Chris Schwarz's Blog

Band Saw Buying Advice (Cheap & Easy)

Delta Band saw

When the history of 20th-century woodworking machinery is written, someone will compose a poem, ode or opera to the Delta 14” band saw that was made in the United States.

There are many flavors of this band saw depending on who owned Delta at the time the machine was made, and machinery collectors make fine distinctions about which era was the best. But for users, I think the decision is simple: If it’s a Delta 14” band saw that was made in the United States, it’s worth owning. Here’s why:

Delta made so many of these band saws that the world will likely never run out of them – much like the Stanley Bailey No. 5 plane. Because they are common, they are generally inexpensive. I bought my 1980-vintage Rockwell Delta saw for $275.

Most accessories fit the Delta band saw – heck, most accessories were designed with this saw in mind. The blade that the machine uses is the most common length – you’ll always find one on the rack at a woodworking store and I can usually find them at home centers. If you ever need parts for your saw, they are cheap and easy to get.

But most of all, the saw is built like a tank. It is not fussy or difficult to tune. And its overall design is so perfect that it was the model that Asian manufacturing plants began copying in the late 20th century, which eventually contributed to the constriction of Delta’s U.S.-based manufacturing efforts.

So if you buy one of these saws (or own one already), how should you soup it up?

To be honest, I don’t think you should do much at all. When I add accessories to a machine, I avoid things that increase its complexity. The more complex the machine, the more that can go wrong. So I use the stock blade guides, including the old metallic side guides (I love them). I don’t have a fence. I haven’t even added any dust collection ports.

The machine runs like a champ with the stock equipment. My blades never heat up. And I have all the control I want when cutting. But I have changed a few things, and they are all inexpensive upgrades.

Delta Band saw

I put in an aftermarket zero-clearance throat insert, a $5 upgrade. This prevents small offcuts from getting wedged between the blade and throat insert. The main tension spring on my saw wore out (35 years is a good run). So I replaced it with an aftermarket spring. And I replaced the original belt with one of the red Power-Twist V-belts. Those do make a difference on machinery. In fact, I run this saw with an old 1/4-horsepower U.S.-made motor from the 1950s and the saw has never stalled or felt underpowered, even in resawing 6”-thick material.

Power-twist V-belts

Lastly, I use good blades. For most operations I recommend the Woodslicer blades from Highland Woodworking. I’ve tried a lot of blades, and these are my favorite. (I also use the Lenox carbide blades, but I don’t recommend those for new band saw users – a small misalignment of your guides will ruin a $200 blade in nothing flat.)

There are lots of amazing band saws made today that eclipse the old Deltas in their cutting capacity, raw power and fine adjustments. But nothing can beat the Delta’s utility, flexibility and overall value.

— Christopher Schwarz

14 thoughts on “Band Saw Buying Advice (Cheap & Easy)

  1. Danny

    I fondly remember using this Delta 14” band saw when I was a pattern maker back in the 60s. Now that I am getting back into woodworking as a hobby, I would love to find one these models as good as the one you have pictured. However on ebay they are listing worn out examples for 2-3 times what you paid. Any recommendation where to locate one like yours, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for the inspiring articles. Danny

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      eBay is a lousy way to buy a machine (usually).

      Try Craigslist.com. Be patient and persistent.

      Auctions: These band saws are VERY common at auction.

      And join your local woodworking club. That is where the best deals happen.

  2. Martin

    I agree with your comments on all points regarding the saws even though mine was made in China. However, since the latest owners have taken over, parts, and perhaps the saws, are not readily available (or perhaps not at all) in Canada. Making matters worse, the manufacturer does not ship to Canada.

  3. BLZeebub

    Ditto on all points. I bought my 1980s vintage for $500 fifteen years ago and it was virtually unused and included a mobile base too. I like the WoodSlicers but I really like my Lenox carbide. I also upgraded mine with the height extension, a 2hp motor (yes, it fits), those itty-bitty roller guides and the link belt. It cuts hard maple faster than my Powermatic 66 and with a cleaner cut. Not sure what else I could do to it to make it better. Carter’s guides?

    For sure, if sea levels rise here in FL, I’ll add outriggers and a floatation ring ’cause it’s coming with me!

    cheers all,

    1. Steve_OH

      The Lenox blade is a real workhorse, but I find that it has one flaw: the tooth spacing is uniform, rather than irregular (like the WoodSlicer blades). What that means is that the blade resonates under certain conditions, and you end up with strange-looking undulations on your workpiece (not to mention the piercing scream…). The WoodSlicer seems to be completely immune to this problem. The downside of the WoodSlicer is that it does wear out, which the Lenox blade never seems to do.

      This photo (from Jameel Abraham’s Benchcrafted blog) shows the kind of undulations I’m talking about.

      1. drsmith

        I used the Lennox bi-metal blades and find they last a long time, are not terribly expensive, and come in a variety of configurations and custom lengths. I looked at the carbide blade, but couldn’t justify the cost if the bi-metal blade worked just as well.

  4. hmerkle

    Chris,
    You said 1/4 HP motor?
    Did you mean something else?
    I have a 1 hp on mine and while I never stalled it, it is obvious when I am overworking the machine…

    Regardless, I agree with the statements – “Must-have, workhorse, good-to-go without (many) upgrades etc. etc. etc.”

  5. gumpbelly

    Those 14’s are great for circle and curve cutting with your finer band saw blades, Not so much with resaw where they are limited to 6″ without a riser block, and underpowered. Yes you can resaw, but it takes a lot of time, and patience to do so. This is the reason so many woodworkers are keeping the old 14 for curvy work, and buying a second band saw for just resaw. Bigger capacity, wider wheels allowing for a wider blade, the blades are thicker, and offer special tooth sets like 1.3 teeth per inch so there is an actual gullet buried in the wood, and you maintain 3 teeth working on the cut. But mostly power to drive all this action so you don’t have birthdays waiting for a wide board to become 2 or more thinner versions. Those of us with 2 band saws aren’t giving up either of them 🙂

  6. Jim Dee

    You make a good point about the availability of parts. A friend of mine bought a “Central Machinery” saw. Every time something broke, he replaced the broken part with a used Delta part purchases on E-bay. Surprisingly few parts broke, but none broke twice. Seems like the only place this approach wouldn’t work would be the lower blade guides, but there you could go with Jet parts. I’m not advocating this approach, mind you. Just sayin’.

    1. mlewis

      Great recommendation. My 70’s Rockwell/Delta is simple, strong, accurate and cheap. It was well used when I got it over 20 years ago, but has only needed the Power Twist belt Chris mentions, a new spring, one new wheel bearing, one new tire, one new guide thrust bearing, and some shimming of the riser block and blade guide (it is a bit of a Frankensaw as the riser block appears to be a later change and not all the parts matched or were properly fitted then ). It’s blacksmith simple: everything was and is readily available and easy to work on the few times needed. I use it for wood, (some) plastic, brass and aluminum without problem. My only gripe is that the blade covers are not hinged and must be completely removed when changing blades but that is pretty minor. It’s gives me less trouble than either my kids or my dog and is my favorite power tool.

      1. wbltools

        I also have a 1970’s vintage Rockwell/Delta. I upgraded to the Power Twist Belt, but also changed out the pulleys to machined cast iron. Cast zinc pulleys are often not completely round. The cast iron pulleys run smoother. I upgraded to a new 3/4 horsepower Delta motor and it’s more than enough power.

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