A band saw is a robust power tool featuring a blade with teeth and a single edge to cut a work piece in different ways. The term ‘band saw’ is derived from its blade shape, which is a thin metallic band resulting in a continuous loop around two to three rotating wheels of equal size and diameter that decide the saw’s size. This guide will help you find the best band saw for you. We have also featured short, band saw reviews towards the end.
via Kristy Johnson
- 1 Uses of Band Saws
- 2 Working of a Band Saw
- 3 Band Saw versus Jig Saw
- 4 Band Saw versus Scroll Saw
- 5 Band Saw versus Table Saw
- 6 Choosing the Best Band Saw
- 7 What to Look for?
- 7.1 Factor 1: Types
- 7.2 Factor 2: Popular Brands
- 7.3 Factor 3: Throat Capacity and Depth of Cut
- 7.4 Factor 4: Saw Size
- 7.5 Factor 5: Motor and its Size
- 7.6 Factor 6: Speed
- 7.7 Factor 7: Frame Style
- 7.8 Factor 8: Blade: Type, Speed, and Width
- 7.9 Factor 9: Blade Guides, Bearings, and Rollers
- 7.10 Factor 10: Wheels
- 7.11 Factor 11: Fence
- 7.12 Factor 12: Other Critical Features
- 8 Top 5 Band Saws
- 9 Conclusion
Uses of Band Saws
The best ones are designed not only for cutting curves in wood but also making any irregular or odd shapes such as cabriole legs, ripping lumber into slimmer packs, and forming precise cross cuts. They can cut a myriad of materials, such as steel, PVC, wood, plastics, copper, conduit and galvanized pipe, and glass. The quality ones can even cut tenons and smaller rabbets, rip small stock pieces, and re-saw thin wood strips. For curves in wood, no other tool proves itself to be a better option.
Band saws are also used in different industries. They are handy in metal industry to cut pipes to the desired lengths. They are used in retail stores for slicing pieces. Even in the forestry industry, band saws are useful for ripping timber and making initial cuts.
In the woodworking industry, these tools are ideal for ripping, cross-cutting, curve cutting, and careful scrollwork. However, they are not designed for having cuts in a piece, such as a handle cut. For curves, a band saw will not cut tight, unlike a scroll saw but will cut smoother than the latter. This is perhaps due to the difference in blade width, as the narrowest and thinnest blades of a band saw are wider than those of a scroll saw. Thinnest blades also facilitate re-sawing boards.
You can even use a band saw for resetting the edge that is not preferable directly for cutting, resetting the board’s face, making veneer by slicing a simple thick board into thin pieces, and making bent laminations on veneers. However, for this guide, we will concentrate only on woodworking band saws.
Working of a Band Saw
A band saw usually features two big pulleys holding a steel band serrated from a side. The pulleys enable the vertical or horizontal positioned blade to shift in a non-stop circular motion. A casing covers all the internal mechanisms such as the pulleys and the motor.
In case of the horizontal position, the material stays still and the blade turns down to make the cut. The downward cutting action ensures more safety then a table saw, as there is no issue of kickback. Horizontal blades are ideal for cutting pipes or conduits. They are not for cutting intricate shapes or curves.
On the other hand, a saw having a vertical blade, also known as a contour saw, keeps the blade still and you need to feed the material beneath the blade. This setup is ideal for woodworking, as you can control the material for holding a variety of angles and making intricate shapes.
The band saws are geared more towards accurate cutting, instead of fast cutting, regardless of whether one needs curved or linear cuts. Generally, the thinner and wider blades are fairly coarse and toothed, and turn slowly as compared to other types of power saws. Thinner blades result in curved cutting, while wider blades lead to straight cuts (wider from tooth to the blade’s rear). As compared to any power saw, this saw has the thinnest kerf, which ensures less waste and efficient use with rare or costly items such as wood burls.
Apart from the blade, a band saw consists of other key parts such guide system and wheels. The guide plays a critical role for delivering straight cuts and is adjustable to a variety of widths. It adjusts itself when you need to put curved notches into the wood. Inside the tool, two wheels exist. One of them is powered by the motor usually at the tool’s bottom and close to the power supply. The other one is just above on the vertical plane and is termed as idler whose job is to escort the blade.
