There is nothing more frustrating than once you begin to get confident with woodworking tools you find that many of the tools you have are slowing you down and in some cases causing your work to un-even or off the square. Welcome to woodworking!  where not everything is as perfect as we would like it to be. One of the challenges of learning woodworking is learning about tools as we go along, and finding out that in most cases "yes" good quality tools can often save us time.

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But many of us don't necessarily have funds available to just go out and buy the best quality tools so we need to figure out how to make the less expensive tools we have already purchased ... work better for us. The first step in the process is understanding that cheaper tools often require more time and effort in order to get good results from them. But there are some shortcuts along the way ...  

Purchase Quality Bits and Blades
The first and arguably the most important lesson in woodworking is purchasing quality bits and blades. There is no substitute for and here's why. 
Most of us have had situations where wood we have cut on a table saw has burned badly or the blade has gouged large swirl marks in the wood, and now it's up to us to somehow get that damaged wood off by planing and sanding. How much time we have wasted trying to clean up the wood that was damaged by a saw blade when we could have been spending that time more productively.  Now I know that some woods are more susceptible to burning, but starting with a good quality blade still helps that immensely. 

Know This - When you purchase ANY table saw, chop saw, miter saw, bandsaw, etc. the manufacturer of that saw has NO IDEA what you are going to use that saw for. Will you be cutting very accurate crown moldings or trimming fence boards. A big difference in the qualities of cuts. What most manufacturers do is to put on some of the least expensive blades they can on their saw to help keep costs down and in many cases, they do this for cheap saw AND expensive saws. I see table saws being sold for thousands of dollars and all they come with is a $25 saw blade. 

The FIRST and BEST thing you can do with ANY saw is to start off purchasing a quality saw blade for it. 

Table Saws
Most inexpensive table saws come with what we call "underpowered motors" ... that is, electric motors that have lower horsepower. This means that these saws will labor as they cut wood and the best selection for a saw blade for these saws are THIN KERF blades. You can use full kerf blades, but they are best used sparingly and not full time otherwise you will burn out your motor over time and need to replace it.  Full kerf blades cut more wood, requiring more horsepower which creates heat and heat is the enemy of electric motors and the main cause for their ultimate failure.


For table saws, my preference is to recommend a minimum of three blades, a ripping blade, a cross-cut blade, and a general-purpose blade, but I also know not everyone can afford 3 blades so if you have a tight budget and still want a very, very good blade, my recommendation is this one.

Freud 10 inch, Combination Blade #D1050  
It does a very good job of cross-cutting and a good job of ripping, but a little bit slower cutting natural woods and often sells for $35. US price range. I often use this blade for plywoods and MDF and it does a very nice job of these as well.
This blade is widely sold at most big box and hardware stores and can be purchased on-line at Amazon

Freud D1050

For those interested in other blades for the future, a couple more of my favorite blades

Freud Diablo 10" Ripping Blade 24 tooth, thin kerf also widely available or online at Amazon

Freud Diablo 10" Cross Cut Blade 90 tooth thin kerf, widely available or online at Amazon  

And ... still with table saws. Don't forget that any 7-1/4" Circular Saw blade will also work in your table saw, and I frequently use them. I have 2 that I like, yes, both Freud Diablo blades ... these blades do a great job of thinner woods and produce much less sawdust as well. 

24 Tooth ripping and general-purpose blade, sold widely in stores and online at Amazon
40 Tooth Cross Cut and Plywood blade, also sold widely in stores and online at Amazon

*** Want more blade info - Check out this woodworkweb article 

Table Saw Fence Alignment and Lock Down
One of the biggest complaints with cheaper table saws is that the fences are out of alignment. With some they can be aligned, with others the manufacturing will never allow the fence to be square or locked down properly so you may need to do that by other means, such as with clamps as shown in the video. As well as squaring up the fence it will need to be locked and the video shows one way of accomplishing this.

*** Here is the woodworkweb article & video on the topic of the table saw fence alignment - Table Saw Jigs to Align Fence

Sliding Mitre and Chop Saws
In many cases, things that I talked about in the table saw section above, also applies to the miter saw. The big difference between miter and chop saws is that everything you cut is across the grain of the wood or is a plywood or MDF type material. For this reason, we can eliminate all instances of ripping wood.
In an ideal world, we would be selecting a saw blade something called "negative tooth angle". These are blades where the teeth of the saw are angle back not forward like most teeth. Back in the day of the radial arm saws were more popular, these blades were often preferred for their cut and slight reduction of saw kickback. These days, blades with negative angle are harder to find and with advances in blade tooth and blade design, is less of a concern.  Having used both negative and positive tooth blades on sliding miters and chop saws, I can tell you I found there is little or no difference in terms of use or of any tendency of kickback. With this, it opens a wide variety of possible blades to use and again depends on the kind of work you might be doing.  The other thing to note is that all of these kinds of saws have the motor on top of the unit so all of these saws will have smaller, motors with less horsepower and requiring thin kerf blades.

