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Is a thin-kerf blade all I need?

Q:

As a newbie woodworker, I’m trying to stock my shop inexpensively. I’ve read that thin-kerf, carbide-tipped tablesaw blades waste less wood and put less strain on the saw’s motor. If they work so much better, is there any reason to even buy a full-kerf blade?
—Tom Messerly, Huntington, W.Va.

A:

Tom, you are correct about the advantages of thin-kerf blades. On average about 132 " slimmer than its full-kerf counterpart, the thin-kerf blade marginally reduces wasted wood, but this advantage only really becomes noticeable if you are doing a lot of thin-strip ripping. However, the reduction in sawdust generated is a more noticeable boon, especially if you’re ripping a lot of air-fouling MDF.

As for motor strain, if your well-aligned saw is bogging down with a full-kerf blade, a switch to thin-kerf will likely eliminate the problem. (The general rule of thumb: thin-kerf blades for saws under 3-hp and thin- or full-kerf for saws 3-hp and over.)

While conventional wisdom has long held that thin-kerf blades provide certain performance trade-offs, such as more flex or chatter due to the thinner plate, these trade-offs have largely faded in the face of new materials and manufacturing technologies.

Cliff Paddock, cutting tools product manager for Freud America, Inc., says, “The stability of blades derives from a number of factors, including the quality of the steel plate, precise tensioning and flattening of the blade body, and precision balancing. I would not agree that a full kerf automatically produces a smoother cut.”

According to Cliff, the choice to use a full-kerf blade on a modern, 3-hp tablesaw largely comes down to personal preference. “In our shop here at Freud we use thin-kerf blades in most applications, even though all of our tablesaws have 3-hp or larger motors.”

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