Better Blades

If you have a skill saw, table saw, power miter saw or a radial arm saw in your workshop, the day will come when you will need to replace the blade.  It’s a lot like the tires on your car – you don’t give them much thought as long as they function.  But over time, performance degrades and eventually you just have to replace them.

Buying a saw blade can be a bewildering experience – you just want clean cuts but then you get to the store and find yourself dealing with way too many choices and new terminology like tooth design, hook angle, gullets and coatings.  Here are some tips to get what you really want – a nice, clean cut.

Size Matters

It seems obvious, but you need to use the correct size blade for your tool to get the best performance.  When you head out to get a new blade you’ll need to know the diameter of your blade and the arbor size – the diameter of the hole in the center.

The kindest cut

Manufacturers configure blades based on the type of material to be cut and whether the cut is with the grain or across the grain:

  • Rip blades usually have flat teeth to tear an even path with the grain.  They typically have fewer teeth; 24-30 on a 10” blade and deep gullets (the recess below the tooth) to efficiently pull sawdust from the kerf.
  • Crosscut blades have teeth with alternating points to shear the fibers cleanly like a knife.  They have a high tooth count for a smooth cut – typically 60-80 teeth for a 10“ blade.
  • Combination blades compromise on tooth count and tooth grind to be able to handle both ripping and crosscutting.  If you hate changing blades this is the one for you.
  • Specialty blades exist for chipboard, plastic, laminates, melamine, even metals.  They use different configurations for each material.

One side note: if you have a radial arm saw look for a blade designed to reduce the tool’s tendency to jump toward you when cutting.

That has a ring to it

Try this experiment: hold your blade by putting one finger in the arbor hole and then tapping it with a wrench.  A loud ring may explain why your saw is so loud it hurts your ears.  The ringing is evidence of vibration which can produce chatter in your cut.  Look for blades which have vibration “damping” built in – usually in the form of slots cut into the saw blade.  They will respond with a dull “tick”, rather than a loud ring.

Stay sharp!  When feed resistance begins to increase or the quality of the cut suffers, it’s time to replace or sharpen.   Avoid touching up the tooth surfaces yourself; you’ll risk spoiling the cutting geometry. Take it to a professional saw sharpening shop.

When you buy a new blade always look for quality – it’s where the rubber meets the road, or in this case where the carbide meets the wood.

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