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Thread: Bandsaw Tips and Critique

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    Bandsaw Tips and Critique

    Here's an article I found on Bandsaws. With all the questions on bandsaws, I thought this would be nice to be archived away.

    Tool Test: 14-inch Band Saws

    Band On the Run: We shop-tested seven new band saws for accuracy, power, and ease of adjustment.

    By Bill Thomas
    Publication Date: May/June 2005

    <!-- table width="255" border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="0" align="right"> <tr> <td>[img]../images/9125WK1.jpg[/img]</td> </tr> <!--tr> <td class="articlecaption">Caption for picture goes here to describe the picture above</td> </tr--><!-- /table --><HR>Specs and Tester Comments

    Before I went into woodworking and custom boat building, I built and remodeled houses. Oddly, some of my earliest band saw work came framing a cloverleaf-shaped custom home. We spent days pushing 2x12s through the boss's rickety band saw, making miles of curved plates and parts for a funky mansard roof. I still remember the tipsy, underpowered, non-adjustable band saw and recall learning a lot about tools—mostly, stay away from lousy ones.

    I remembered that low-rent band saw several years later when I set up my shop. The lessons I had learned about tools paid off: I was careful to evaluate my tool needs, then buy the appropriate equipment. I got the best 14-inch band saw I could afford, then learned to set it up and use it properly. I don't frame anymore, but my 14-inch band saw is still key to how I make my living today.

    Test Criteria

    I tested seven new tools: the Bridgewood BW-14WBS, Delta 28-475X, Grizzly G0555, Jet JWBS-14CS 708115K, Laguna LT14SE, Powermatic PWBS-14CS 1791216K, and Ridgid BS1400. The street prices start at $350 and top out at around $1,200. They run on 120-volt current (but are convertible to 220) and accept 1/8- to 3/4-inch-wide blades. I looked at ease of assembly, blade guides, power, wheels and tires, dust collection, blade tensioning, cut capacity, tables and stability, accessories, and generally smooth performance.

    Assembly & Manuals

    Assembly. Dig out the sockets and wrenches, there's some assembly required. Get help, too—setting the saw body onto the stand is a two-person job.

    Most of the machines bolted together in under an hour. The Delta, Powermatic, and Ridgid took more than two hours; I uncrated and set up the Laguna in less than 30 minutes.

    Manuals. The supplied manuals ranged from fair to very useful. Grizzly's information includes a primer on choosing blades and general band saw techniques. Laguna's goes into even more detail, with a useful section on setting up and using the machine's fence and unique guide system.

    Blade Guides

    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=left><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Access to the guide adjustments on the Delta—especially the lower set—is great.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    Blade guides are the heart of a band saw. Each saw has two sets: one above the table, another just below. Their job is to align the blade and limit how much it drifts during a cut (see "Blade Drift," page 50). Each time you change the blade you must readjust the guides or the saw will cut poorly. Because band saws require fiddling and adjusting—and because the guides must be set accurately for good results—it's important that the guides are user-friendly and easy to reach and adjust. This was the case for all of the saws.

    Bearing Guides. The Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Powermatic use an all-bearing system to tame their blades. Powermatic employs two stacked bearings to control lateral travel. Wider blades (1/2- and 3/4-inch) tracked very nicely in this system. One drawback of bearings is they're challenging to set up when using blades under 1/4 inch and often hard to adjust so that blade teeth don't accidentally contact them. Nevertheless, adjusting these three saws was straightforward and access to each guide was good; even 1/4-inch blades tracked fine.

    Blocks and Bearing Guides. The Delta and Ridgid units use support bearings behind the blade while steel blocks provide lateral control. I would replace these blocks with aftermarket phenolic blocks, which are softer and easier on the blade should your adjustment be less than perfect. Jet uses polymer (different than phenolic) blocks that seemed to hold up nicely and can be redressed as they wear.

    Of these first six saws, access to the adjustments location and component size was best on the Delta.

