What are the uses of a band saw? Which is the best band saw for woodcutting and which one for metal cutting? Horizontal vs vertical, which one should I buy?
Let me help you with the answers.
If you need a reliable tool that can cut wood, lumber, and metal, while also being able to make curved cuts, then a band saw may be for you. Now, as far as power tools go, the band saw is probably not the most famous one out there. When you think of power tools, you probably think of things like drills, table saws, circular saws, etc. Many people probably do not even know what a band saw is. In this complete guide, I will tell you everything that you need to know about band saws.
What is a band saw?
Conceptually, a band saw is a very simple tool. A single, continuous band of metal which is toothed is placed between two wheels. The wheels are rotated by the bandsaw motor, which gives the metal band its cutting power. This metal band that is toothed is called the band saw blade. The rotation of band saw blade enables it to cut through not only softwood but also lumber and metal.
Band saws, like many other power tools, come in both portable and stationary varieties (they are also often referred to as floor and tabletop models). Both are essentially the same power tool, with the only real difference being the ease with which they can be moved.
How a band saw works
The basic working principle of a band saw is that a rotating band of metal-blade cut through the material. Many of you are no doubt familiar with how a reciprocating saw works. A single blade is driven up and down by an internal motor in order to generate cutting power. This is how a variety of saws work, including jigsaws, reciprocating saws, etc. A band saw works a bit differently. With a band saw, rotating wheels drive a single band of continuous metal (this is where the “band” in the name comes from) which performs the cutting action.
Depending on the type of model you are using, either you will have to control the blade or your material (I will talk more about this difference later when I talk about the differences between vertical and horizontal band saws).
The main value of a vertical band saw is how versatile it is when it comes to cutting. Not only can it make the sort of straightforward cuts that a table saw can (although a vertical band saw cannot really match the pure volume and cutting power of your average table saw), it can also make curved cuts.
Band Saw Blades
As with pretty much every kind of saw out there, band saws come with a variety of different blades that work best for different kinds of jobs.
Regular band saw blades are ideal for making accurate cuts on thin materials like softwoods and plastic sheets.
Skip tooth blades are ideal for cutting through wood, non-ferrous metals, and plastics. These blades have widely spaced teeth with no rake angle to avoid clogging and get cuts are clean and accurate.
Hook tooth blades. These blades cut aggressively into all kinds of materials, including metal, wood, plastics, etc. These blades cut quickly but are not a good idea if you want small, accurate cuts.
Alternate Set blades: These are blades with one tooth offset towards left and next one offset towards the right. They are mainly used by wood turners and those who do wood carving.
Types of band saws
There are two main types of band saws; vertical ones and horizontal ones. The main difference between the two lies in whether you have to feed the material you are cutting or the blade itself. There is also horizontal/vertical combination band saw.
Horizontal Vs Vertical Bandsaw
While they both work on the same principle, they have different uses. Let me explain.
Horizontal Band Saw
On a horizontal bandsaw, the workpiece is fixed and the blade on the swing arm is brought down on to the work. The main benefits to horizontal saws are their ability to cut tougher materials and larger amounts of materials. This makes them more popular in factories or in professional workshops where volume matters.
Horizontal band saws are widely used in the metalworking industry. Most machine shops, tool rooms, and manufacturing units require an effective method to quickly cut large metal bars into smaller sizes. The horizontal bandsaw replaces the older power hacksaw in metalworking industry since bandsaw is way faster.
The metal cutting bandsaws are equipped with coolant units. The coolant that flows over the blade and on to the workpiece has two factions. The coolant liquid dissipates heat from the blade and work-piece and it also washes the metal chips away.
Horizontal bandsaws are designed for making straight cuts. Bandsaws with rotating work holding base also enable them to make angular cuts. However, you can’t cut radius or intricate shapes on a horizontal bandsaw. Their size and bigger price tag tend to make them unsuitable for a lot of home workshops.
Vertical Band Saw
With a vertical band saw, the blade circulates at a fixed position and the work-piece is fed against the blade. So, you have to carefully maneuver the material that you are cutting into the blade. This allows for a variety of cuts. Likewise, it also makes things like curved cuts significantly easier. Because of this vertical bandsaw is often called the contour saw.
How to use a band saw to cut inside profile?
The vertical band saw usually comes with a blade welder. When you want to cut an internal contour on a sheet, you have to cut the blade first. Then insert the blade through the hole in the work-piece. After that use the built-in welder to join the two ends of the blade. Next, proceed to load the blade on the drive wheels and adjust the blade tension. The band saw blade should be loaded in such a way that the cutting teeth are pointing downwards. Switch on the machine and start moving your workpiece to get the blade to cut the desired path. This is how you will cut the internal contour on a band saw.
A vertical bandsaw is an excellent power tool for cutting complex shapes both internal and external. You can use it make straight cuts, angular cuts, curved cuts and intricate contours. However vertical bandsaws lack the power of the horizontal bandsaws. Hence, they cannot be used to cut large sized solid blocks.
