Which Table Saw Blade is Best For Cutting Plywood?
It is a fair statement to say, that a good table saw is at the real heart of any woodworker’s shop. What makes the table saw the most effective is of course the blade that is attached to that.
In this article we will be looking at the best table saw blade for ripping and cross cutting plywood.
Table saws are used for a number of different cutting operations, and ripping wood is certainly one of the most popular uses.
Ripping along with cross cutting are two tasks, that you will use your saw for all the time.
Before we dive right into the best types of blades to use, let’s first have a look at the different types of plywood available on the market.
Knowing what those are can also help us pick out the right blade for the job.
What Types of Plywood Are There?
Plywood is made by gluing together a number of thin layers (veneers) of soft wood or hard wood, and then compressing them under heat. Each ply or veneer is laid at right angles to each other to make the finished plywood strong.
Typically the layers are about 3 mm thick. Manufacturers always use an odd number of layers, and that is where they get their name such as 3-ply or 5-ply.
You can buy this in different sheet sizes such as 2 x 2 feet, 4 x4, 4 x6, 4 x 7, 4 x 8, and 4 x 10 The number of plies will determine the thickness and these range from 1/8, 1/4, 3/8. 1/2, 5/8, 3/4 and 1 inch.
The inner layers are usually made from cheaper wood, and the external layers are made from more expensive timbers for a nicer finish.
The more layers the thicker and stronger the plywood is going to be. It is bought in sheets of different sizes depending on what it is being used for. It is used a lot in the home construction industry. Typically it is used for furniture, panelling and some flooring.
It is mainly used because it is very strong and yet pretty light in weight. There are a few different types of this and we have listed those below, just so as you know the full range.
Different Sheet Types of Plywood
- MDF – This stands for medium density fibre core where the veneers are very tightly bonded together. It rarely chips and has many uses
- MDO and HDO – this stands for medium density overlay plywood and high density overlay plywood. This is tougher and more durable than normal MDF. This is an ordinary veneer but has been coated with MDF
- VC Plywood – This stands for veneer core and is made from aletrnate layers of common plywood with a veneer finish. This is quite light, very strong and also pretty easy to work with
- Lumber Core Plywood is made from hard wood veneers. This is often known as external plywood and can be very costly.
- Particle Board Core Plywood (PBC) is made from a quite coarse dust, and is very light and very smooth
- Finally there is melamine plywood which is fused with a resin or plastic type of finish. You see this used a lot for kitchen cupboards etc and again it is bought in sheets.
The Problem with Cutting Plywood
If you use the wrong table saw blade for cutting plywood, you end up with rough splintered edges, which look awful and can play havoc with your hands. Many the man who has ended up with a few splinters from cutting plywood. You can also get a lot of saw marks on the edges, and the blade can really heat up.
Help With Picking A Blade for Ripping
A general purpose blade is good for both of the tasks mentioned above. You know a blade is good for gripping by checking the valleys between the teeth. The technical name for those gaps is gullets. Always pay attention to those when buying any type of blade. For any type of ripping work, you want to make sure that you have BIG gullets in the blade.
Ripping Cut vs Cross Cut
Ripping means that we are cutting in the same direction as the grain of the wood. When you do that larger shreds of wood come off during the cutting process. That is quite different to a cross cut as during that very small tiny fibres of wood come off. So to help move the larger pieces of wood away from the blade during the actual rip cutting we need bigger gullets.
If the wood can not be removed, what tends to happen is the blade can over heat, and that is never good for a blade of any kind.
How Many Teeth Should a Ripping Blade Have?
Make sure that you have 40 teeth or less when picking a table saw blade for general purpose ripping. There is another important marking on the blade and this is the ATB rating. ATB stands for “alternate tooth bevel.”
If you look carefully along the edge of the blade, you will notice that the teeth on the blade, have one pointing slightly to the left, and the next one pointing slightly to the right.
That is what this is referring to. It is always a good idea to buy a blade with that marking on it.
You should also notice that with any good ripping blade, each individual tooth on the blade will have a very sharp point. It is that point that ensures a really fine and neat finish, especially important when cutting a wood like plywood.
So if you are just doing rough ripping and not over fussy about the finish, then a general purpose 40 tooth blade will do the job.
Best Table Saw for Cutting Plywood With a Hard Veneer On Top, or for Fine Finishing
For this type of plywood we recommend moving up to an 80 tooth blade, or even a 96 tooth blade with a carbide tip.
These are designed just for sheet goods and do a much better job than either the 40 tooth or the 60 tooth.
The 80 or 96 tooth blade takes smaller cuts so always a better finish.
Likewise if you want a really good finish that is splinter free, then it is worth paying more for your blade and getting an 80, or 96 tooth blade, ideally with a carbide tip.
Something like the Freud Thin Kerf Plywood and Melamine blade, currently available at Amazon UK, is the perfect choice.
Online buyers rate this one very highly with a 96% buyer satisfaction rate. It is a lot more expensive than a standard ripping 40 tooth blade, but will last a great deal longer, and also do ten times the job, with a very smooth finish.
Top Tips for Cutting Plywood on a Table Saw
If you read your safety manual, it is advised to always have the blade on a low setting. For a cleaner cut raise the blade a couple of inches, and this will give a much neater cut. Raising the blades stops the teeth from cutting the underside first and makes for an all round finer cut.
Use a zero clearance plate if you have that on your table saw, as that helps reduce the amount of chipping on the lower side of the sheet.
If you want a really clean cut, then put some masking tape along the edge of the cut as that helps keep the fibres in place. I would only recommend doing that if you want an ultra neat finish. (It also means ZERO splinters)
Always support the sheet when cutting as any other movement will mean the chance of a rougher cut. Make sure the edge of the plywood is firmly against the fence of your saw.
Always keep the “good face” up on the table saw. Any chip out happens where the teeth leave the wood. This is the other way around if you are using a circular saw, in that you would have the good face at the bottom.
Looking After Your Table Saw Blades
Always be careful where you set these down. These are not cheap and you need to do your best to help look after them. Never set them down on the cast iron table for example, as any type of contact can very easily damage the teeth. The better you look after the blade, the longer it will last you.
Keep them somewhere safe where tools or debris can not be dropped on top of them.