Band Saw versus Jig Saw
A jig saws moves via an up and down motion, while the band saw blade moves in a continuous loop. The latter is superior because there is no vibrating motion from up and down motion, due to which you are ensured of a smooth cut always. A jigsaw despite having several uses is considered better for cutting objects such as the sink on a worktop. Further, it is more lightweight and portable, and that it is easier to change blades.
Band Saw versus Scroll Saw
Both these tools are similar in terms of generating curved cuts. However, the difference lies in the style of cutting. A band saw employs a continuous cutting motion, while a scroll saw implements an oscillating or an up and down movement.
A wood cut by using a scroll saw has a smoother finish, whereas with a band saw has a rougher touch. Carpenters using a band saw cut very close to the line after which they utilize a sand paper for giving a smooth finish. For fine wood working or delicate tasks, a scroll saw is ideal.
Band Saw versus Table Saw
Unlike a table saw, a band saw can cut curves and re-saw wood properly. In case of curve cutting, the cut is much smoother than either a scroll saw or a jigsaw, as the blade is precisely perpendicular to the material’s surface. Tighter curve is what a scroll saw ensures but it is not as smooth as a band saw.
Choosing the Best Band Saw
When it comes to buying band saws, you will literally come across a variety of sizes, types, and features. This can make it tough to decide the best model for you. To make this task simpler, there are several considerations to undertake such as budget, type of work, type and size of material to cut, cutting capacity required, and the frequency of using the tool. When you analyze these considerations, you can easily choose the right model with the right features by evaluating the following buying factors for promising models.
What to Look for?
Factor 1: Types
Broadly in terms of placement and weight, there are three types of band saws. Each of them is geared toward fulfilling specific requirements.
- Floor-Standing: These models are for professional use due to which they possess larger motor and more features. Featuring a more robust, sturdier, and bigger frame, these models work very well during curves, decorating thick stock, heavy rip sawing, and working with harder woods and metals, while ensuring more consistency, power, and stability than other types. They come with larger and wider cutting capacity and vibrate less than the smaller portable or bench saws. It is obvious that they are bulkier and more expensive but are best for a serious DIY individual, a professional, and anyone who is a serious wood worker. If you are a beginner, it can be a bit intimidating to set up and work with such a model.
- Bench-Top: These models are shorter as well as smaller enough to be mounted on a bench or stand. They are better for at-home tasks or hobbyists than professionals and yet give professional results at less cost than floor-standing models. This is regardless of whether the material at target is wood or metal. Such units are portable band saws, as you can easily carry them from one place to another. Consider one such model if you are running out of budget or are lacking space. While wheel size of floor models is above 14 inches in diameter, these lightweight models have the same between 8-12 inches. The bench-top models are ideal for cutting still things such as conduits and in smaller projects, especially craft work. However, they have restricted sawing capacity. Bench-top models are available in different varieties such as cordless band saws, small band saws, and portable band saws.
- Portable: These are driven by battery, electricity, air, or hydraulic means. They can easily cut a material’s surface ranging from 4 to 9 inches. They are much smaller and lighter than the standard bench-top models but can handle a myriad of materials such as wood, pipe, plastics, and steel. Just as the horizontal band saws, these models can cut metal pipe, extrusions, concrete rebar, and tubes. Plumbers, electricians, welders, and masons often use portable band saws.
- Stand Mounted: These models come with a distinct style aspect. A 14-inch wheel together with a frame of cast iron results in either a closed or open cabinet style. The motor resides beneath the stand where the belt connects it to the wheel. Such models are ideal for those working in small workshop or for those jobs that demand a versatile tool at an affordable rate.
In terms of function and material to be cut, band saws are split into the following categories.
- Wood Cutting Saws: These are specially made for woodworking tasks. They have no variable speed setting and are used for cutting curves and re-sawing boards.
- Timber Cutting: These models are ideal for cutting timber. While a circular saw is also an ideal choice, it does not that large diameter for housing the timber. The blade of a timber saw is wider and longer.