The following blades can be purchased at many of your local big-box or hardware stores or Online

My favorite blade for the sliding mite remains the Freud 10" 90 tooth - Amazon

Freud 10" Negative Angle Sliding Mitre Saw blade, harder to find locally but available from - Amazon
Alternatively, I have used the Freud 60 tooth slider, a good blade, easy to find locally or at  - Amazon

Mitre and Chop Saw Fence Alignment
As with table saw, cheaper saws often suffer from inaccurate fences or they are simply not set up accurately from the factory, which is a common fact. There are 2 kinds of fences on these saws, they are either one-piece fences stretching side to side of the saw, or piece, that is the fence has left and right sides. 

Squaring a Miter Saw
First of all UNPLUG THE SAW   If the fence is a one-piece, loosen all connecting bolts so that the fence is at least slightly moveable (it may not require much adjustment). Next, you will need an accurate carpenter or similar square and probably a thin piece of flat plywood to lift to lie under the square to lift it up about 1/4 inch above the miter saw base to give the square a bit more area to sit on. Next, carefully align the square with the blade of the saw then align the fence to the back of the square and when you are satisfied it is set, carefully lightly tighten the bolts, re-check and adjust if needed, tighten more then re-check, and when satisfied make the final tightening.

If you have a 2 piece tighten only one side first of all, then use one edge of the square to span the fence side to side and tighten the other side. That way you should be able to put wood on either side of the fence and get an accurate, square cut.  

Chisels and Planes
I am not going to profess to be an expert on planes and chisels, but I have been using them for a few decades and have learned enough to get good results. I know many of you have purchased or inherited used planes and chisels from various sources. If you use hand planes and chisels a lot, you have probably already made changes to some of your earlier purchases.  There are a TON of used planes on the market, older planes, and many still in good enough shape that they can be refurbished and re-used. If the body other plane is not cracked, and the sole is quite flat and all the other functions of the plane are working, that plane might be a good candidate for refurbishment. 

Just as with a table and miter saws, one of the most important things IS THE BLADE. Many of the old Stanley - Bailey was quality planes, but over the years many of these planes suffer from slightly warped or coved blades. If the plane is in good shape there are probably only 2 things you will need to do to get make an excellent plane.
Chisels and Planes Blades

1) Flatten the sole of the plane (this can be a long tedious job but it needs to be done)
2) replace the blade. Warped or cupped plane blades are nearly impossible to repair unless you are a blacksmith and anyway, these old blades were made too thin, the new versions are thicker and more stable and are worth the money to refurbish an old plane. 

Do NOT be surprised if you pay more for a new plane blade than what you paid for the whole plane. This is the only way you will get good consistent results from your plane. Warped plane blades won't cut properly, will skip, you will try to sharpen and re-sharpen and they will still not work. You need a new blade.

There are a few sources for plane blades but you will need to know exactly which plane you have before you order the blade.

Lee Valley Tools is one source for plane blades in both US and Canada, make sure you click on your country
Hock Tools is another source for plane blades I have used, these are also available from other vendors like Highland Woodworking 
Another, I must confess I have not used, but well known Lie Nielson Toolworks 
And one more source for both planes and chisels is Rob Cosman Tools

I'm sure there are many others, I will leave it to you to check other sources, these are just some that come to mind for me and some that I already have experience in using.  

Not unlike plane blades, there are good and bad chisels and these can be harder to tell because all you are looking at is a piece of hardened steel with a bevel on the end. Most older chisels, with old wooden handles, are a good bet. Many of the chisels you may already have or will find, will not have a maker's name on them but one clue is to look at the steel of the chisel. If it is long and appears well finished, that is probably a quality chisel. If the steel is short and seems a bit rough, it is probably not the best quality. 

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In terms of refurbishing a chisel, the first thing to do is to flatten the back of the chisel. The whole back does not need to be flattened but at least one inch up from the tip will need to be flat. Only after the back is flat should you attempt to sharpen the chisel and you can use whatever means you have to do this, even some shop-made sharpening devices will work fine for this. All that really matters is that the chisel is straight along its bottom edge and that the sharpness is sufficient to slice paper, if all that works you probably have a good chisel to use. 

Copyright Colin Knecht


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