Updates: 1/20/10 - Added note about riving knife and Sawstop blade brake clearance issues; 2/15/11 - Updated comments about SawStop
Review: Three tablesaw blade holders
Get a grip!
Tablesaw blades are not cheap, at least not the good ones. A high-quality blade can run over $100, so a little care's in order when you change them out on your saw.
Since tablesaws don't have an arbor lock, you need some way to immobilize the blade while you loosen the arbor nut. Some saws use two wrenches, one fits onto flat spots on the shaft behind the blade while the other turns the nut. It works, but getting the wrench onto the flats is a real pain. One old-school way to immobilize the blade is to stick a long screwdriver into the gullet between two teeth. While this can work, you run the risk of bending your screwdriver or, worse, chipping a carbide tooth. And on a fine 80 or 100 tooth blade, it can be hard to get any kind of substantial brace in between the small teeth.
You can also try jamming a piece of wood between the blade and the edge of the table opening. But you can often just end up sawing right into the wood, plus if you slip you can jam your hand right into the blade teeth!
There has to be a better way and we'll take a look at three products that claim to be that way. All three of these blade holders are designed to one simple job: allow you to grab the edge of the blade without damaging the teeth or your hand. Let's look at how each one does its job and how well.
Regardless of what method you use to remove/install the blade on a tablesaw, please disconnect the power to the tablesaw! Any modern saw has a magnetic switch that will disengage if the power fails, so the saw will not start when the power is restored. However, these switches can get dust in them and cause the saw to start spontaneously! If you have a power cutoff switch, use it! If not, unplug the saw or turn off the circuit breaker in the power panel.
$12 from Amazon.com
The BladeChanger is designed to set on top of the blade and grab the teeth, a design that's been around for a while. What's unusual in this design is that it's the only one I've seen that's designed to be used with more than one blade size. In addition to the standard tablesaw size of 10", the BladeChanger has two additional steps to grab 8" and 7¼" blades. The other two holders in this review are designed strictly for 10" blades. I did not test how well the BladeChanger worked with the smaller blades or how well it worked on a circular saw. Also note that the BladeChanger would be impossible to use if your saw has a riving knife in place. If the riving knife is easily removed (like the SawStop) then it's not such a big deal.
The BladeChanger works by adjusting the blade height so the BladeChanger is lifted a half-inch or so off the table, then hold it down on the top of the blade and let the blade teeth catch on the small plastic teeth. While this sounds great in theory, I found it somewhat difficult to apply pressure properly to keep the blade from slipping. And each time it did, the blade would slice off a little bit of each plastic tooth. After just a few slips, a substantial portion of the teeth were already gone and there were little yellow plastic bits all over my blade.
Also notice in the first shot above that the flat side of the plastic tooth is facing away from the blade tooth. I think this contributes greatly to the slipping. It seems that the BladeChanger was specifically designed for right-tilt saws only. When you move the BladeChanger to the other side of the blade, the teeth seem to engage more securely. But then, on a left-tilt saw, the handle is in the way of accessing the arbor nut.
The spacing of the plastic teeth cause another problem. Since the teeth need to mesh up with the teeth of the blade, the BladeChanger can only engage properly with blades having a multiple of 30 teeth. In other words, only 30, 60, 90, or 120-tooth blades. For example, on my 40 and 80-tooth blades, the plastic teeth end up sitting on top of a blade tooth instead of between.
Overall, it seems like the BladeChanger was designed by someone with little experience in working with a tablesaw and wasn't properly tested with a wide variety of saws and blades. Unless you have a right-tilt saw and work exclusively with blades having teeth in multiples of 30, I can't recommend the BladeChanger at all. And even if I met those criteria, the clumsiness of the design and ease of destroying the teeth would rule it out for me.
$13 from Amazon.com
Superficially, the Blade-Loc seems very similar to the BladeChanger. In practice, however, there's a world of difference. The Blade-Loc takes the same basic approach, setting down on top of the blade to immobilize it. However, the Blade-Loc is closed on both sides. The interior narrows as it approaches the top, so the Blade-Loc actually grabs all the teeth at once on both sides. This is much more effective than the BladeChanger. As with the BladeChanger, you have to set the blade height correctly so the Blade-Loc is just off the table. However, unlike the BladeChanger, the Blade-Loc works equally well on both left- and right-tilt saws.
