Best Band Saw
After table saws, band saws are the most common type of shop saw you'll encounter. They are used extensively everywhere from cabinet making shops to induistrial manufacturing plants. The band saw provides the thinnest kerf of any type of saw around which makes it excellent for use with expensive or rare materials like wood burls.
There are two things that a band saw can do which a table saw can’t. They're excellent for cutting curves and the only saw which can properly resaw wood. For curve cutting they provide a much smoother cut than either a jigsaw or a scroll saw with the blade exactly perpendicular to the workpiece. Although scroll saws will cut a tighter curve, they can’t cut as smooth as one as a band saw can.
Resawing wood consists of splitting the thickness of it, typically taking a 3/4” thick board and making it into two 3/8” thick pieces or three 1/4” thick pieces. With the narrow kerf of the band saw blade, very little material is lost. This is important for book matching pieces. Consider taking a taking a look at our buyer's guide below for more information about band saws and how to make the best possible selection for your needs.
Best Band Saw Overall:
Although band saws are often thought of as being a woodworker’s saw, they are not limited to that. Band saws are used for metalworking and meat packing as well. However, for the purpose of this review, we’re going to concentrate on their most common use, that of woodworking.
Band saws derive their name from the shape of the blade, which is a thin band of metal, forming a continuous loop. This loop runs around two equal sized wheels, whose diameter determines the size of the band saw. Generally speaking, band saw blades are fairly course tooth blades, moving at a relatively slow speed, when compared to other power saws. These saws are designed more for accurate cutting, whether one desires straight or curved cuts, rather than fast cutting. Wider blades (measured from the tooth to the back of the blade) are intended for straight cuts, while thinner blades for curved cutting. Of all the power saws on the market, they have the thinnest saw kerf, making for less material waste.
Another important application of band saws is in resawing wood for both cabinet making and instrument making. Most boards are finished to a 3/4-inch thickness. Resawing splits that board into two or even three thicknesses. These thinner pieces of wood are used in cabinetry for dresser carcase sides, drawer parts, and other decorative places where wood is required, but not much structural strength.
Okay, so what makes for a good band saw? Let’s look at a few important factors:
Wheel size: The diameter of the wheel determines the saw’s size. These saws are all 14-inch saws, meaning that the two wheels which the blade travels around are 14 inches in diameter. The larger the wheel is, the greater the throat (distance between the saw blade and the back of the saw) will be.
Solid table, with positive lock perpendicular to the saw blade: You can’t get away with a stamped table on these saws, especially if you are going to use it for resawing. A solid table is essential to support the resaw fence, without any movement.
Good fence: The fence is your guide while resawing. It needs to be easy to move, with a very solid lock and absolutely no wobble. Otherwise, every wobble in the fence will show as inconsistencies in your resawn lumber thickness.
Maximum cutting height: The distance from the table to the housing for the upper wheel determines the maximum width board you can resaw.
Ball bearing blade guides: Due to the thinness of these blades, there is a great tendency to flex, which can ruin a good workpiece. Ball bearing guides for the blade, both below the table, and above the workpiece help eliminate blade flex or wobble.
Wheel bearings: There is a tremendous amount of side force, magnified by the wheel diameter on the wheel bearings. These are the first thing to wear out on a cheap saw, causing the blade to wander and eventually come off the wheels. Whether solid or ball bearing, the wheel bearings need to be heavy duty to guarantee long life.
Easy blade tensioning: Some units come with a quick tensioning lever for the blade, while others go with a more conventional rotating knob. Either way, the tensioner needs to work smoothly and not loosen during saw use.
