Band saws are one of the most common power tools used today and can be found in the workshop of serious and amateur woodworkers and metalworkers alike. A standard band saw consists of a serrated blade or continuous band of small metal teeth, that forms a continuous loop. The blade is extended over two pulleys, one of which remains idle and the other which is driven by an electric motor.
The most common use for the band saw is to cut irregular shapes and curves in materials, even in thick lumber and durable metal. However, it is capable of a lot more such as cutting tenons and smaller rabbits, as well as ripping small pieces of stock and resawing thin strips of wood.
Those in the woodworking and metalworking industries rely on the band saw for a lot of their work, however, they’re also useful for cutting a range of other materials as well. Due to the fact that they can perform straight cuts or irregular ones, they’re an extremely versatile power tool to have on hand.
The History of the Band Saw
Band saws have had quite a slow-moving progression from their very first form many years ago. Invented around 1809, an Englishman named William Newberry received a patent for the idea of the first band saw the prototype. However, due to the constant flexing of the band saw blade over its turning, it was largely impractical as it caused the material of the joint to fall.
Commonly mistaken for the original invention of the band saw, in 1846 a Frenchwoman named Anne Paulin Crepin devised a method whereby a welded band saw blade meant that the machine could endure the harshness of sawing and bending that occurred around the band saw wheels.
In 1933, Mr. Wilkie who developed the first practical metal cutting band saw.
Following this amendment to the machine, many more were made which lead us to the modern band saw we know today. With continual improvements in technology, the band saw will be set to make further advancements that improve its overall efficiency and functionality.
The Parts of A Band Saw
A band saw has many parts, and these can vary greatly depending on the type of band saw. Some functions may be purely for safety, others are to assist in a precise cutting action, but all are as important as the last in constructing this versatile power tool.
It’s fair to say that without the blade, this machine’s cutting capability wouldn’t exist. The blade of a band saw is formed in one continuous loop, consisting of smaller teeth that make up its serrated edge. Blades are interchangeable depending on the project and material at hand and give this machine the ability to provide a range of different cuts.
The table of a band saw is where you place your workpiece, usually held in place with a vise. Many users prefer to build their own custom table to suit their workspace, either by adding on or constructing a new one altogether. Some tables can be connected to existing band saws to allow them to switch between horizontal and vertical cutting capabilities which give the user a greater range of cutting capabilities than just a singular type.
The wheel cover’s primary purpose is to protect the user from the blade, and it can be lifted to make adjustments to the blade or to change the blade over. The wheel cover protects the majority of the belt from exposure and leaves only the part of the blade exposed that will perform cuts.
The electric motor is one of the band saw parts that dictates how much power your machine will have. While a larger motor is more powerful, it can make the machine harder to maneuver. Likewise, if you’re using a portable band saw, you may find the power lacking as it needs to be easily transported and lightweight.
The upper wheels on a band saw have two important functions. Firstly, they provide blade tension or the release of tension for when you need to change blades. Secondly, they allow you to adjust the wheel’s angle so that the saw blades track correctly.
Dust collectors may not be available on all models, but they’re an extremely useful accessory for your band saw to have. Sawdust from woodworking and dust from other materials can be extremely dangerous for your health as it enters your respiratory system or eyes, and slippery sawdust on the floor of a workshop can contribute to slips and trips. A dust collector simply vacuums up any unwanted material as you work and keeps your work station clean.
Guides are one of the most important band saw parts, with two present on each machine. These guides are responsible for stabilizing the blade so that the cuts are accurate. Due to their importance, these guides require constant attention and alignment. Each guide has three components, including a thrust bearing, and one block on each side of the blade. The thrust bearing stops the blade from being pushed to the back when cutting.
A Step By Step Guide to Using Your Band Saw
Each band saw is unique, so you should always consult the manufacturer’s manual before operation. These are some common steps for using a benchtop band saw that will ensure your safety and a precise cut.
1. Choose the Correct Machine
There are so many factors to consider when selecting a band saw, some of which include cutting speed, blade length, safety measures, and capacity. Try to keep in mind what the main priority of your work will be before looking at the options.
