Power tools are addicting, kind of like speed on an open highway. Working with a hand-held jigsaw or circular saw can satisfy your basic needs, but sometimes you have to do a little more, go a little further and get things done faster. You start craving more power, more energy. Your body gravitates towards the band saws and table saws in the hardware stores and online tool shops, you start to drool uncontrollably, and you suddenly HAVE to have one. But which one? The ease, convenience and accuracy of a band saw or table saw over a hand-held jigsaw or circular saw makes power saws particularly enticing. Unfortunately, a band saw or table saw is a big investment. Most of us have to decide on whether to invest in one or the other until we can afford both – if we really need both. (Of course we do. We need ALL of the power tools!)
So which comes first? The band saw or the table saw?
If you’re an established professional contractor, woodworker or metalworker, the choice is easier because your answer is primarily related to production. But what if you’re a beginning woodworker? What if your beefed up workshop is “just” a hobby? (A hobby that consumes every waking thought with plans, and every weekend with projects.) How do you decide? It’s like asking what’s the difference between the Indy 500 and NASCAR. You don’t fully understand the difference until you drive it. But knowing the difference in the machines, having driving experience, and imagining yourself as the driver helps you understand. For some people, the question is as simple as “Do you prefer NASCAR or NHRA drag racing?”
The most fundamental difference between a band saw and a table saw is like the difference between NASCAR and NHRA racing. If you look at what the table saw provides, the table saw is clearly meant for the drag strip – it cuts straight and fast. The band saw on the other hand is clearly made for the speedway – ready to handle curves. Table saws are about consistent speed and power, full speed ahead. Band saws let you turn and adjust. In drag racing, the car does more than the driver. That’s the table saw attitude. In NASCAR, the driver has to maneuver in and out, through and around. That’s the band saw attitude.
Noise is usually not a stand-alone deciding factor in a band saw or table saw purchase, but everyone has their own tolerance of noise and their own priorities. NASCAR is loud, but NHRA top fuel dragsters create more horsepower in one cylinder than there is in one Sprint car. (Per ESPN.) A band saw is loud, but a table saw is much louder. Neither are as loud as an Indy race, NASCAR race or NHRA race. But you should wear ear protection at the races, and in your workshop.
If you know the majority of your cuts will involve curves and freehand, the band saw should win your dollar vote. If you turn out mostly rip cuts and cross-cuts, bevels and angles, and you have no interest in freehand or detailed curvy work, you’ll be a fan of the table saw.
But an auto race isn’t just about the track. It’s also about the machine, and the driver. You are steering this massive deadly power tool, and you had better feel comfortable with it. You’ll be shucking out big bucks for this purchase. Learn about the machine. An Indy car runs with 10,000 hp, and a stock NASCAR auto about 700-800 hp. NASCAR autos are far more forgiving with a light jolt than an Indy car, and safer.
Talking about Power….
Even though the horsepower of your table saw or band saw are in the same ballpark as each other, the blade of a table saw has the effect of an Indy car, and the blade of a band saw is like a NASCAR auto. And that’s because of grip and acceleration. Grip and acceleration provide precision, but it also increases danger when thrown off track. Wood or car. A standard table saw has a large powerful 10” blade gripping the wood spinning right towards you as it cuts your wood. If that wood jolts for any reason, that powerful spinning accelerating big blade is going to shoot that wood right back at you, just as carbon fiber car parts from an Indy car get thrown up into the stands.
A band saw has around a 1/2” to 1/4” blade. And since the blade on a band saw moves down instead of towards you, you are far less likely to get kickback unless you’re sawing an unsecured round object. If you are the klutzy type, the band saw may be your preferred choice, and you can continue to use your circular saw for cross-cuts. (The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported a few years ago that about 70% of stationary-saw related injuries are from table saws, and about 7% from band saws.)
But, unless you work for OSHA or you’re a personal injury lawyer, you should not base all of your life decisions on safety. Otherwise, you’d never drive, and you’d live in a plastic bubble. You should, however, make sure you use all the safety features of your table saw or band saw and upgrade your protection options.
If you prefer the safety of a band saw, but you have to cut 100 dadoes a day, your band saw will not produce what you need. A table saw makes producing a quantity of dadoes faster. You can put a dado stack blade on a table saw, but not a band saw. However, if you have a router – you can use that to make dadoes. The question of “should I get a band saw or a table saw” is also answered by taking a look at what other tools you have available. You can balance the cost difference between a band saw and table saw by looking at what other power tools can compensate for the tasks you sacrifice. Which tools do you already have, which would you have to buy, and which ones would you have to use most often to compensate for not having a band saw or table saw?
Even though a table saw and band saw are both capable of making rip cuts, those rip cuts are not the same quality. A table saw makes a much cleaner, smoother cut than a band saw. If you decide to go with a band saw, expect to be spending time cleaning up the edges. Dealing with large sheets of wood, such as plywood and MDF, is also a job for a table saw. Again, “production” is a factor. Will you be cutting large sheets often or just occasionally? If you’re a fan of timber, milling, homemade bowls made out of felled tree parts, or if half your woodworking projects begin because you have all this free wood sitting in the forest behind your house, a band saw will keep you happy and racing for more timber and more woodworking projects.
What do you want to build?
The cutting height of a band saw blade can be over a foot. A table saw blade typically cuts through less than a quarter of a foot. It is never recommended that you cut a log with a table saw. You’ll have to make modifications and cut more than once to make a full pass through the log. And it will be time-consuming and dangerous. If you know that timber is a big part of your woodworking plans, band saws take a serious lead as a final contestant because of their blade height, safety, and flexibility in working with odd-sized pieces. Of course, modifications to table saws and band saws are not much different than beefing up an engine on a car or turning a classic car into a hot rod. But they can be dangerous and take a lot of money and a lot of work.
Table saw versus Band Saw – Take your pick!
To make your investment cost-effective, it helps to know where your passions and talents are, and where your workshop dreams are going. For a basic beginning woodworker that is interested in making basic furniture, such as shelves, chests, tables and chairs, a table saw will meet your needs. But if you know you have a passion for specialty decorative wood veneer, you love the challenge of cutting small pieces, or if you swoon over wood sculptures, the fine arts, and decorative wood boxes – you’ll undoubtedly crave a band saw as your woodworking skills progress.On the other hand, if you see yourself putting up a new deck in the back of your house, building a gazebo for your back yard, and adding an addition to your home, a table saw will be as necessary as the primary vehicle in your home.
Picture yourself as the driver at the finish line. Picture yourself as a master of your dreams. You’ve completed the projects you’ve always admired, and you felt comfortable creating them. The table saw and band saw will both be able to do more than you expect, and they will both have their limitations. Of course you want both. But if you have to pick one, pick the one that can steer you towards your dreams. A new power tool is all it takes to let inspiration begin.