What Saw Blade is Best for Fine Woodworking?
If you talk to a woodworker about table saw blades for art they may look at you funny. Nevertheless the general rules for wood cutting apply. After all artwork for wood is woodworking taken to the next level.
It is about accuracy and artistic value of design in fine woodworking. Having the right saw blade is critical to your success in achieving that accuracy needed for wood art.
What Saw Blade To Buy?
Rule number 1. Forget the cheap stuff. Get it out of your mind at the very beginning. Ignore the Lowes or Home Depot brand saw blades. Everyone seems to have their favorite flavor yet Freud saw blades are the best minimum between cost and quality that I like using.
There are better blades such as Forrest and for some applications I would use those better blades. Yet starting out get a couple Freud blades and a Dado set for things like box joints. It will take you far in woodworking. Keep in mind dado sets are not to be used on contractor style tables.
Next is, what kind of saw blade to buy? Rule number 2. Get a decent combination blade to start with. Yet before we go into the combination blade most likely your saw came with either a FTG or ATB blade. If you are scratching your head as to what these are I will explain.
Keep in mind you may also desire a saw blade designed to better work with making a smooth crosscut. There are different blades for different purposes if you so desire them.
Basic Saw Blade Breakdown
FTG means flat top grind. This is speaking to the teeth of the blade. They are square and act like a chisel attacking the wood. A commonly used term for them are rakers.
These teeth are designed for ripping, mainly perpendicular to the grain of the wood but not cross grain. While they are durable they do not produce a clean edge for wood art. For this and other reasons I only use these blades for processing down timber that will be cleaned up later.
ATB means alternate top bevel. The cutting teeth of this kind of blade has a slope across the top of the blade. This slope will alternate left and right from tooth to tooth.
It allows the blade to cut with a slicing motion giving a smoother clean cut. The steeper the slope the faster the blade dulls yet this blade is more desirable than the FTG especially if you need a cleaner edge. Many of these blades are called all purpose blades and usually have around 40 teeth. For general woodwork or carpentry these are fine.
Most woodworkers use this ATB combination saw blade today. This is efficient for pretty much everything. I would use this for finer wood art although I do enjoy the ATBR. If you decide to go with an ATB saw blade you are not doing anything wrong. It should serve you well as long as it is a good blade. Let’s look at the ATBR saw blade and its many configurations.
The difference between the ATB and the ATBR is at first obvious. Lets look at the Freud 50 tooth ATBR as an example. The Freud is a 50 tooth blade and it is grouped into sets of 5 teeth, a slight gap, then 5 more teeth and so on. In each set of 5 teeth, four of them are ATB and the 5th is a raker to assist in ripping. Thus the designation ATBR.
Freud vs Forrest Woodworker
It has been my personal experience that the Freud 50 tooth ATBR and 48 tooth Forrest Woodworker 2 ATB performs cleaner cuts for my fine woodworking.
For artistic creation you want the best cuts possible for it will show on the wood art. These stay sharp, just be sure to keep the saw blade cleaned.
There are those out there that will say they love the 40 tooth ATB and its performance is as good. Where I like the 50 and 48 tooth ATB(R) is when I need to crosscut something small and clean I have seen less tear out and more consistency on the cuts. Smaller cuts when woodworking are more difficult to keep clean.
From the above example lets compare the Freud saw blade to the Forrest Woodworker 2. The Forrest has 48 teeth as compared to the Freud’s 50. The Freud has a 10 degree hook angle while the Forrest has a 20 degree.
So what is a hook angle? This angle can be negative or positive and determines how much the blade turns into or away from the material. In other words it impacts now aggressive the cut is into the wood. The higher the hook angle the more aggressive that edge is to the material, the lower the less aggressive it is to that edge.
In the case of the Forrest blade the hook aids slicing the wood away rather giving a more finished edge than the Freud. The Forrest blade is missing the raker. If you were to feed material into both blades the feel would be similar as well as the speed of your feeding into the blade. This brings up one other issue, the speed of the cut.
Speed of Wood Cutting
An FTG blade is for speed. There are typically fewer teeth and they chip away at the material with the goal of getting it out of the way. These blades will allow you to feed faster increasing the cutting speed.
The ATB will have a slower feed rate but a cleaner edge. The ATBR will usually have more teeth thus slower feeds are needed for cutting.