2. Assemble Your Machine
Band saws for home use require construction so they can be adjusted to meet your personal specifications. Consult the manufacturer’s handbook that comes with your band saw for any specific information. Ensure you are working at the correct height, there is sufficient light in your workshop, and your machine is fastened to the benchtop correctly if working with this type of machine.Select your blade
3. Select Your Blade
Again, this will change according to the project you’re working on. When considering the blade, you’ll need to look at the blade width and teeth per inch. Each blade will give you either a wide or narrow cut, and a smooth or rough finish.
4. Adjust Blade Tension
Always remove the band saw from its power source before you do this, as this is known to cause many injuries. To test the tightness of the blade, raise the blade guide to maximum height, and press sideward against the blade. If required, adjust the blade tension according to the manufacturer’s manual.
5. Check the Blade Tracking
Remove the wheel cover and turn the upper wheel by hand, keeping an eye on the blade’s position. If its runs in the center of the wheel without wobbling for at least 20 revolutions, it’s safe to use.
6. Set the Blade Guides
If you’re using a benchtop saw, chances are it has a movable blade guide. Move the guide so that it’s close to the wood stock you’re cutting, but without the possibility of binding or jamming the material.
7. Adjust the Table
Test this with a square piece of stock to see how well it aligns for a square cut. Some saws are automatically preset to zero on an angle indicator, so use the 0 or 90-degree mark to perform this.
8. Set Miter Guides
If using a miter guide to make a straight cut, ensure it has been set correctly. This will allow it to hold the stock in line when performing a straight line cut.
9. Mark Your Cut
Using a lead pencil, mark your wood or other material where you intend to cut it. This will allow for a precise cut and leave no room for errors.
10. Check Clearances
Before you make your cut, be sure that your stock will be able to turn and move freely when required, otherwise, it will become stuck midway through.
11. Make Your Cut
Now it’s safe to turn the machine back on and perform your cut. Let the blade come up to speed, and keeping your fingers as far away as possible, feed the material into the blade.
Types of Band Saw & Their Uses
Band saws have branched out to cover a wide range of purposes and users, from amateur carpenters to commercial timber yards. The advancements that band saws have made since their invention in the 19th century have allowed this power tool to stay relevant and useful in modern workshops.
Metal Band Saw
A metal band saw is the ideal choice for tasks that require a smooth cut through metal. These band saws come in either horizontal or vertical varieties, depending on the type of cut you’re after.
For a straight cut through metal or to bring the stock down to size, the horizontal saw is ideal. However, if you’re looking to perform more precise jobs such as filing, polishing, and creative cuts, a vertical band saw is best.
Meat Band Saw
Favored by professional and at home butchers, the meat band saw makes light work of cutting through meat and bones. They’re crafted with stainless steel, making them easy to keep clean, and ideal for easily cutting portions of meat for commercial sale or private consumption.
Wood Band Saw
The wood band saw is one of the most common types, hailed for its versatility with woodworkers. Both amateur and professionals rely on their band saw to perform curved cuts through wood, or to cut stock down to size.
Smaller wood band saws are generally found in workshops, where the larger scale models are employed by timber mills for their ability to rip lumber quickly and easily. Unlike other tools, the wood band saw is able to work with large pieces of timber which makes it ideal for commercial grade ripping.
Vertical Band Saw
A vertical band saw remains stationary as the workpiece moves through the blade, making it unique to the horizontal band saw method. This allows the saw to create intricate cuts and curved lines, as well as standard straight ones.
Vertical band saws also come with an inbuilt welder, allowing the user to create their own blades for custom jobs, or repaired old and damaged blades.
Horizontal Band Saw
The horizontal band saw operates slightly different to the vertical in how the blade cuts through the workpiece. Your material is held down in a stationary position while the blade of the band saw swings down through the cut.
These machines are ideal for ripping timber and performing straight and precise cuts, but not able to create any complicated curves or shapes.
Portable Band Saw
Portable band saws are a handy invention that lets you take your machine with you. A portable band saw might suit professional carpenters who visit different sites for their work, or simply the home carpenter who needs a bit of freedom with their tool.
A portable hand saw can do anything the other styles can do, including straight edge cuts, curvaceous lines, and irregular shapes. They also have the added bonus of a battery pack meaning you don’t always need a direct power source to operate them.
Thanks to their movability, these saws can be taken into nature and used to cut railroad ties or even metal poles and can work with the body of a larger workpiece that might not be easy to transport to the workshop.
Different Band Saw Blades
The band saw blades come in such a wide variety due to each one’s specific ability to handle a workpiece. Never ideal to have just one style of blade for your band saw, you should have a variety of blades available that can suit various projects and various band saw prices.
