A bandsaw is a mechanical tool that uses a long blade that is stretched between two metals. This then allows a material to be run ‘through’ that saw, in order to make cuts. There are many benefits to bandsaws with one of the most useful being the fact that they allow for particularly uniform cutting action, resulting in straighter and more precise cuts. This precision is possible thanks to the fact that the metal is stretched as it cuts and that it is being pulled from either end. Another benefit is the fact that the tool can be used to make curved cuts, or even to make precise ‘jigsaw’ like cuts, simply by moving the material around underneath the cutting edge.
This is a very useful tool that any hobbyist should have around the home and that every professional should consider to be an important investment. In this detailed post, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the tool, the different types, the uses and how to purchase one.
What is a Bandsaw For?
A good way to get a better understanding of any tool, is to understand when it would be useful and under what circumstances you might find yourself using one.The primary use for bandsaws for many users today, is to cut curves into wood. This is possible even with thick lumbers. It is also popular for making crosscuts on shorter pieces and for cabriolet leg making. It’s also possible to rip or resaw lumber with a bandsaw, which provides thinner slabs. If you have an auxiliary table, then you’ll be able to precisely cut and shape circular designs too.
One of the biggest benefits of all though is the incredible precision that is possible thanks to a bandsaw. This approaches the kind of detail that is possible with machining and as long as you have a steady hand, you can make some very intricate shapes. Cutting around corners and at right angles is now possible and easy, whereas using a regular saw would make this very difficult if not impossible. And if you have a follower and template, then you can create all kinds of delicate and stunning patterns. You can also make identical cut pieces this way, allowing a hobbyist in their workshop to effectively ‘mass produce’ items! Of course this also comes in very handy if you ever have a piece of furniture for instance that has a symmetrical design. If you want to add a flourish into the sides of your desk for example, then you can use a bandsaw and a template to ensure that the two sides are perfectly identical. This will prevent your OCD from going haywire every time you look at it…
Of course the other big advantage of a bandsaw is that it even makes straight cuts that much less tiring and difficult. You might well find yourself occasionally reaching for a bandsaw for jobs that you could have handled other ways, simply because it is the most convenient and enjoyable way to make the cut.
No piece of equipment in the workshop is ever perfect though and of course you will sometimes find that your bandsaw’s limitations prevent it from doing what you need it to do. For very large pieces of wood for instance, you won’t be able to get the exact angle you need. And while the motor is often powerful, there will of course always be an ‘upper limit’ in terms of what you can cut.
Of course compared with a handheld saw, you’re also looking at spending a lot more money and having a lot less portability. Then there’s the fact that there is more to go wrong when you introduce all those mechanical parts.
This will partly come down to the precise make and model though and this is why it is important to consider carefully what bandsaw you want to buy before you part with any cash. While there will always be certain compromises, it is up to you to choose the device that will represent the most tolerable compromises for your specific use case scenarios.
(And note that while the bandsaw looks easy to use, it’s a little bit deceptive! More on this later.)
Types of Bandsaws
There are numerous different types of bandsaw and choosing the right kind will ensure that you get the very best use from it.
As a general rule, bandsaws will normally be divided into three basic categories. These are:
- Bench top bandsaws
- Stand mounted bandsaws
- Floor standing bandsaws
Bench Top Bandsaws
The bench top saw is a type of saw that is relatively portable and that can be attached to any desk top – as the name rather implies! Bench top band saws are particularly light when compared to other types of bandsaws and the wheel dimensions will generally be smaller. This of course means that they will apply slightly less torque and thereby be capable of producing slightly less power. For a benchtop saw, the motor will generally be fixed directly to the equipment, rather than being attached with the belt.
The obvious advantage of something like this is its portability and its relative convenience. If you are someone who takes tools to work, then having a desktop option means that you can do that. More realistically though, the reason you would want a bench top bandsaw, is so that you can keep it in your home workshop and not need to worry about finding the space. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a huge garage for your equipment, most people are going to be limited in terms of how many items they can store around their home workshop and so they need to choose something smaller that they can keep off the ground.
The disadvantage of course is that the bench top bandsaw is going to be somewhat less powerful as compared with a free standing one or any other larger item. This will also mean you have slightly less space to work with when you are manoeuvring large materials around the saw in order to cut curves and angles. The benchtop bandsaw offers relatively low capacity and sawing power and you will move most items around using a light scrolling cutter (which is quite pleasant to use).