    Ceramic Bearing Guides. Laguna takes a different approach with its blade guides—ceramic inserts both behind the blade and on the side—and it was the most accurate. The side blocks are deep and offer full support of wider blades. Even though it takes three Allen wrenches to make adjustments, the scale and the location of the guides are very user-friendly. In fact, this saw accepts up to a 1-inch blade. For blades narrower than 1/4 inch, Laguna offers an optional kit, which I didn't test.


    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=right><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>A wheel brush, like on the Ridgid, helps keep the blade on track by keeping the tire clean of dust.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    Next to the blade-guide systems, power is vital. While it's possible to upgrade to a larger aftermarket motor, it's smarter to evaluate your needs before purchasing and buy the right tool from the get-go. In case the amp ratings on the motors' metal plates didn't tell the truth, I used a shop-built lie detector, testing for power by re-sawing softwoods—5-inch spruce and pine—and re-sawing hardwood, specifically several densities of mahogany that ran the gamut from very hard to incredibly hard. For all cuts, I used a new 1/2-inch blade on each saw.

    Ridgid's 3/4-hp motor cut 2-inch hardwood and softwood easily, making it a handy addition to a mobile shop where you might cut corbels, radius trim, or small re-sawing runs. Re-sawing taller stock on a limited basis is fine, too, but if you anticipate lots of re-saw work (or cutting miles of curved framing), I think that will tax this smaller, but lighter, tool.

    The Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Jet 1-hp motors provided ample power for general cutting and most re-saw work I did.

    The Delta, Laguna, and Powermatic have 1-1/2-hp motors that provided all of the power needed for most general shop and jobsite cutting tasks. The Laguna, however, provided the most oomph. It was hard to slow this one down—even re-sawing in 10-inch mahogany.

    Blade Speed. All the saws tested operated around 3,200 sfpm. Grizzly offers a slower second speed of 1,500 sfpm, which was quite nice. It improves the torque and helps when cutting thicker stock, plastic, or aluminum.

    Wheels & Tires

    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=left><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Delta's well-designed tension-release lever takes off enough tension for you to change the blade.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    The "14" in a 14-inch band saw refers to the wheel diameter. Tires are the rubber rims around the wheels that protect the blades' teeth and provide needed traction.

    Each saw in the group had a well-balanced wheel with an adequate tire; any misalignment or balance problems would have affected proper blade tracking, which was fine on all the saws.

    Yet, while all the wheels and tires worked, Laguna's worked the best. They're heavier and wider than the others and this mass really threw the blade through the work, giving the saw excellent stability and great power.

    Dust Collection

    Band saws create a lot of dust, but because the blade teeth remove material through the bottom of the work, little of it goes airborne; however, without good collection, it will pile up on the table and collect in the lower housing. Each saw tested, except the Laguna and the Ridgid, has a 4-inch dust-collection port. When each of these five saws was hooked to my 1,100-cfm dust collection unit, most of the dust that would have accumulated in the lower housing was removed, but dust still piled up on the tables.

    Dust didn't pile up with Laguna's machine. The dust collection port is close to the source—directly underneath where the blade passes through the table. It has an odd-sized port (3-1/8 inches), but it accepts a 3-inch hose connector (sold separately) that I then stepped up to a 4-inch hose. I have a similar system on my own band saw, and it's efficient.

    Ridgid's port was sized to mate with a 2-1/4-inch shop-vacuum hose. Despite the location of the port, just under the table, and even using a large shop vac, it didn't collect as much dust as I would have liked. When the hose was stepped up to 4 inches and connected to my dust collector, performance improved somewhat.

    Blade Tension

    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=right><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Band-saw blades don't cut parallel to the table, so Laguna's adjustable fence is a great feature.</TD></TR><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Laguna's well-placed dust collection chamber keeps the work and lower blade housing clean.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    Conventional wisdom cautions woodworkers to take the tension off band saw blades at the end of the day. I don't believe anyone actually does this, though tires and blades would last longer if we did. The Bridgewood, Delta, Grizzly, and Powermatic come with a quick-release tension lever. Delta and Bridgewood worked best because I could relieve enough blade tension to change the blade without making any further adjustments. It was still necessary to fiddle with the blade tension knobs when changing blades on the Grizzly and Powermatic saws.