The band saw blades also need to be chosen according to your workpiece. If you’re performing metal cutting there is an entirely different set of guidelines to follow than wood cutting. According to Super Cut, manufacturers of the band saw blades, there are three main steps to finding the right blade for your project:
1. Choose the Band Saw: What type of band saw are you using?
Depending on what type of band saw you’ll using, each has a preferred blade.
For metal cutting band saws, a carbon tool steel or bimetal blade is best. Carbon blades are ideal for home workshops as they’re economical and ideal for cutting mild steel. Bimetal blades suit those band saws being used in a production setting as they offer a longer life and durability. A bimetal blade is costly but can last 10 times longer than a carbon one, so they suit commercial use more, and they’re capable of cutting harder metals such as stainless steel.
For wood cutting, opt for carbon tool steel, premium gold carbide or specialty resaw blades. Premium gold carbide blades are long lasting and fast cutting, ideal for serious woodworkers. Carbon tool steel is versatile and can be used for both wood and metal, but are better suited for wood or very light materials.
2. Choose A Width: How tight do you need to turn?
Band saw blades will be determined also by whether you’re using a horizontal or vertical band saw. For a horizontal band saw, you’ll only ever need one width of blade as this is all they’re designed to use. Vertical band saws, however, can use a number of widths depending on your desired range. Check the minimum turning diameter for each specific blade before using.
3. Choose the Tooth Pattern: What are you cutting?
Again, this will depend on the material you’re cutting, as both wood cutting and metal cutting band saws have their own guidelines to achieve different cuts.
Wood cutting band saws generally follow the rule that the fewer teeth per inch you have, the faster and rougher cut you’ll have. Alternatively, the more teeth per inch will give you a smoother, but slower cut. It all depends on your project at hand and the type of workpiece.
Metal cutting band saws determine their tooth pattern by the thickness of the material you’re working with. Go with band saw blades that have fewer teeth per inch for thicker materials, and more teeth per inch when cutting thin materials.
Best Brands of Band Saw
With so many band saws on the market, it can be hard to pick the good from the bad. For the purpose of this guide we’ve compiled a list of the three best band saws for woodworking, metal working, and portable machines, all within the standard range of band saw prices.
Best Wood Working Band Saw
The Grizzly G0555LX band saw is ideal for woodworking projects. It has a solid cast iron frame that reduces any vibration, giving you a smooth cut every time. This band saw includes a rip fence, dust port, and re-sawing attachment as well, so there’s no need to make your own. It has a minimal setup out of the box and is already pre-aligned for ease of use.
Ideal for: This band saw would suit first time users looking for a quality machine that is easy to use. Its ability to perform superbly smooth cuts through wood make it a carpenter’s best friend, whether you’re just a beginner or have years of experience.
Price guide: For the Grizzly G0555LX you’re looking at roughly $800 – $900, plus shipping. While it might seem more expensive than comparable brands, its guaranteed quality means this machine will last for years.
Best Metal Working Band Saw
Although many band saws claim to be safe for both wood and metal cutting, it’s best to stick to a specially designed metal cutting band saw to ensure a quality cut. The Shop Fox W1715 3/4 HP Metal Cutting Band Saw features a 4-inch dust hood inbuilt, cast iron handwheels and extension wings, and a blade that can tilt to 45 degrees right.
Ideal for: Metalworking band saws are great for a variety of jobs involving sturdy materials. This machine also features a vertical cutting attachment, meaning it can perform straight cuts or trickier more intricate curves.
Price guide: Generally priced at around $450 plus postage, this sits well within the average price guide for a quality metal cutting band saw.
Best Portable Band Saw
The Milwaukee 6238-20 AC/DC Deep Cut Portable Two-Speed Band Saw is our pick for best portable band saw, thanks to its powerful 11-amp motor. It features two distinct speeds for versatility and comes from one of the most reputable manufacturers of power tools on the market. It’s amazingly quiet and offers an extremely accurate cut for a portable machine.
Ideal for: This portable band saw is so diverse that it would suit not only mechanics and construction workers but also woodworkers and carpenters. It’s ideal for those users on the move and comes with a battery operated option, however, the battery must be purchased separately.
Price guide: This machine is excellent value for money at $$$ – $$$$, including shipping.