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Band Saw iStock

Consisting of upper and lower wheels with a table to support the work between them, a band saw runs a continuous, flexible blade around the wheels.

What is a Band Saw Used for?

Band saws are versatile. While they don’t cut straight as well as a table saw does, they’re safer to use. And while a table saw can cut joints such as dadoes and rabbets that a band saw can’t, these joints are also easily cut with a router.

With the correct blade, a band saw can cut wood or metal, in either curves or straight lines. Blades come in a variety of widths and tooth counts. Narrower blades are good for tighter curves, while wider blades are better at straight cuts. More teeth per inch provide a smoother cut, while fewer teeth per inch give a faster but coarser cut. A good, general use blade might be ½-inch-wide with three teeth per inch.

Bandsaw Sizes

The size of a band saw is given in inches, with 14-inch being the most common. The size refers to the distance between the blade and the saw’s throat, or the column that supports the upper wheel.

Band saws range in size (and price) from 10-inch benchtop machines to 24-inch freestanding ones for professional shops. 14-inch freestanding saws probably provide the most bang for your buck—and used ones are readily available.

How to Set Up a Band Saw

For a band saw to cut its best, the blade must be installed correctly. This is the trickiest part about using a band saw, and it’s not that hard.

  1. Unplug the saw and open its cabinet.
  2. Release the blade tensioner, loop the blade onto the bottom wheel and then roll it onto the top, making sure the teeth face down toward the top of the table.
  3. Now, tighten the tensioner just enough to take the slack out of the blade.
  4. Rotate the top wheel by hand and adjust the tracking knob (usually at the back of the top wheel) until the blade tracks about in the middle of the wheels.
  5. Next, follow the manufacturer’s directions for correctly tensioning the blade. How much tension is applied will depend on the width of the blade.

To track true and keep the blades on the wheels, band saws rely on guides above and below the table. To begin, make sure none of the guides are touching the blade. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Working from the top first, loosen the blade’s locking bolt and adjust the thrust bearing to be about the thickness of a business card from touching the blade.
  2. Next, move to the guide blocks at the side of the blade.
  3. Loosen their locking bolts and adjust them so they’re about the thickness of a piece of paper away from the blade.
  4. Align the guide blocks so that they’re even with the gullets between the teeth.
  5. Most band saws have a similar set of guides below the table. Adjust them in the same way you did the upper guides.
  6. Finally, adjust the table so it’s square to the blade. Loosen the locking knobs below the table. Use a combination square to set the table square, and then tighten the knobs.

Cutting Straight Lines Using a Band Saw

Want to cut a straight line with your band saw? Follow these steps:

  1. Before making any cuts, set the blade guard to be about ½ inch above the stock.
  2. Each time you change the blade you’ll have to verify that it cuts parallel to the fence.
  3. Grab a 2-foot-long piece of scrap with a line drawn down its middle parallel to one edge.
  4. Cut that line by eye as well as you can.
  5. When the scrap is aligned correctly with the blade, you’ll feel that you’re cutting straight without having to make big adjustments.
  6. Stop, and holding the workpiece to the table, turn off the saw.
  7. When the blade stops moving, mark the table with a pencil along the edge of the scrap piece.
  8. Loosen the bolts that hold the fence, set the fence to that line, and retighten the bolts. That’s the fence setting that is parallel with that blade. You can move the fence normally to vary the width of your cut as needed. If your saw doesn’t have a fence, you can buy aftermarket ones or simply clamp a straight piece of wood to the table.

Cutting Curves with a Band Saw

Start by matching the blade to the curve. Then, follow these tips:

  1. For very tight ones, use a narrower blade. However, too narrow a blade can make it hard to cut a shallower curve and leave a fair surface.
  2. When cutting, keep up a light, steady feed rate on the workpiece, turning it along the blade as needed. Stopping to readjust your approach won’t make a smooth cut.
  3. It’s best to try to cut just to the line. Staying outside it a little is fine as you can finish the curve by sanding it. If you end up inside the line, that’s harder to fix.
  4. For tight cuts, it helps to make a series of relief cuts first, that is, cuts that go “perpendicular” to the curve, and right up to the layout. As you cut the curve and pass through the relief cuts, the scrap falls away and gives the back of the blade room to move.

The more you use a band saw, the more versatile you’ll find it, and the better you’ll become with it.