Combination Band Saw
In a horizontal- vertical combo saw, you have the option to lift-up the blade head into a vertical position. Once you lock the machine in the vertical position, attach the work table and you are good to go. This offers the best of both horizontal and vertical band saws.
However, it has disadvantages. First of all, they are not rigid as a dedicated vertical bandsaw. As a horizontal saw their cut capacity is smaller than a dedicated horizontal band saw. You may have to keep changing the blade often since horizontal bandsaws require much wider blades.
If you are a hobbyist or DIY enthusiast and your work involves a lot of straight cuts as well as curved cuts, then go for the combo. Otherwise, you are better off with a dedicated horizontal or vertical band saw.
In this section, I am going to tell you what sort of band saw setup is the best for each kind of job.
- The primary use of the band saw is to cut irregular shapes that includes straight and curved
- It is also the most widely used machine tool for resawing.
- You can do long rip-cuts, crosscuts and even cut the full log.
- Horizontal bandsaws are more effective than hacksaw for cutting long sized meterial into smaller sizes.
- Band saws are also used in food industry for meat cutting.
So, whether you are cutting wood, metal, or even meat, you can pick out the band saw that will meet your needs the best.
Band saw for woodworking
One of the main uses of all saws (including band saws) is to cut wood, so there is no doubt that most of you are curious about the best set up for cutting wood. Well, my personal opinion is that for wood cutting, you should go for a vertical or combination saw.
A horizontal saw can be good for cutting logs into smaller pieces. My recommendation is to get a vertical band saw with a standard blade and you will be able to handle most, if not all, standard home woodworking jobs. You can use a vertical band saw to cut wood to size, for resawing, to cut curves and shapes and more.
If you need to cut a lot of wood, consider investing in a hook blade for your band saw, which will allow you to cut through large volumes of wood much quicker. Woodcutting band saw blades are made out of high carbon steel. You can also get a bimetal blade for higher performance and blade life.
Band Saw for Re-sawing
One of the most commonly used machine tools for re-sawing is the band saw. They are ideal because you can cut different sizes and even do the re-sawing of the full logs.
Resaw: For those who don’t know; resawing is the operation of cutting along the grain to reduce the thickness of the workpiece. Resawing is similar to rip-cut, but you are splitting the thickness instead of width.
While you could do the re-sawing on a table saw, you are limited by the diameter of the blade. There is a limit to which the blade can project out from the surface of a table saw. When you use a band saw for re-sawing, you can raise the upper blade guide to accommodate workpiece with a larger width.
Tip: Use a band saw fence to perform the re-sawing precisely. You should ensure that the fence is parallel to the blade or square to the table. Once you push the work against the fence and feed the workpiece towards the blade, the fence will act as a guide.
Band saw for metal cutting
For cutting tubes, sheet metal, metal plates with smaller thickness vertical band saw is ideal. You can cut various shapes easily using the vertical saw. Use a fine tooth raker pattern or alternate tooth blade to do the metal cutting. The rule of thumb for band saw is to have minimum 2 to 3 tooth in contact with the workpiece you are cutting. That means the thinner your workpiece the more teeth per inch you need.
Get a bimetal band saw blade for long-term repeated use. If you are cutting softer material like aluminum, brass or even mild steel then high carbon steel blades will also work well.
If you need to use your band saw for cutting metal bars, solid rods and plates into size, then purchase a horizontal band saw. As I said earlier, these are more expensive and a lot bigger than vertical saws, so not everyone will be able to get one. However, if the price is not an issue and you have enough space in your workshop for a horizontal band saw, then I really recommend getting one. They have more than enough power to cut metal reliably.
If you are unable to get a horizontal band saw, you can still cut metal along a straight-line with a vertical band saw. But it is less accurate and slow process.
Band saw for meat cutting
Unless you are cutting a ridiculous amount of meat at once, then a regular vertical band saw is more than powerful enough to cut through tough meat reliably. However, you will want to make sure that you are using a blade meant for precision cuts; using something like a hook tooth blade will destroy the meat.
I would suggest you get a dedicated meat cutting bandsaw since they are clean and smaller and easy to handle.
Buyers Guide -What to look for?
The type of saw, size, motor capacity and available speed are some of the things you should look for while buying a band saw.
Bandsaw are available in horizontal and vertical configuration. I will explain in details on the difference between horizonal vs vertical band saws under the band saw types section.
There are four sizes that you should be aware of.
Overall Size: First is the overall size of the band saw. If you take a look at the available options, you can find a small portable bench top bandsaws to large floor models for industrial use. While a tabletop version may be good enough for crafts work, carpenters and serious woodworking professional would need a floor model. Buy the one according to your work requirement.
Throat Size: The second is the throat size. This is the distance between the column of the machine to the inner edge of the blade. This is the widest size of workpiece you can have inside the blade and body of the machine. So a 12-inch band saw will have a throat distance of 12 inches.
