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Saw Blade Maintenance Basics

Rick Jones

What saw blades should you be using? The reality is that most installers buy a blade and use it for everything. Then they complain about how much the blades cost, how easily they get burnt up, etc. But making sure you're using the right blade for the job will save you money and also help you do a better job. Here are a few things to think about:

1) You Get What You Pay For

When it comes to saw blades, price and quality pretty much go hand-in-hand. If you pay more for a good quality carbide-tipped blade, it's going to last longer. A good blade may cost you $60 to $120, but when it gets dull, instead of throwing it out, you can get it sharpened for about $15. Good contractors pay more for quality and know it's going to last longer.

2) Know Your Vocab

There is more to know about the blade than just the diameter and the number of teeth (keep in mind that closely spaced teeth make finer cuts). The gauge of the blade is the thickness of the blade plate; the thicker the blade, the slower it is to overheat and warp. For dense, hard woods, like many exotics, you need a thicker blade.

The gullet is the space between the teeth, which holds the sawdust while the teeth are cutting; a smaller gullet makes the blade overheat faster. The kerf is the space left in the material by the blade, which is determined by the set—the overall width of the saw teeth (the set is wider than the thickness of the blade because saw teeth are usually offset).

3) Go in the Right Direction

Cross-cut blades are designed for just that—cutting across the grain. When using your miter saw, you need a cross-cut blade. If you're ripping boards on your table saw, you need a rip blade. But, if you're using a sled on the table saw to cut parquet pieces or make a medallion, most of those cuts are cross cuts. Take the time to switch to the correct blade. Ripping with a cross-cut blade can be dangerous because more force is needed to push the wood through the saw. Also, your wood will chip more and burn the blade. A good all-purpose blade is a combination blade for both cross cuts and ripping.

4) Think About Thickness

The rougher the cut and the thicker the material, the thicker the blade you can use, and the fewer teeth you need. If you're just cutting the ends off of ¾-inch unfinished flooring, for example, you don't need an 80-tooth blade. A 40-tooth blade has an easier time cutting, and the roughness of the cut will be hidden underneath the baseboard. A 40-tooth blade is also going to last longer and cost less. But if you're doing fine cuts—cutting miters or borders, for example—you need more teeth and a thinner blade. Also, if you're working with prefinished material and you're worried about splintering the finish, a finer blade with more teeth will help.

Thin-kerf blades used to be only for ripping, not cross cuts, but today you can expect to make great cuts with thin-kerf blades. They use less power and there is less strain on your motor. Of course, the quality of the blade matters.

5) Don't Wear it Out

When the blade had been working fine, but now you're starting to burn the wood, it's harder to get through the material and you're getting more and more chips on the board, those are clues that it's time to either get the blade sharpened or buy a new blade. Don't strain your saw and make things harder on yourself by using a worn blade. Many contractors think that for prefinished products they need to use blue tape on the face of the board to prevent the finish from chipping, but I think chips are usually a sign of a dull blade.

6) Keep Your Blade Clean

Pitch buildup on the blade can slow the blade speed and cause a poor cut. Some resins also can affect the binders in the carbide blade, causing for faster wear and dulling.

7) Protect Your Blades

When transporting your saws, lock down your miter saw arm and lower the blade on your table saw. Also, be careful when handling and changing blades, as teeth are damaged this way all the time.

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