Band saws come in two basic designs: horizontal and vertical. Since the horizontal ones are used only for metal cutting, and we’re concentrating on woodworking applications, we’re just going to look at the vertical ones. For this list, we’re limiting ourselves to units that cost less than $1,000. There are much more expensive units available on the market, but they are basically intended for use in a machine shop
The 2 HP motor on this saw will ensure that you can cut through anything; this is especially important with resawing, where the friction really can slow down a smaller motor. Speaking of resawing, this beast has a 6-inch fence, which makes it much easier to maintain any wood that you are resawing perfectly vertical. With all the other details put into it, this is a superb saw. Read Full Review
If you've got to resaw large pieces, the 12-inch capacity of this saw is truly amazing. It's also got the best blade adjustment I've seen on an affordable band saw. Read Full Review
The big table on this saw makes it great for outlining large pieces. With the quick release tilt, it's great for those compound curve cuts. This saw really isn't designed so much for resawing, as for outlining curved pieces. Read Full Review
Like all Delta's power tools, this is an extremely well-built, heavy duty unit. Although it's really not designed for resawing, it's got a 1 HP motor, which supplies more than enough power, at up to 3,300 fpm. Read Full Review
Although this bandsaw can only resaw material up to 6 inches out of the box, by adding the riser kit, you can resaw material up to 12 inches. The fence is really nice, being able to flip up to allow great support for resawing. Read Full Review
Best Budget Band Saw:
Band saws are used for a variety of purposes and materials; we find them used in home workshops, furniture factories, and even in industry for cutting metals. While not as fast at cutting they have some capabilities a table saw doesn’t, making the band saw a very useful addition to any shop.
The two things a band saw can do, which a table saw isn’t all that good at are cutting curves and resawing. About the only curve you can cut on a table saw is a circle, and to do that, you need a special jig to hold the workpiece which then rotates it around a center. That also means you have to have a hole in the center for it to rotate around.
But, it’s resawing that makes band saws really special. Resawing means cutting a standard 4/4 piece of lumber to split its thickness, making two pieces that are 3/8 inch thick or even 1/4 inch thick (rather than one that is 3/4 inch thick). This is necessary for making jewelry boxes and other small woodworking projects that require thinner wood.
There is no other saw available which can be used for resawing. You can thin a piece of wood to the same thickness with a power plane, but only if you are willing to turn half the board’s thickness into sawdust. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem very efficient to me.
Band saws come in lots of different sizes, with lots of different sized motors for various purposes. Generally speaking, band saws used for industrial purposes are much larger, with powerful motors and much higher price tags. On this list, we’re just going to look at smaller band saws which would be appropriate for a home workshop. Even so, there’s a huge number of saws to select from.
There are basically three types of band saws: vertical band saws, horizontal band saws, and portable band saws. Horizontal and portable band saws are used strictly for metal cutting, while vertical ones can be used for both wood and metal. For the purposes of this list, we’re only dealing with vertical band saws which are designed for cutting wood. I’m also limiting the price range to under $1,000, with a couple of examples that are way below that price.
There are three basic specifications which are important on a band saw:
- The “throat” is the distance between the cutting part of the blade and the enclosed part of the saw where the blade makes the other side of the loop. Band saws are often identified by the throat dimension which is the diameter of the top and bottom wheels that the band goes around; that’s what determines the throat depth. This dimension affects the size of the piece one can work with, when they are using the band saw to cut curves.
- The “resaw capacity” is the distance between the top of the table and the highest limit of the upper blade guide. A saw with a small resaw capacity can only resaw thin boards, say a maximum of 1-inch by 4-inches. Basically, the saws we are going to look at will be limited in this area, because a higher resaw capacity means a bigger saw, with a correspondingly larger price tag.
- The motor power is important as well, as this can also limit the resaw capacity. Resawing puts a lot more friction on the blade than cutting a curve, necessitating a larger motor. A saw with a large resaw capacity but a small motor is going to constantly bog down, causing problems and blade marks in the wood.
Budget band saws break down into two basic groups: bench mounted and floor mounted. Bench mounted saws are of course smaller, with a smaller throat and smaller resaw capability. Floor mounted ones are larger and come with a stand, allowing them to be set on the shop floor.
In addition to these three critical specifications, there are other things that are important for a good band saw. All band saws need a tracking adjustment, so that the blade won’t “walk” off the edge of the wheels; a saw with good tracking is much easier to work with. The bearings used are also important, although most manufacturers don’t tell you what type of bearings they are using. Cheap bearings will wear out quickly, throwing the tracking off.
One important note here; when buying a budget band saw, there’s a good chance that the bearings won’t be of high quality. However, they can be changed out. Many a cheap band saw has been improved, after the factory bearings went out, simply by putting in higher quality bearings.
Speaking of bearings, the better band saws will have ball bearing blade guides, while inexpensive ones may only have a bearing block. The ball bearings are definitely better for maintaining accurate tracking and reducing unnecessary friction on the blade.
The table size is somewhat important as well, as a larger table always makes it easier to hold the workpiece perpendicular to the blade. However, what’s more important than that is the fence. Most band saws don’t come with a fence, but a good fence is essential to resawing. Most band saw owners end up making their own fence. If you do this, make it as high as you can, as the added support will help with accurate resawing.
