Woodworkers expect precision, durability and dependability when investing in a professional quality band saw. When shopping for a new band saw, power and a robust design should be at the top of the list, according to experts in the field.
"From my experience, you get what you can, but bigger is usually better with band saws because of the distance that the saw blade travels," says Kelly Mehler, owner of Kelly Mehler's School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky. "Larger machines are also more stable, their blades travel farther, they run cooler, are typically built sturdier and you can get a wider blade on them.
"A lot of people use a band saw to resaw. It's a great way to make thinner wood instead of planing it away into sawdust. I've always used my saws for resawing and a heavier saw works better for resawing than a smaller saw."
While a band saw can't replace a table saw, it is considered a safer option for certain operations.
Delta/Porter-Cable, 4825 Hwy. 45, North,
General International, 8360, Champ-d’Eau,
Tel: 514-326-1161. www.general.ca
Rikon Power Tools,
Sunhill Machinery, 1208
Product engineers at Delta Machinery have recently completed extensive research on band saw product development. Their findings strongly suggest the band saw has two primary uses in a woodworking shop that result in economic savings.
"We found that, 50 percent of the time, band saws are used for resawing," says Bill Harmon, Delta's product manager for band saws. "The other most popular use is to saw thin pieces of wood for veneering, which alleviates the costs of using solid hardwood and purchasing veneer."
Harman says it's important to understand that as you go up in power and size with a band saw, you'll have a better ability to make cuts on larger boards with increased power and vertical capacity. Harman recommends starting with at least a 14" model.
"On a 14" saw, you have the ability to put a riser block on. A riser block is a rectangular piece of cast iron, roughly 6" in height, that installs between the upper and lower cast-iron arms. It increases the distance between the table and the blade guides, which gives you more resaw capacity," says Harman.
"Bench-top models limit resaw capacity. They don't have enough power, since they usually have 3/4-hp [motors] or less. Most resaw band saws are at least 1 hp or more. If you're just doing contour cutting on small pieces, or you're just doing cutoffs, then a bench-top band saw would be fine. But most woodworkers want to buy a quality band saw to save money on the milling of the lumber and plane it down instead of buying those planks at 50 percent more at a given lumberyard."
Features to consider
When shopping around, look for features like a quick release for blade tension. Mehler says this is an important feature that preserves blade and machine life.
"It takes the tension off the blade when you're not using it, so it gives everything a lot longer life, including the wheel and tires. You have to stretch the blade to give it tension in order to cut well. So you can imagine putting a lot of stretch on your blade and leaving it there. Eventually, that wears everything out on the machine."
A cast-iron steel frame is considered a must. The cast iron makes for a heavier band saw that reduces vibration and drifting, which means better cutting accuracy.
When it comes to selecting a guide system, roller bearings get the edge over ceramic guides.
"If you're doing resawing, the roller bearings are better because they build up less heat and they help to steer to keep you from drifting too much. Ceramic guides are the less expensive way to go, but some users will tell you that bearings are the only way to go," says Harmon.
Aftermarket fences are a popular accessory, though many manufacturers are now including quality fences as standard equipment. A fence performs two primary functions: to rip lumber and resaw with more accuracy.
"A lot of guys will build fences and featherboards to make sure they do not drift. Having a fence that locks down accurately allows you to get a lot better cut, especially if you're using featherboards that push up against the fence and keep the workpiece in position," says Harmon.
Brands and models
Now that you're familiar with some of the features, here's what's available from some of the leading band saw manufacturers:
Delta Machinery's two most popular models are floor models. The best-selling one is the 28-475X, says Harman.
"This is a 14" cast-iron band saw with nine spokes on the wheels, both top and bottom, which give the machine more robust wheels - less flex and play. It also has a quick tensioning lever, easy adjustment guides, a large table and an aftermarket fence, riser block and aftermarket mobile base to move it around the shop."
The 28-475X also features a 1-1/2-hp motor, 6-1/4" height capacity, and 16" x 16" table. It sells for $899.
Another popular Delta model is the 28-206. Selling for $699, it features a 1-hp motor, quick-release tension lever, 16" x 16" cast-iron table and enclosed stand.
General International offers a 15" adjustable-height band saw, model 90-200 M1, with a cast-iron frame and wheels. The adjustable height feature allows the user to adjust the height of the upper frame to suit different cutting needs. By means of a crank handle and a rack-and-pinion system, the saw can be adjusted to accept blades measuring 93-1/2" to 106" in length.
"A key attraction to this saw is being able to get a 12" resaw cutting capacity without having to install a riser block, which is how some other saws of this size accomplish extra cutting capacity," General's Norman Frampton said in an interview with Woodshop News last year. "A riser block is effective, but it's also pretty much permanent - one doesn't install and remove it at will."
The two-speed, 1-1/2-hp saw also has a 16" x 16" cast-iron table with an imbedded angle indicator and dual-position aluminum rip fence (tall for resawing or short for rip cuts). It sells for $1,595.
