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Spending good money on crappy power saw blades is what every woodworker wants to avoid. Some distributors of saw blades can "dress up" an inferior saw blade with a bit of paint, some cool packaging and sell a $12.00 power saw blade for $75.00 The only way of knowing what is a good buy and what is not a good buy is to educate yourself on saw blades and how to recognize the good from the not so good.
There are basically 2 ways to manufacture saw blades, the cheapest and most popular is to "stamp" the blades our of sheets of mild steel. The second way is to use a harder steel and actually laser cut the blades one at a time out of the steel.
Stamped Blades - As you can imagine, the problem with some stamped blades is that during the process of "stamping", blades can be created that are imperfect due to the forces involved in the stamping of the steel. This means blades can wobble somewhat which is not ideal when you are trying to make a straight cut. Most often, manufactures that are "stamping" blades, are also buying their carbide off the open market somewhere as this is the least expensive way to acquire carbide. Every stamped blade that we are aware of uses carbide purchased off the open market, which is then silver soldered on to the stample blade. This manufacturing process is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest for producing saw blades.
Laser Cut Blades - Blades that are laser cut will have the advantage of using a harder steel. It's not hard to see that a blade that is laser cut will not be undergoing the metal stresses of a stamped blade. This laser cutting helps to ensure the integrity of the steel, and that the blade will be free from warping or wobbling. One of the inherent features of laser cutting is that duing the manufacturing process it is easy and convenient to also cut heat expansion slots and anti vibration slots into the blade, also helping to ensure a higher quality product. A company that would take the time to laser cut blades individually will in some cases be more selective of the carbide they use as well. Freud for example is the only blade manufacturer that we are aware of that actually makes their own carbide, 17 differet grades in fact. This helps ensure that the best grade of carbide is selected for each type of blade. For example, the carbide used in steel cutting blades is actually a softer carbide than that used in wood cutting blades. This is because carbide is like a "crystal" and tends to fracture as it is made up of millions of tiny grains. Using a softer carbide for steel helps ensure the carbide will not fracture when it is cutting the steel and thereby keep the blade sharper longer.
So ... HOW can you identify a better quality blade from those that are not ?
Most woodworkers are looking for blades that cut true and straight, blades that can be re-sharpened, and blades that stay sharp as long as possible.
In terms of cutting straight, look for blades that have anti vibration slots cut into them. These blades do not need "blade stiffeners" which means they are easier to install, create less weight for you motors to turn (helping to perserve the life of your motors), and you can use the full width of the blade for cutting, unlike using blade stiffeners. Blades that "RING" when you strike them will have a much higher tendancy to vibrate when they are in your saw, which in turn means a less straight cut.
in terms of carbide, we woodworkers have no hope of identifying which carbide is being used in a blade, except to know what recognized blade manufactures tell us they are using. We know for example that Freud manufactures it's own carbide, and that during this process they grind it finer than other manufactures. This produces carbide that stays sharper longer, and that lends it'self to more sharpenings over the life of the blade.
Other features to look for in blades are things like coating ... and we mean coating not PAINT like some manufactures add. Don't be fooled, many manufactures dress up their blades with different color paints that make us "think" they are some sort of coating on the blade, they most often are not. Coatings such as Freud's Perma Shield, or Chrome coatings are use to allow the blades to slide more easily through the wood as it is being cut. This feature makes it easier on the saws motors and on the woodworker as their is less effort in pushing the wood through the saw.
Knowing some features of saw blades will help you make wiser choices when purchasing saw blades ... which in turn will save the frustration of wondering why your wood cuts are not as good as they should be. Quality breeds quality !!
Copyright - Colin Knecht