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The Ultimate Guide To Table Saw Blades: Styles, Uses, and What To Buy

December 24, 2021 15 min read

A crosscut, general purpose, and ripping saw blade

You can have a top-shelf, envy-of-your-neighbors table saw — but you’ll still get burning and tearout if you’re not using the right blade.

The right saw blade can be the difference between clean, glue-ready joints, and charred wood that smells like toasted marshmallows.

If you want to level up your woodworking — and seize the full potential of your saw — you should know:

I’ll also tell you which blades are my personal favorites — and are now available in the Katz-Moses Tools store.

(Insider tip: use code KMT10CMT for an extra 10% off the brand new line of CMT Chromium Full Kerf and ITK Chrome Thin Kerf blades).

In a rush?  Skip to my quick and dirty blade selection guide.

THE ANATOMY OF A TABLE SAW BLADE

Close up of flat top grind saw blade teeth

Before you can run, you must walk — but never run with saw blades.

Here’s a few basic terms for better understanding blades.

TOOTH

The sharp pointy bit that does the cutting.

High-quality blades have carbide tips brazed onto the teeth. The more carbide, the better, because the blade can be sharpened several times and last years.

Lower quality blades have either steel teeth or too little carbide to really be sharpened.

The more teeth a saw has, the cleaner and slower it cuts. The fewer teeth it has, the faster it cuts.

You’ll often see tooth count written as “T” followed by the number, so an 80 tooth blade is T80.

GULLET

The scooped out gap between teeth.

Gullets help keep the saw blade from heating up during cuts in two ways:

  1. They carry sawdust out of the cut
  2. They carry air into the cut

The fewer teeth a saw blade has, the bigger gullets it needs. When there’s fewer teeth, each tooth needs to cut more material — and more sawdust needs to be carried out.

GRIND

Not the forbidden dance you did in middle school, but how teeth are laid out, shaped, and angled.

Different grinds, or tooth designs, work best for different cut types.

The most common grind styles are:

  • Alternate tooth bevel (ATB): alternating angles between teeth
  • Alternate tooth bevel with a “High” Angle (HiATB): alternating angles over 20º between teeth
  • Flat top grind (FTG): flat top teeth that enter wood straight on
  • Combination / Alternate tooth bevel raker (ATBR): a combination of ATB and FTG
  • Triple or Trapezoidal chip grind (TCG): chamfered teeth corners with a flat top, often used in conjunction with ATB in combination blades, a high tooth-count miter saw blade, or for cutting non-ferrous or acrylic materials

I’ll cover these in more detail below — so I hope you like acronyms (IHYLA).

BEVEL / CUTTING ANGLE

The angle at which teeth are ground, most notably in blades with ATB teeth.

These angles can range from 5º to above 40º. High angles, like 40º, are good for super clean cuts with minimal tearout — but the teeth dull more quickly.

RAKE / HOOK

Rake, or hook, is the angle at which the teeth tilt in line with the saw blade.

If the teeth are leaning forward, they have a positive rake. If they’re leaning backward (like on some miter saw or non-ferrous blades), they have a negative rake.

Rake can range from -5º to around 30º. Higher rake means a faster cut that takes out more material — but can lead to tearout.

Low rake will produce clean, tear-out-free cuts — but cuts more slowly.

KERF

The thickness of the cut line left in your stock. Full kerf blades typically have a kerf of ⅛ inch, and thin kerf blades hover around 3/32 inch.

BORE

The hole in the middle of the blade that slides over the arbor of your table saw.

The size depends on how big of blades your table saw takes. Typically, 12 inch blades have a 1 inch bore, and 10 inch blades have a ⅝ inch bore.

HEAT EXPANSION LINES

Cuts in the blade that let it expand with heat, and still stay safe and accurate.

In high quality blades, these are laser etched. In lower quality blades, they’re usually a stamped hole sometimes filled with copper.

HOW TABLE SAW BLADES WORK

On every type of blade, the teeth cut the wood, and the gullets carry sawdust out.

Different saw blades are designed to avoid heat buildup while cutting different materials and directions.

For wood, you’re either:

  • Ripping: cutting with the grain, along the length of a board
  • Crosscutting: cutting across the grain, across the width of a board

Why does grain direction matter for saw blades? Think of a rope made of individual strands.

Cutting a rope

Slicing a knife down the length of a rope is easy. Your knife glides between the strands, almost more separating them than cutting.

This is like a rip cut. Fewer wood fibers need to be sliced, and the cut’s easier.

That’s why ripping blades have fewer teeth and flat top grinds for quickly cutting lots of material. Plus, they have big gullets that let you make long cuts without burning.