Grizzly Industrial's band saw lineup runs the gamut from 14" to 24" models. The company added a 19" "Ultimate" band saw, model G0701, with a 19" resaw capacity last year.
"With the large resaw capacity of this machine, it creates more opportunities to use and extend the use of that increasingly rare wide board," Bill Crofutt, Grizzly's quality-control manager, told Woodshop News for a story that appeared in the December 2009 issue.
The saw features a 5-hp motor, motorized guide-height adjustment, 28" x 24" cast-iron table, rack-and-pinion table-tilt adjustment, foot break and resaw fence. It sells for $2,295.
Laguna Tools also offers a wide selection of band saws, including a 28" horizontal model. The main advantage of a horizontal band saw is ergonomics, according to company president Torben Helshoj.
"In some instances it makes the loading and handling of the wood very easy for the operator because gravity is on your side," says Helshoj.
The company is touting its new 14" SUV (for "souped-up version," says Helshoj) vertical band saw that offers "a full" 14" of resaw capacity. It also has rack-and-pinion table-tilt controls, 3-hp motor, 15" x 15" cast-iron table, quick-release blade and foot break.
Laguna is currently offering the saw with a free DriftMaster fence system for $1,495.
"If you talk to band saw users, one of their big beefs is with the fence, that it doesn't work very well. Laguna developed the DriftMaster, which will enhance the operation of any saw. It has very easy adjustment for the drifts and very fine adjustment so you can make completely accurate cuts. This is important for people who make their own veneers, door skins, etc.," says Helshoj.
Laguna also manufacturers a carbide-tipped blade named the Resaw King.
"We are very focused on getting a completely smooth and straight cut from [our customer's] band saw so that people will use it for ripping solid wood rather than the table saw," adds Helshoj. "There are two very good reasons for doing that. One is that the amount of dust a band saw makes is less than half of what a table saw makes. The other is that the cutting direction of a band saw is down toward the table, where a table saw cuts straight toward your face. There's no kickback on a band saw and it's much safer to operate."
Makita has decided it's easier to bring the band saw to the job site. The company's 18-volt LXT lithium-ion cordless series includes model BPB180, a portable band saw that weighs only 14.1 lbs. It offers a six-setting variable speed feature and a rectangular workpiece capacity of 4-3/4" x 4-3/4".
Rikon Power Tools currently has eight band saws in its lineup, with a ninth on the way. The new 16" Rikon band saw, the 10-336, will be available in the first quarter of this year. It features a 2-hp motor and 12" resaw capacity, and will retail for under $1,000.
Rikon also has a 10" model, 10-305, which has some of the features found on larger band saws, according to Rod Burrow, the company's vice president of technical support.
"It has a steel frame design with metal doors. That's something you would find on larger band saws. Most manufacturers making band saws this size are using plastic frames and doors or aluminum tables."
The 14" model 10-325 is the company's most popular model. Burrow says it's very similar, in terms of features, to the company's 18" model 10-345, but without the space requirements.
"The 14" [10-325] is designed for a high-end DIYer up to the professional shop. It has all of the features of a large band saw, such as the quick release, ball-bearing blade guides, large cast-iron surface and dual speed. All of Rikon's band saws come standard with a fence, with the exception of [model] 10-320, which is an older machine," says Burrow.
Sunhill Machinery is introducing a new line of band saws, which include 19", 24" and 32" models.
"The new models now have balanced cast-iron wheels, while [our] previous models featured aluminum wheels," says Sunhill product manager John Ford. "But the most notable feature is the new guide system and new and improved bearing systems where the thrust bearing is supporting the blade in a lower friction. This will track the blade a lot better and will improve setup time and improve the blade longevity."
As far as Ford is concerned, bigger is always better when it comes to buying a band saw.
"We have found that customers with smaller machines wind up upgrading soon. We take the position that if space is a concern, it shouldn't stop you from buying a larger machine. The band saw generally has a small footprint compared to a table saw or planer."
Steel City Tool Works introduced two granite-top band saws in 2009. The company touts its use of granite because it's harder than stainless steel, absorbs vibration better and will not rust, spring or warp.
Its 14" model 50125 features a 3/4-hp motor and fully-enclosed base and sells for about $520.
The company has also incorporated a lower granite wheel on its 14" deluxe band saw, model 50130, which sells for about $900. This saw offers a 1-3/4-hp motor and a 12" resaw cutting capacity.
Woodstock International recently introduced the Shop Fox 21" 5-hp band saw with an emergency foot brake and a 29-1/2" x 20-3/4" cast-iron table. A gear mechanism facilitates tilting the table five degrees to the left and 45 degrees to the right.
The saw also features double upper and lower ball-bearing guides and a cast-iron fence with a removable 6" extruded aluminum resaw fence attachment. It accepts blades ranging from 1/4" to 1-3/8" in width.
The saw, model W1770, has a suggested list price of $3,085.
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.