Depth: Next is the depth of cut. It is the distance between the bottom of the blade guide to the top of the table. This is the maximum height of workpiece you can cut on a band saw. Those who are planning to do a lot of resawing should note this dimension is an important one.
Finally the size of the table: A larger table size will provide you with adequate support for supporting bigger sized workpiece which makes handling easier. You will also need a bigger table if you plan to use miter fence to do angular cutting on band saw.
However keep in mind that if the table is too big and if you have smaller arms, you may find it difficult to reach closer to blade while cutting irregular shapes on small workpieces.
They normally range from 1/2 HP to 3HP in power. Nearly all the bandsaws can cut thin sheets and rip boards. However you need more horse power for cutting thicker material and resaw.
For most people a mid-range saw would be fine. For example; you can easily resaw a 4-8 inches hardwood with 2HP motor band saw. You can calculate the required motor power using <a href=”http://www.sawdesigner.com/bpowcalc.php” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>this calculator</a>. That being said a sharper blade and right tuning (blade tension, condition of guide rollers, lubrication, cleanliness etc.) are more important than higher motor power.
Different types of materials to be cut calls for different speed. Hence if you are planning to cut a variety of materials get a band saw with variable speed.
As a rule of thumb, softer the material, higher should be the speed. So you should set higher speed for soft material life wood, plastic and plywood whereas harder material like steel should be cut with the slowest speed.
Who should buy a band saw
Almost anyone can benefit from having a band saw in their workshop. However, there are two kinds of people who will benefit the most from one. Firstly, those who regularly need to cut various shapes. For example, to make crafts, artwork, templates etc. If you are one of them, then get a vertical bandsaw.
Secondly, those who run a professional workshop (or butcher shop) and who regularly need to cut large amounts of materials to size; the latter will greatly benefit from a horizontal one. Think of horizontal band saw machine as a power hacksaw that is much more efficient.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the use of a band saw. If you have any questions feel free to ask me.
How to cut very thin sheet metal on a band saw?
As I explained earlier in the article, ideally you should have at least 2 teeth must be in contact with your sheet metal when you make the cut. So what if the sheet thickness is smaller than the distance between two teeth. Here is a neat trick.
Sandwich your thin sheet metal between two pieces of wood or plastic sheets that are thicker. You could either clamp them or use glue to stick between the wood or plastic sheets. Now the effective thickness of your workpiece is more and hence the number of teeth is in contact also increases.
What is the recommended band saw speed?
In general softer work piece like wood, plastic, plywood etc. are cut at higher speeds. On the other hand, harder materials like steel require a slower speed.
The speed of a band saw blade is expressed as FPM or feet per minute. The general rule is to use slower speeds for harder material and higher blade speed for softer ones.
Based on my own experience and referring the MIT guidelines, I suggest the following speeds.
|Softwood||2000 to 5000 FPM|
|Hardwood||1000 to 3000 FPM|
|Plastic||1000 FPM *|
|Aluminum, Brass||500 to 100 FPM|
|Steel||40 to 400 FPM|
Depending on the size of the saw, here is a quick band saw speed chart for general purpose .
12-inch band Saw = 2600 Feet per Minute
14-inch band saw = 3200 Feet per Minute
16-inch bansaw = 3800 Feet per Minute
18-inch and above = 4000 – 5000 Feet per Minute
What feed should I use on a bandsaw?
Refer to the blade manufacturer’s specification. The best way identify is to look at the chips. You don’t want to see burned chips. While you are cutting steel curled silvery chips are the indication of correct feed.
If you feed the work/blade too fast, the blade will deflect resulting in poor edges and blade breakage in worst cases. On the other hand, if the feed is too less and the blades are not sharp, the cutting teeth may not be able to penetrate into the material to be cut.
Can I use one blade for all types of cutting?
Ideally, you should get a coarse blade for cutting software materials like wood and plastic and a fine blade for cutting harder materials like metal. Thin sheets will also require fine band saw blade with more number of teeth per inch.
How is the size of a band saw determined?
The size of the band saw is usually determined by the throat depth of the machine. The throat-depth is the distance between the blade and the column.
Band Saw Usage Tips
- Adjust the movable saw guide (upper saw guide in case of vertical saw) to the closest position you can considering the overall thickness of the workpiece. This will ensure minimum blade deflection and allows you to increase the feed.
- Use the right blade for the right job.
- Ensure proper tension to the saw blade by moving the adjusting hand wheel. Excessive tension will cause the blade to break while insufficient tension will result in the blade getting slipped out of the drive wheels.
Band Saw Safety
- Never touch the blade the while it is running. The circulating blade will pull your fingers in and can cause serious injuries.
- Do not touch the blade immediately after you finish the cutting. The blades that do not use coolants are usually too hot to touch. If you must change the blades, wait for it to cool down. Or use gloves to protect your hand.
- Use proper protection while changing the blades. The long flexible blades can spring out and cause injury.
- Use your hands clear-off the circulating blade while pushing the work-piece against it. Use a push stick or a wooden block to push your work towards the blade.