This speed of cutting is really not something to worry about as in the time it takes to cut. Rather it is a feel and finish thing.
Feeding material too quickly into the blade will dull it faster while causing tear out on the material. A slower feed into the blade allows it to cut smoothly giving the material a close to finished edge. These blades also work well on composite woods but may require a little different feel to the cut.
Another note to make is the end of the wood cut. That last bite the saw blade takes before it is out of wood. Typically this is where the worst of the tear out can occur.
A FTG blade can often tear out, or you can use the word rip apart or break off, that last morsel of wood at the end of a cut. This will leave a nasty edge not suitable for wood art. ATB and ATBR blades can do the same yet not as notoriously at the FTG.
Your speed of feeding the material into the blade can help prevent this. If concerned that this can happen to a nice piece of wood you can prevent this. Have a spoil piece of wood following behind your chosen material so that the blade continues cutting into the spoil board.
This will aid in preventing any blowout at the end of your cut. This method becomes far more important with dado blades when creating box or dovetail joints.
Saw Blade Wobble
The next most important part of consistent wood cutting is the degree of blade wobble. This wobble means how much movement the blade will make from side to side while it is spinning.
Why does it move? If the saw blade was crafted to be perfectly flat, as it spins there would be no wobble. Yet if it is not perfectly flat, as it spins this defect will cause the blade to “move” from side to side by the degree of that imperfection. This impacts the accuracy of your cuts in wood art.
Let’s compare the previous saw blades from earlier. The Freud blade where listed for sale in most places does not list the degree of wobble.
So I will tell you from my blades. The Freud has always been less than 3 thousands of an inch. Meanwhile the Forrest saw blades boast 1 thousandths of a wobble in their advertisement. So does this matter?
In real terms no. When you get to less than 4 thousands of an inch unless you have spent serious money on the tools to measure this finely then it is impossible to notice.
There are saw gauges you can purchase online to measure the runout in your table saw for under 100 dollars. Yet these I dare say are not accurate to this degree no matter what they read. My cnc can reach 2 to 3 thousandths accurately and this machine is worth three of my SawStop table saws. I highly doubt a 100 dollar gauge will measure that finely.
Saw Blade Runout : What is Acceptable?
While these gauges will not accurately read blade wobble to a fine thousandths of an inch they can serve another purpose. It will give you a good idea of the total wobble in your saw by combining the wobble, or commonly called runout, of your arbor plus the saw blade.
What is the arbor? The arbor is what you put your blade on, the big hole in the center of your blade is what the arbor goes in. Typically higher end saws will have an arbor, arbor washer, and arbor nut that holds your blade in place.
The combination of these elements will hold the blade to the arbor securely and as your blade spins across the gauge. You will then see the total wobble that is translated into your cut. This is often called by woodworkers “ saw blade runout ”.
The question then becomes how much blade runout is acceptable? Here is where you run into a lot of different numbers. Depending on who you ask everyone has an opinion. Clearly the idea is to make it as minimal as possible for accurate woodworking.
First lets do two things. We need to talk about realistic numbers and then forget whatever the manufacturer tells you. There needs to be a realistic goal you can hit while understanding everyone will tell you they are the best.
Anything under 5 thousandths of an inch runout is good. The closer you can make the gauge read to 1 thousandth the better. Yet most seem to land between 4 to 3 thousandths with a gauge that technically is not capable of giving consistent repeatable measurements to that degree. If you land anywhere in that ballpark you are doing great.
While this section is on table saw blades know that any quality table saw should land in that ballpark. Example being Powermatic or SawStop. More importantly if you are concerned about runout the miter slots and fence is where the degree of runout tends to magnify.
Yet this topic of how to deal with miter slots and the fence is a whole other beast for discussion. If my wood cuts seem to suddenly go off target that is the first place I begin checking, unless I know I did something stupid with my saw blade.
When you want the best look and beauty from your wood art you want the best saw blade that you can get affordably. The best does not always mean more money out of your wallet. The best means the results that you need for the job intended.
If there were a place to invest a bit more money this would be one of them. There is nothing wrong with having a few general work blades for more rough and nasty wood cutting to keep things simple and dirty when needed. Yet have that blade which can give you the results you need when you need it.