As with the BladeChanger, the BladeLoc would require you to remove your riving knife.
Also, since the Blade-Loc is enclosed, there's no way for the holder to slip off the side, so you can just press down directly on the top of the Blade-Loc. This is much easier than the BladeChanger's offset handle. I found that the best way to do this is to press the heel of my hand near the front edge of the Blade-Loc.
One nice thing about the Blade-Loc is that it can remain on the blade and act as a safety guard while you remove the arbor nut and washer. A good saw blade will do a number on your forearm if you run into it.
Overall, I found nothing about the Blade-Loc that I dislike, it does the job and does it well.
$11 from Amazon.com
The Saw-Jaw takes a totally different approach to grabbing the blade. Instead of relying on your hand to keep pressure on the top of the blade, the Saw-Jaw wraps around the entire blade and locks onto it. Four small tabs on the "open" side hold the blade in and two small triangular teeth on one side and the Saw-Jaw body on the other grip the blade tightly. A ratcheting lock ensures the Saw-Jaw keeps its grip, so you don't have to keep applying pressure. Getting the Saw-Jaw onto the blade takes a little practice, but after a few times it's easy. Once it's on correctly, there's no slippage at all, the scratches in the plastic teeth and sides were caused when I installed it improperly the first time.
The Saw-Jaw is, quite simply, worlds better than any other solution for help with removing/installing a tablesaw blade. The handle gives you an easy way to hold the blade in place while loosening or tightening the arbor nut. And, since the Saw-Jaw can move with the blade without letting go, you can rotate the blade to help with getting the wrench on the nut. One thing I found that didn't work so well was letting the handle sit against the throat opening, the handle's not rugged enough to resist bending, so you need to just hold the handle. If your arbor nut has seized up a little and the Saw-Jaw's handle isn't stiff enough, you can always fall back on using the arbor shaft wrench.
The Saw-Jaw has no 'handedness", it works equally well on both left- and right-tilt tablesaws. However, Saw-Jaw says that it will not fit most small benchtop saws.
Since the Saw-Jaw doesn't depend on the saw top for support, there's no need to get the saw blade a certain height above the table. As long as you can reach the arbor nut with the wrench the Saw-Jaw works. You get complete protection from the sharp saw teeth even while removing the blade. There's no need to remove the Saw-Jaw from the blade when you're ready to pull the blade from the saw, so the Saw-Jaw gives you a safe, easy way to hold the blade while working it off the arbor and out of the saw. Of course, since it stays with the blade, it doubles as a handy storage case! One of the worst things you can do to a fine saw blade is leave it rattling around a drawer or tabletop. If I'm going to shell out $100 or more on a saw blade, I want to make sure it stays in top condition!
In working with the Saw-Jaw, I only found one small problem that won't affect most people. Notice the stepped indentation around the central hole? That's supposed to allow room for blade stiffeners. However, I found that the step is just slightly too small for my Forrest stiffener, the Saw-Jaw tends to grab the stiffener which prevents it from properly grasping the blade teeth. If you're using a stiffener that's just a little smaller, the Saw-Jaw would work perfectly. However, in my recent review of the Forrest stiffener, I found it to be of dubious value, so ultimately it doesn't even affect me.
The other nit-picky criticism I have is that I wish it had a hanging hole in the handle. But I suppose I can fix that ...
As with our other two contenders, a riving knife would prevent the Saw-Jaw from getting around the blade, you'd have to remove it. However, since the Saw-Jaw wraps completely around the blade, you have an additional problem with a SawStop tablesaw. The gap between the blade brake and the blade teeth can be no more than 3/32" and that's not enough room for the Saw-Jaw. To use the Saw-Jaw you'd have to also remove the brake cartridge, which crosses into the zone of Just-Too-Much-Trouble. Because of that, I don't use the Saw-Jaw anymore with my SawStop and I'm making do with the Bench Dog Blade-Loc. I do want to look at modifying the Saw-Jaw one day, though.
If it weren't for the brake cartridge issue, he Saw-Jaw would be the hands-down winner for me. While slightly more difficult to get onto the blade, the advantages far outweighed the minor negatives. The fact that it also protects and stores the blade is a big plus. And it protects me from my own clumsiness, I get enough cuts in the shop without inviting more.