How Do You Cut Oak Without Burning It?

If you smell burning while cutting oak with your table saw, that’s a problem. Hardwoods are especially prone to burning from friction, so how do you cut a hardwood like oak without burning it?

To cut oak without burning it, follow these guidelines:

  • Use a clean, sharp blade. Dull or dirty blades are the most common cause of burning.
  • Use an HSS or carbide tipped rip blade for cutting hardwoods like oak.
  • Make sure the blade is properly aligned.
  • Cut slowly with a loose but sturdy grip

Burning wood during a cutting session is entirely preventable. To avoid mistakes, prepare properly and follow the right procedures. Read on to learn more about how to prevent scorching your oak with your table saw.

How to Avoid Burning Oak When Cutting (and Why It Happens)

If you see burn marks on the cut edges of your oak, you know something got a little too hot.

When the table saw blade cuts through oak or any other type of wood, it creates friction. This friction produces heat, and when that heat reaches a specific temperature, the wood will burn. Or, to be more specific, it’s often the sawdust caught inside the cut that begins to char.

That doesn’t mean you’ll see any flames. That would not be good. But the heat from friction can burn the tiny fibers in the wood, leaving them scorched.

So how can you avoid this issue? We’ll give you a few pointers on making sure you never burn a piece of oak again.

Keep Your Blade Sharp

One of the major causes of woodburning when using a table saw is a dull saw blade. 

Make sure to keep your blade sharp. This will not only help to prevent scorching the wood, but it will also reduce the wear and tear on your motor. The blade should be sharp enough to cut quickly. 

A dull blade does three bad things:

  • It increases the time it takes to cut
  • The extra time increases the friction between wood and the blade
  • That, in turn, creates an excess amount of heat from friction, which can burn the oak

In the end, a dull blade means a higher chance of scorching the edge and leaving black marks on the wood.

Keep Your Blade Clean

In addition to keeping your blade sharp, be sure to keep it clean.

This means keeping it free of pitch, among other things. Sometimes a blade may seem dull when the real problem is a build-up of pitch resin.

This resin can accumulate behind the blade’s teeth. This extra crud will cause more friction and slow down the cut—and as we’ve already discussed, more friction means more heat, and more heat means a higher chance of scorching the wood.

To clean the crud from your blades, get a commercial blade cleaner and follow the instructions. You’ll need:

  • Some thick gloves
  • A plastic wash container
  • A solid wire brush 

As with any piece of machinery, proper maintenance is key to efficient and safe operation. In this case, safe operation means not burning your nice new slab of oak!

Use the Right Tool for the Right Job

Whether you’re cutting oak or any other hardwood, you’ll want to use a fast blade. It’s best to use a rip blade for cutting hardwoods like oak.

Typically, a rip blade will have 10 to 40 flat-topped teeth. This low number of saw teeth allows for space between the teeth. This large gullet helps to remove the sawdust, which in turn lowers the risk of burns.

Rip blades will easily cut through hardwoods like oak and give you a nice clean edge.

Use a High-Speed Steel or Carbide Tipped Blade

While steel blades are relatively inexpensive and good for cutting softer woods, you’ll want a harder blade for cutting hardwoods like oak.

Here’s two types of blades suited for cutting oak:

  • High-speed steel (HSS) blades are harder than regular steel blades. They may cost a bit more, but you’ll find that they tend to stay sharper longer. This can help you avoid burning your wood while cutting it.
  • Carbide-tipped blades are a great choice because they stay sharper longer than steel blades or even HSS blades. Of course, that higher value does come at a higher price as well.

These types of blades are ideal for cutting oak since they cut fast and don’t cause any excess friction in harder woods.

Proper Blade Alignment

Another cause of friction, and therefore heat, is an improper alignment of the saw blade and the guide fence.

As you feed the stock through, it will tend to push against the guide fence. This added pressure causes friction with the wood.

The blade should be parallel to the guide fence and in line with the miter slot. If your blade wobbles, that could mean that your arbor flange has runout.

Check your table saw’s manual for specifics on properly adjusting the blade and checking for arbor runout. 

We’re sure you’re catching a pattern here—reducing friction is the key to not burning oak and other harder woods.

Watch Your Speed

Oak is a hardwood, and the harder the wood, the faster it should be fed through to prevent scorching marks. The thickness of the stock will also affect feed speed.

Feeding speed isn’t a two-position game, as both have their upsides and risks:

  • Slow feed speeds will tend to give you a smoother cut but at the risk of burns. 
  • Faster feed speeds reduce the risk of leaving heat marks on the cut edge but at the risk of chip out or sloppy cuts.

Beginners tend to feed their wood pieces through the table saw too slowly. For a hardwood like oak, this will build up friction and may leave burn marks. Table saws are built to cut wood fast, so don’t be afraid to pick up the pace a little.

Finding the right speed is more of an art than a science. You will want to experiment with this a little. Before starting an important cut, test your procedure first on a similar piece of wood until you get the results you like. As with all things, this will take some practice.

Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go!

Beginners will sometimes adjust their grip on the wood as they are feeding it through the blade. This can cause problems. 

When you adjust your hold on the wood, this can move the wood toward the blade. Not only will this tend to cause an uneven cut, but it will also – you guessed it – create more friction and heat.

Before you make your cut, plan in your mind. Imagine the motion of the wood through the saw and the placement of your hand. Find the right grip and a hand position that you can easily maintain through the cut duration. You want to feed the stock through in a nice, even motion to avoid extra friction and burns.

Check Your Saw Blade Height

The height of your saw blade can affect the cut. The blade is spinning, and you want the wood to meet the saw teeth in the right angular position.

If the blade is too high or too low, the wood will meet the blade’s spinning edge at the wrong angle. This can cause:

  • Unnecessary friction and heat, leading to an increased risk of burns
  • An increased risk of kickback or other safety issues
  • At the very least, a poor and ragged cut

See your table saw’s instructions on how to properly adjust your blade’s height to reduce the risk of burning oak.

Warped Lumber

Sometimes the problem isn’t your saw or technique, but rather the workpiece itself. Inspect your piece of oak before cutting. Look for any warping or other irregularities in the wood that might cause problems with the cut.

Warped wood will be trickier to cut, and any curvature in the wood can cause additional friction, heat, and scorching.

If you follow all the other tips we laid out, then a bit of warping should be easily manageable without burning. If you have lower quality equipment, however, then stay away from working with warped hardwoods.

Cutting Oak Without Scorching It

To recap, the best ways to cut a slab of hard oak without burning it are:

  • To use the right blade for the job and keep it clean and sharp
  • Make sure the blade is the proper cut depth and alignment
  • Use good technique, avoid twisting the wood, and be wary of warped oak

In the end, cutting oak without leaving burn marks comes down to one key point: maintain your equipment and use good technique to keep friction between the blade and the wood to a minimum!

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