When tackling a project in your home or shop one of the best tools for making straight, precision cuts in wood and other materials is the formidable table saw.
A properly equipped table saw can make hundreds of cuts through wood without dulling and can repeat accurate kerfs again and again.
When used on metals it will cut clean, accurate lengths of non-ferrous angle stock or pipe, though a miter saw might be a better option for more technical pieces or longer running productions.
Knowing your options when purchasing or selecting a table saw blade will not only create a safer work environment, but you’ll reduce stress and wear on your machine, your day will go smoother, and guess what – your pieces will look nicer too.
Types of Blade
When talking about table saw blades you’ve essentially got four popular types. These can be of either a ‘purebred’ design for repeating one specific task or as a hybrid combination of different tooth styles to provide multipurpose utility for completing more rugged tasks, like cutting through various laminates, plastics or metals.
As anyone who’s ever worked with tools before knows- switching your material or method will likely require the use of a different specialized tool or tools.
Consciously deciding to use the wrong tool for the job is not only unschooled and foolhardy, but the attempt to save yourself a quick buck by cross-utilizing blades where they shouldn’t could not only cause damage to your blade and saw, but it could also put you at risk for an accident.
Let’s explore the four types of blades for a table saw:
1) For Cutting Wood Lengthwise
The first selection we’re going to talk about here is the ripping blade. Ripping, or cutting lengthwise along with the wood’s grain is usually done with a flat top blade, which can also be known as a ‘raker’.
The flat top blade or FTG blade has square-shouldered teeth with deeper and wider gullets between them to doll out a cut that removes a lot of material quickly. The edge of the tooth bolsters may be specially shaped to eject chips, greatly reducing the possibility of kick-back or injury to the operator.
The way the teeth on ripping blades tear through wood is not unlike an ax splitting along with the grain while chopping a piece of firewood. Closer to a separation type severance than a more brutish crosscut, the technique employed by this blade is used to produce long, thin cuts of wood.
Though it may not produce the cleanest cut necessarily, the flat top or ripping blade is still quite an effective weapon for cutting lengthwise lines quickly.
If you look at the blades ripping blades offered on Amazon, you’ll find many options. You’ll probably also see that these blades have a lower number of teeth which helps them cut through material more quickly.
2) For Cutting Wood Crosswise
For cutting across the grain of your work piece such as cutting your boards to length, your best bet is going to be an alternate top bevel or ATB blade.
The ATB attacks its prey with a chop rather than a slice which is what makes it better suited for crosscuts. As they’re specifically designed for proficiency at an angle, these blades cut better the steeper their approach.
The reason this blade is titled as such is that the tooth crowns have alternately angled shoulders rather than squared, like the formerly mentioned ripping blade.
An alternate top bevel blade will have smaller gullets between teeth than the FTG and will take smaller bites per tooth. This will cause the cut to move along more slowly, but the outcome should result in a cleaner -and sometimes easier to control- cut.
You may notice that your particular blade has alternating beveled teeth, but also large gullets. There are some ripping blades that borrow the ATB tooth placement to get their work done, but you can tell the ripping blade apart with its fewer teeth, and deeper gullets (as seen here on Amazon).
3) Hollow Face Grind and Hi- Angle
Hollow face grind blades are somewhat of an odd-looking sort. When sighted along their edge, you can see some of their teeth have depressions in the middle creating sort of a ‘u’ shape, and others are sort of rounded like a bullet.
Though perfectly designed for making smooth cuts in both top and bottom of laminated pieces such as MDF or particle board, the usefulness of the hollow face grind may have unfortunately outweighed its accessibility.
It’s not that the blades can’t be located or purchased, you see, but rather that finding a person who has the skills to properly sharpen a hollow face grind has recently become the talk of legend.
Never fear, where the hollow face grind falls short is where the Hi-angle ATB blade steps in. This blade utilizes a similar design concept compared to the standard ATB or crosscut blade but provides the same performance as a hollow face grind on laminates while allowing much easier sharpening.
The downside, however, is that the Hi-angle has a more aggressively shaped cutting edge and will require more sharpening and care than other options.
4) Triple Chip Grind
Last but not least comes the triple chip grind or TCG blade.
