We’ve written so many times on these pages about the right tool for the right job. This is as true for power saw blades as it is for any other tool. It’s not so much about the manufacturer or the brand name, although both can be a factor. It’s more the various kinds of blades and the differences between them that matter.
For instance, is it a circular saw blade or a miter saw blade? Does the power tool the blade is used with matter? Is it a carbide-tipped blade or a diamond-tipped blade? Does the tooth count matter?
The answer to each of these questions is impacted also by the material being cut and the purpose of the piece being cut – – for instance, will it be seen or hidden?
As a winter project, we’re about to undertake a new floor installation project in the hallway and bedrooms on the second floor.
Today’s subject matter, cutting laminate flooring, fits the bill within all of these questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them with specifics so your decision can be fully informed.
What is Laminate Flooring?
The technical definition of laminate flooring is a bit much, frankly. We’ll give it to you and then speak basic woodworking language:
“Multi-layered, synthetic, assembled together in a lamination process.”
How’s that for fancy wording? Now, what does that mean?
Particleboard wood makes up the bottom layer. Particle board is also referred to as chipboard, or low-density fiberboard – – chips/fiber are gathered together with a resin and high pressure to form the boards in the manufacturing process.
It’s not as strong as plywood, and so its use is not interchangeable with plywood. We’ve recently written about plywood and won’t spend any time discussing it and will simply refer you to a couple of articles in previous pages here and here.
So, the name particle board is an apt one – wood particles and fiber joined together with resin and pressure to form boards. That forms the bottom layer of laminate flooring. Now some more fancy words for you.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about laminate’s upper layers:
“…simulates wood with a photographic applique layer under a clear protective layer.”
In other words, the top layer of laminate flooring is a hard layer and is topped by an image of the grain and color of finished wood that is itself covered by a clear and hard protective layer. It’s wood (particle board) layered above with an image of finished flooring that itself is covered with a transparent layer that protects the image.
That protective layer is composed in part of aluminum oxide micro-chips for added strength to the wear layer (the layer on which you will walk and, over time, wear it down).
Laminate is an affordable and durable choice for flooring today. In appearance, it can match hardwood options and has the benefit of waterproofing and very low ongoing maintenance.
While installation is not difficult – fitting pieces of different lengths together to stagger the seams, coming as close to the wall as possible such that the baseboard will cover any minimal proximity to clean up the coverage – there will still be some cutting involved to make the fits as tight as possible.
The cutting must be neat and accurate to make the seams clean and square, so of course, the saw you choose to use and the blade will be an important considerations. The laminate composition includes aluminum oxide micro-chips for structural integrity, which will impact the blade over time.
In case you don’t recognize aluminum oxide micro-chips, you will likely have used the product with it in your workshop. It’s commonly used on industrial-strength sandpapers, adding strength to the papers, just as it adds strength to laminate flooring.
Saw blades do dull with use, and the material being cut can contribute to the speed of dulling. Blades lose their sharpness over time, and the harder the material being cut, the shorter that time will be. Such is the case with cutting laminate, which will impact the saw of choice and the blade.
What Saws To Use When Cutting Laminate Flooring
While there is no particular power saw better suited for cutting laminate, there are several options that might serve you better than others. Let’s review the saw options first and then discuss the best blades to use with them for laminate flooring projects.
- Flooring Saws. The closer your saw is to the work area, the faster and more efficient the floor installation will go. This speaks to the advantage of a flooring saw. With the talent of both a table saw, and a miter, say, cuts can be made quickly and accurately right at the point of the floor where you’re working – rip cuts, cross cuts, and miter cuts are all doable.
- Your Table Saw. Of course, this is a no-brainer. You won’t be able to lug it over the work area, but it will do the job well and quickly for you.
- Your Circular Saw. Of course, convenience, when used, is the advantage of your circular saw. Lightweight, portable, fast on and off, and quick cuts all make the circular saw a suitable choice.
- Your Hand Saw. Assuming some of your work is still old-school, or you like to use a Japanese-style finish hand saw, your shop saw inventory will include a hand saw. It will need to be very sharp, and you should expect it to lose its sharpness quickly.
- Dremels. Recently we wrote about Dremels, and we like them very much. Frankly, though, it’s not a good choice except for a light and very small trim to make one piece fit into a corner or under-door trim, for instance. We mention Dremels for that limited purpose only. For the most recent piece on the Dremel, you’ll find it here.
How To Choose The Right Blades for Cutting Laminate Flooring
Now, we turn to the most important consideration for cutting laminate flooring – the blade you use. It must be able to handle cutting through the hardening agent used in laminate flooring – aluminum oxide micro-chips. It also must be able to handle cutting enough flooring to complete a room’s worth of project. Having to change the blade of your saw mid-project can be frustrating.
Here are the factors that will influence your best choice for a blade, whether you are using a table saw, a miter saw, or a circular saw, any of which could be a good choice:
- Kerf. We know what kerf is – the width of your cut. As an interesting aside, the word kerf is an Anglo-Saxon derivative that comes from “carve.” The thinner the kerf, the easier the cut. Your blade doesn’t need to work as hard to make a thin cut as it does a thick cut. There is also less waste, and you can stretch your laminate inventory a little further.
- Tooth Count. You’re making a fine, finish cut, not a rough cut. This means you want a high tooth count – teeth per blade. The teeth will be smaller, of course, in order to fit them all on a blade. Fine cut blades will have between 80 – 100 teeth, so use a blade in that range. More teeth, slower cut, but with a thin kerf, it will still be fine.
- Blade Tip. While diamond-tipped blades are strong (they can cut concrete and granite, for instance), carbide-tipped blades are harder and heat and impact resistant. These are a better choice for cutting laminate flooring, although that does not mean they will last forever. They, too, will lose their sharpness with use, and when cutting laminate flooring, that is estimated to be about 1000 square feet of work before they will need to be re-sharpened.
Please note we said re-sharpened, not replaced. If the average bedroom size is 12’ x 12’ in size, that’s only 144 square feet, so 1000 square feet will roughly be 6 bedrooms’ worth of flooring.
Blade Compatibility with Saw
While this is obvious, we still thought we’d mention it. The blade must be compatible with the saw you will be using, of course, and that includes the size of the blade (measured by blade diameter) and the blade’s connection with the saw (arbor size).
We mention this mostly as it relates to the safety of the saw use. Skin is but easily by a rapidly spinning blade, so make sure the blade fits well and securely because it matches the power saw well.
Goggles, of course, and gloves should be a part of your shop inventory to have and use. Safety first!
These suggestions are straightforward and easy to follow, so it makes no sense to present a video showing you these tips in action. However, if you’ve ever installed laminate flooring, you’ve no doubt had to fit that last piece in a row against a wall or floorboard. It can be a bit tricky with multiple measurements to take and mark.
Here’s a video from a professional floor installer who shows how easy that part of the work can actually be. Follow along, and it will all make sense to you. By the way, he uses a circular saw for his laminate flooring cuts, one of the power saws we recommend for the task.
Assuming you can tick off all of those criteria, you should be able to handle laminate floor installation. Measure well twice, cut once, using the right blade in all ways, and the flooring project would proceed well and smoothly for you.
The right tool for the right job, and in this case, the right blade for the right cut, will win the day.