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In the Workshop: Bandsaws

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

bandsawAlamy

Want to start building more sophisticated projects in your home workshop? it's time to consider a band saw.

A bandsaw can perform a wide variety of cutting tasks, many of which would be impossible with a circular saw or table saw. They also run less of a risk of kicking pieces of wood back at you.

The tool consists of two or three large rubber or urethane-edged "wheels" and an electric motor that powers one of the wheels. A flexible, loop-shaped blade runs around the wheels and through a metal table at high speeds. There are various types of blades, with varying numbers of teeth per inch and tooth size.

- Metal cutting blades have more teeth per inch and small teeth.
- Wood cutting blades have fewer teeth per inch and larger teeth.



Uses for Band Saws

This versatile power tool is primarily used for cutting curves in wood, such as when making the shapely splats and cabriole legs of a Queen Anne chair or the curved runners of a rocking chair. They are also invaluable for preparing stock wood for fancy woodworking projects when standard dimensioned stock won't do. Want to build a wooden mantel clock? With a good bandsaw, you can re-saw a 5/4"-thick boards into thinner panels for building the clock case. You can even cut sheets of veneer from a thick piece of hardwood.

Band saws are good for crosscutting and ripping, although a table saw is typically the better tool for these operations.

I also find myself turning to a bandsaw for everyday sawing jobs, too. It is the go-to tool for kids science projects, building toys, cutting copper and plastic piping, polystyrene, and even for cutting foam rubber for making seat cushions.

Don't expect bandsaws to make intricate cuts with lots of tight turns, such as with fretwork, or to make inside cuts (there's no way to get the blade to the middle of the work piece without cutting your way there). For such cuts, you'll need a scroll saw.


measuring lumberGetty Images

How to Operate a Band Saw
If you're new to bandsaws, make a number of practice cuts first.

1. As with any sawn cut, first mark the line you intend to follow with a pencil.

2. Rest the work piece on a metal table. Adjust the height of the blade guides so they're slightly above the the work piece.

3. If making a compound cut, adjust the angle of the table. If making a miter cut, adjust the angle of the miter gauge.

4. Position the blade to the waste side of the cut line, turn on the saw, and slowly push the work piece through the blade with a steady, even pressure. You may push with a miter gauge for 90° crosscuts and mitered cuts, or freehand for irregular shapes. If you're pushing freehand, grip the work piece on either side of the cut line, well away from the blade. For ripping (cuts along a board's length), use the fence supplied with the tool to guide the cut. The fence can also be used to guide the work piece when resawing.

5. When making irregular cuts, such as scroll shapes, it's often best to remove material with a series of relief cuts rather than with a single long cut.


How to Buy a Band Saw
Bandsaws are available in both bench-top and floor models (bench tops are more suited to at-home workshops). They're typically sized by either the wheel diameter or depth of cut. These two characteristics are pretty similar. But if you want to be precise, the width-cutting capacity -- called the saw's throat -- is typically about ½ inch less than the wheel diameter. A saw with a 16-inch diameter wheel will therefore have a 15-1/2 inch throat.

The other measure of importance is the saw's depth of cut, or the maximum distance from the table to the upper blade guides, with the guides raised to their maximum height. A saw with a 6-in. depth of cut will cut a board that's slightly less than 6 inches.

band saw bladeAmazon

Small, 1/3hp, 9-in. bandsaws can be mounted on a workbench. They are fine for light work, such as model making, craft projects, and small woodworking projects.

Buy a larger bandsaw, with more horsepower, if you plan to work with thick hardwood stock. A ¾ to 1 hp, 14-in. model is good general-purpose bandsaw. If you will be working with wider boards, you can purchase saws with throats as wide as 24 inches.

General features to look for include:

-- The ability to change blade rpms
-- A table extension for a larger work surface
-- A built-in work lamp, and a chip blower to improve cut line visibility

Also note that the depth of cut can be increased with an extension accessory on some saws.

When making your saw purchase, buy the blades you anticipate needing. Narrow 3/16-in. blades are best for cutting tight-radius cuts. A wider, 5/8-in. blade is best for crosscuts, rips, and resawing. For multipurpose use, a ¼-in. blade is a good choice. Here is a complete list of common bandsaw sizes.


Band Saw Maintenance

- Use compressed air to blow out sawdust and chips that accumulate in the saw cabinet.
- Ensure that pulley belt tension is correct and that pulleys are aligned.
- Check blade tension before beginning a project and that blade bearings are properly adjusted.
- Replace the blade when it shows signs of dulling. - Keep band wheel tires clean; replace them when they lose flexibility or begin to crack. Replace rubber tires with urethane for longer wear.


Safety Precautions
Band saws are much less "scary" than table saws. That said, they can cause a serious injury in the blink of an eye. Read the owner's manual carefully before operating your new bandsaw.

- Be sure your tool is properly grounded.
- Always wear eye protection when operating a saw.
- Do not wear jewelry or loose clothing, and tie back long hair.
- Check blade rotation before using the saw. The teeth should point down, toward the table.
- Be sure the wheel guards or wheel cabinet is closed before turning on the saw.
- Lower the upper blade guard so it's just clear of the work piece.
- Hold your work piece firmly against the table.
- Keep your hands out of the path of the saw blade.
- Unplug the saw before making adjustments or performing maintenance.



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