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.
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.
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
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