Choosing the Right Table Saw Blades

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This article is from Issue 95 of Woodcraft Magazine.

We cut through the confusion to show you the ones you really need.

Ever wonder if your table saw blade does what it’s supposed to? Sure, it “cuts,” but is it costing you needless aggravation and added machining? Are you becoming a master at fixing poorly fitting joints and cleaning up rough, burned cuts and tear-out? If so, you’re developing the wrong kind of woodworking habits and wasting valuable shop time. The problem may well be that you’re using the wrong blade.

There’s an enormous selection of saw blades out there, and picking the right ones for your particular needs can be confusing. But don’t worry, the choices aren’t as difficult as you might think, and you won’t have to cut back on groceries to get the blades you need.

Basic blade types

Table saw blades come in an astonishing array of configurations. But know that, in general, blades with fewer teeth cut more quickly, though more coarsely. Conversely, the more teeth a blade has, the slower and smoother it cuts. Combining that knowledge with an understanding of the basic blade types and tooth configurations, will guide you in selecting the right blade for the job.

Thin-Kerf Blades

The teeth on thin-kerf blades measure about 3⁄32" wide. Because they cut 25% less wood than a standard blade with 1⁄8"-wide teeth, your saw motor doesn’t have to work as hard. Thin-kerf blades are a good choice when sawing thick, hard stock with an underpowered saw. The downside is that the thinner plate can flutter a bit, causing a slightly rougher cut.

Fast ripping, rough crosscutting. FTG blades have teeth whose top edges are square to the saw plate. Also called rakers, these teeth attack the wood much like a chisel chopping out the ends of a mortise. They’re fast-cutting and durable, but don’t produce a clean surface. They’re designed to rip, sawing parallel to the grain.

FTG teeth alternated with chamfered teeth. The teeth on a TCG blade alternate between a raker tooth and a chamfered tooth. The chamfered tooth roughs out the cut, while the following FTG tooth cleans it up. This tooth configuration is meant for sawing dense materials: plastic laminate, solid surface materials like Corian, and non-ferrous metals like brass and aluminum. Pointy ATB teeth would blunt quickly from this stuff.

All purpose ripping and crosscutting. The teeth on ATB blades are angled across the top edge, with every other tooth “leaning” in the opposite direction. The shape of the tooth causes it to shear the wood fibers cleanly using a slicing motion. The steeper the bevel angle, the cleaner the teeth cut, but the quicker they dull. Most 40-tooth ATB blades are marketed as “all-purpose” blades. 

FTG interspersed with ATB teeth. Combination blades consist of 50 teeth arranged in sets of five, consisting of four ATB teeth and a raker tooth (thus the ATBR designation.) The ATB teeth are designed to crosscut cleanly while the raker teeth aid in ripping. Combination blades are also considered “all-purpose” blades.

Hook, also called rake, refers to the angle of the tooth face in relation to the center of the blade. Teeth with a positive hook cut more aggressively. The hook on a typical all-purpose blade is 15° to 20°, while blades designed specifically for ripping are usually 20°. The smaller the hook angle, the more pressure is required to feed the workpiece. Some blades have zero rake, or even negative rake. These are particularly good for use on mitersaws because they prevent self-feeding, or “climb cutting.” They’re fine to use on the table saw, too.


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Best Blades for the Job

Joinery/General Woodworking

Premium all purpose blades. For 90% of your table saw chores, pick up a good quality “all purpose” or combination blade. But keep in mind that excellent woodworking requires an excellent blade. This is not the time to succumb to your frugal nature. It’s false economy to save a few bucks by buying a mediocre blade that’s going to cost you lots of cleanup work over the years.

Ripping solid wood

24-tooth FTG. “Rip” blade cuts fast but coarse. It’s good for initial rough-sizing of pieces.

40-tooth ATB or 50-tooth ATBR combination blade. These “all purpose” blades cut slower but cleaner. 

Crosscutting solid wood and sawing plywood

40-tooth ATB or 50-tooth ATBR combination blade. A good quality all-purpose blade will do fine in most cases.

80-tooth ATB. For concerted crosscutting, mitering, or sawing of delicate sheet goods. Blades with more teeth generally cut cleaner, but a top-quality 40-tooth blade may cut better than a mediocre 80-tooth blade.

Sawing MDF, melamine, and particleboard

40-tooth to 80-tooth ATB. ATB blades tend to cut cleaner but dull faster than TCG blades. If you can afford it, get a quality 80-tooth blade for your chop saw and switch it over to your table saw when you need to make the best crosscuts or panel cuts possible.

Sawing plastic laminate, nonferrous metal, and plastics

80-tooth TCG. If you saw a lot of plastic laminate or work with nonferrous metals, bite the bullet and buy a TCG blade. Your ATB blades will thank you for not brutalizing them. 


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