How to Prevent Tearout on a Table Saw

How to Prevent Tearout on a Table Saw

Tearout is when the bottom of the wood piece you’re cutting with a table saw gets frayed and torn along the cut line. It usually happens with cross-cuts against the grain of the wood and is much more common on composite wood types like plywood. This is a big problem, especially if you’re making decorative pieces, so you’ll want to do all you can to avoid it. Fortunately, avoiding tearout is simple with the right equipment and a sharp blade, as well as scoring the wood before you cut it. This way, you can make tearout a thing of the past.

Method 1 of 2:
Using the Right Equipment

1
Install a zero-clearance insert around the blade. Standard inserts around the table saw blade allow some space on either side to adjust the saw angle. However, this space could also cause tearout on the piece of wood you’re cutting. Try getting a zero-clearance insert instead. This has very little space on either side of the blade, which supports the wood and prevents tearout. In most cases, the old insert pops right out when you pull it up. Then you can push the new insert into the space. [1] X Research source The inserts usually aren't attached and are easy to remove, but follow the instructions for your table saw to install the insert correctly. You won’t be able to adjust the angle of your blade from side to side with a zero-clearance insert, so be ready to switch it out for a standard insert if you need to make angled cuts.
2
Use an alternating top bevel blade with at least 40-50 teeth. Higher-quality blades with more teeth are less likely to cause tearout. An alternating top bevel (ATB) blade is best because it puts less pressure and drag on the wood piece and reduces tearout. Use an ABT blade with at least 40 teeth for better results, though higher tooth counts like 50 or 60 usually give you even less tearout. [2] X Research source ABT blades are easy to spot because the edges of the teeth point in opposite directions.
3
Clean the blade to remove any residue. Residue on the blade could pull at the wood and cause tearout. To clean your blade, raise it as high as it goes with the table's adjustment handle. Use a wrench and undo the nut around the center of the blade by turning it counterclockwise and slide the blade out. Place it into a metal pan and cover it with water. Add some dish soap or laundry detergent and let the blade soak for 30 minutes. Then use a brass or stainless steel brush to scrub both sides of the blade. Dry it thoroughly, slide it back into position, and replace the nut to lock it in place. [3] X Research source Make sure the saw is powered down and unplugged when you remove the blade. Never try to clean the blade without removing it first. Not only could you hurt yourself, but water could drip into your saw and damage it.
4
Sharpen the blade so it doesn’t tear the wood. A dull blade could also cause tearout. Check your blade for signs of dullness, damage, or fraying. If you see these issues on your blade, then send it out for a professional sharpening. [4] X Research source The telltale sign that a saw blade needs sharpening is frayed or rough edges. Try lightly running your fingers along the sides of the blade edge. If you feel rough spots, then the blade probably needs sharpening.[5] X Research source Sharpening saw blades is difficult and requires special equipment. If you do it incorrectly, you’ll ruin the blade. Even professionals usually don’t sharpen their own blades, so send your blades to a professional sharpener for the best results.
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Method 2 of 2:
Prepping the Wood for Cutting

1
Place a piece of tape along the bottom of the cutting line. This provides a bit of reinforcement for the wood and reduces tearout. Take a strip of masking or painter’s tape and press it along the bottom of the wood, lined up with the cutting line. Peel it off after you make the cut. [6] X Research source The tape holds the fibers on the bottom of the wood in place. This way, the pressure from the saw won't push them out and cause tearout. Don’t use a stickier tape like duct tape. This could leave sticky residue on the wood and ruin it.
2
Point the side of the wood that won’t be visible down. If one side of the wood won’t be visible, like if it’ll be facing a wall, then tearout is much less of a problem. Point that side down, facing the table. That way, even if any tearout happens, the visible side of the wood will still look fine. [7] X Research source Don’t worry if both sides of the wood will be visible. These other tricks will help you avoid tearout altogether.
3
Cut with the grain on solid pieces of wood if possible. Tearout almost never occurs on solid pieces of wood if you cut with the grain. If possible, angle the wood and cut along the natural grain. This should prevent any tearout. [8] X Research source Solid wood pieces can also resist tearout if you have to cut across the grain, just not as well as they would if you cut along the grain. You won’t be able to do this on composite pieces of wood like plywood. Tearout is much more common on these types of wood,
4
Make a scoring cut first. A scoring cut reduces the pressure on the bottom of the wood and helps prevent tearout. Turn the adjustment lever on the table counterclockwise to lower the blade. Set the blade low enough so it’ll only cut about 1/16-1/8 in (1-3 mm) into the wood. Line the wood up with the blade to check the height. Then turn the saw on and make a pass over the cutting line to make the scoring cut. Set your blade to its normal height and cut along the scoring line to a smooth edge. [9] X Research source Some high-quality table saws have a smaller scoring blade that spins the other way and pre-scores the wood while you’re cutting it. These are expensive, but if you do a lot of cutting, it might be a good investment. Always wear goggles and hearing protection when the saw blade is on. You could also score the wood with a razor blade instead of lowering the saw blade. Press a straightedge against the cutting line and cut along it a few times with a razor blade. This might not prevent tearout completely, but it will help reduce the pressure on the wood.[10] X Research source
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Method 1 of 2:
Using the Right Equipment

