An Overview of Table Saw Blades
The table saw is commonly known as the heart of a woodworking shop – and if that’s true, then the blade the heart of the table saw.
The cuts from a high quality table saw can be ruined by a low quality blade, and likewise a low quality table saw can be somewhat improved by having a great blade.
There’s a quite a few things to know about choosing the right table saw blade – but the first thing is you’ll almost certainly need to change the blade that comes with your table saw.
They’re generally very simple multi-purpose blades which will bring lackluster results no matter what sort of cut you’re trying to do. Compared to the price of the table saw itself, a great blade is fairly inexpensive, and is a crucial investment in my opinion.
Adjusting the blade is really more of a function of the table saw itself, but it’s still worth touching on in this article.
The blade in a table saw can be adjusted up and down to control the depth of a cut – from being extended a few inches above the table surface for through cuts to just barely above the surface for non-through cuts.
The second type of adjustment is angling the blade left or right for cutting bevels.
Again, both of these are controlled by the table saw itself which just moves the blade around, but it’s good to know nonetheless.
Miters can also be cut on a table saw, but the miter gauge is used for this and that’s definitely a totally different topic.
So, let’s swing back around to blade talk!
Table Saw Blade Sizes, Teeth, and Material
There’s different types of blades that are designed to handle different types of cuts.. but more about those in just a moment.
For now what you should know is that the blades differ based on size, teeth, and material.
The most common blade sizes (measured by the outter diameter) are 8, 10, and 12 inches. There’s also some larger blades for specific purposes, but most woodworkers won’t need to consider those.
The number of teeth on a blade is quite important. Fewer teeth means a faster cut (as the wider gaps between the teeth allow more materials to be removed on each pass), but perhaps lacking some precision. More teeth means a slower but cleaner cut.
Finally there’s the material of the blade. Most blades designed to cut wood are made out of steel or carbon steel. There’s also blades designed to cut through metal, PVC, acrylic materials, and so on. The teeth on these blades can be made out of hardened metal or tungsten carbide. There’s even blades with diamond tipped teeth for the really serious cuts.
Before we get into the different types of table saw blades, it’s important that we take a second to talk about max rpm.
As well as differing size and number of teeth, blades are each graded to a max RPM.. It’s crucially important that the RPM of your table saw does not exceed the max RPM of your blade.
In that case, the blade may degrade and fall apart as the saw spins due to centrifugal force. You can imagine the danger of having disintegrating chucks of a metal blade being fired at you or around your shop.
As always, safety is paramount – so take the extra second to make sure the RPM of your table saw doesn’t exceed the max RPM of your blade.
Type of Table Saw Blades
There’s 4 main types of blades we’ll focus on today, and another few made specifically for certain types of cuts that will also get an honorable mention.
The 4 types are ripping blades, crosscut blades, combination blades, and composite blades.
Each of these blades is designed to handle certain cuts (as some of the names suggest), and the main differences here are with the number and type of teeth.
Ripping is when we make a cut along the grain of the lumber, and requires a lot of material to be removed.
For this reason, ripping blades have a low number of teeth with large gaps (gullets, to be more technical) between them. These wider gullets allow space for more material to be removed with each pass of a blade tooth.
Since there’s more material being moved at once, these blade also make for faster cuts.
Ripping blades have 20-30 teeth.
Side note about the speed of your cuts: Never try to force a piece through your table saw faster than the blade can handle. Doing this can cause your blade to get bogged down and there’s a good chance it causes a kickback – which is when the saw throws the piece back at you at high speed.
A crosscut is when we cut across the grain of the lumber. Compared to a ripping cut, a crosscut requires a lot less material to be removed.
With this in mind, crosscut blades have a much higher number of teeth. This means less material is moved on each pass of the blade, but the cut is also much cleaner and more precise – perfect for a crosscut.
With more teeth also comes smaller gullets (which is fine since less material needs to be removed).
Crosscutting blades can have up to 90 teeth – three times or more than ripping blades!
Can you guess what these blades are for?
I guess you can, but I’ll tell you anyway – they’re designed for a combination of both crosscutting and ripping. They’re like a general purpose table saw blade.
While these blades aren’t as good at crosscutting or ripping as a blade made specifically to either cut, they’re pretty good at both.
It’s like a jack of all trades and master of none type of deal.
These will have a number of teeth somewhere in between that of the ripping and crosscutting blades.
The blades we’ve talked about up to now are mostly designed for good old fashioned lumber.
When it comes to cutting other types of material, it’s best to use a specialised blade. This is where a composite blade comes into play.
These can be used to cut things like plywood, MDF, etc.
Other Types of Table Saw Blades
As mentioned earlier in this article, there’s all sorts of blades designed to handle specialised cuts. But, the most interesting of these for the everyday woodworker (aside from the main types we’ve already discussed) are dado stacks.
Once again the naming makes it pretty easy to predict what these are designed to do – make dado cuts, of course.
A dado stack actually isn’t just one blade – it’s made up of two blades and spacers that go between them. The blades are for either side of the cut, and the spacers are put inside the blades to control the width of the dado cut.
This makes for a super effective way to make consistently awesome and precise dado cuts.
So Which Blade Should You Choose?
As mentioned, you’ll definitely want to buy a blade to replace the one that comes with your table saw. Your table saw just can’t live up to its potential without a great blade to go with it.
You could get several blades, if you’re going to be doing a lot of different cuts. If you’ll just be doing simple cuts on lumber, then having a quality crosscutting and ripping blade would be a great idea.
Or if your budget is tight, maybe just go with a combination blade. This would also be a good idea if you don’t want to change your blade frequently, and are happy to use the “jack of all trades” style blade for all your cuts.
And of course if you’ll be cutting other types of material, you’ll want a specialised blade.
A dado stack can be really nice to have, but it’s far from essential. If you think you’ll get value from it then hey, go right ahead and pick one up!
This article should cover pretty much everything the average woodworker needs to know about table saw blades.
One thing we didn’t cover is recommending specific brands or models of blade. That too is crucial information, and we have it covered in another article.
The blade is the heart of the table saw, so don’t skimp on it! If you’re going to invest in a table saw, then you might as well also get a great blade to go along with it.