Whether you are entering woodworking 101 or a seasoned expert, it is important to know the tools in your shop and how to use them! There are some tools that would be impossible to work without, while others you find yourself standing in the aisle going back and forth over purchasing. Forest 2 Home considers a bandsaw as one of these indispensable tools. Bandsaws are incredibly versatile, producing uniform, straight cuts and irregular, curved shapes. How much do you know about this incredible woodshop machine?
History of bandsaws
The bandsaw had an early start in the world of woodworking, introduced to the world by English inventor, William Newberry in 1808. Newberry’s patent for the new machine read: “a machine for sawing wood, in which an endless band or ribbon saw, strung over two wheels, was used.” At the time, whether it be due to inaccessibility to sufficient blades or the quality of the saws themselves, the bandsaw did not pick up the traction Newberry had anticipated. While he is recognized as the inventor of one of the most valuable woodworking machines, his hopes for his invention did not come to light in his time.
50 years after its invention, Henry Wilson, another English inventor, patented improvements to the mounting of the bandsaw. Wilson’s enhancements for the bandsaw sought to prevent the breaking and snapping of the blades from sudden strain. Over the years, the bandsaw went through many iterations before becoming what it is today. With improvements made from many inventors across the seas, through many decades, and with the aid of technological improvements, the modern bandsaw now thrives in workshops around the world.
Types of bandsaws
Bandsaws come in many shapes and sizes, all offering multifaceted properties, though some may be better for your woodshop than others. Professional and hobbyist woodworkers each appreciate the bandsaws ability to make stable cuts with minimal waste. Listed are a variety of bandsaws and their properties to help you make the decision on which is the best fit for your woodshop:
Vertical Bandsaw: the most common of bandsaws and with the most similarities to the original bandsaw invention, this upright saw features a blade that runs from the top down. They are the most versatile of bandsaws, with the ability to produce straight lines with unmatched accuracy and create intricate cuts and create curves. The vertical bandsaw is otherwise known as the tabletop bandsaw, though sizes can differ.
- Horizontal Bandsaw: horizontal bandsaws rival the vertical bandsaw as the most common saw in the woodshop. These saws are equipped with many options for productivity and can produce an accurate, precise cut though they are not sufficient for intricate cuts and creating curves. The horizontal bandsaw is otherwise known as the general-purpose pivot style horizontal saw.
- Portable Bandsaw: the portable bandsaw is popular option for the increased mobility it lends to woodworkers with its lightweight carrying ability. Portable bandsaws have the capacity to cut through edges, create curves and intricate, irregular cuts. It can change directionality quickly, allowing makers to go from cutting straight lines to curved ones instantaneously.
Setting up your bandsaw
Proper set up and routine tuning of your bandsaw is an important part of the process-it sets you up for success as you move through projects in the workshop. Here are steps outlining optimal bandsaw set up:
- Disengage all guides.
- Align the blade so the deepest part of the gullet (the gullet is the deeper area between two sharp points on the blade) is right in the center of the wheel. Doing this allows for tension and rigidity to be at the front of the blade, not the center of the blade. If your bandsaw is set up this way, all the side guides must do is prevent the back edge from fishtailing, which is far easier than forcing the front edge where you want it to go.
- Use the internal tracking adjustment so that everything lines up and the blade is snug but not fully tensioned.
- Do not worry about the bottom wheel, as long as the whole blade is on the wheel.
- Check for proper tension: open the door to see the innerworkings of your bandsaw, lay your finger on top of the guard and push on the blade. There is no resistance on the left side and when you lay your finger on top of the guard and push, you are getting a consistent feel. When pushing in, you want to see about a ¼ inch deflection on the blade without seeing your finger turn white or feel numb.
- After you check the tension, recheck the wheel to ensure the deepest part of the gullet is centered on the wheel. If you tighten the blade, it will cause the blade to move backwards and if you loosen it, the blade will be brought forwards.
- Following internal blade adjustment, it is important to adjust the front and back side guides. Adjust the guide so that they are just behind the deepest part of the gullet. Be sure to make these adjustments to the front and back side guides at the top and bottom of your saw.
- Adjust the thrust bearing to be as close as it can be to the blade without it touching when the blade rotates. You never want the thrust to rotate against a blade in motion, as it will cause problems when working and can cause damage to your bandsaw and blades overtime. If it is too far forward, it will move the blade and cause it to shift. Make sure your thrust adjustment is the most accurate of all the adjustments you make during bandsaw set up and tuning.
- Following thrust bearing adjustment, move into side-to-side side guide adjustment. Make sure they are close to the blade without touching it. Repeat adjustments on the top and bottom of your bandsaw.