- Metal Cutting Saws: These models are larger than the wood cutting units. They also have variable speed setting as well as larger motors. The speed has to be lower with the material being harder. Jet and Wilton models are usually of these types. The standard speed range is 12 to 15,000 meters per minute. Most models come with brush wheels that keep housing of small chips away between the teeth and a cooling system. Metal cutting saws can be vertical or horizontal ones.
- Vertical Band Saws: These models have their blades in vertical position and receive power from an electric motor and belt transmission. The belt makes suitable adjustments to the speed of the blade. These units are ideal for hassle-free internal cutting.
- Horizontal Band Saws: These units are not as famous as vertical ones but are preferred for tubing, cutting metal pipes, and for extrusions with the horizontally placed blade. They have variable speed, clamp, and enough weight to move the blade through the material. The unit is mounted usually on floor and aids in cutting strange shaped materials and solid steel. The material is mounted on vise that is affixed to the unit’s bed.
- Double Cut Saws: Theseare multi-purpose units having teeth on both sides. They are tremendously big, with a few band saw reviews comparing to the head saw’s size. They are available in portable, bench-top, and industrial models and are capable of cutting through metals, plastics, and wood.
- Resaws:These models are designed for cutting big timber with the grain for having small or veneer cuts.
Factor 2: Popular Brands
Once you determine the type of band saw, it is recommended choosing a top brand. For band saws, the most reliable brands are DeWalt, Jet, Rikon, Wilton, Makita, Grizzly, Bosch, Powermatic, Skil, Rockwell, Delta, and Milwaukee. Each of these brands differs in terms of features, price, and some unique specifications.
Factor 3: Throat Capacity and Depth of Cut
These two are the major factors that allow selecting you the best band saw quickly. Throat capacity refers to the distance between the frame and the blade, which decides the maximum width that the tool is able to cut.
The bigger the throat capacity is; the wider are the cuts on larger pieces. You need to ensure that this capacity is enough to deal with different wood sizes, with which you will be working.
The floor-style cabinet bands have bigger throat, of 12 to 14 inches. On the other hand, a bench top model’s throat capacity is smaller than this range.
The depth of cut indicates the distance from the upper blade guides to the table. This measurement is usually seen on the packaging. It tells the thickness of stock that the saw can cut or the amount of material that a single pass can cut. The depth ranges usually from 6 to 36 inches, and it depends as per the saw’s size. In case of only 6-inch depth, you can add a riser to increase the depth by 12 inches.
Factor 4: Saw Size
You will come across a variety of sizes when it comes to purchasing a band saw. This size is decided by the diameter of pulleys or wheels. The material width that the tool can cover for cutting is restricted to the distance between the frame and blade.
This distance, also known as the throat capacity, is generally 1/4- to 3/8- inch less than the size of pulley. Usually, a 10-inch tool is capable of dealing with a material width that is not more than 9 5/8 inches, while a 14-inch model can tackle a surface that is up to 13 3/4 inches wide.
For the small furniture shop, a 14-inch band saw is required, while a 16-inch is better, and 18- to 20-inch is ideal for performing much larger work. These tools should have a minimum resaw capacity of 12 inches for versatility. The resaw capacity refers to the thickness or height that the tool can cut.
Factor 5: Motor and its Size
It is critical to have the right motor size, as it determines the size of project that you can handle with the tool. Most of bench-top band saws feature a 3/4- to 1.5-horsepower (HP) motor suitable for small to medium projects, while the professional ones come with a larger motor and variable speed setting. Smaller motors indisputably need to work harder.
For cutting softwoods or doing craft work, 1/2 to 1 HP is enough. Similarly, for cabinet projects or furniture making, 1.5 HP motor is required. Moreover, for re-sawing occasionally, a slow rate of feeding is essential. A saw with at least 1 HP is essential for ripping billets from logs. A few models feature a set of pulleys for facilitating a combination of different power and speed ratios. While this may boost the power, it brings down the cutting speed.