    Ridgid, Jet, and Laguna lack a tension lever and employ a blade-tension knob. All were easy to use and the lack of a quick release was not a problem.

    Cut Capacity

    The throat—the distance between the blade and the post—for all the band saws is around 13-1/2 inches. This is determined by the wheel diameter and is fixed. What really increases the versatility of a band saw is re-saw capacity—the maximum distance between the table and the upper guides.

    Bridgewood's 8-inch clearance, while larger than most, is fixed. The Laguna boasts 12 inches of standard cutting height, and it was perfect for re-sawing that 10-inch mahogany plank. The Delta, Grizzly, Jet, Powermatic, and Ridgid offer a more standard 6 inches of clearance. You can add an optional riser block to those saws, which increases their re-saw capacities to almost 12 inches. While lots of work can be done with a 6-inch-capacity tool, the larger a saw is, the more versatile it is.

    Tables & Stability

    Tilt. Each saw tested has a table that tilts 45 degrees (or more) right and 0 to 15 degrees left. Laguna's saw tilts left the farthest—15 degrees. It also has a great positive stop; while it locks the table at 90 degrees, the stop also easily swings out of the way for left tilts—a sweet detail. The rest of the saws required more work to tilt left. All the saws have stops that can be set to lock the table at an exact right angle to the blade. Delta's saw has three adjustable stops, nice when doing production runs where several angles are used and repeated, which I often use for cutting boat frames.

    Size. Laguna and Powermatic offer nice large tables—15x19 inches and 15x20 inches, respectively. Delta's 16x16-inch table is also large and adjusts easily. Jet's table is 15x15 inches, and the Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Ridgid measure 14x14 inches. Each table has a miter-gauge groove, though I've never found one to be particularly useful with a band saw because of blade drift.

    Stability. All the tables were stable. Bridgewood's and Ridgid's had the most play, but I was still quite comfortable cutting out templates from long 2x6 stock.

    Vibration. Even under load, vibration was not an issue with any of the machines. The Laguna, Jet, and Grizzly ran the smoothest, though differences between all seven were slight.


    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=left><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Good lighting is key for band saw work. Powermatic's smart onboard fixture lights the way.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    There aren't a lot of options you can throw at a band saw—a solid, well-made machine stands on its own. But there are a few cool ideas.

    Light. Good lighting is mandatory for band saw work and Powermatic's onboard light is great. If I had a band saw without a light, I'd add one.

    Fences. The Jet and Powermatic fences have a post attached, which serves as a good bearing surface for re-sawing. Laguna's fence is top-shelf and adjustable to accommodate for blade drift; lumber being ripped or re-sawn came off the saw straight and true. In fact, Laguna's manual stresses taking the time to match the fence to the blade's drift.

    Mobile Base. Laguna has an optional mobile base consisting of two wheels on a single axle mounted on the base. A separate jack handle with two wheels elevates one end of the machine and, despite its 250-plus pounds, I was able to move it easily around the shop.

    Brush. The Bridgewood, Laguna, Powermatic, and Ridgid have a small brush in the lower housing that bears against the lower tire, keeping it clean. This goes a long way toward keeping the blade on track. Like the light, if I had a band saw without one, I'd install one.

    Kill Switch. Ridgid's saw ships with a removable key-type switch; removing the key disables the switch. This is good if your shop is in your home or a site where kids might be poking around; however, I'd get a couple of extras before leaving the store with the saw and then duct tape them somewhere on the unit. If you lose it (and you will), you're out of luck until you get a new one.


