Saw Blade Savvy
August 14, 2011 | 9:07 pm CDT

Efficient saw performance requires proper saw blade maintenance. Here are a few tips.

Along with fine-tuning your saw, a key aspect of getting perfectly cut wood is making sure that the saw blade is in suitable operating condition. To help make certain that custom woodworkers are keeping their cutting tools in top shape, CWB solicited several blade suppliers for tips.

Q. What are some tips for guaranteeing long life and peak performance from a table saw blade?

A. Karin Deutschler, president, GUHDO USA Inc.: The most important thing to do to optimize life and performance on a table saw blade is to select the proper blade for the material being cut. Many shops use an “all-around” blade to perform cuts on a variety of materials, and while this approach can do the job, it doesn’t provide optimum tool life or best cutting results.

Just as important to optimizing blade performance is having a good, sturdy and solid-built saw to begin with. Saving money on a lower quality saw will trickle down to increased cost for blades, sharpening, lesser cutting quality, etc., which is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

A. John Michel, director of sales and technical services, Leuco Tool Corp.: First and foremost is to be sure you have the correct type of saw blade for the material you are cutting. The tooth shape is a very important aspect of guaranteeing maximum edge life. The “wrong tooth shape” may work, but only for a very short time before you experience poor results.

For example, an ATB (alternate top bevel) is ideal for cutting solid wood across the grain, but will dull rapidly when working in particleboard. This is because the pronounced and pointed alternate top teeth break down rapidly when dealing with particleboard resins and silica particles.

Some common materials, paired with their appropriate tooth shape, are:

• Flat tooth – Cutting solid wood along the grain

• ATB – Cutting solid wood across the grain

• Combination (ATB with flat) – Multi-purpose solid wood along and across the grain

• Triple chip flat – Laminated and raw particleboard and other wood composites

• Hollow ground or 30 degree ATB – Very clean, fine cuts without chipping on the panel bottom side (ideal if your machine does not have a scoring unit)

• Modified triple chip and ATB tooth shapes – Plastic, solid surface and solid resin-type materials

Making sure the machine is properly set up and in good operating condition is imperative for ensuring maximum edge life. Maintain proper fence squareness to avoid binding and burning on the saw blade side.

Also, clean the arbor and saw collars to ensure that they are free of debris. Resin, wood dust and damage to the collars can introduce unwanted runout, taking away from the saws accuracy and leading to premature dulling.

In addition, make sure the machine’s arbor shaft is running true. (Measure concentricity runout with a dial indicator.) Saw projection above the material should be at least the depth of the blade’s gullet.

A quality carbide-tipped saw should be able to be sharpened in excess of 12 times. The key to getting the most service life is to not over-run the saw. An over-run saw will need to have more carbide ground away to get to a sharp edge. A dull saw will typically require more effort from the operator to feed the material being cut, will become noisier, will start getting built up with pitch and resin and will produce an inferior cut quality.

Long life and peak performance of saw blades are also closely linked to the expectation of cutting quality. It is important to know what level of cut quality you require. Is the material being finish cut or rough cut? Is the material’s cut edge going to be seen or not? Answers to questions like these, as well as personal preferences, have an impact to long edge life and peak performance.

In some cases, when working with challenging materials, you may not be able to reach an optimum edge life before the cut quality is less than the desired level.

A. Gene Veening, co-owner/president, Royce/Ayr: One of the most important things is to have a high tensile-strength saw body, the highest grades of carbide attached to it and that the surfaces are ground to the best finish that can possibly be attained. A blade has to have the proper tension, so that when it runs under load, it will still cut straight.

Besides that, you have to have a very good machine. [You can’t take] a good blade and put it on a machine that has all kinds of runout and hope that everything will be fine. You have to have high-quality product all around.

A. Jim Brewer, COO, Freud America Inc.: To get the best performance, here are some tips:

• Always use the blade for the material and type of cut for which it is intended.

• Be sure your saw is properly aligned and is in good working order. Saws out of alignment can be dangerous and can generate additional heat and wear on the blade.

• Have the blade sharpened as soon as it becomes dull. By waiting too long to have a blade sharpened, you increase the likelihood of chipping a tooth. Once a tooth is chipped, all the other teeth must be ground down to compensate.

• Carefully inspect the material being cut. Hidden nails, staples or loose knots can damage a blade.

• If feeding by hand, feed the material into the blade at a consistent, smooth pace, at a feed rate as fast as possible without losing cut quality or jeopardizing safety. Stopping the workpiece in the middle of the cut will give you poor performance and reduce the life of the blade.

• Use care when handling or storing the blade.

Q. Can saw blades be cleaned effectively in–house and, if so, what is the best method?

Deutschler: Cleaning blades can be done quite effectively with Simple Green, which is noncaustic and not damaging to the blade or your lungs. Scraping the blade or teeth is not advisable.

Michel: Saw blades are made with clearance angles on almost all sides of the cutting tooth. Pitch and buildup clog these clearances and as a result, the saw will heat up due to surface friction. This unwanted level of heat will cause the carbide tip to break down or dull prematurely.

Cleaning the saw blade will extend the edge life and should be done when necessary. Several producers of pitch remover exist on the market. You may want to try a couple of brands, as some of these work differently on the different types of pitch left by the material you are cutting.

Veening: It should be done (in-house), especially if you are cutting material that has pits or content like certain wood species have, or if there is glue in it and it builds up on the side of the blade after a long cutting.

You can clean the blade with a solvent, and there are several products available. You can soak it for awhile and brush it off. For example, over lunch time, take the blade off and put it in this bath; after lunch, brush it off and put it back on the machine. Operators will notice that they will probably get two to three times the life out of the saw blade, rather than just sending it out for sharpening, because they will find it hard to push through the material.

Spotchecking is a visual thing. You will look at the blade and see that there are pits built up on the side, especially along the saw tip and right behind the tip and below it. If you clean it off, you will find that your blade will continue to cut for much longer.

Brewer: Clean blades to remove pitch and resin. Most commercially available blade cleaners can be hard on the carbide. The way we recommend cleaning blades is to soak them overnight in a sealed container of kerosene and then brush off the teeth with a soft brush, like a tooth brush. This is also an economical method.

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