Factor 6: Speed
If versatility is your top priority, consider choosing a model with variable speeds. Such a model facilitates precision cutting on smaller materials. Thus, you should also consider the kind of material you will be dealing with, for choosing a single or variable speed model. For a woodworker working on metal or plastics, a model with variable speed is not required, as those materials need a slow speed. You should also consider the cutting speed, which optimally should be approximately 3,500 Feet Per Minute (FPM).
Factor 7: Frame Style
The frame design can be of cast iron or welded steel. Most saws tend to possess a cast iron frame, while the recent, larger models have frames of heavy, welded steel. Since several years, the conventional 14-inch stand-mounted model had the cast iron frame, 1 to 1.5 HP, and resaw height of 6 inches, which was famous in small shops but insufficient for re-sawing a hardwood of 12 inches.
A welded sheet frame, on the other hand, is a more preferable and popular option. It has stylish rectangular frames. However, you should avoid having such a frame on a single cabinet model, as it is not that strong enough. The better models, according to band saws reviews, feature a second frame squeezed or welded to the first, while the best ones possess a third frame for ensuring the desired support.
Factor 8: Blade: Type, Speed, and Width
Depending upon the kind f work, you will need a small or a thicker blade. For instance, a finer scroll work would need a 1/8-inch blade, while a thicker blade is essential for re-sawing. Thus, it is best to buy a saw that can encompass different blade sizes.
While the blade material determining the blade type contributes significantly to the output, a more important aspect to consider is the number of Teeth Per Inch or TPI. TPI indicates the speed with which cutting occurs. As a rule of thumb, the higher the TPI, the slower but cleaner and smoother is the cut. Such a higher TPI is ideal for detail work on thin pieces. If you only want to rip through a few pieces of wood, a lower TPI will ensure faster cuts although with a bit rough edge. The number of TPI usually ranges from 5 to 15.
A regular tooth can tackle several wood cuts. Nevertheless, a hooked tooth blade is ideal for hard woods, while a skip tooth blade is ideal for soft woods. A diamond blade is ideal for glass work, while a hardened blade is perfect for metal cutting.
Band saw blades are classified as per TPI, material composition, and width. While choosing a blade, match its width to the kind of cutting you will be performing. In terms of blade material, you have the following options:
- Bimetal: Such blades are composed of high-speed steel to work on a thin piece of wood or metal or wood. They are recommended for metal cutting, as they range from small to large and horizontal to vertical options. These blades are costlier because of its durable functionality.
- Carbon or Carbide: These blades are made using mild steel and give a speed of 200 FPM for cutting only wood. They are costlier than other blades for retaining the sharpness longer than high-speed steel or steel blades. However, they are cheaper when the speed is below 200 FPM.
- Steel: These blades are economical for cutting softwood. However, they are not durable, as they rapidly become dull while cutting hardwood.
Coming to the blade’s width, you should choose it as per the tightness of the curve to be cut. A wide one will not give a tight radius cut but can give a straight line, while a narrow one will give tight radius cuts. The narrow blades can break if used on the wrong type of material. Usually, the width options exist between 1/8 inch and 1 inch. The finer teeth and thinner blade are ideal for cutting a tight radius and a pointed curve, while a larger blade is ideal for a slight curve and a straight cut.
Narrower blades are ideal for scroll work, while wider blades are for re-sawing purpose. The latter ones ensure quicker and precise cuts through thicker pieces, as they are flex less. For only scroll cuts, it is wise to consider choosing a wider blade.
Recently, a new type of blade called ‘Extra-set’ has hit the market. This type can cut tighter circles and can ensure good sawdust clearing.
Factor 9: Blade Guides, Bearings, and Rollers
As the band saw blade cuts wood, it wishes to distort and drift. To prevent this and keep it on the right track, a pair of guides above and below the worktable exist, which is set either close or against the blade’s sides.
The tool reacts in two ways to cutting. First, it reacts through a rearward blade movement and second, it reacts via a foreword wood movement. If the blade moves too much rearward, it simply falls down the wheels. To prevent this, guides or ball bearings are provided.
The rearward movement is balanced with a ball bearing enabling the blade to pat on it, while the bearing spins to avert friction. The faster is the rotation if the bearing is smaller. However, such bearing wears out more quickly.