1
Install a zero-clearance insert around the blade. Standard inserts around the table saw blade allow some space on either side to adjust the saw angle. However, this space could also cause tearout on the piece of wood you’re cutting. Try getting a zero-clearance insert instead. This has very little space on either side of the blade, which supports the wood and prevents tearout. In most cases, the old insert pops right out when you pull it up. Then you can push the new insert into the space. [1] X Research source The inserts usually aren't attached and are easy to remove, but follow the instructions for your table saw to install the insert correctly. You won’t be able to adjust the angle of your blade from side to side with a zero-clearance insert, so be ready to switch it out for a standard insert if you need to make angled cuts.
2
Use an alternating top bevel blade with at least 40-50 teeth. Higher-quality blades with more teeth are less likely to cause tearout. An alternating top bevel (ATB) blade is best because it puts less pressure and drag on the wood piece and reduces tearout. Use an ABT blade with at least 40 teeth for better results, though higher tooth counts like 50 or 60 usually give you even less tearout. [2] X Research source ABT blades are easy to spot because the edges of the teeth point in opposite directions.
3
Clean the blade to remove any residue. Residue on the blade could pull at the wood and cause tearout. To clean your blade, raise it as high as it goes with the table's adjustment handle. Use a wrench and undo the nut around the center of the blade by turning it counterclockwise and slide the blade out. Place it into a metal pan and cover it with water. Add some dish soap or laundry detergent and let the blade soak for 30 minutes. Then use a brass or stainless steel brush to scrub both sides of the blade. Dry it thoroughly, slide it back into position, and replace the nut to lock it in place. [3] X Research source Make sure the saw is powered down and unplugged when you remove the blade. Never try to clean the blade without removing it first. Not only could you hurt yourself, but water could drip into your saw and damage it.
4
Sharpen the blade so it doesn’t tear the wood. A dull blade could also cause tearout. Check your blade for signs of dullness, damage, or fraying. If you see these issues on your blade, then send it out for a professional sharpening. [4] X Research source The telltale sign that a saw blade needs sharpening is frayed or rough edges. Try lightly running your fingers along the sides of the blade edge. If you feel rough spots, then the blade probably needs sharpening.[5] X Research source Sharpening saw blades is difficult and requires special equipment. If you do it incorrectly, you’ll ruin the blade. Even professionals usually don’t sharpen their own blades, so send your blades to a professional sharpener for the best results.
Advertisement

Method 2 of 2:
Prepping the Wood for Cutting

1
Place a piece of tape along the bottom of the cutting line. This provides a bit of reinforcement for the wood and reduces tearout. Take a strip of masking or painter’s tape and press it along the bottom of the wood, lined up with the cutting line. Peel it off after you make the cut. [6] X Research source The tape holds the fibers on the bottom of the wood in place. This way, the pressure from the saw won't push them out and cause tearout. Don’t use a stickier tape like duct tape. This could leave sticky residue on the wood and ruin it.
2
Point the side of the wood that won’t be visible down. If one side of the wood won’t be visible, like if it’ll be facing a wall, then tearout is much less of a problem. Point that side down, facing the table. That way, even if any tearout happens, the visible side of the wood will still look fine. [7] X Research source Don’t worry if both sides of the wood will be visible. These other tricks will help you avoid tearout altogether.
3
Cut with the grain on solid pieces of wood if possible. Tearout almost never occurs on solid pieces of wood if you cut with the grain. If possible, angle the wood and cut along the natural grain. This should prevent any tearout. [8] X Research source Solid wood pieces can also resist tearout if you have to cut across the grain, just not as well as they would if you cut along the grain. You won’t be able to do this on composite pieces of wood like plywood. Tearout is much more common on these types of wood,
4
Make a scoring cut first. A scoring cut reduces the pressure on the bottom of the wood and helps prevent tearout. Turn the adjustment lever on the table counterclockwise to lower the blade. Set the blade low enough so it’ll only cut about 1/16-1/8 in (1-3 mm) into the wood. Line the wood up with the blade to check the height. Then turn the saw on and make a pass over the cutting line to make the scoring cut. Set your blade to its normal height and cut along the scoring line to a smooth edge. [9] X Research source Some high-quality table saws have a smaller scoring blade that spins the other way and pre-scores the wood while you’re cutting it. These are expensive, but if you do a lot of cutting, it might be a good investment. Always wear goggles and hearing protection when the saw blade is on. You could also score the wood with a razor blade instead of lowering the saw blade. Press a straightedge against the cutting line and cut along it a few times with a razor blade. This might not prevent tearout completely, but it will help reduce the pressure on the wood.[10] X Research source
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