Why oh why

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I recently bought a small benchtop band saw for occasional detail work. What a waste of money.

It’s possible to make small versions of tools that still have the quality of the large versions. A perfect example is DeWalt’s compact router (and the near-twin Porter-Cable compact router). They don’t have as much power as full-size routers, of course, but in every other way they’re exactly like their bigger brethren. I love mine, and unless I need a lot of power I’ll reach for it every time.

Same thing for drills. Manufacturers make these in all sizes and power levels. I have a dozen drills running the full range of sizes, and without exception they’re all similar quality-wise, smallest to largest. I could list many more examples. But for some tools, manufacturers just can’t – or won’t – make decent ones.

For a long time I’ve wanted a benchtop band saw small and light enough to easily store when not needed. I don’t need intricately curved cuts often, and so hate to go through the hassle of changing out my full-size band saw with a little blade for just a few cuts. My idea was to keep a thin blade on this little machine and pull it out when needed, set it on my workbench and make the cuts, then just stash it away again.

There are some pretty good 10” band saws out there, but at 65 to 70 pounds they’re too heavy and bulky for my intended use. So I checked out every 9” band saw out there and bought the one that looked best. It’s small, and at about 35 lbs. perfect for what I intended. But unfortunately it is, in a word, junk. It’s underpowered (although I expected that). The steel base is so uneven I have to wedge a shim under it to keep it from rocking. It tracks terribly, the amount of cutting drift is unbelievable, it’s impossible to put proper tension on the blade, the guide post is too-flexible plastic, and the tension release knob broke off within minutes of use. Worse, even though I have a 1/8” blade on it, it binds on even fairly gentle curve cuts.

It’s not just band saws – small combo disc/belt sanders, for example, can be terrible. Ditto little drill presses. I’m probably generalizing here, but if it’s for the benchtop and if it’s small, chances are good it isn’t of much real use. Why?

If they can make great small routers and drills, why can’t the same companies make smaller benchtop machines that aren’t junk?

A.J.

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