THIS ARTICLE IS BY TOM HINTZ FROM HIS WEBSITE: Netwoodworker.com
Like most new woodworkers, I happily assembled my new table saw, including the factory-supplied blade. With the last assembly tool barely in it’s drawer, my new saw was humming away and I was feeding every available scrap of lumber through it. Before long, the blade was growing dull. In defense of the manufacturers, we have to consider why included blades may have a relatively short life. The exuberance of a new woodworker with a new saw often leads to large amounts of lumber being cut in a very short time. Factor in inexperienced setup and operation of the saw and it is understandable why the original blade may not survive as long as it could.
I lucked out when visiting my local woodworking shop in search of a new, “better” blade. I knew little about them other than carbide and a big price tag were probably in my future. Fortunately, there were other woodworkers in the store buying blades and I noticed that two of them picked up SystiMatic combination blades. A salesperson also predicted I would see little difference on the saw between the $50 SystiMatic and the $100-$120 blades I originally had in mind. I decided to take a chance “following the leaders” so-to-speak and within the hour I was tightening the arbor nut on my new SystiMatic #37102 (#1035 on the blade) rip/crosscut combination blade.
This 10-inch blade has 50 carbide teeth, arranged in groups of four ATB (Alternate Tooth Bevel) and one raker. That all sounded impressive to me then, but actually meant little aside from the vague recollection of Norm Abram mentioning something along these lines once or twice on The New Yankee Workshop. I would learn in coming months that this is a versatile blade that handles many jobs very well.
I started testing my new SystiMatic blade on a piece of common 2X6 pine. A crosscut with the miter guide left me pleasantly surprised at how easily the wood passed through the blade. The freshly cut end-grain had a glue-ready surface that would need little sanding to get ready for finish. The remainder of the 2×6 was then ripped with similar results – surprisingly little effort and very clean edges. The combination of four ATB (Alternate Tip Bevel) teeth and one works great on all of the woods (and plywood) I have tried it on over the last several months. I was impressed. Next, a length of ¾-inch-thick oak was ripped and cross cut. The results were the same – considerably reduced push-through effort and remarkably smooth edges. A scrap of high-dollar oak veneer plywood was next. I had nearly ruined a project by cutting panels from this wood with my old blade. The edges splintered and chipped badly. The SystiMatic sliced through leaving edges with virtually no splitting or chipping at all. I was even more impressed. The rest of the afternoon was expended making various miter cuts, bevels and whatever else I could think of to tax the abilities of the SystiMatic blade. No matter what I pushed through it, the blade handled the job with ease, producing remarkably smooth edges on everything.
General Shop Use
Since buying that first SystiMatic several months ago, I have used it for all table saw operations except (most) dado work. Though I fully expected performance to decline somewhat with use, I noticed none until very recently. When ripping a 2X4 for my new shop bench it seemed that the feed rate had slowed a little, though the cut itself remained smooth and true. I purchased another SystiMatic blade, identical to the first one, planning to send the original SystiMatic in for sharpening. However, when I removed it from the saw, I noticed quite a bit of buildup around the teeth and decided to see how cleaning it affected its performance. I had a can of spray-on blade cleaner so I applied that, let it sit as instructed, then scrubbed the buildup with a small brass brush. I wiped the blade clean, and then applied a thin coat of WD-40 before re-installing it in my saw. The results were dramatic. Twenty minutes worth of cleaning effort restored the performance of my original SystiMatic blade sufficiently that I left it in the saw and put its replacement on stand-by in the drawer. My intentions are to use the cleaned blade until it again shows signs of losing performance, and then send it in for sharpening. It is a good idea to have blades re-sharpened before they become very dull. If your blade is showing any signs of dullness, stop using and have it re-sharpened. A dull blade can be very dangerous.
The SystiMatic combination blades performance has amazed me. I realize part of this amazement could be a function of my lack of experience with higher quality blades. However, if the messages I see from other woodworkers regarding blade performance are any indication, the SystiMatic combination blade is well above the norm. When I bought my first SystiMatic table saw blade I fully intended to replace it with another brand. My plan was to buy blades from different manufacturers until I found what I considered the best for my situation at a price I could live with. Now after several months of using the SystiMatic combination blade, I decided to stick with it, at least for now. It has done everything I asked of it, done it cleanly and without giving me any trouble along the way. I would still like to try other brands, but until my woodworking budget develops a surplus, I will stick with a sure thing.
To find out which combination blade was the best for the money, we tested six 10″ industrial quality blades, see table below. When selecting blades to test, we also noticed several “general purpose” blades as well (the teeth are evenly spaced, and there are no raker teeth). So we decided to test two of them as well.
Combination Blades Price Telephone Number
CMT 110-500 $62.90 800-531-5559
Delta 35-617 $49.95 800-223-7278
Freud LU 84-10 $49.95 800-334-4107
Oldham C3470 $44.95 800-828-9000
Sears 932035 $69.99 800-290-1245
SystiMatic $59.95 800-426-0000
General Purpose Blades
DeWalt 3213 $45.00 800-433-9258
Forrest Woodworker II $119.95 800-733-7111
As with our other tool reviews, we rounded up our team of three woodworkers to test the blades. Once again, to provide a wide range of viewpoints, each person has a different level of woodworking experience.
