splitters is that they aren't the best at being compatible with other safety features like blade guards. The main benefit of riving knives is that they allow other safety features like blade guards to be installed.
If you employ woodworkers or carpenters, you'll be exposed to much more risk than they are with potential lawsuits if you don't protect your stuff with as much safety equipment as possible.
When and Why Would I Use a Splitter?
A splitter can be beneficial in many situations, in the section below we’ve explained just a few of those situations.
As A Beginner
A beginner tends to stick to the same few cuts, which a splitter would be perfect with. We know by now that splitters need to be removed in order to complete non-through cuts like dado or rabbetts. These types of cuts aren't something that a beginner would instantly know how to do, which is why there's nothing wrong with using a splitter to start off with.
If You're Working To A Budget
Riving knives can be more expensive than a splitter, which is why anyone who's not got the funds to buy a riving knife would be suited to a splitter. If your splitter breaks or it's not thick enough, they're relatively easy and cheap to make yourself.
Your Older Model Table Saw Came With It
Plenty of older model table saws come with a splitter, and just because yours still has, it doesn't mean it needs replacing. If you're comfortable using a splitter and haven't had the need to change; there's nothing wrong with just sticking with what you've got,
There are benefits and downsides to both the splitter and riving knives; like most machines or tools, it's all about whether the tasks require such a tool. If you're just starting out, but all you need a table saw for is to mill a few pieces of wood, a splitter will do perfectly well.
But, if you're an experienced carpenter making all sorts of intricate designs and cuts, you're best suited to a riving knife.