    <TABLE class=bodyCellBG cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=1 width=175 align=right><TBODY><TR><TD></TD></TR><TR><TD class=caption>Laguna's optional jack handle and wheel kit make toting this unit around the shop easy.</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    At the beginning of this test, the first thing I noticed was the broad price range between all the tools in the group. I thought that I'd be comparing apples to oranges, but not so. Each saw performs the same basic functions quite well. Some of the more expensive units offer more versatility, but they are all good tools—and different tools may be better suited to different shops or sites. So it's important to figure out how expensive a machine your business needs. A large cut capacity, top-flight blade guides, and relentless power in the toughest stock drew me up the price ladder and I made my selections based on the high-tolerance and high-power requirements of my shop.

    Ridgid offers a solid and stable, but smaller, machine. Power is limited compared to the other tools with larger motors, but it's a good basic tool at a low price.

    The Jet and Grizzly both run smoothly and employ reliable blade-guide systems. The blades track well and both saws have tough 1-hp motors. Jet has a larger table, but Grizzly offers a quick-release lever for blade change. And, Grizzly's second lower speed is great. The Grizzly is the price champion for this test—the best combination of features and price.

    Bridgewood's 8-inch resaw height is helpful for lots of cutting situations; however, the re-saw height doesn't exactly match its 1-hp motor. For miles of hardwood re-saws, a larger motor might be better. The machine has nice, easy-to-turn knobs and a first-rate quick-release blade change lever.

    The Delta and Powermatic 1-1/2-hp machines are both high quality. I like Powermatic's fence and nice post for re-sawing. To fit a 3/4-inch blade on the Powermatic, I had to fiddle a bit with the lower guide carriage. Delta's design and quality were great and I appreciated the thoughtful placement of crucial knobs.

    The Laguna really rides high and is the winner. The overall design and implementation are wonderful. It has the widest, heaviest wheels in the group and, similar to a boat making way through the water, the wheels' mass helped transfer power and contributed to the machine's smoothness. The fence is adjustable to match blade drift. The well-engineered saw guides are terrific and the maximum cutting height of 12 inches—coupled with a motor and table that match this capacity—added to the saw's already substantial appeal.

    —Bill Thomas is a woodworker, boat builder, and writer in Stevensville, Md.

    <HR align=center width=300>Blade Drift

    No matter how carefully set a band saw's guides are, the blade still tends to run out of square to the table. This is called drift or lead. When following a line and cutting freehand, you compensate for this without really thinking about it, but it's not so simple when ripping or re-sawing: the stock being cut must remain in line with the blade. A fence, set so it parallels the true path of the blade, ensures cuts remain true.

    Here's how I line up a fence: On a plywood scrap about 4 inches wide and 24 inches long, strike a pencil line down the center parallel to a machine edge. Use the band saw to carefully cut halfway down the line. Stop the saw but don't move the scrap—not even a little. The plywood is probably not at a right angle to the table. Make a light pencil mark along the machine edge of the plywood. Then, clamp or adjust your fence parallel to the line, which is also parallel to the blade path. Each time you change blades, re-establish the line.


    <HR align=center width=300>


    My blade advice for band saws is short and sweet: Spend money on nice blades. They cut cleaner and last longer. More teeth yield a finer finished surface, fewer teeth cut faster and with less effort.

    Scrolling. I seldom need a blade smaller than 1/4 inch, but if you cut small radii (3/8 inch or less) get a 1/8- or 3/16-inch blade.

    Re-Sawing. You can re-saw with a 1/2-inch blade, but 3/4-inch blades work better. If your saw accepts 1-inch blades and you have thin veneers to slice, this wider blade might be the best choice. Then again, wider blades often are also thicker and these heavier blades don't bend around 14-inch wheels with grace. When in doubt, check with your blade supplier.

    "There's nothing wrong with Quiet" ` Jeremiah Johnson

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Brentwood & Altamont, TN
    Hiya John,

    Great little review there. I have the Ridgid and I believe he hit the facts on the head. I would also agree that the Laguna and Powermatic are a cut above the rest.



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