Posted Feb 11, 2010
Updated: Aug 10, 2010 - Added final conclusions section; May 20, 2011 - Added link to Rockler cleaning kit review
Review: An assortment of blade cleaners
Keep your blades showroom-shiny!
Saw blades have a tough job. Spinning through an organic material at well over 100 mph can generate tremendous friction and consequently heat. Keeping your blade clean can make a big difference in its performance.
How does a blade get dirty? Mainly from picking up pitch and resins from the wood itself. That gooey stuff gets heated up by the blade and come out of the wood, which then welds onto the blade. Of course, that increases the friction, which heats up everything even more. And on and on.
The blade you see here has been cutting a lot of cedar and pine, which has resulted in quite a coating of pitch. I decided to use several cleaners I have around to do a somewhat controlled test of how well they do.
In choosing which cleaners to test, I set some criteria to fit the way I'd like to see a cleaner perform. First of all, it has to be quick. While some manufacturers recommend an overnight soak in kerosene, I just don't have the time for that. So I eliminated any cleaner that would take more than a few minutes. I also decided against cleaners that are flamable, produce noxious fumes, or are otherwise dangerous, so kerosene, naptha, acetone, oven cleaner, etc were left out.
Note that several sources say that very caustic cleaners like lye and over cleaner can weaken the brazing that holds carbide teeth to the steel body of the blade. I've never seen it happen, but I imagine a chuck of carbide flying off the blade at 120 mph would be a Very Bad Thing™
So I ended up with nine cleaners to try. Prices vary quite a bit, but even the most expensive amounts to pennies per cleaning, so I've not factored that into my review at all.
Each cleaner was sprayed heavily onto a small section of the blade and allowed to soak for five minutes. I then did some scrubbing with a toothbrush and wiped it dry with a paper towel. The result is shown with each cleaner, you can click any of the photos to see a larger version.
To rank the cleaners, I looked at how well they cleaned overall, with a somewhat heavier weight given to the sides of the teeth. Feel free to look at the photos and assign your own rankings
And now, in order from worst to best ...
Just to see how much of that stuff was easy to get off, I tried plain tapwater. While it removed the sawdust stuck to the blade, it mostly left the large pitch deposits and the overall coating of pitch.
One of the odder recommendations I've seen was using coffee. Pretty cheap, but as you can see, not particularly effective. My guess is that it takes a really long soak.
A cleaner I've seen recommended several times is to use isopropyl alcohol, i.e. "rubbing" alcohol. While some would find the odor noxious, it doesn't bother me. However, as you can see, it's not very effective.
The CMT cleaner had problems with the heavier deposits, leaving quite a bit on the tooth sides and some faces. I was somewhat surprised, I had expected it to perform just like the Boeshield because they smell exactly the same! But CMT was near the bottom of the heap.
Simple Green is a commonly recommended cleaner on woodworking forums. Inexpensive and available in most hardware stores, it did an marginal job overall. It did a nice job on the body of the blade and the gullets, but left a lot of the heavy pitch deposits on the teeth. One other drawback was the smell. While not noxious, it's definitely unpleasant. Put simply, it stinks.
One criticism I've seen of Simple Green is that it will harm the carbide. However, the Simple Green website says that this "cobalt leaching" is only possible with extended soaking, spray-on/wipe-off should be no problem.
Goo-Gone is my favorite thing to remove stickers and residue from stickers. It's a bit slower, but it's gentle and won't affect the finish of whatever has the sticker on it. It is, however, relatively effective on pitch, although not quite as good as the best products. I'm a little confused as to why it had so much trouble with the pitch in the gullets, but that's probably not as important as the teeth, where it did a pretty good job.
Vinegar is quite a versatile cleaner, my wife uses it as a floor cleaner and it's better than any commercial cleaner we've ever tried. It doesn't do such a bad job on saw blades, either. Not the best, but not bad.
This cleaner is commonly packaged with Boeshield T-9, a bare metal cleaner and protectant. While definitely better-smelling than Simple Green, it has a unpleasant undertone that makes me a bit sick to my stomach. It did a very good job on the body and gullets while leaving a few deposits on the teeth.
Overall, BladeSaver did the best overall job removing the pitch but not perfectly. The tooth sides and gullets were quite clean, but it left some minor deposits on the tooth faces. Unfortunately, the odor is quite strong and unpleasant when doing an entire blade.
In the final analysis, I give the edge to Empire Bladesaver, but only barely over Boeshield Blade & Bit Cleaner. They both performed noticably better than CMT or the general-purpose cleaners.
Some argue that the specialized cleaners are more expensive. But keep in mind that by cheaping out you're only saving a few cents per cleaning. And how often do you clean your blades? Once a week? Once a month? I'm guessing most of us will buy one bottle of cleaner per decade. Spending a dollar or two per year for optimum performance with no chance of damaging your blade seems like a no-brainer.
UPDATE: I tested out Rockler's Saw Blade / Router Bit Cleaning Kit and like it a lot! Check out my review ...