Precision Band Saw

<strong>A better band saw.</strong> When set up with care, my Robinson Cadet band saw is capable of fine work. Simple but thoughtful tune-ups such as the Lignum Vitae guide blocks (right) help me cut dovetails and other joints with immense precision (below).

A better band saw. When set up with care, my Robinson Cadet band saw is capable of fine work. Simple but thoughtful tune-ups such as the Lignum Vitae guide blocks (right) help me cut dovetails and other joints with immense precision (below).

I wonder how many of us are friends with our band saw and consider it one of the most useful and versatile machines in the workshop? My 43-year-old Robinson Cadet is not only my favorite machine, but it is also capable of incredible precision. This may come as a surprise to those who consider that a band saw is a machine for coarse work only.

While considering the content of this article, I came to the conclusion that a good band saw is capable of coarse, medium and fine work, and this ties in nicely with our esteemed editor’s views on handplanes.

Coarse: Break Down Rough Stock
A good-size band saw can rip huge waney-edge planks, quickly disposing of the sapwood and bark. Wide boards often contain the pith at the center of the tree and many exhibit heart shakes. Cutting these planks up the center, into two manageable widths, is not a job for a table saw. The band saw is much friendlier and safer, as the flexibility of its blade will usually cope with the absence of a machined surface to ride on the machine’s table.

My machine has 20″-diameter wheels, so it should not be confused with small hobby benchtop models. I note that the band saw that is featured extensively in James Krenov’s book “The Fine Art Of Cabinetmaking” had 18″ wheels. He states that it was capable of ripping 8″-thick hardwood, provided that a sharp, suitable blade was used.

Medium: Cut Then Refine

<strong>Band-sawn dovetails.</strong> When sawing dovetails in conjunction with a long, tapered MDF guide, it is essential that the workpiece does not slip against the tapered guide. Both pieces must move together, hence the strip of blue masking tape to bind them together.

Band-sawn dovetails. When sawing dovetails in conjunction with a long, tapered MDF guide, it is essential that the workpiece does not slip against the tapered guide. Both pieces must move together, hence the strip of blue masking tape to bind them together.I do a lot of freehand cutting on my band saw, sawing perhaps 1?64" to a 1/16" away from a pencil line, depending on the circumstances. The small amount of remaining timber can be handplaned or machined quite quickly to achieve the desired result. For example: When using the band saw to make the long shallow triangular jigs that I use for dovetail cutting, the remaining stuff can be edge planed on the jointer with a few light passes.Fine: Joinery, Veneer, ResawingI have to confess that my handsawing skills are rather poor because I have not practiced as much as I have with planes and chisels. This is one reason I cut my dovetails on the band saw. The other reason is that my band saw cuts perfectly square every time.Remarkably, the finish left by the .022"-thick, 3tpi, 5/8" “meat & fish” blade that I use for fine work and veneer cutting is just as good as that left by my best dovetail saw, even in 3/8"-thick hardwood. So from my point of view it is win-win – all the way to a good fit.If you do small Krenov-style work, band sawing is almost the only way to do the female half of the signature bridle joints. These are so useful at the corners of delicate frames, for paneled backs and small doors.It won’t butcher your work. The band sawn finish from the meat & fish blade is good enough for gluing (shown is Swiss steamed pear veneer).

Similarly, the face cheek of a tenon can be cut in exactly the right place after a few test cuts are made. Tenons are usually cut in multiples, and each and every cut will be in exactly the same place. As the work gets bigger, I tend to cut the opposite cheek a little thick and adjust it with a low-angle rabbeting block plane or router table. In small work, one can probably cut both cheeks straight from the saw.

Component Preparation
There can be a considerable advantage in leaving a project’s components slightly wide for as long as possible. We can then complete all the machine and handplaning on two faces and one edge. If you need to shoot or handplane the end grain, this extra width allows room to first create a small bevel to protect against spelch (the splitting out of the far corner).

<strong>Cut it close.</strong> Set the point fence with a steel ruler. I reckon to get within one-tenth of a millimeter, i.e. plus or minus .004".

Cut it close. Set the point fence with a steel ruler. I reckon to get within one-tenth of a millimeter, i.e. plus or minus .004".

Once your final width has been gauged on your work, a band saw with a correctly set fence, or even a point fence, is capable of cutting to within .004″ to .008″ of this line. Very few handplane shavings are then needed to arrive at your finished width, and little thought will be needed as the resulting cut surface is extremely accurate and parallel to the face edge. I simply set the band saw’s fence (or a point fence) with the aid of a steel engineer’s rule, measuring to the tip of an inward set tooth. See the photos below.

This is always much safer than using the table saw as there is no possibility of kickback on a band saw.

Veneer Cutting
The ability to cut solid veneers, say 1/16″, 3?32″ or 1/8″, from the same stock you are using in the rest of your project allows for continuity of color and figure. For more on this topic see James Krenov’s first two books, “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking” and “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.”

<strong>See the sawn details.</strong> Above is shown a sample of thin solid veneer. In this case it has been used for a small box lining in one of my student’s work.

See the sawn details. Above is shown a sample of thin solid veneer. In this case it has been used for a small box lining in one of my student’s work.

Old air-dried stock works best. Veneers from kiln-dried stock tend to curl worse due to the internal stresses caused by kiln drying. If the finished veneer thickness is gauged on the edges before cutting, it is easy to plane them to uniform thickness and remove the sawn finish after cutting. A simple way to hold the veneers is to mount them on a thick piece of MDF.  I like to use a few spots of Super Glue Gel at the starting end, as shown in the drawing below. The veneer will be in tension when it is planed, and the majority of the veneer can be lifted to check its thickness with calipers if you have difficulty seeing the gauge lines.

Securing thin veneers for hand planing/thicknessing. Use drops of Super Glue Gel on your MDF board to keep the work in tension.

<strong>Cut then curved.</strong> This example of curved, tapered lamination in English oak shows how the glue lines can virtually disappear. They only become visible near the end, in the waste piece, where the clamping pressure was not adequate.

Cut then curved. This example of curved, tapered lamination in English oak shows how the glue lines can virtually disappear. They only become visible near the end, in the waste piece, where the clamping pressure was not adequate.

Band-sawn veneer is much more robust than knife-cut veneer and can be used to create panels, box tops or shelves that have virtually no seasonal movement. Alternatively, a nicely figured board can be sliced up and used on the show face of a whole chest of drawers. Please do not forget to apply some plainer stuff to the back of your drawer fronts etc., to keep them flat and in balance. Water-based glues will always curl a panel if veneer is applied to one side only.

Resawing
The ability to resaw thick timber has many applications. I now follow a tip from Robert Ingham to create thin quartersawn stock that’s useful for drawer and box making. I start with the widest available 3″-thick planks of timbers, such as black cherry or maple. These are invariably plain-sawn, so if resawn into 3/8″ strips, the resulting material is almost perfectly quartersawn, as shown in the drawing at right. Once a face side and edge have been machined, the sequence is to rip off a strip, then re-plane the edge before cutting the next strip.

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