Typical featherboards are stone-simple devices, really. Most consist of a plastic or wood base with a row of flexible “feathers” along the edge. The springy resistance created by pressing these feathers against a workpiece allows it to hold wood down against a table or “in” and against a fence. The feathers are angled in one direction to keep workpieces moving through a cut, and they resist backward motion.
These characteristics can benefit you when setting up rip cuts on the table saw. It’s the most basic and widely used application of featherboards, so I’ll give it first position on the list. A featherboard helps to counteract the rotational force created by a spinning saw blade, not only in a kickback situation but also during any rip cut. At the same time, a featherboard placed on the infeed side of the blade holds stock tight against the rip fence. That way you can use your hands for pushing without also needing to press the workpiece laterally.
Bench Dog’s Feather-Loc® ($20 as of 2010), is a good representation of the common style. It mounts in the saw’s miter slot and has an expanding miter bar that locks the device in place. Feather-Loc is also designed with one feather a tad shorter than the rest. During setup, once the short feather touches the wood, you know the rest are properly tensioned so you can tighten the lock knobs. It’s quite helpful.