Delta's band saw comes in as number one; mostly due to their quality reputation. This saw will resaw up to six inches, with a 1 HP motor and 14-inch wheels. Well designed all around, this saw should give years of quality service. Read Full Review
The best thing about this 14-inch band saw is that it comes with both a fence and a miter gauge. The fence is similar to those on a table saw, with a measuring gauge for precise location. With an excellent price and these accessories, this saw is a tremendous value. Read Full Review
If you're looking for a lot of value, this saw has it. The resaw capacity is truly impressive and something you'd expect to find only on much larger saws. Read Full Review
If the other Jet band saw we looked at is too rich for your blood, you might want to take a look at this 10-inch model. While smaller, it has a lot of nice features, including a LED work light, fence and miter gauge. At half the price, if it's big enough for your needs, you might want to consider it. Read Full Review
Best Portable Band Saw:
Portable band saws have one basic purpose, cutting steel on the jobsite. It doesn’t matter if it’s conduit, pipe or structural elements, the portable band saw is the ideal tool for cutting steel, faster and cleaner than any other type of saw.
Like their cousins in the shop, these are fairly simple tools, consisting of two wheels, one of which is motor driven. The blade is a metal band for cutting the material which runs around these two wheels. In order to function properly, tracking of the blade is extremely critical. A saw which doesn’t track properly will have the blade running off the edge of the wheel, not cutting anything and possibly damaging the saw.
Besides tracking, the other major consideration in these saws is power. When cutting pipe and structural metals, a low power saw can bog down, slow work and increase the potential for blade breakage. Considering the cost of blades, that’s not a desirable outcome.
While power and tracking are what make a portable band saw cut, there’s a number of other features that are important as well such as LED work lights, a good shoe and the balance of the tool which all make the saw easier to work with overall. Some band saws add special protection for the tool, in case of accidental drops as well as electronic controls to maintain blade speed consistency.
These saws are available in both cordless and corded models. Cordless tools have finally reached the point where they are able to offer comparable power to corded models. Of the cordless ones, the Lithium-Ion far outperform the Nickel-Cadmium for battery life and charge times. They also keep the tool running at full power until the battery dies, as opposed to Ni-Cad batteries, where the tool gradually slows down as the battery’s charge diminishes.
One important detail about using any band saw is most people just use whatever blade comes with the tool. However, blade selection is important for optimal performance. The band saw blade’s pitch, which is the number of teeth per inch, should be selected to match the material thickness. Ideally, you should have three teeth across the material thickness because if you don’t have enough teeth, the blade will tend to chatter. If you have too many, the blade will tend to cut very slowly.
I’ve selected both corded and cordless models for this list, as some people prefer one over the other. While cordless tools are definitely more convenient, they are also more expensive, an important consideration for many people.
As per usual, Milwaukee produces the most powerful portable band saw on the market. This one has a five-inch square material capacity, making it the biggest on the market. It's a corded saw, so you know it's going to have plenty of power. Read Full Review
Makita's charging system always makes them a good choice. This saw has six variable speed settings, so you can customize the speed to the material you’re cutting and the blade you’ve selected. Read Full Review
This is the only 28 volt Li-Ion cordless band saw on the market, which makes it the most powerful. While it doesn't have the capacity of the deep cut corded, it comes close, at 4-3/4-inches. Read Full Review
If you don't need big capacity, then this compact Bosch may be the saw for you. It will handle material up to 2-1/2-inches square. Being smaller and lighter makes it easier to work with, especially for long periods of time. Read Full Review
Like the Milwaukee corded deep cut saw, this one will handle five-inch square material. It has plenty of features to make it easy to work with, including externally serviceable brushes. Read Full Review
Band Saw Buyer’s Guide
While the table saw is useful for cutting sheet goods and ripping boards, it's limited in ability. There is no problem ripping a board to make it thinner if you want to cut down the width of the board, but if you want to rip the board to reduce it's thickness, you need a band saw.
The way a bandsaw works is it has an upper and lower wheel the blade goes around. The wheels are generally cast and balanced with the edge covered with rubber to grip the blade. The lower wheel is driven by a motor and the upper is the adjustable tension wheel. A table provides a place for the workpiece with the blade passing through the middle of the table and traveling downwards. Band saws come in a variety of sizes, with prices up into several thousand dollars. Industrial ones are typically multi-speed for cutting metals as well as wood.