Now, if you cut across a piece of rope, it’s going to take more effort and passes to slice every single strand.

This is like a crosscut. Your saw blade needs to do more cutting to sever all the wood fibers.

That’s why crosscut blades have a lot of teeth with beveled edges that come into the wood at an angle. As a result, it’s a slower cut — but produces less tearout.

  • Use a ripping blade for crosscuts — you get tearout
  • Use a crosscut blade for ripping — you get burning

TYPES OF SAW TEETH AND WHAT THEY DO

Remember tooth grind and all those acronyms? Let’s dive in.

ALTERNATE TOOTH BEVEL (ATB) AND HIGH ANGLE ALTERNATE TOOTH BEVEL (HiATB) BLADES

Alternate tooth bevel (ATB) teeth

BEST FOR: crosscutting, milling, chip-prone materials (plywood and melamine), plastics, non-ferrous metals (aluminum, copper, brass)

ATB blades have beveled teeth, with a sharp point on the outside leaning down into the blade. One tooth is angled to the left, the next to the right, and so on.

The sharp point and long cutting edge slice wood fibers like a knife, minimizing tearout. This makes ATB blades ideal for crosscutting — but lower bevels can be used for ripping too (especially in thin kerf blades).

The bevel on ATB blades ranges from 5º-20º, with HiATB being 20º+. The lower the angle, the easier it is to push through the cut. The higher the angle, the cleaner the cut.

You'll typically see HiATB on general purpose blades and some Ultra Finish thin kerf crosscut blades with more teeth. In thin kerf ripping blades, you may see a lower angle ATB, as it helps the thinner teeth push through the cut. It really depends on the blade's main purpose.

While higher angles mean less tearout, the teeth can also dull faster.

If you’re not cutting through the full thickness of your stock, ATB blades leave a little triangle of waste behind. You’ll have to clean those up with a hand plane or chisel if you're cutting joinery, so it’s not recommended unless you’re making a full depth cut.

The most common ATB/HiATB blades are general purpose, crosscut, thin kerf rip, and ultra finish cross cut.

QUICK NOTE ABOUT MITER SAWS

For miter saws, you want to stick to ATB blades (or sometimes combination blades if you’re rough dimensioning and want to cut faster).

Because you’re cutting into wood from the top, you want the knife-like edge of the beveled teeth — and a lot of them. This keeps the saw from wanting to “climb” in the cut and binding.

Typically, dedicated miter saw blades have a much shallower rake/hook angle, but crosscut blades can also work well in a miter saw.

FLAT TOP GRIND (FTG) BLADES

Flat top grind (FTG) teeth

BEST FOR: fine rip cuts, splines, joinery like half lap joints

The teeth on FTG blades have a flat cutting edge perpendicular to the blade. Also called rakers, these flat top teeth cut like a chisel.

They take off a lot more material in a single pass than ATB blades — making them ideal for rip cuts, along the grain of a board.

With fewer teeth, big gullets, and a steeper rake, these blades are designed to cut fast across long distances without heating up.

A high quality FTG blade can give you glue-ready rip cuts right off the saw.

The flat top also makes them great for cutting splines, since they don’t leave the triangle of waste ATB blades do.

TRIPLE / TRAPEZOIDAL CHIP GRIND

Triple chip grind (TCG) teeth

BEST FOR: harder materials (plastics, acrylic, non-ferrous metals)

These blades have a chamfered tooth followed by a raker (flat top tooth). The chamfered tooth roughs out your cut, while the raker cleans it up.

In dedicated TCG blades, the grind, high number of teeth, and low rake make for really good cutting through harder materials like plastics, acrylics, and non-ferrous metals.

If you’re cutting up a bunch of aluminium t-tracks for jigs, switching to a TCG blade will save your ATB from getting dull.

TCG teeth are also sometimes used rather than FTG teeth in combination blades to help remove material in rip cuts.

ALTERNATE TOOTH BEVEL RAKER (ATBR) BLADES

Alternate tooth bevel raker (ATBR) teeth

BEST FOR: general crosscuts and rip cuts

These blades are a combination of ATB and FTG layouts. You typically have 2-4 alternating bevel teeth that start the cut, followed by a flat top raker that flattens it all out.

ATBR blades are often called combination blades, since you can use them for ripping and crosscutting.

They’re also great for cutting grooves, dados, rabbets, or lap joints where you need a flat finish to your cut.

LIMITATIONS: I would not recommend using them for plywood.

ATB + TCG

BEST FOR: general crosscuts and rip cuts

Basically identical to the ATBR above, but with slightly less material removal. They are also used in combination blades.

