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We’ve all beat our head against the wall trying to get our saw to cut the way it’s supposed to – whether we have to push too hard, it starts smoking, it leaves burn marks, or it wanders all over the place.
We’re going to talk about how to avoid all of that mess.
Everything in this article applies to most saw blades. Of course, there are differences between blades on different tools, so we’re going to address those, as well.
All saw blades have teeth and they’re usually labeled in reference to those teeth. Round saw blades for table saws, miter saws, and circular saws are described by how many total teeth they have. Jigsaw and bandsaw blades are usually described by how many teeth are in an inch – TPI – or teeth per inch.
Blade teeth are pointed in the direction the blade travels. This is pretty intuitive in tools that move in one motion – the teeth need to be able to cut in the direction of that motion. But, in tools that reciprocate (move in alternating, opposing directions) like a jigsaw or a handsaw, there’s another factor.
If a jigsaw blade’s teeth face up, that means it will cut when the jigsaw blade is moving up, but the back of the blade’s teeth will ride against the work piece when the blade moves down and not cut into the wood.
The direction the teeth are facing also affects whether a handsaw cuts on the push or pull stroke. There are blades like the flush trim saw with teeth that are pointed perpendicular to the saw – straight out to the side – and these blades cut on both motions. We need to know how a blade is cutting so that we use the tool correctly.
If you aren’t using a brand new blade there’s some things you need to make sure of before you stick a used blade on your saw. First, check that the teeth are clean and aren’t covered in gunk. Wood contains sap and some species also contain pitch, so as a saw blade moves through wood it heats up and collects sap and or pitch on the teeth. The end result is a build up that can really inhibit the performance of a blade. To clean it off use simple green, or you could even use oven cleaner, and then a toothbrush. Make sure you clean each tooth thoroughly.
You’ll also want to know how long a blade has been used, what the teeth are made of, and what types of wood they cut. Most consumer blades you buy from the home center will lose their sharpness pretty quickly. If you cut harder woods, that time is reduced even more. If a blade is cutting slow, leaving burn marks, or creating an ugly cut with a lot of tear out, it’s probably time to replace it or get it sharpened.
It’s not enough just to buy the first blade you see stick it on your saw and then expect great results – blades are made for different applications, so use the blade that’s right for the material.
There are blades for wood, metal, pvc, laminate, among others. No matter what tool you’re using you have to match the blade to the material type. We’re just talking about cutting wood in this article, so we’ll stick to that.
Parts of the Blade
Round blades for the table saw, circular saw, and miter saw have a space that dips down in-between the teeth called the gullet. The gullet is the area that moves sawdust out of the cut as the blade spins.
Teeth with a hump on the back, called a chip limiter, help prevent kickback.
Blades also have expansion slots that allow for the blade to heat up and expand without warping the blade plate. Many blades also have anti-vibration slots that look like squiggly lines and these cut down not only on vibration but also noise and heat.
Types of Saw Blades
Blades for your table and miter saws can come in, mainly, two different thicknesses. They’re referred to as thin kerf and full kerf. A kerf is the slot that a saw blade cuts out of wood, so it’s the width of the cutters on the blade.
Full kerf blades are an 1/8″ (3mm) thick and thin kerf are just 1/32″ thinner at 3/32″ (2mm). That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but underpowered saws may have trouble pushing that extra width through a cut and you’ll need to use a thin kerf blade.
Full kerf blades will also cause a little more heat buildup than thin kerf, especially if the saw is having trouble pushing it through the cut. The drawback to thin kerf, and it can be a major drawback, is that they’re more prone to deflection – bending during the cut – and not cutting exactly straight and square.
Circular saw blades come in thin kerf and it’s nearly impossible to find anything else.
Round saw blades also come with two main types of saw blade teeth. ATB, or alternate top bevel, are teeth that alternate their tooth angle from right to left with each tooth. FTG, or flat top grind, are exactly what their name implies, they are ground to have a flat top.
ATB are usually found on high tooth count, crosscut blades because they leave a cleaner edge. But, they also produce more heat, so rip blades usually have FTG teeth.
On a side note, if you’re cutting a dado or a rabbet and you want a flat surface, you should use an FTG blade. ATB can still do the job, but it’ll leave ridges in the bottom from those alternating angles. So, I use the rip blade with all my table saw jigs and to cut dados and rabbets.
