You have likely seen joints in molding or maybe exposed cuts on someone’s woodworking project that looks like it was chewed off rather than sawed with a precision miter saw blade (OK… so “chewed” is extreme, but anything less than near-perfect and smooth stands out, and not in a good way). Hopefully it was done by an amateur. If so, they might have blamed the saw, and how they just can’t understand why their brand new miter saw, which had rave reviews, created such a mess. In any case, the part of the equation they’re missing is using the right blade for the job.Even a high quality miter saw with all the bells and whistles needs to be matched with the correct miter saw blade for the job at hand, to get the best results. A quality blade, made specifically for the material being cut can make the job easy. The wrong blade can result in a binding, burning, scoring, splintered mess from Hell.
To help you better understand miter saw blade jargon, and give you a leg up on finding the right blade, the following is an explanation of various miter saw blade terms and specifications.
Blade Specifications To Match Your Miter Saw
Some blade selection criteria are simple no-brainers, since they depend on your particular saw, not your projects or preferences. You need to select a blade that:
- Has a blade Diameter matching your saws specs, such as 10″ or 12″.
- Has an Arbor Size matching your saws specs, such as 5/8″ or 1″.
- Is a Crosscut blade, because crosscuts are what miter saws do!
Blade Choices/Options To Improve Your Miter Saw’s Performance
Now let’s get to all the interesting elements (and their options) that make up a modern miter saw blade:
Plate – The steel body of the blade, into which the arbor hole, teeth, and gullets are cut, and onto which the carbide teeth are welded. It must be flat, balanced, and true to provide stability when spinning, and designed to provide sufficient heat dissipation and vibration damping.
Teeth – The number of teeth helps determine a blade’s use. More teeth mean more numerous, smaller cuts, which remove less material per tooth, resulting in a smoother cut, and less prone to chipping/splintering. 80 and 90 tooth blades can make cuts “as smooth as glass.” Miter saws generally use blades with higher numbers of teeth. Also, larger diameter blades can have more teeth than smaller diameter blades, but not necessarily.
Gullet – The space cut in front of each tooth in the blade plate to allow for chip extraction. These are small on a crosscut blade, as the chips are small, and there are fewer chips per tooth.
Tooth Configuration – The configuration of the blade teeth determine how the blade will cut. Some common miter saw blade designs are: Alternate Top Bevel (ATB), High Alternate Top Bevel (HiATB), Triple Chip Grind (TCG), California Triple Chip (CTC), and Combination Tooth (Comb.). Here is a more detailed look at those configurations:
- Alternate top bevel (ATB)
A common, all purpose design that employs the shearing action of alternately slanted teeth (usually 10-20 degrees slants) to cut both with the grain or against it, the Alternate Top Bevel configuration delivers high quality results over a broad range of cuts. An excellent choice for your miter saw.
- High alternate top bevel (HiATB)
Employing more severely slanted teeth (between 25-40 degrees) than the ATB configuration, the increased shearing action of the HiATB delivers extra-fine crosscuts with greatly reduced chipping, making it excellent for both delicate woodworking and chip prone melamine. An excellent choice for your miter saw.
- Triple chip grind(TCG)
An excellent choice for harder materials such as non-ferrous metals, melamine, laminates, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and some plastics, this design alternates a flat-grind tooth (a raker that cleans out the kerf) with a triple edge (double beveled) tooth. Basically, the bevel teeth take out the center of the kerf, with the flat teeth cleaning the corners. Durable and resistant to fracturing, it cuts more slowly than other designs, keeping heat to a minimum, making it perfect for heat sensitive materials. An excellent choice for your miter saw if your projects include the materials mentioned.
- California triple chip (CTC)
Not so common variation of the TCG that uses one triple edged (double beveled) tooth that alternates with a flat-grind tooth with a bevel on alternating sides, so it uses three different style teeth. It incorporates the sheering action of the ATB with the durability of the TCG. Excellent for cutting different materials (non-ferrous metals, wood, wood products) without having to change the blade, which makes it a popular choice for the picture frame industry. An excellent choice for your miter saw depending on your projects.
- Combination tooth (Comb.)
A common design for both crosscutting and ripping, this configuration employs groups of four Alternate Top Bevel teeth followed by one Flat Top Grind tooth. Mostly used in circular and table saws, this design can do it all, just not very well. An acceptable choice for a miter saw if you are on a budget and your work isn’t critical.
Hook Angle – The angle between a tooth’s face and an imaginary line drawn from the tooth through the center of the blade (90 degree line), which affects the blade’s feed rate. Miter saw blades have moderately positive, neutral, or negative hook angles, so the blade can be fed into the stock in a controlled manner. Blades with high positive hook angles (the blade is tilted forward in relation to the imaginary line through the center of the blade) are for aggressive cuts and fast feed rates. If used in a miter saw, those high positive hook angled blades would tend to walk the saw into the stock (make it “climb”), causing it to bind and create a dangerous situation.
Kerf – The width of the cut made by the blade, with a wider kerf extracting more material. The blade’s plate determines the width of the kerf. A thicker plate usually means greater stability, vibration dampening, and heat dissipation, resulting in a truer, smoother, cleaner cut. However, saws with marginal power may not be able to maintain sufficient blade RPM, resulting in heat buildup due to increased friction, which can warp the blade and actually burn the surface of the cut. Technological advances in blade design and construction have brought about “thin kerf” blades that require less power to cut, while still maintaining the wider blade’s stability, vibration dampening, and heat dissipation.
Quality – The quality of the blade’s teeth and plate will determine its accuracy and longevity. Premium, high quality (and yes, expensive) blades from manufacturers such as Forrest or Freud virtually ensure a quality cutting tool, but here are some things to look for as you read a blade’s specifications:
- Teeth of C-3, or better yet, C-4 grade micrograin carbide. Carbide for hard teeth that keep their edge longer, and micrograin meaning the carbide is less likely to chip. Teeth should also be of sufficient thickness to allow resharpening multiple times.
- Plates of high quality, hardened steel, properly tensioned (Forrest hand tensions their blades) to keep it “true” through the manufacturing process, with accurately sized arbor holes and teeth, which some manufacturers laser cut for added precision. Coatings such as Freud’s (readily identifiable) red Teflon help to reduce friction, corrosion, and surface buildup.
Keep in mind that the quality of the blade, which is the only part of the saw actually making contact with the stock, is at least as important, if not more important than the saw itself. All other things being equal: a high quality blade = a high quality cut.