Guides can be ball bearings or solid thrust plates, of which bearings are seen in more expensive models. For proper functioning, the guides must be solid with no end function in any direction as well as with correct adjustment capability.
The guides and bearings are metallic. However, many users replace them with graphite soaked, phenolic laminate cool block that extends both the lifespan and performance of the blade. Even ceramic bearings are a god alternative, as they run cooler.
Factor 10: Wheels
A band saw has top and bottom wheels. A model with quality steel frame usually possess heavy, cast iron wheels that trigger a robust flywheel effect for a steady and strong cut. It is recommended choosing cast iron wheels instead of alloy wheels, as the mass-generated momentum smoothes the output.
The saw wheels are also spoked, as higher number of spokes results in smoother outcome as well as less vibration. Do also ensure that there is a thick, well-made spring behind the wheel and close to the top of the frame, which maintains apt blade tension.
Factor 11: Fence
For most tasks, a heavy fence featuring an effortless adjustment and locking mechanism is ideal. A fence is required for re-sawing. A few models come with a good quality fence due to which many woodworkers craft their own before fastening it to the table. The saws with fence have the same style as of the fence on a table saw. For re-sawing a board of more than 1″x 4″, it is wise to fasten the piece enduringly to the fence for making it higher.
Factor 12: Other Critical Features
Along with the above features, you should also look for the following ones as well for comfort and convenience:
- Cutting height as the distance from the table to the top guide upwards, which should not be less than six inches for 1 HP motor
- Open or closed stand apart from cabinet style, both being stable but closed being better for keeping dust away
- Table top with 3/4″ by 3/2″ mitre slot for accommodating common gauges, and adjustable table as a heavy cast iron build on sturdy trunnions allowing it to tilt, with a stop at 90°
- A built-in dust collector
- A tension control device to adjust the tension of blade
- A brake on pulley to prevent sliding after been turned off
Top 5 Band Saws
This bench-top model is most economical choice featuring induction motor, 1,725 RPM speed, 9-inch throat depth, and 3-5/8-inch depth of cut. It also has a blade guard adjustment for quick blade change, blade tracking window, table with rack and pinion adjustment, and blade width from 1/8- to 3/8-inch for re-sawing and scroll cutting.
Vee T.: “Does a great job for small parts. Runs like a champ!”
With powerful motor and 5-inch deep cut, this one is made for difficult and repetitive jobs, especially for rectangular and round stock. It features an LED sight light, steel covering with rubber bumpers to bear all abuse, variable speed setting (100 sfm to 350 sfm), ergonomic grip, and integrated hang hook.
Chris Mishuk: “Best made no doubt!!!!!!!! I use one almost every day. The 10 amp model is the one to have if you cut thick stock.”
This one eliminates the need of a riser due to its giant cast iron frame fulfilling all re-sawing tasks and high tension spring design. The unit features 13.5 inches and 12 inches of cutting capacity, width and height respectively, retractable blade guard, tilting work table, tough cast iron upper and lower frame, and blade tracking window.
Grumpy Whiny Old Man: “This saw has some great features that puts it head and shoulders above its competitors in the middle price range for 14 inch band saws.”
This bench-top model has all features of a full size counterpart. It features a solid steel design with steel frame, large cast iron table, rip fence, 1/3 and 3.4-amp HP motor, 5/8-inch cutting capacity, 2780 FPM speed, and blade width range from 1/8″ to 1/2″.
MJHeil: “The sole reason I purchased this was to cut out a large number of pinewood derby cars for Cub Scouts, which it did very well, much quicker and easier than a scroll saw.”
This saw is designed for unparalleled durability and performance through portability with its high class motor power, metal direct drive system, largest cutting capacity, and great cut visibility. A gear protecting clutch increases the motor and gear lifespan by taking in impactful forces. This lightweight tool also features tool-free locking adjustable shoe and advanced debris protection system.
Robert G: “A must for any fabricator, mechanic, or hobbyist. Cuts fast and true.”
So, have you found your best band saws? Well, if not, you can go through some more band saw reviews on our site. We strongly recommend comparing the different models as per your needs for choosing the most suitable one.