Another thing to consider is that these smaller, lighter bandsaws are also cheaper as compared with their larger and heavier counterparts – which is something else to consider when assessing this tradeoff.
Stand Mounted Bandsaws
A stand mounted bandsaw will be mounted onto a stand (surprise, surprise) and this can then be placed anywhere within a workshop for relatively easy use. It is somewhere between the benchtop and free standing bandsaw in terms of weight, price and power and that makes it a good option for smaller businesses or for scenarios where you might need it just occasionally, rather than highly regularly. The height and the amount of space that this takes up will of course be dictated by the size of the stand that it comes with – though in many cases that will be adjustable allowing you to get it at just the right height for you. An added advantage of course is that a stand-mounted bandsaw will allow you to save space on your benchtop, thereby allowing you to fit more items into your workshop for regular use.
Unfortunately, the stand mounted band saw is not able to cut out curves, which is one of the biggest advantages to owning a bandsaw in the first place. It has a large 14 inch diameter wheel size and is usually very affordable. Another benefit is that there is no set-up. Because it is already attached to a stand, all you need to do is to find a place to put it, open out the legs and then start using it!
Floor Standing Bandsaws
Floor standing bandsaws stand on the floor. They have large bases of their own, which will often include wheels and which will make the whole thing very heavy in many cases. They have a large wheel base of around 17-24” and this allows them to apply considerable power when it is needed for cutting through even the toughest thickest materials. The motor size is bigger, the power is there and the large size gives you lots of surface area for moving around wood in intricate patterns.
This is the type of bandsaw you are most likely to find in the workshop of professional woodcutters. Its power and versatility allows for a wide range of different uses and ensures maximum consistency over large work loads.
Of course the downsides relate to the large size and the weight. This is not something that a lot of hobbyists are going to be adding to their collection any time soon and it also takes up a lot of space. Once you have one though, you will find it’s one of those things that makes life considerably easier in a huge variety of situations and you will probably wish that you had gotten one sooner! It’s very normal to find yourself reaching for this when it offers such a quick, price and powerful way to cut through wood.
Tips on Choosing and Using Bandsaws
When choosing a bandsaw, you will likely find that the physical effort involved is considerably less than using a hand-held saw. This allows you to cut more evenly and more easily and when you watch the pros do it, you might well be taken aback by just how easy it looks!
But don’t be fooled – just because the process looks very quick and easy, that doesn’t mean that it is. In fact, quite a lot of finesse is involved in the procedure and you’re going to find that this can be a little fiddlier than you might at first have anticipated.
To that end, it’s a good idea to start with something that isn’t too important to begin with as you get used to the feel of it. Another tip is to make sure that you get the tension in the blade right. Too much and you can risk snapping or breaking it, too little and it can bend and struggle to cut.
As a general rule, the amount of tension necessary for the blade is going to depend on the material that the blade is made from. A bimetal, spring steel or cabide tipped blade will be much stronger than a carbon steel blade and thus will need more tension – around 25,000-30,000psi vs 15,000-20,000.
Another consideration is the TPI – or ‘Teeth Per Inch’. This tells you how many teeth are on the blade and there are several different options here. For thin pieces of wood, you’ll need to find a narrow blade for instance. For cutting into thicker, more coarse woods, you’ll want something with fewer teeth and a wider space between them.
When making your purchase choice, take a look at the frame, which will provide the support for the unit. This is arguably the most important aspect, so make sure that it is die-cast, welded steel or cast iron. Something strong and heavy will provide you with the stability you need to make quick, precise cuts.
Also important is the wheel weight, which can help you to bring more inertia to your cuts. Large dust ports (or an in-built collection) should also be considered a very big positive, as this will allow you to collect the dust as you go and avoid making a lot of mess.
Finally, always look for quality materials and manufacturers. Read reviews, go with known brands and shop around. A few popular ones include the Grizzly G055LX Bandsaw, the Rikon 10-305 Benchtop and the Rikon 10-325 14 inch.
Whichever you decide, you should find that you end up with something that is highly powerful and versatile and that you can use to perform a large variety of different jobs. Your life in the workshop will get easier, but only if you take the time to pick a great saw!