- Following adjustments, you must square the table to the blade to make sure all cuts are made on a level surface.
- Once your table surface is level, you must set the fence parallel to the blade. This can be done by taking a straight edge-such as a ruler-laying it flat on the table and aligning it with the body of the blade in between the blade teeth. This can also be down with a fence alignment system tool (F.A.S.T.) that has a groove for the offset of the teeth and a magnet for the body of the blade.
- Make a test cut to check accuracy.
Cutting curves with a bandsaw
Though it may be an initial challenge to learn how to cut curves with a bandsaw, it will be come fairly easy with some practice and a properly tuned-up bandsaw! There are some helpful tips when you want to cut curves with a bandsaw, including:
- Planning your cuts directly on your material: whether you want to transfer your design directly onto the wood with pencil or use a vinyl sticker to lay out the design that you can peel away later, it is a good idea to plan your cuts in advance.
- Make cuts in manageable sized lumber: like any project, working with large boards can make maneuvering the material challenging. When you are planning to make curved cuts with a bandsaw, be sure to break the lumber down into smaller sizes.
- Get detailed: for tight curves, making relief cuts is a helpful option that will also prevent the blade from binding. To make a relief cut, all you have to do is make a straight cut in various sections, starting from the exterior of the board and stopping along the edge of the curved line that you want to make. Once these cuts are made, you can cut along the curved line. Maneuverability will increase as the sections you previously chopped are removed.
- Cut along the outside of your line: kerf is the width of the material removed in the cutting process and by cutting just outside your line, you allow for greater material preservation and size accuracy.
- Cut forward: as you are cutting curved lines on a bandsaw, be sure to never turn your material. Always push the wood forward, even if it means turning the bandsaw off, backing out your material and restarting the cut.
As with any tool used in the woodshop, it is important to practice diligent bandsaw safety. By consistently implementing safety practices into your woodworking, it will guarantee a positive experience and lessen the risk of injury. When working with a bandsaw, you should follow these precautions:
- Wear safety glasses, goggles or a face shield
- Tie hair back, remove jewelry and wear fitting clothes to avoid getting anything caught by the blade.
- Ensure proper bandsaw set up was done, including all guard adjustments, wheel enclosure, blade position and overall condition.
- Keep hands away from the line of cut and braced against the table.
- Use a push stick when you remove cut pieces between the fence and saw blade or when your hands are close to the blade.
- If you need to stop cutting, hold the material firmly and turn off the saw.
- Never leave the saw running while unattended.
By keeping these tips in mind, as well as other wood shop safety precautions (proper lighting, appropriate PPE, etc.), the bandsaw can remain a productive and positive tool in the woodshop.
When we asked some of the Forest 2 Home woodworking experts their top bandsaw tips, they came back to us with some great items to keep in mind! Here is what they had to say:
“The most important thing I like to remember is to be patient with whatever you’re cutting. As long as you have everything set up exactly how it should be, the machine will do the work for you!” – Markis, @thereformationwoodshop on Instagram
“The big tip I have is to use the proper blade for the proper job. Take time out to change the blade. And relief cuts!!!” -Benny, @jettywoodworks on Instagram
“Basics are important: good blade, right blade for the job, setting the blade height correctly, blade tension.” -Mark
”A lot of bandsaw problems come from having a dull blade. When putting the blade on the tension, you want to have the gullet of the blade centered with the tire. Set the height of your guide just above the work piece, not too far up. Let the blade do the work, don’t push too hard, especially when trying to follow close to the line of a template. If cutting a round piece like dowels, the blade wants to pull it down and in so be extra careful and use a jig!” -Jon, @txyankeecarpentry on Instagram
"Tip #1: Don't cut off your fingers! Tip #2: Make sure your surface is clean of debris: dirty and sticky surfaces might lead to a slip and may cause injury. Tip #3: Always work with a sharp blade: dull blades will make you want to push harder on the piece and you might not have good control on your cut. You will also probably experience a blade drift, or worse, cut your fingers (remember tip #1)!" -Pat, @patlapofficial on Instagram
"My main tip would be to definitely be a little maintenance to your bandsaw. I sand the table with 320 grit and keep it waxed up with Johnson paste wax. Helps to keep my material moving smoothly so I get a nice cut." -Annalee, @annieswoodworks on Instagram
Keep these tips in mind as you begin or continue to work with a bandsaw! Find more tips from woodworking experts on our blog or on social media by visiting Instagram and following @shopf2h. Have any other bandsaw tips? Leave a comment or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org! Happy Woodworking!