Which Table Saw Blade Should I Buy?

Article - January 14, 2015

Choosing the right blade for your table saw can be tricky business. There are numerous brands and within those brands you have various blade configurations, angles and tooth counts. It’s no wonder emailer Pat was confused when he went blade shopping. Here’s what he had to say:

rigid-sawI am shopping for a blade for my used TS-3650 I just bought and will be buying a Dado blade also. I’m on a budget but good blades and safety are a must. Any light you can shed will be appreciated. I am still confused as to why some blades have fewer or more teeth than others. To which, the DeWalt #DW7647 has 80 teeth; the DW7646 has 60 albeit with the same Hook Angle. Wherein lies the advantage of one over the other?

As I write, I have five new blades in front of me, purchased this evening. Welcome to ‘Blade City’! Four will be returned unopened but I wanted all specs in front of me. The differences astound me. All are 10″:

FREUD 80T “Ultra Fine Crosscut”
FREUD Combination, 50T
– CRAFTSMAN Carbide C300, 80T, “Fine Finish Trim”
DEWALT DW7647, 80T
Oldham 40T Combination

But why the variance in quantity of teeth? What I am gradually picking up here is that some blades are better at Crosscutting, others at Ripping. My needs will be both. I am not a professional woodworker by any means but in due time I’d like to get into cabinetmaking. For now, until my skills are honed, it’s going to be lots of pine boxes, plywood, small items such as outdoor planters, indoor planters, jewelry boxes, bookcases, shelves, etc. You get the idea. Maybe just having one blade isn’t going to suffice for what I need to do. And on top of it, I want a clean, neat cut. The Forrest Woodworker-II claims to cut a finish where sanding isn’t required. How much do I believe that? Well common sense tells me it’s probably cleaner than most but also a bit of advertising embellishment. Or is it actually THAT good?

Like most things in life, having too many options leads to confusion and paralysis by analysis. So let’s simplify! Higher tooth counts (50 – 80) equate to smoother cuts. Because there are more teeth doing the cutting, you have less tearout but more heat build up and motor strain. Lower tooth counts (24-30) equate to rougher cuts. But because there is a lot more room between the teeth, dust is ejected efficiently and there’s less of a chance of heat buildup. That means less strain on the motor and an easier time plowing through thick boards. It also means you have a higher chance of tearing out wood fibers.

Now let’s think about the two cuts we make at the table saw, rips and cross-cuts. Rip cuts are made with the grain of the wood and are typically long in nature. This is the ideal situation for a low-tooth count blade. The aggressive cut won’t cause tearout because it’s cutting with the grain and the decreased friction and high efficiency make it physically easier to push the wood through the saw.

Would that same blade do as well on a cross-cut? The blade would have no trouble making the cut but the major issue has to do with tearout. An important part of making fine furniture is making clean cuts right off the saw, so getting tearout on our cross-cuts is never a good thing. This is where the higher tooth-count blades come in handy. The increased number of teeth results in a smoother cut. But what about heat and friction you ask? Well because cross-cuts are nearly always short in duration, there usually isn’t enough time for that to be a factor. So if you’re looking for a good blade for your miter saw, a tool that exclusively cross-cuts, you probably want a nice 80-tooth blade like this one.

Where you’ll run into real trouble is if you decide to use a ripping blade for cross-cuts or a cross-cut blade for rips. You’ll get tearout and burning, respectively, so avoid doing that if possible.

Now there is one more thing to consider, and that’s the beast known as plywood. Plywood has a tendency to tearout a lot, especially on cross-cuts. That thin veneer layer just doesn’t stand up well to sawing. So when cutting plywood, a high-tooth count blade is a must if you want a clean crisp edge.

forrest-wwiiIn the ideal world, we would all have both ripping and cross-cut blades in our shop and we’d change the blade according to the activity. But let’s be realistic here: changing blades sucks. And frankly, I am just too lazy for that. So what I opt for is a combination blade, usually 40-50 tooth like the Forrest Woodworker II (for Pat’s saw specifically, I’d recommend the thin-kerf Forrest Woodworker II) A high quality combination blade is capable of giving you excellent results for both rips and crosscuts. Is it as good as using high quality separate blades? Nope. But for the convenience and savings in time I will deal with what little tearout I experience, if any at all. And after about 10 years of working with a Forrest Woodworker II, I can honestly say I have never once thought to myself, “Boy, that cut would have better with an 80 tooth blade.”

Is it capable of producing finish-ready cuts? In my opinion, no. The finish is incredibly smooth by table saw standards but I wouldn’t call it finish ready. That doesn’t bother me since I always prep my materials by hand before finishing.

In summary, 30 tooth and below for rips, 40-50 tooth for combination, and 60 tooth plus for cross-cuts.

Keep in mind there are lots of other options and features associated with table saw blades like tooth configurations, angles, and coatings. But in my opinion, nothing impacts the results of the cut more than tooth count. Perhaps in the future we can dive into some of these other details.