Tool School: Band Saws

This article is an excerpt from Tool School: The Missing Manual for Your Toolsby Monte Burch. Help your tools reach their full potential! Tool School is the missing manual for the tools already in your workshop, and the additions you may want or need. You’ll also get tips on how to evaluate tools, and how to maintain them once you’ve got them at home. This one –of-a kind resource from expert Monte Burch allows you to skip the tests and trials, and go to the head of the woodworking class.  click here to see inside


Band Saws

It is important that all the guides be adjusted properly. Better quality band saws feature roller-bearing guides.

It is important that all the guides be adjusted properly. Better quality band saws feature roller-bearing guides.

A band saw can be used to cut curves, even in thick lumber, such as in creating cabriole legs, to rip lumber and to crosscut short pieces. The most common use for the band saw, however, is in cutting irregular shapes. The second most common use is in resawing or ripping lumber into thinner slabs. A band saw also makes the smoothest cuts and, with the appropriate blade, can be used to cut materials other than wood, including metal.

What to Look For

Band saw blades ride on rubber-covered wheels. It is important to have proper blade tension to match the blade width.

Band saw blades ride on rubber-covered wheels. It is important to have proper blade tension to match the blade width.

Band saws are basically a pair of wheels, or occasionally three wheels, holding a thin rotating blade, a table to support the work and a motor to run it. I built my first band saw many years ago using a kit from the Gilliom Mfg. Company. The company supplied the wheels and other parts, you supplied the motor and constructed a wooden cabinet. Band saws are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from small bench-top to huge floor models. Bench-top saws are portable and can be placed on a workbench, or bolted to a stand for support. These usually don’t have the capacity, or the resawing capabilities of floor models, but are much more economical. Bench-top models are also handy if you are limited on shop space. Band saw size determines the stock size it will handle and the size is based on two dimensions. First is the distance between the inner edge of the blade and the throat of the saw. A 14″ band saw has a 14″ measurement between the two. This measurement may range from 10″ up to 24″. Some manufacturers may go by the wheel size, which will make the measurement smaller. The second dimension is the depth of cut — the distance between the table and the underside of the blade guide/guard. On a saw with a 6″ depth of cut, you can actually cut about 5-7/8″ due to the clearance needed for the guide to assure easy movement of the work.

Band saws have a tension guide in order to match tension with the blade width.

Band saws have a tension guide in order to match tension with the blade width.

The type and size of table on the saw is also important. The larger the table, the easier it is to hold and guide stock through the saw. The table should also have the capability to be set at an angle up to 45°. One use in this mode is removing the corners of a large turning block to speed up stock removal when turning on a lathe. Most band saws also come with a fence, used for resawing, and a miter gauge to use when crosscut sawing. Band saws do tend to vibrate and regardless of bench or floor model it should be well built with a sturdy cabinet. Bench models should be bolted, screwed or clamped to a solid surface. For the most part band saws can be used as they come from the factory. You can purchase riser kits for some saws to increase the depth of cut. And, more accurate blade guides are also available as after-market additions. If you are purchasing a good quality saw, however, you probably won’t need these items initially. Band saws are also available with different size motors, typically ranging from 1/3 up to 1-1/2 horsepower. If you intend to cut only thin stock, the smaller size motors will suffice. If you intend to do any resawing, a larger motor is required.