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Tip #124
Saw Blade Selection

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Choosing the RIGHT saw blade for the job:

Table saws typically come with a single Combination-style (multi-purpose) saw blade...and the majority of woodworkers will use this single blade for virtually every cut they make, except for dadoes. For most applications, this is an acceptable approach...as long as that single Combination-style blade is of a high quality and most of all – SHARP.

Since Combination-style blades are the “Jacks-of-all-trades” of blades, it’s important to note that using this one-blade-for-everything approach will result in some compromises in operational efficiencies and performance.

If most of your work involves the building of simple, small projects where you may only be making a few of each type of cut, a Combination Blade may be all you need. However, larger scale projects often involve scores of saw cuts...some of which may require specialized capabilities. In those instances, having the RIGHT type of blade for each job can make a significant difference in those cutting efficiencies and performance.

Here’s a listing of the most common types of available blades and why they’re best-suited for particular tasks.

Ripping Blades are designed for cutting with the grain of the wood. Since this is easier than cutting across the wood fibers, rip blades have fewer teeth with a larger “hook angle”, which allows them to cut more aggressively and take a bigger bite of wood. And, since they are able to take this bigger bite, they also need to have deeper gullets to accommodate the rapid removal of large amounts of waste.

Crosscut Blades are designed for cutting across the grain of the wood. Since this is more difficult than cutting with the wood grain, crosscutting blades have more teeth with a smaller “hook angle”. This provides additional cutting edges to make the more difficult job easier. However, it also means that although rip blades have more gullets than crosscut blades, each gullet on a crosscut blade will be shallower than those on a rip blade.

Combination Blades offer the best of both worlds. With teeth that are typically arranged in “sets”, they may have a deep gullet, followed by a rip tooth, then four or five crosscut teeth with shallow gullets. This allows a combination blade to perform both operations with results that approach those of using a specific blade for a specific job.

Plywood Blades offer between 80 and 200 teeth with shallow gullets. With this many cutting edges at work, plywood blades usually make very smooth, splinter-free cuts. However, their shallow gullets mean that you’ll have to move the wood through the cut more slowly to allow for the removal of waste.

Hollow-Ground (“Planer”) Blades typically have tooth configurations and “hook angles” that are similar to combination blades. Since they’re not normally available in carbide-tipped models and their teeth have no set, the sides of hollow ground blades are recessed (or relieved) to provide clearance (and prevent burning) as they pass through the wood. These blades will make a super-smooth cut when crosscutting or ripping but should only be used for final, smoothing cuts on wood that’s already been “trued” ...and not for making initial sizing cuts.

Thin Kerf Blades are available in rip, crosscut and combination styles. Their teeth are much narrower than most conventional blades. This allows them to cut through stock more quickly and with less strain on the machine. As a result, thin kerf blades make their cuts with less waste.

Steel or Carbide-Tipped? This is an age-old question that you’ll have to answer for yourself. While steel blades are typically about half the cost of their carbide-tipped counterparts, depending on the types of wood you cut and how many cuts you make, steel blades will require five to ten times more sharpening than carbide-tipped models. For that reason, most experienced woodworkers are willing to pay the higher prices up-front... eliminating the need for frequent trips to a professional sharpening service.

IMPORTANT SAW BLADE TIPS:

  • Danger! Never cut woods that you suspect may contain nails, screws or other metal objects with a saw, as doing so will damage your blade and possibly cause personal injury. Hitting a metal object with a carbide-tipped blade could result in a carbide tooth being separated from the blade and thrown at you!
  • For maximum cutting efficiency and the smoothest cuts, always keep your saw blades clean and free of pitch or gum. Use a spray saw blade cleaner for this job.
  • Four signs that your saw blade is getting dull:
    • Your blade or wood smokes and/or gives off a “burnt” odor when making a cut
    • The blade wanders off the cutting line, making it difficult for you to maintain a straight cut
    • Your workpiece tends to lift off the saw table surface and “climb” over the blade as you make your cut
    • You find yourself having to substantially increase the amount of pressure necessary to push your workpiece through the cut

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