Band Saw Uses
Band saws are very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications as well as being one of the few power tools suitable for both woodworking and metal cutting. While band saws intended for cutting metal are slightly different than those designed for cutting wood, the basic tool remains the same. The major difference between the two is the machines designed for cutting metal are variable speed, as a slower blade speed is needed for said materials
Band saws are also useful for cutting curves, although they won't cut as tight a curve as a scroll saw will. On the flip side of the coin, they will usually cut a smoother curve than a scroll saw. Blade width makes a big difference in this regards as even the narrowest band saw blades are wider than those used on scroll saws. From there, they vary up to 1/2" in width.
The blades used on band saws are the thinnest around, rivaling those used for a scroll saw. This makes them ideal for resawing boards (ripping then to split the thickness). Little material is used as the saw kerf is minimal.
Types of Band Saws
Band saws break down into four basic categories, more based upon their use than anything else. Although we're only looking at band saws for woodworking and portable band saws, even within the realm of woodworking there is quite a variety in size and cost.
Wood Cutting Band Saws
These are units that are designed for woodworking. They are typically single-speed units used for resawing boards and cutting curves.
Metal Cutting Band Saws
These units are larger than those used for wood cutting, have larger motors, and are variable speed. The harder the metal being cut, the slower the saw's speed needs to be.
Horizontal Band Saws
Horizontal saws aren't as common as vertical ones areas they're used solely for cutting metal pipe and tubing as well as extrusions. These saws are typically variable speed with a clamp to hold the workpiece in place. The weight of the saw itself provides the pressure to move the blade through the material as it is being cut.
Portable Band Saws
Like the horizontal band saws, these too are used for cutting metal pipe, tubing and extrusions as well as cutting rebar for concrete work. Mostly they're used by welders, electricians, masons, and plumbers.
Choosing a Band Saw
Before looking for a band saw, you have to have an idea of what you are going to use it for, most specifically the largest material size that you will use in the saw. That will determine the size saw that you need which establishes a starting point for your search.
The saw's stated size is the diameter of the saw's drive wheels. The throat depth is generally about 1/2 inch less than the wheel diameter which limits the width of the boards that can be cut on the saw. For most users, the throat depth isn't a major consideration although if you are cutting shapes out of the middle of a board it can be a problem.
If the saw is going to be used for resawing boards, it will need a larger motor than one that is only going to be used for cutting curves. The act of resawing creates a lot of friction which is why the larger motor size is required.
The limiting factor for resawing is the space between the saw’s table and the highest point the blade guide can be adjusted to. For a 14” saw, this means the maximum size which can be resawn is usually a 1”x6” board. By comparison, a 20” saw can resaw a 1”x12” board. However, this maked for a much more expensive saw.
A fence is usually needed for resawing although very few band saws come with a fence and most woodworkers make their own before clamping it to the table. The saws which provide a fence typically have the same style fence found on a table saw. For resawing anything over a 1"x 4" board, it's recommended to attach a piece permanently to the fence in order to make it higher.
The other important factor is the bearings, especially the bearings used for blade guides. Quality band saws will have ball bearings for the wheels and the blade guides, while cheaper units may not. If the saw only has sleeve bearings for the wheels, make sure they're replaceable and you lube them regularly. The bearings on the blade guides are important for ensuring the blade stays straight, especially for resawing operations.
Other Features to Consider
While all band saws come with a table, the size of the table can vary considerably. Like with any other power tool that uses a table, the size and smoothness of the table will affect your work. Most band saws only come with small tables which increases the chance of you wobbling the workpiece while cutting.
A few of the bandsawsI've looked at have a T-slot cut into the table for using a miter gauge. If you're going to use the band saw for cutting pipe and tubing, this can assist you in keeping the blade perpendicuar to the workpiece and make your cut cleaner.
The larger the teeth on the blade, the faster it will cut. However, you should always ensure you have enough teeth on the blade so there will be at least three teeth for the thickness of the material you're cutting. Any less than this risks having the teeth catch on the edge of the workpiece and jam the saw.
A work light to illuminate the cut line can be very useful, especially on portable bandsaws. Often, workshops don't have enough overhead light or there might be something shadowing your cut. The light can make it much easier to see where you're cutting, ensuring an accurate cut.