When it comes to bandsaws, bigger is often desirable but not always better. Larger 16″ bands saws are less prone to vibration because of their mass, have greater power, and a larger cutting capacity. However, they cost more, are heavier to move, and take up more space in your shop. They can also be more intimidating for novice users. A 14″ saw is an excellent machine for the average home workshop, whether you are a novice woodworker or a dedicated hobbyist. It will do 95% of whatever is required, and ingenuity will take care of the other 5%.
There are quite a few 14″ models to choose from. Here are some things you need to keep in mind when you shop for a bandsaw.
All 14″ saws either sit on an open stand, or a closed, cabinet style stand. The closed stand will do a better job of keeping dust away from the motor, and it can provide a space for tool storage. However, an open stand is just as stable as a closed one.
Most saws will have a cast iron frame. Some of the newer models use welded steel frames, which are more often found on larger saws. Cast iron is a good choice. Avoid steel frames on a single cabinet, as the frames are simply not strong enough. Better saws have a second frame sandwich- welded to the first, and the best have a third frame and/or a lateral box-beam to provide the necessary support. The number of layers is easy to see and count, but make sure to compare the thickness of the sheet metal and to check the quality of the welds. Overall fit and finish is an indication of general quality, but a great paint job does not compensate for a weak frame.
Motor sizes range from ½ to 1 ½ HP. Smaller sized motors obviously have to work harder. However, the size of motor you will need depends upon the kind of work you are doing. For craft work and cutting primarily softwoods, a ½ to 1 HP should suffice. For furniture making or cabinet work opt for a 1 ½ HP. For occasional re-sawing, a slow feed rate and the right blade will do wonders.
There are both top and bottom wheels. Opt for cast iron wheels over alloy wheels. The momentum their mass generates smoothes everything out and helps compensate for less than optimal power. The wheels will need to be aligned, which is an easy, but essential job (see Wheel Alignment sidebar). The wheels are usually spoked, and more spokes contribute to less vibration and smoother operation.
Trunnions are semi-circular brackets that support the table top and allow it to tilt. Big, strong, cast iron trunnions are far better than the flimsy pot metal (zinc alloy castings) on many, if not most, smaller saws. You are most likely to grab the table top when moving your saw, putting a lot of stress on the trunnions. Some saws may have heavy gauge steel trunnions, which would be preferable to pot metal.
As you push stock against the bandsaw blade, it flexes backward. Aset of bearings, one above the table, the other below the table, counteract this movement. These are the thrust bearings. The blade also has a tendency to move sideways, particularly when you are cutting curves. Two sets of guide blocks, above and below the table, sandwich the blade, preventing lateral movement. Likely you’ll need to adjust both the bearings and guide blocks on a new saw. Doing so is very easy. Just position them so that they are a paper thickness from the blade. Also, position the blocks about 1/16″ behind the gullets on the blade.
The bearings and guides are usually made of metal. Many woodworkers replace their guides with ‘Cool Blocks’ a synthetic, graphite impregnated, phenolic laminate that helps extend the blade life and performance. You can also replace the metal bearings with ceramic bearings, which run cooler.
The optimal cutting speed for a bandsaw is about 3,500 feet per minute. While some saws offer a couple of speed rates, the slower speed doesn’t make enough difference on hardwoods, and isn’t slow enough for other than very light metalwork. In addition, changing the belt on these can be a nuisance.
The table top should have a standard ¾” by ⅜” mitre slot designed to accept commonly available gauges. Tables tend to be on the small size and many woodworkers build an auxiliary plywood table to provide a larger work surface.
Few saws seem to come with a good quality fence and gauge. The fence must move easily and lock securely, offer at least modest adjustment for alignment to the band, and be easily removed. It should also be easy to true the fence, whether to the mitre slot or blade. Fortunately there are good after market replacements (see Canadian Woodworking Issue #28 for a review of the Little Ripper, and Canadian Woodworking Issue #37 for a review of the Kreg bandsaw fence).
The three keys to straight tracking are a well-tuned saw, sufficient blade tension, and a blade that is reserved only for straight cuts. Cutting curves changes the set of the teeth and leaves the blade with a tendency to track to one side.
A ½” blade requires about 15,000 psi of tension, so the saw must possess the necessary frame and spring strength to provide and manage the tension. Many saws have a blade tension spring that is not nearly strong enough to handle the required tension. Good, inexpensive, after market replacements are readily available. Also keep in mind that while all bandsaws will have a tension knob to adjust blade tension, some lack a tension scale.
Blades are subject to considerable drag as they slice wood. Drag is caused by the hardness, thickness, and moisture content of the wood and by the width of the blade. The way to reduce drag is to get rid of the sawdust as fast and effectively as possible. Do that by choosing the correct tooth configuration, and by using the narrowest blade that is practical. A ½” 3 TPI hook tooth blade is an excellent choice for general purpose re-saws. It cuts quickly, but does make a wider kerf and leaves a rougher surface than blades with more teeth. Wider blades are more expensive, and require more horsepower and more tension than small saws can deliver, yet they do not produce any straighter cuts.
Generic brand saws are almost always clones of the Delta saw. Delta parts are readily available and usually fit import saws. When I cracked the pot metal guide holder on my 20 year old Taiwanese copy I replaced it with a Delta guide holder and it fit perfectly.
Look for high quality, easy to grasp metal handles, knobs, and catches rather than plastic. Not only are they nicer to use, they don’t break. The upper and lower doors should be hinged rather than bolted in place, and operate independently of each other. A brush fixed to the lower wheel that sweeps dust off the tire is a real bonus. So is a dust port, but only if it is well-placed – preferably on the back bottom of the saw. A magnetic switch is an important safety component, and a further indication of the quality of the whole unit. Most saws don’t come with a lamp, but it’s a good idea to attach one to your saw, particularly if you are making a lot of intricate and precise cuts.
If you do a lot of re-sawing consider purchasing a riser block to extend the re-saw capability of your bandsaw (see “Riser Blocks” below).
You can easily increase the re-saw capacity of your saw by adding a riser block. An 18″ saw, for example, provides a 12″ re-saw capacity under the guides. Installing a riser block on a 14″ saw will give you the same 12″ resaw capability. The riser block is simply a rectangular piece of cast iron, about 6″ in height. It’s installed between the upper and lower cast iron arms of your bandsaw, effectively increasing the distance between the table and the blade guides. To reduce frustration make sure that the riser block you purchase is well machined. Otherwise the saw halves won’t line up without fiddling and fitting.
It’s important that you align the upper and lower wheels of your band saw. All you’ll need is a straightedge (a straight length of hardwood will do). Start with your bandsaw unplugged. Open the wheel covers and place the straightedge against the outside edge of the bottom wheel (the edge facing you). The top edge of the top wheel should be kissing the straightedge – invariably it won’t. Loosen the nut that holds the blade tracking knob in place, and then turn the knob gently until the top wheel just touches the straightedge. Don’t forget to tighten the locking nut on the tracking knob when you’re done. Its good practice to check that the wheels are coplanar each time you change blades.
The Bandsaw Book: Lonnie Bird, ISBN 1561582891