Generally best used for single laminated items, the triple chip grind sports a profile that boasts an alternating dual-chamfered tooth, and shorter square-shouldered tooth.
The performance of the TCG is set apart from the hollow face grind or Hi-angle ATB for one simple reason: though it leaves a very nice cut through one side of your laminated plank, the other side will likely look like garbage.
Well, almost. If the material is only laminated on one side than your blade will have no issue with leaving a dirty looking kerf in its wake, but the TCG doesn’t do very well with dual lam.
It is technically possible to cut material that is laminated on both sides with a TCG, however if you’re on the hunt for a decent looking cut you’ll need to have a scoring blade in place to previously relieve where the TCG blade will be coming through.
Maximum RPM or RPM Limit
No matter what blade you choose, it is excessively important that you know and heed the RPM limit of your chosen blade before and during any project.
Blades aren’t just marked with an RPM limit for fun, these are serious warnings that if ignored could end up slinging deadly, hardened-edge shrapnel around the workshop, or take a finger off.
Any innocent bystander could easily be peppered with saw blade teeth and other material.
Blades have different numbers of teeth to foster different feeding speeds. If a blade has fewer teeth around its circumference, the gaps or “gullets” between the teeth will be larger and will allow more material to be consumed with each bite.
More per bite equals faster cut.
A blade with more teeth, on the other hand, will take more bites faster, but won’t be able to take as much material per bite. This proves for a slower cut, but usually a cleaner one as well.
If your saw isn’t cutting its way through the work piece as quickly as you’d like, it is imperative not to force it. If you do and the machine bucks or kicks the work piece out, the piece could come flying back at you. This is referred to as a “kickback” and is one of the most common injuries to people when using a table saw.
There are basically two reasons your saw isn’t cutting as fast as you want it to.
- You are expecting a faster feed rate than your blade can handle. The solution here is to get a new blade.
- Your blade is rated for the speed of cut you want, but the blade is dull. Either get your blade sharpened, or grab a new blade.
Anyway, the point is pay attention the RPM limit, don’t make the saw do things it doesn’t want to, it’s better to move slowly and do things the right way, and practice best safety.
Pay attention, and always be smarter than the machine.
In case you don’t have a tape measure and your blades are poorly marked or worn out, the most common size of blade you’ll find on a table saw is 8, 10, or 12 inch.
For blades commonly used to make cuts in wood, you might be able to distinguish the difference in type by looking along the edge or spine of your blade and determining which way the teeth tilt.
If every tooth is straight across for instance, you’ve got a flat top grind, or ripper style blade. If each tooth leaning an alternate direction, you’ve got yourself an ATB for perpendicular cuts, and if your tooth height alternates you’ve probably got a good blade for laminates.
When investing in new saw blades make sure to purchase not only the proper type of blade for the job ahead but choose one of reputable high quality. This will not only ensure the most trouble-free cuts possible but will also help your table saw unit cut more efficiently.
By lessening the stress on your machine, it could end up lasting years longer compared to one that was burned out from overheating using old, dull blades. It is a lot cheaper to buy or sharpen blades than a new table saw every few years.
So, as you can see there aren’t a whole lot of different choices for table saw blades for us every-day Joe’s but knowing just a bit can make life a little easier when pushing further into the DIY game.
Running the right table saw blade will not only help to avoid injury and mishaps, but will help your machine run more efficiently, and make your work faster and prettier.
Now you’ve spent just a minute on some research, a few bucks on the right blades, and saved yourself some trouble in the long run.
If you use a table saw on a regular basis, you may want to check out my article titled “Why does my table saw burn wood” to gain an understanding of why it’s happening and what you can do to prevent it.
Additional Related Questions
How deep can a 10 inch table saw cut? It’s easy to assume that a 10 inch table saw blade should easily be able to cut a 4×4. However, it actually can’t. Due to how a table saw is designed to raise and lower the blade, much of the cutting depth is lost. A 10″ table saw blade can only cut a board about 3 inches thick. In order to cut a 4×4, you’ll need to have a table saw that can hold a 12″ blade.
What sizes do table saws come in? The two most common size table saws that you can easily find will hold a 10″ or 12″ blade.
For a great video on choosing the correct table saw blade for your project, I’d recommend checking out the following: