Taking an Inch

Ever wondered why there are so many bandsaw sizes in the world, and just why you’d choose one over another?

If you head into a box warehouse and see a bandsaw, it is probably an 8″ model.  But there are sizes above that.  If there is a second size in the store, it is probably a 12″.  If you head over to a dedicated machinery store, then you can see 14″, 17″, right up to 21″ and 24″

Sourced from Wikipedia

Contrary to a common misconception, the size of the bandsaw does not equate to the achievable depth of cut, nor even to the depth of the throat (although that is also a very common opinion).  The second is pretty close to the money even so.  What it equates to is the size (diameter) of the upper and lower wheels.  This has a direct correlation to the maximum depth of throat (and thus where that popular interpretation comes from), and nothing to do with the depth of cut (resaw capacity).

Realistically, the depth of throat has some bearing on the decision between one saw and another, but I rarely find it too small, be that on my 14″ cast iron Jet, or my box-section 17″ machine.  (Even so, I’d love larger!)  The big reason is the overall capacity and power of the machine.

Not power as in motor size, but the ability to physically tension the blade, and the maximum width of blade the machine can cope with.  The larger the machine, generally the larger the blade it can comfortably handle.

The other advantage comes down to what you are expecting said blade to do. Run very straight, with as little bend or flex, then bend around a 180 degree turn, run straight, another 180 degree turn, repeat ad infinitum. Bend and straight, bend and straight.  Sounds like a perfect recipe for fatigue.  By having larger wheels, this issue is reduced.

A smaller bandsaw may be all you can fit, or afford and if that suits your purpose, no problem.  But if you have an option, try to justify upsizing.  Some other features to look out for include the type of guides (bearing vs rub block), quick tension release, dust collection, location of the blade tension wheel.  My 17″ also has variable speed (multiple pulleys), but I have never seen a need to change the operating speed.

I’d love to have both the bandsaws in my workshop – the 17″ set up for resawing, the 14″ for fine work.  However, there just isn’t that much space, so I have to stick with one, and change blades often.

Preparing Timber – Resaw (part a)

Over the course of a number of posts (not necessarily consecutive), we will follow a piece of timber through a whole range of machining and processing steps, until it becomes a finished product.  You may not need all the steps – it depends on your particular source of timber for one.

Sourcing timber is always a bit problematic, and I will be looking further into the whole timber supplier thing later on.

Unless you have purchased a kitset (and even then in some cases), timber does not come in any sort of finished state, and particularly a dimensioned state ready for your project.  Even if it is sold as DAR (dressed all round), you can be pretty sure it will have twists, warps, cupping etc, even on a minor scale.  Perhaps difficult to pick up while shopping, but painfully obvious in the final project if not dressed properly before it is used.

However, first things first. If timber is too thick (or if you want bookmatched boards), the ability to resaw timber (which can be considered to be taking a board and splitting it into two thinner boards) is an incredibly liberating function.  You are not restricted to the thickness of boards you buy (or having to resort to wasting to sawdust good timber), or even if you are provided/manage to scavenge branches and sections of tree trunk, you have the ability to turn them into useable, rough-sawn boards ready for drying and processing.

The tool to achieve this is one of the most valuable in the woodworking workshop, and one of the most versatile: the bandsaw.

This is not what I’d call a (and apologies if anyone gets upset by this) toy bandsaw 8″- 10″ (and smaller) – you need something with a bit of power, and the capacity to take a reasonable blade, and they don’t start until you get into the 14″+ size.  There will be some who’d still call these toys until you hit at least 24″, but a 14″ bandsaw should be able to resaw a 12″ diameter log.

This does get into bandsaw sizing, and when you first come across the bandsaw, you’d think the size (8″, 12″, 14″ etc) refers to the resaw height – the depth of cut.  It actually refers to the diameter of the bandsaw wheel (at least on a 2 wheel bandsaw), which dictates the maximum throat depth.

Depth of Cut vs Depth of Throat

What I have found in the past, is (as a general rule) the smaller bandsaws have real tracking difficulties – not only in following a line, but also in simply keeping the blade running on the wheels.

A bandsaw blade needs a fair amount of tension to work properly, and the little bandsaws just cannot get the blade tight enough, which makes them worse than useless.  I’m sure if you pay good money that there will be small bandsaws that can do a good job, but if you are forking out $100 – $200 (or less!), then you might be better saving your money.

My current bandsaw is the 17″ one seen above.  I still have a 14″ Jet which I am still very fond of – with the 6″ riser block, the Jet is capable of resawing 12″, and still has a reasonable throat.  This 17″ one does pick up some things that make my life a lot easier.  The tension wheel is underneath the top wheel (hard to see in the photo), and is at a good working height to crank the tension on easily.  Both this, and the Jet have a quick tension release, and both can take a reasonable resaw blade.  3/4″ for the Jet, 1″ for the Carbatec.

Blade Comparison

A bandsaw may come with a single blade, but it most certainly should not be the only blade you own.  In fact you should be seriously considering changing blades for each job you do (assuming they are inherently different tasks).  A blade that may be suitable for cutting tight circles (such as the 1/4″ 10 TPI blade seen fitted here) is completely unsuitable for cutting through thick timber, where you have a much deeper depth-of-cut, or for resawing.  The other blade seen here is my primary resaw blade.  1″ across, 3 TPI, it will not leave anywhere near as smooth a finish as the small blade, it cannot go around a corner (well about as well as a bus can, compared to a mini!), but it can handle significant blade tension, will stay very straight during the cut (including not bowing, so the cut remains vertical, and flat!), and won’t result in burning as it has significant chip clearing capacity.

I’d suggest having 3-4 blades of different widths, and different teeth counts to cover the range of typical tasks.  The blade that came with the saw you can keep (put aside), and use it for jobs where you wouldn’t want to subject a good blade to, such as sand-encrusted timber, aluminium etc.  (Yes, cutting aluminium on a bandsaw is a perfectly reasonable task, as is plastic).

The bandsaw is, in my opinion one of the safest cutting tools in the workshop – certainly much safer than the tablesaw, SCMS, or router table.  You can still do significant damage to oneself if not careful, but it is a tool I’m more comfortable in using (standard guards and safety gear all still bought into play of course).  The cut direction is down, into the table so work is much less likely to be thrown at you, and if there is a failure (such as a broken blade), it doesn’t fly around the workshop and instead simply stops moving.

You can still cut yourself though – no tool can be used with impunity.  A bandsaw has teeth, and any tool with teeth is designed to eat.  If it has no trouble with hard timber, then your hand/arm/body will prove no problem if you happen to offer it up as a sacrifice.

So the bandsaw – one of my must-have workshop tools.  Whether it is for resawing


or scrollsawing,


circle cutting (as will be covered in the next edition of ManSpace magazine)

Circle Cutting

Circle Cutting

or anything in between, it is often going to prove to be the go-to-tool.  In this case, (for the purposes of this article), its ability to break down logs and resaw boards is invaluable in the workshop.

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