A third type of blade that you should desperately want to stay away from with all of your being is the steel blade with steel teeth. They’re complete junk. This is stamped steel and then the points are bent out to act as teeth. You’d be amazed at the difference between a blade like this and the one that I use in my circular saw that has carbide teeth.
Which Blade for Which Cut?
When it comes to woodworking there are two types of cuts: A crosscut, or transverse cut, which cuts across the grain, and then a rip cut which cuts along the grain.
A crosscut is harder to make because you’re severing the wood fibers and cutting through the lignin that holds those fibers together. It’s especially tough to make a clean crosscut, so higher tooth count blades, either higher overall teeth or higher TPI, work better with cross-cutting materials like plywood and to a greater degree laminate.
These materials have thin layers, so they tear and chip easily. You’ll generally get the best results with a 40-tooth blade and above for plywood and an 80 tooth blade for laminate.
The miter saw is all cross cutting, so you’ll want to keep a 40 tooth blade or higher on it. I keep a 60 tooth on mine.
A rip cut is easier to make since you’re separating the fibers and not completely cutting through them – although depending on the piece of wood you’re working with you’ll likely be cutting through some of the fibers anyway.
Because a rip cut is easier it happens quicker. To prevent heat buildup the blade needs to have a lower tooth count or a lower TPI with deeper gullets, in-between the teeth, to get the sawdust out of the kerf. I use a 24 tooth blade on the table saw for rip cuts.
I cut mostly plywood with my circular saw and I want a clean cut, so I leave a 60 tooth blade on it. If you’re doing some rougher work, cutting studs or even using it to make long rip cuts in solid wood, you might consider going down to a 40 or even a 20 tooth.
Jigsaw and bandsaw blades have some extra considerations. Since these tools are able to cut curves you’ve got to take into account the blade width. A wider blade will have a harder time cutting a curve than a more narrow blade. A good example is the scroll blade for the jigsaw. It’s about half as wide as other blades.
I’ve got bandsaw blades that are meant for very rough milling and they’re massively wide to help with stability and strength. They have fewer teeth with deep gullets for removing sawdust.
This type of blade will leave a rough surface behind, but that’s okay since it’s meant for rough milling. On the other hand, there are bandsaw blades that are much more narrow with higher TPI. These are multi-purpose blades that are better at cutting curves and leave a nicer overall cut behind.
Jigsaw blades follow the same characteristics just on a smaller scale. There are wider blades with low TPI for cutting quicker and then blades for finishing that have a higher TPI. Blades are even labeled according to the application.
So let me bring all this together and give you some practical recommendations:
If you’re a beginner, get a 60 tooth crosscut blade for your miter saw and a 40 tooth combination blade for your circular saw. This will allow you to make really nice crosscuts and then you can break down plywood with your circular saw and get a nice clean cut.
If you wanted to be able to rip solid wood with your circular saw, which I don’t think you’ll be doing a lot of, you could get a 20 or 24 tooth blade. But, wait till you actually need to do that before you buy that blade so you don’t waste your money.
Once you start learning more, get more experience, build more projects, and eventually get a table saw, add a 24 tooth rip blade and a 40 tooth combination blade. Then, you can venture out into dado blades.
If you have a portable table saw, buy thin kerf blades. It will come with a thin kerf blade and I would recommend replacing it with a thin kerf blade. If you have a cabinet saw or a hybrid table saw, use full kerf blades since they’re more accurate and consistent. If you start having trouble – maybe your motor is a little underpowered or it’s old and worn out – you can always move down to a thin kerf blade.
Where to Buy Blades
I don’t recommend buying miter saw and table saw blades from the home center. It won’t save you any money in the long run to buy cheap blades. If you get a good blade, it’ll not only last longer but it can also be sent off and sharpened for about $10-$15 instead of buying a new blade.
I use these Freud Industrial and Freud Premier Fusion blades. They’re not the top of the line, but they’re a lot better than what you find at the home center and they’ve got nice thick carbide teeth that can be resharpened.
I feel the same about bandsaw blades. They should be a thoughtful purchase, as well. I’ve had bad welds on bandsaw blades and it just makes a blade that was still sharp completely worthless.
I do buy jigsaw blades from the home center and I buy them in multi-packs. You don’t have to order them anywhere special to get decent ones.
Now you know how to choose a blade that’s in good condition and that’s the right blade for the job. If you want to dive a little deeper into the circular saw, jigsaw, miter saw, and the specific blades used for those tools, head over and read those articles and watch those videos.
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