These aren’t the most common, but they’re great all-around blades.

By following the bevelled teeth with a triple grind tooth, you get a super clean and square-bottomed cut with very little tearout.

LIMITATIONS: I would not recommend using them for plywood.

TYPES OF SAW BLADES AND WHEN TO USE THEM

There’s a seat for every butt, and a blade for every cut.

Just keep in mind — there’s a lot of blades out there, and exceptions to every rule.

This is a comprehensive list of the blades you’ll encounter 96.3% of the time. (Note: did you know 17.98% of statistics are made up?)

GENERAL PURPOSE BLADES

General purpose saw blade

BEST FOR: milling and dimensioning lumber and plywood under 1.25”/30mm thick, non-repetitive cuts

These are all-around blades meant for rougher ripping and crosscutting.

  • Tooth count: 40-50
  • Teeth: ATB or HiATB
  • Bevel: 20º-30º
  • Rake: around 12º

General purpose blades combine elements of crosscut and ripping blades: beveled teeth for clean crosscuts — but lower tooth counts for ripping without burning.

They tend to have a higher bevel angle and lower rake to make up for the fewer teeth when crosscutting.

When I’m working with thinner lumber or a few plywood cuts for shop furniture, this is my go-to blade. They can also work pretty well for making jigs.

LIMITATIONS: While versatile, these blades won’t cut as clean as dedicated rip and crosscut blades. Their smaller gullets can cause burning and tearout in thick material — so they’re best used with thin material under 1.25”/30mm.

If you need cabinet-quality plywood cuts, I’d look for something with a higher tooth count.

COMBINATION BLADES

BEST FOR: general work with hardwoods and softwoods up to 2”/50mm thick

When I’m working with thicker lumber, but not doing a bunch of dedicated ripping or crosscutting, this is my go-to blade.

  • Tooth count: 50-60
  • Teeth: 4 x ATB and 1 x FTG or TCG
  • Bevel: 15º-20º
  • Rake: around -5º-10º

Combination blades are a mix of different grinds, making them versatile and decent for both ripping and crosscuts.

They typically have 50 teeth that alternate between four ATB teeth, followed by one FTG or TCG tooth.

LIMITATIONS: The gullet in front of the FTG or TCG tooth is usually pretty big, helping remove a lot of material. This is good for ripping, but can cause decent tearout in plywood.

RIPPING BLADES

Ripping saw blade

BEST FOR: ripping, milling lots of lumber, resawing under 4”

These blades are ideal for super precise rip cuts with a great glue line joint. After a good combo or general purpose blade, this is definitely my most used blade.

  • Tooth count: 24-30
  • Teeth: FTG or Low Angle ATB in the Thin Kerf Models
  • Bevel: 0º-15º
  • Rake: around 20º

Ripping is the most labor intensive of any cut, and you can end up doing a lot when milling lumber. Having a dedicated ripping blade will help you:

  • Quickly make clean rip cuts without burning
  • Increase the life of the other blades in your shop
  • Decrease the time you spend in front of your table saw

With a steep, 20º rake angle, this blade rips faster and cleaner than a combination or general purpose blade. The deep gullets remove sawdust to keep the blade cool during longer cuts, and the lower tooth count makes it less expensive than its counterparts in the same line.

Because of the FTG teeth, I sometimes use them for flat bottom grooves or splines when I’m too lazy to put in my dado stack.

LIMITATIONS: Use this for crosscuts if you need some quick firewood.

CROSSCUT BLADES

Fine crosscut saw blade

BEST FOR: fine crosscuts and clean plywood cuts

Crosscut blades are ideal for super precise cuts across the grain with minimal tearout. I use them less than combination, general purpose, or rip blades — but I really protect mine.

Because when you need your crosscut blade, you need it to be great.

  • Tooth count: 60-96
  • Teeth: ATB or HiATB
  • Bevel: 15º- 40º
  • Rake: around -5º-15º

In my day-to-day workflow, I reach for my T60 blade when milling to length. For an exposed tenon or end grain, I put in my T80 for a guaranteed perfect cut (use backer board to avoid any tearout from an unsupported cut).

The lower rake also makes them great for super clean cuts on plywood. Typically, the higher the tooth count, the lower the rake and higher the bevel angle. This means it will cut slower — but also cleaner.

LIMITATIONS: Slow is fine for crosscuts, since they’re normally short distances. But try to use one of these for ripping, and you're liable to burn wood.

Seriously, don’t use them for a rip cut, even if it's just a short quick one. I’m guilty of it too, but because of the super small gullets, long rip cuts decrease the life of these blades quickly.