So the best blade for a professional cabinetmaker like Ken may not be the one that Cary, a beginning woodworker, chooses. And an advanced woodworker like Steve may pick a different blade altogether.
PROCEDURES. While the final selections may vary, the test procedures were identical. The same contractor-style table saw was used throughout the test. (Using a dial gauge, we measured the runout of the saw at .0005″.) And the same type and number of cuts were made in hardwood, plywood, and particleboard.
Ken: As a rule, the thicker the carbide, the more resharpenings I’m going to get. Of the blades we tested, I liked the hefty carbide tips on the Freud and SystiMatic.
Steve: Another thing I check is how securely the carbide tips are attached. After all, with a blade whirling around at 100 mph and carbide tips slamming into a chunks of hardwood, something’s going to give. Hopefully, it’s the wood — not the carbide tips.
To make sure they stay put, they’re brazed into “pockets” machined in the teeth. What I look for is a smooth, even bead without any pinholes.
Cary: The outer rim of the blades appeared to be etched. At first I thought I thought it was to help keep the blade from getting gunked up with pitch and resin. But I called a technician at one of the companies and learned that it’s more cosmetic than anything else.
The same is true for the “ring” on the body of the SystiMatic and Freud blades. The ring is what’s left behind when the blade is tensioned to ensure that it stays flat.
Cary: It depends on what stage of the manufacturing process the tensioning is done. On the blades where you can’t see the ring, the final grinding of the body is done after the tensioning. And this grinding removes the ring.
Steve: By making all different types of cuts in all kinds of materials. After all, a blade that produces a smooth edge when ripping might cause chipout when cross cutting.
Cary: Especially in plywood. And since many projects combine hardwood and plywood, I was curious to see how using different materials affected the quality of the cut.
Ken: A blade should stay sharp, too — even if you occasionally cut abrasive material. So we cut up a sheet of particle board with each blade and ran the test again.
Cary: Crosscutting plywood — especially oak which tends to chip anyway. While the top side was almost perfect with no chipout, the bottom splintered like I’d cut it with a chain saw.
Ken: I’d say the problem isn’t so much the blades as the blade height. With the height adjusted correctly, I got smooth cuts with each blade. (Note: To get a smooth cut (top and bottom) raise the blade only 1/8″ above the plywood. This way, the teeth make a shearing cut and don’t chipout the bottom.) But the one blade that made a slightly smoother cut was the CMT. Probably because the raker teeth are chamfered, so they’re not as likely to to chip out fragile veneer when crosscutting.
Cary: That’s where I noticed a big difference. When I crosscut a board, all the blades except one left saw marks on the end. But the Forrest blade practically burnished the end smooth.
Ken: Two other blades that impressed me were the SystiMatic and the Freud. Although the cuts weren’t as polished, the ends were quite smooth. And the quality of cut didn’t deteriorate after cutting the particleboard like it did with the Delta blade.
Steve: The Sears, CMT, and Oldham blades all made consistently good cuts. In fact, even when I used a magnifying glass, it was hard to find any significant differences.
Ken: I expected problems here. Especially since I was working with cherry which tends to burn. But all down the line, I got the same results as when crosscutting.
Cary: What surprised me was that all the blades except one left ridges on the edge when ripping. But with the Forrest, I got a smooth enough edge to use as a glue joint.
Ken: Don’t forget. These blades are designed to do a good job with all types of cuts — not necessarily to excel at one. I can live with a few ridges. I’d just rip the board a hair wider and run the edge across a jointer.
Steve: You mean the tall shoulder that sits behind each set of teeth? That shoulder or hump is there to limit kickback by making the blade take a smaller bite.
That’s a nice safety feature if you get kickback caused by feeding the workpiece too fast. But I wouldn’t count on it if the fence isn’t adjusted right and the workpiece gets pinched between it and the blade.
Ken: They’re supposed to absorb vibration and make the blade run quieter. And if you go by the “thunk” you hear when you flick the blade with your finger, it should work.
To find out, I borrowed a meter that’s used to measure sound. I found the CMT was quieter than the other blades when ripping 1½”-thick maple. But at 99 decibels, it’s still too loud to cut without hearing protection.
Ken: To be honest, I’d be satisfied with any of these saw blades. But I pick the SystiMatic as the best.
Whether crosscutting or ripping, it gave me a slightly cleaner cut than any other blade except the Forrest. Yet it costs half as much.
A second choice? Probably the Freud. It’s a good quality blade for a little less money.
Steve: Eliminating three blades is easy. The Forrest is too expensive. And the Delta and DeWalt don’t give me as smooth a cut as I want.
Then things get tough. I can make a perfectly good joint with either the CMT, Sears or Oldham. But the SystiMatic and Freud have a slight “edge” in price and quality, so I chose them instead.
Cary: The way I look at it, buying a saw blade isn’t all that different from buying any other tool. Quality means more than price.
So I picked the Forrest blade because of the quality of cut. Polished ends when crosscutting. And when ripping, it leaves edges smooth enough to glue up. That’s nice since I don’t have a jointer.