Guide written by:
Alice, Furniture Maker, Manchester
Broadly speaking, there are two types of band saws: those installed on a stationary base (designed for workshop use) and portable band saws which, as their name suggests, can be taken anywhere – although you should probably stay on site!
These saws are installed on a base at a suitable working height or on a table in which case they can also be placed on a trolley or a workbench (which is especially practical for work sites).
Designed to be worked around the piece of wood, this type of band saw is operated using two handles.
In general, when a machine is portable, the user guides it along the work piece; when the machine is stationary, the work piece is guided through the machine. Band saws aren't just used for woodworking; they can also be used to cut soft metals and composite materials. Obviously, you will have to switch to the right band saw blade!
The type of saw you choose will basically come down to the cuts you have to make.
The smallest stationary models weigh in at about twenty kilos, while the heaviest can weigh over 500 kilos. Stationary bandsaws are designed for regular use that justifies a permanent set-up in the workshop. It's important to plan for space in front and behind stationary machines so that you have plenty of room to handle the wood you are cutting. These types of saws have different features which vary depending on the model (cutting height, power, table width, etc.). You should keep the following features in mind when making your choice.
Band saw tables can be tilted to up to 40° and offer the option of installing a rip fence. Bear in mind that the larger the table, the easier it will be to handle your work pieces.
The motor is located under the table and drives the belts that rotate the wheels which, in turn, drive the blade. Bandsaws usually feature two blades though larger machines can be equipped with three. The wheels are covered with cork or rubber. The motor can be single- or three-phase and the power rating will vary depending on the size of the saw and its features.
Band saws are equipped with upper and lower wheels. These wheels enable the blade to move and, as a result, their radius determines the width of the blade (imagine the wheel as a small motorcycle wheel rim). If you want to make a straight cut, you need a wide blade; for a wide blade, you need wheels that are wide enough to house it; and for this, you also need power! To give you an idea of wheel size: in order to make a straight cut in a 20 cm oak beam you will need 70 cm wheels to house a 40 mm blade – in other words, heavy-duty equipment!
Band saw blades (also known as bands) are long strips of toothed steel. The teeth of these blades should be selected based on the type and thickness of the material to be cut. When the blade turns, it constantly rubs at three points beneath the protective guards; these points are equipped with ball bearings to ensure that the blade slides without overheating. They also help to guide the blade. Mechanical bearings are components located near a rotating part (in this case, the saw blade) which transform friction into a sliding effect. This cuts down on wear and ensures a longer service life for the blade. Bearings come in various types including ball bearings and roller bearings. They also ensure that the blade is held firmly in place. They can be adjusted based on the work to be done; on these machines, the blade widths range from 6 to 40 mm. The precision of the blade depends on the type of cuts to be made. Of course, these blades can be changed!
The structure of the saw and table can be made from aluminium which is lightweight but shock-sensitive; models made of anodised aluminium are more resistant. Steel or cast iron can also be used. These materials are heavier but more resistant as the machine is stabilised by its own weight. Only the largest machines are made from steel or cast iron.
Some models are set on wheels, making them easier to move around. This is a more practical option for small workshops.
The cutting height is determined by the throat capacity, which corresponds to the distance between the table and the end of the structure that guides the saw blade. In order to choose a band saw, you should determine the maximum height you have to cut, whether it's 100 mm, 150 mm, or even up to 550 mm.
Band saws offer variable speeds according to the work piece you are cutting. However, machines are usually restricted to two speeds. The band speed is usually given in metres per minute (MPM) or feet per minute (FPM), and is most often within a range of 800 and 1000 metres/minute.
Bandsaws feature an on/off switch fitted with a safety key to start your machine safely. Some band saws are also equipped with an emergency stop button to quickly shut down the machine in the case of emergencies.
Some machines are equipped with an optional dust extraction system to remove dust as you work. You can also attach your own workshop vacuum to the extraction outlet. LED bulbs provide lighting to improve visibility as you make your cuts.
To make the best decision, carefully consider your own needs as this is what will determine the features of your saw.
A portable band saw is quite different from a stationary band saw, even though the principle is the same!
This type of saw is more compact and weighs between 6 and 15 kilos. Changing the blade on portable band saws is easy as they are usually equipped with a blade tensioning mechanism. Portable band saws are frequently used in carpentry as they can be used for overhead cuts. They're used primarily for angled or bevel cuts, and chamfered cuts along the length of a wooden work piece. For this reason they generally have an additional handle so that they can be used by two people.
They have an electric motor which is either mains- or battery-powered. The capacity and power of the motor are based on current and ampere per hour; the higher the values, the better the machine! In general, they come with 18 V batteries at 3 or 4 Ah. These lithium-ion batteries can be charged quickly (in approximately 30 minutes) and two are supplied so that you always have a spare.
The cutting height of portable band saws is less than that offered by stationary machines, and is limited to 310 mm. This is due to the design of the tool. However, some models offer an alternative option in the form of a blade than can pivot up to 30°, allowing you to reach a little further into the wood.
The blade widths offered by these tools are limited and range from 6 and 15 mm.
The speed is also variable and can be adjusted depending on the material you are working with.
Some models even use a cooling system to direct air towards the cutting surface in order to free your cutting line of saw dust – how's that for a great feature? You also have the option of fixing a rip fence to the machine to ensure that your cut is straight.
Before you decide which band saw to buy, we recommend that you consider exactly what you will be cutting.
Opt for a stationary model if you plan to use the machine on a regular basis – provided that your workshop is spacious enough to accommodate it. When doing repetitive work, a stationary band saw really is the most convenient option; you simply position your wood and the work is done by guiding your work piece through the machine. However, make sure you're absolutely certain of your choice before you make a purchase.
If you need to work outside of your workshop (where a stationary machine can't be used) choose a portable band saw. These saws are lightweight and allow you to make straight cuts on beams and even framework which is very practical when working on-site!
Once you've made your decision, just roll up your sleeves and get ready to sweep up the shavings!
Guide written by:
Alice, Furniture Maker, Manchester, 13 guides
I have been crafty since my childhood, I have always been fond of new tools and other small practical machines. Beyond my interest in tools and materials, I am interested in building of all types. My professional experience as an artisan craftswoman, allows me to work with a material that’s both noble and common at the same time: wood. Surrounded by carpenters and other builders, I am constantly interacting with professional and amateur wood workers, but also various kinds of manufacturing. I am also an amateur gardener, I like to cultivate my vegetable garden. You could say that summer ends under the sign of ratatouille. So, with two passions, I hope to answer your questions.