DADO STACKS

CMT dado stack

BEST FOR: dados, grooves, rabbets, half laps, bridal joints, and hogging out material when you’re not cutting all the way through

A dado stack consists of two outside blades with an ATBR grind, and an inside FTG chipper. This lets them create grooves with a really smooth bottom.

The teeth usually have a 0º rake or less, and big gullets for getting rid of material.

The outside blades’ tooth count is typically either 12 or 24 — but can get over 40. 12 teeth make for good general purpose dados. Use a T24 for finer work.

They also come with varying thicknesses of shims to really dial in the perfect cut.

Every woodworker should have a dado stack, and because of their very specific use, they last for years between sharpenings.

The CMT dado stacks we carry in our store come with a hard plastic carrying case that keeps them in top condition for as long as there’s wood to be cut in the world.

LIMITATIONS: Don’t use dados to cut through the full thickness of a board unless you’re ready to meet your maker.

THIN KERF OR FULL KERF?

Full kerf blades typically cut a kerf of ⅛ inch through your stock, and thin kerf blades tend to cut a kerf around 3/32 — about 25% less.

I use a thin kerf blade when I don’t want to waste a bunch of material. That makes them great for super exotic woods — and keeping as much money out of the dust collector as possible.

They’re also perfect for removing box lids so you lose very little of the grain wrap.

Deciding which to use can also depend on the horsepower of your table saw.

Full kerf blades work best on table saws with 1.5 horsepower or more. On a saw with less than 1.5 horsepower, you might feel like you have to force your stock through the blade.

Lower powered saws are where thin kerf blades shine, since they don’t need as much torque to spin. If you have issues with your blade vibrating, use a blade stiffener to make it more rigid.

The new thin kerf blades we carry in our store have 3 new patents for increased stabilization and typically don’t need a stabilizer.

QUICK AND DIRTY BLADE SELECTION GUIDE

Saw blade selection guide

WHICH BLADES YOU SHOULD GET FIRST

General purpose and ripping saw blade

All of them, of course. But if that’s not an option, I’d buy them in this order:

  1. General purpose or combination blade (depending on workflow described above)
  2. Ripping blade
  3. Crosscut blade
  4. Dado Stack

If you can have only one blade, a good general purpose or combination blade rocks.

You can make any kind of cut and are basically unlimited in your possibilities. The downside is you may spend more time cleaning up tearout and burning.

When you’re ready to add another blade to your arsenal, go for a ripping blade.

A dedicated ripping blade will blow your mind. You’ll get clean, burn free rip cuts that are ready for glue — and you don’t have to work as hard to push your wood through the saw.

And if you’re after super clean crosscuts with no tearout, get yourself a crosscut blade with an ATB grind and a whole lot of teeth.

Dado stacks are the last on my priority list — but I highly recommend them because they make your workflow so much more efficient.

WHY HIGH QUALITY BLADES ARE WORTH IT

Saw blades really are a “Buy once, cry once” situation. By paying more upfront, you’ll be paying less down the road.

That’s because good blades have large carbide teeth that can be sharpened multiple times — meaning your properly maintained blade can literally last years. And getting your blade sharpened only costs around $10-$20.

Sharpening Resources:

Lower quality blades have either too little carbide to be sharpened, or just straight steel teeth. When they get dull — which can happen in just a few cuts — you have to buy a new one.

Within a couple purchases, you’ve paid more than the cost of a high quality blade.

Beyond that, high quality blades are just designed better — meaning you’re going to get better results and have a better time in the shop. They’re flatter and stay flat at high speeds, the teeth don’t chip as easily, and the grind angles are perfect every time.

When shopping for a blade, make sure they’re laser cut and have plenty of carbide for sharpening.

MAINTAINING YOUR BLADE: EASY BUT IMPORTANT

CMT saw blade cleaner

The most important part of owning high quality blades is taking care of them.

The #1 reason blades stop cutting well is not because they’re dull — it’s because of pitch or sap build up. But keeping them clean is simple.

You basically have 2 options: Simple Green or a purpose-made cleaner.

Simple green works pretty well, but needs to be cleaned off after. Simple Green has stated they don’t recommend soaking blades since it can damage some anti-heat coatings.

The CMT Blade Cleaner we carry is biodegradable, works just as well as Simple Green, and the residue can be left on as a protective coat when you’re done cleaning off the pitch.

Here’s how to clean your blades:

  1. Spray on your cleaner of choice. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Wipe off the pitch build-up with a rag or thick paper towel. If you have any stubborn pitch, use a soft bristle brass brush to get it off.
  3. Keep it wet while you’re cleaning, and it really just wipes off with little effort.

     

Think your blade might be dull? Here’s a video I did on how to tell.

