In August at the IWF show in Atlanta, Freud will introduce a 90-tooth saw blade with a new tooth grind that will produce almost glass-smooth crosscuts. I got to see the blade and look it over at the end of a tour of Freud’s carbide production and blade manufacturing facilities in Udine (OO-din-ay) in northeast Italy, where the company was founded. More about the plants in a moment, but first here’s the scoop on the new blade.
Designed for smooth, clean cuts in trimwork and sheetgoods, the blade debuts Freud’s alternate shear face grind. In a nutshell, the top of each tooth is ground at a 30-degree angle, with the angle alternating with each tooth – like the alternating top bevel seen on other blades. What’s really new is that the face of each tooth, as viewed from the top, is ground at a 5-degree angle, with that angle alternating from left to right on successive teeth. With this face grind, the entire width of the tooth doesn’t enter the workpiece at once, but gradually as the blade rotates. This reduces the entry angle into the wood, much like skewing a plane blade provides a smoother cut when a straight-on angle of attack causes tear-out. At 2.5mm thick the mitersaw blade is thinner than standard blades. Freud says the thinner kerf combined with this new grind will help underpowered saws cut more easily. The blade will first roll out for 10” and 12” mitersaws, then for tablesaws. As soon as we can get our hands on some, we’ll let you know our impressions.
Freud produces 16 varieties of carbide in Udine, each with a different balance of cutter hardness and durability. They ship completed teeth to their saw blade manufacturing plant on the other side of the city. Seeing what’s behind the curtain at both plants was pretty amazing. But because Freud doesn’t allow photos inside (ok, I managed to coerce them into one), I’ll just have to describe a bit of what goes on.
The carbide-making process is amazingly technical. (Our tour guide has a PhD. in carbide. Who even knew that was possible?) Powdered cobalt, titanium, and tungsten get blended in vats with alcohol (the light odor of alcohol accents one end of the plant), swirled through a nitrogen-filled cyclone, heated, mixed with paraffin, pressed to shape, and heated again. By manufacturing their own carbide, Freud maintains close control of the quality at every step in the operation. They make between 6,000,000-7,000,000 saw teeth, router-bit edges, and shaper cutters per week here, pressing them to near-finished size, instead of grinding them from larger blanks, which reduces waste. The saw blade teeth make their way across town in plastic bottles about the size of a Sam’s-Club bottle of Rolaids.
At the blade plant, which is shaped like a giant U, raw steel plates come in one end and packaged blades ship out the other. Since Bosch’s purchase of Freud a few years back, German efficiency has improved control and quality checks throughout. According to Technical Plant Manager Stefano Polito, who moved here from an Italian Bosch division, processes that used to take 6-7 weeks, now take 3-4 weeks…and they hope to eventually have it down to one week.
A bar-coded document accompanies every batch of laser-cut blade blanks. Codes are scanned at each step to ensure quality checks are met. Scanning the bar code even identifies which bottle contains the teeth that should be brazed to that batch of blades. A dozen brazing machines run automatically, under the supervision of one operator. Same with the sharpening machines. And one big impression: they make a LOT of saw blades. Thousands upon thousands, from 7¼” circular-saw blades to 32” monsters stacked neatly on spindles, some awaiting balancing, some ready for coating, some in line for packaging. Here’s PART of a stack of chippers for their Super Dado blade:
It was an educational trip, showing the numerous interconnected details that go into manufacturing saw blades, tranforming them from jagged steel discs into precision cutting devices.