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So You Want to Buy a Band Saw – Maybe
By Ivan Jayson
The first band saw was patented early in the nineteenth century; fifty years later, when a French inventor created a cutting blade that could handle the constant stress and vibration, the technology took off. There was good reason for the new saw’s popularity. Band saws can do what most others can’t. They can cut straight, cut curves, cut irregular shapes, and even cut a two-by-four across its width, creating two identical leaves of wood with matching grain patterns. Band saws can handle both wood and metal. Here’s a guide to figuring out which band saw is right for you.
Bench-top or Stationary
Band saws come in two main types. Smaller models are designed to fit on your workbench. They’re lightweight, portable, and can go easily to where the work is being done. They’re good for the home woodworker who is not going to beat up the equipment. Stationary, cabinet-model band saws are more suitable for the professional. They are floor standers, with a permanent base.
By their very nature, band saws vibrate. Therefore, anything that can be done to reduce vibration will make work both more accurate and more comfortable. If you buy a bench top model, make sure that it can be anchored securely to your workbench. If you opt for cabinet model, pay careful attention to the base. Closed or floor bases will give you more contact with the surface on which the band saw will rest, as compared to band saws that sit on four “feet” or have a panel base. More contact means less vibration. Whether your band saw frame is made from welded steel or cast iron will have an effect on vibration, too. Generally, welded steel will negate vibration better than cast iron.
Making the Cut
No matter what type you buy, it’s crucial that your band saw be able to handle the kind of job you envision for it. That’s why “cut” is important. There are three primary considerations when it comes to cut. First, the depth of cut. Second, the “throat.” Lastly, how much power your band saw requires.
Depth of cut refers to how many inches there are between the upper blade guides and the cutting table. It’s axiomatic that if you’re looking to push something seven inches thick through the cutting blade, but the depth of cut is only six inches, your cut will fail. Be sure inquire whether you can add an inexpensive riser to your saw that will allow you to increase, and maybe even double your depth of cut.
The “throat” is the distance in inches or millimeters between the blade and body frame. If the saw you’re looking at claims a 14” or 24” throat, that’s what it means. Like the depth of cut, the throat will dictate some of the maximum dimensions of the work you’re planning. Be sure not to underestimate how much throat you will need.
Finally, your band saw will require power. Different saws run on different currents. Most are 110 volts; some are 220. Horsepower can range from some fraction of one horsepower up to two horsepower or more. If you’re cutting metal, or doing really big jobs, opt for a band saw with more horsepower.
For certain jobs, like doing intricate woodworking or fashioning nifty curved lines, band saws can do the work like no other tool. When you choose a band saw, in addition to the factors outlined above, make sure that it will be functional for the specific tasks you have in mind. Some band saws are designed mostly for wood, others for metal, others for both. Some are easier than others to change blades, or for sawdust collection. Ask questions, and find the band saw that’s just right for you.