And if you’re curious, here’s a video where I show the sharpening process from start to finish.

BONUS TIP: Keep the packaging — it’s a wonderful way to protect your blade.

The CMT blades we carry have reusable packaging designed for exactly this. The Full Kerf line even has a sharpening log so you can keep track of when it was last refreshed. Both the Thin and Full Kerf have the tooth geometry laser engraved on the blade, so your sharpener won’t need any instructions.

MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE SAW BLADES: CMT

CMT saw blades

First off, I would never recommend something I didn’t fully love and use myself.

I started using CMT blades over 2 years ago when they released their new Chromium line of blades to compete with the absolute top tier blades on the market — and I haven’t used anything else since.

Precision made in Italy, CMT blades are:

  • Ultra sharp (I have the bandages to prove it)
  • Have a specialty heat-resistant coating thatactually works
  • Have a ton of micrograin carbide on the teeth so I can get them sharpened again and again

Best of all, they perform as well as any Forrest or Ridge Carbide I’ve used — at a significantly lower price.

The packaging is designed to be reused when you send them to get sharpened. Plus, they have the grind angles laser etched on the blade, so your sharpener will never have to guess which angles they originally came with.

They just released a thin kerf Chromium Line called ITK Extreme AND after two years of proclaiming my love for these blades, Katz-Moses Tools just became a licensed dealer!

I couldn’t be more proud to carry these CMT blades (full and thin kerf) in the Katz-Moses Tools store, so if you’re looking for super high quality blades that last AND perform (stop it), check ‘em out here.

PLUS, we are having a massive sale with blades as much as 50% off and you can get another 10% off if you use code KMT10CMT at checkout.

BETTER CUTS — EVERY TIME

With this little bit of saw blade knowledge, you can easily level up your woodworking skills and start getting perfect cuts on the first pass.

Are you a “one blade for them all” type of cutter? Do your neighbors ask who’s making smores every time you rip a piece of maple? Leave it in the comments below!

For company questions or customer service, you can email us at support@kmtools.com.

And as always, STAY SAFE IN THE SHOP.

Jonathan Katz-Moses
Jonathan Katz-Moses


10 Responses

Kerry Hawkins
Kerry Hawkins

April 17, 2022

Thanks for this very informative message regarding saw blades. Probably one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen. Keep up the great work. I enjoy your weekly messages and find them to be helpful and very informative.

Amy Saunders
Amy Saunders

March 16, 2022

Yay! I just love it when you specified that ripping saw blades are highly effective if we’re dealing with a low level of thickness. One of my friends has a husband who works as a carpenter and he plans to upgrade the equipment in his shop this year. I’ll advise him to consider this option when he purchases the perfect tools later. https://powermaxgroup.com.au/products/saws-cutters

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January 10, 2022

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Ram Padmanabha
Ram Padmanabha

December 27, 2021

Same question as Preston Carter – I’m using the CMT ripping blade and have wondered about the anti kickback shoulders. SawStop specifically recommends against using these. Do CMT (or any other manufacturer) make ripping blades without these shoulders? I do have to say that the CMT blade is great.

Preston Carter
Preston Carter

December 27, 2021

I know a SawStop user never wants to find out how a brake trigger will perform – but do you find the anti-kickback pawls a problem on this rip blade? I’m currently using Freud FTG glue rip blades (the anti-kickback pawls are pretty low on these) and I like them, but I’m always game to try something new.

Craig Edwards
Craig Edwards

December 26, 2021

Good info, I know I’m guilty of not changing blades when needing to a rip cut or two. One of my excuses is that 12" high quality rip blades seem to be pretty rare. But I’ll check out your store, hopefully you’ll make a point to offer more ripping blades.

Les Neilson
Les Neilson

December 26, 2021

Great information I have now bookmarked this page as I will coming back time after time THANKS

Bill Killian
Bill Killian

December 26, 2021

Thanks for a very informative article. I’ve been using CMT blades on my SawStop Jobsite Pro lately and like them. I’ll be buying the next ones from your store.

Brian Price
Brian Price

December 26, 2021

I need to change out my old email dbprice@cableone.net for my new one dbprice54@outlook.com. thanks for the help. Love my new hand saw.

Andrew Logan
Andrew Logan

December 26, 2021

Thanks for the info, timing is great as I was looking to get a new cross cut blade asap. Does CMT offer an 8 1/4” size blade? I couldn’t find one. I have a contractors table saw built into my workbench and it takes these smaller size blades. Next big purchase will be to get a bigger cabinet saw but likely will be 6-8 months out and I need to make some sawdust however possible in the meantime!

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