A favorite power tool for many woodworkers is their table saw. Arguably, the most important variable component of the table saw is the blade. A good quality blade used for a cut it was specifically designed for will make it clean, while the wrong saw blade can botch your work.
You might ask, “What blade should I use on my table saw?” I asked the same question when I got a table saw. The information below should answer that question.
The Main Types Of Table Saw Blades
A decent quality rip-cut saw blade cuts quickly, allowing it to move through long cuts along the wood grain without marring. Cutting with wood fibers offers less resistance, so a lower tooth count (the typical range of 10 to 30 teeth) leaves a rougher surface. A higher tooth count produces a smoother surface that requires less clean-up.
These saw blades excel at rip-cuts along the wood grain. Most designs use a flat top (FT) grind that leaves a flat bottom on the cut. That makes this type of saw blade good at cutting splines as well.
The higher tooth count found on a crosscut saw blade allows it to slice through wood fibers more cleanly, leaving a smooth surface on the ends of your lumber. A TPI range of 60 to 80 is standard, but the saw blade removes less material due to less space between teeth.
The alternate top bevel (ATB) design creates a knife-like cut that makes a smoother cut across wood fibers. It will leave a surface that needs little clean-up. A high TPI crosscut blade can also make adequate cuts through plywood sheets and is useful for fine joinery.
The design of this saw blade allows you to use it for either crosscutting or for rip-cuts. A TPI range between 40 and 50 is normal, and it should have deeper gullets than those found on a combination saw blade. It uses an alternating top bevel (ATB).
You can make decent crosscuts in any wood species, but you will notice that very dense materials may burn on rip-cuts. If you can afford only one saw blade, buy the best general-purpose saw blade that you can. Double-sided plywood may splinter on the outer layers using this saw blade.
The combination blade is an older hybrid design used for both crosscuts and rip-cuts. It has a 50 TPI that fits between crosscut and rip-cut saw blades. A flat-top (TP) tooth sits with four alternate top bevel (ATB) teeth, spaced by a large gullet.
You can use a combination saw blade in the same way that the more modern general-purpose saw blades function. The larger gullet between the teeth allows more material to eject, making the combination saw blade quicker with rip-cuts in hardwoods. It will leave a rougher end on crosscuts, though.
Thin kerf blades
Circular saw blades sell as full kerf and thin kerf. The full kerf design is 1/8-inch thick, while a thin kerf blade is less than 1/8-inch thick.
Thin kerf blades create a cut (kerf) that removes 25-percent less material than a standard kerf saw blade. They require less power to turn while cutting, and they will not generate as much waste on a cut.
A thin kerf cuts with less resistance, which makes them suitable for smaller table saw designs. If your saw blade turns by an electric motor with less than three horsepower, consider a thin kerf saw blade.
A good dado blade set is useful if you need to create grooves or other joinery thicker than 1/8-inch. A dado set consists of two circular saw blades, several chipper blades, as well as spacers. You can stack chippers and spacers between the two circular saw blades to create grooves up to 3/4-inch thick.
If you intend to do a lot of joinery, dado blades will allow you to create dadoes and grooves with a single pass. Verify that your table saw has an arbor long enough to accept the dado blade set, as some models do not have the capacity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What blade should be used for plywood?
For starters, you will want a blade that has a high TPI. Many saw blades designed for materials like plywood will have 80 TPI or more. Another consideration will be gullets, with shallow depths reducing the amount of material ejected while you cut.
The design of the alternate top bevel grind (ATB) is ideal for plywood. It shears a smooth edge and will create less splintering along the cut line. A shallow angle to the teeth will cut slower, but the less aggressive shearing on the wood fibers is beneficial when working with alternating grain directions on plywood sheets.
What blade should be used for MDF?
A tooth per inch count between 50 and 80 is useful for cutting through the human-made medium-density fiberboard. A higher tooth count will reduce the gullet size, but it will make a smoother cut through the fibers.
An alternate tooth bevel (ATB) will wear down quickly in this dense material, so shop for products with a triple chip grind (TCG). The TCG uses a flat “raker” tooth alternating with a trapeze-shaped tooth. The raker will clear away fibers while the trapeze tooth cleans the edge of the groove.
What blade should be used for laminate?
A high TPI is needed to cut laminate properly. The minimum should be 80, with 100 TPI or more giving you a better cut. You might consider a thin kerf blade for this material, as it will encounter less resistance as you cut through the denser plastic laminate.
A shallow gullet will require a slower feed rate to keep your cut clean, but it should not produce too much heat that could melt your edges. Many of the specialty saw blades on the market will come with coatings that reduce frictional heat or dissipate it quickly.
How do I change a table saw blade?
Start by cutting the power to your table saw. Many modern products sold today have safety features like a button or lever that locks the blade in place, so use it to prevent the saw blade from turning as you work.
You can then remove the blade guard and throat plate to expose the blade. One or more wrenches loosen the nut that holds the saw blade to the arbor (see the operator’s manual for your table saw). Remove the old saw blade and install the replacement.
Examine the sides of the circular saw blade. Arrows will indicate which direction the saw blade spins. Check that you are inserting it correctly before replacing the arbor nut on the arbor. Use the lock, wrenches, and a block of wood if needed to keep the blade in position as you tighten it down.
There is a Right Blade for Any Cut
As you can see, there are many answers to, “What blade should I use on my table saw?” I recommend starting by upgrading your general-purpose saw blade to the best you can buy. From there, judge which cuts you tend to perform more often.
If long cuts are slowing you down, get a rip-cut blade. If you are doing lots of clean-up on the end of lumber, you might want to invest in a crosscut saw blade. Specialty blades are great for shops working with lots of materials and don’t forget a dado set if you make lots of dadoes or grooves for joinery.