Band Saws 101 – A Complete Beginner’s Guide

If you’re someone who has even the slightest amount of experience or knowledge with woodworking, you already know that there are numerous saw types out there, each with its own advantages and uses.

What a band saw is certainly one that most everyone can agree falls into the “essential” category, especially if you’re planning on doing any cuts that go beyond just the basic type. A band saw offers astounding versatility when it comes to making any kind of irregular cut.

That’s not to say that these are the only saws that can make intricate cuts, but they are arguably the easiest and most effective to use, regardless of your skill level.

How To Use Band Saw

And now, thanks to better technology and progression, band saws are not only available in the large floor-based models you may remember from your woodshop class in high school.

Are you on the fence about whether or not you need a band saw in your own shop or garage? This guide will teach you all the vital information you need to know about band saws, including various types, what they’re best for, how to use them, etc.

By the end of this, you should be a lot more up to speed on all the things a band saw can use, and why you might need one for your uses.

As always, let’s first define what exactly a band saw is, and take it from there.

What Is A Band Saw?

At its most simplistic definition, a band saw is a saw with a long blade that consists of a continuous band of metal with saw teeth, stretched between two or more wheels. The blade is more of a ribbon, as it is constantly rotating along the wheels, similar to a cassette tape.

While the blade is continuously moving, only a small part of it is exposed in the cutting area. The blade comes up through the flat surface of the table, which is where the workpiece is moved into the saw to create cuts. The small size of the blade allows for detailed, intricate cuts.

Band saws are mainly used in woodworking but are also very useful in metalworking and lumbering. The saw’s main advantages include highly uniform cutting action from an evenly distributed tooth load, and the ability to cut irregular or curved shapes like you can work with a jigsaw, in a more controlled way.

Band Saw Cuts

A motor is used to power the saw, and most models contain some adjustments that let you expose more of the saw blade for bigger workpieces, adjust speeds, and allow for mitered and angled cutting depending on the saw’s table surface and features as well.

Band saws come in a variety of sizes and types, which we’ll touch on further down.

Band Saw History

Like most saws, the band saw’s history goes back many years, and went through numerous changes and ideas before what we have now.

The general idea of the band saw can be traced back to 1809 when a man named William Newberry received a British patent for the idea.

Unfortunately, these older band saws were mostly impractical because the technology did not yet exist that could create lasting and durable blades that held up to the rigorous use. Constant flexing of the blade over the motor’s wheels caused it to fail more often than not.

Old Delta 28-560 16” Band saw

A few decades later, a Frenchwoman named Anne Paulin Crepin created a welding technique that enables better blade building for this type of saw. She eventually applied for a patent in 1846, and quickly sold the rights to manufacturer A. Perin & Company of Paris.

The new welding method was merged with new steel alloys, and advanced tempering techniques, which let Perin create the first modern band saw blade, instantly making the saw design much more feasible and functional.

The first American band saw patent went to Benjamin Barker of Ellsworth, Maine, in January 1836. The first actual factory produced, and commercially available band saw in the United States came from a design by an engineer named Paul Prybil.

It led to band saws quickly rising in popularity, particularly among lumber yards and builders.

Types Of Band Saws

Although all band saws utilize the same general idea and operation, there is some variance among different types, and their respective capabilities and uses.

Cutting Materials - Metal vs. Wood

While band saws can be used to cut a variety of different materials, they are often reserved mostly for wood, and sometimes metal.

Metal - Band saws for metal cutting are rarely any different from other types, the main difference resides with the actual blades being used.

Bandsaw For Cutting Metal

Specially-designed blades for metal allow the band saw to handle the materials better while mitigating waste and allowing for better control.

Wood - Band saws are manufactured for wood cutting by default, and that includes the type of blade. There are many different blades available for different types of wood cutting needs.

Directions - Vertical vs. Horizontal

Vertical - this type of band saws has a cutting position that is vertical, typically driven by an electric motor through a belt transmission.

The belt allows adjustment of the blade speed, and the blade rotates on a fixed track between the idler wheel mounted that is located above the worktable, and a drive wheel that is mounted beneath the work table, cutting into the side of the stock.

The workpiece is moved against the blade to make the cut, which can be manipulated in any number of ways, including various angles.

Vertical Band Saw

Vertical band saw machines are very versatile and can be useful for contours, filing, and polishing, and also for any simple stock piece cutting.

Horizontal - This type of band saws is usually floor-mounted machines that are used for making basic cuts with materials such as solid steel, tubing, and irregular pieces.

Its blades are driven by an electric motor with a belt and pulley. It allows for quick speed changes and adjustments when needed.

With horizontal band saws, the cutting position of the blade is horizontal, cutting down into the workpiece. The material being cut is mounted in a vise that’s attached to the bed of the machine.

The drive and idler wheels are positioned lengthwise on the machine frame, which pivots from a corner of the machine’s bed. Horizontal bandsaws are mostly used for cutting pieces to length at right angles or miter angles.

Floor Standing Band Saw

The majority of professionals use large floor standing saws. These models are very powerful, take up a right amount of space, and are capable of significant cutting sizes.

Floor standing band saws are also the most expensive. While they are great for professionals and contractors with commercial cutting needs, the average home woodworker and DIY enthusiast can get by using smaller models -- although it’s probably not uncommon for non-professionals to own one.

One major advantage with floor standing models, aside from their power and size, is the larger workspace, table size, and positioning. This makes intricate cutting and ripping large piece much easier than with smaller models.

Portable/Handheld Band Saw

Portable and handheld band saws are still technically band saws due to the way the saw blade moves, but they offer vastly different uses than what you’d get with a standard band saw.

These band saws are about the size of a handheld circular saw and offer a very small cutting area. While they do offer some adjustments for holding positions, portable and handheld band saws are mostly used for job site work, often trimming excessive pieces off.

Portable Bandsaw

This is particularly useful for plumbers, who may need a handheld band saw when trimming pipe pieces. Some contractors and builders can use these saws for trimming small workpieces, often involving metal or plastic.

Benchtop Band Saw

Benchtop band saws are more mobile versions of floor standing models. As with other benchtop saws, these band saws are designed to be attached to and solid flat surface, which functions as the saw’s stand and base.

Benchtop band saws can be every bit as powerful and versatile as floor standing models, with the added advantage of being more mobile, and not taking up as much as space. They are the most popular for the average DIY woodcutter.

These band saws do vary greatly in their sizes, with some being nearly as small as a handheld band saw. Either way, if it can be clamped to a workbench or flat surface, it’s a benchtop band saw.

Meat Band Saw

As the name suggests, meat band saws are used by butchers to cut and trim down large pieces of meat. In many cases, these saws help the butcher break down larger pieces, which are then transferred to a cutting table to be further refined.

Band Saw For Meat

These saws are made to cut through bone, flesh, and fat, with minimal waste. Meat band saws look very similar to ordinary band saws and utilize special blades that allow for a cleaner cut, and less waste.

It’s easy to find meat band saws for affordable prices, even floor standing versions. These are also great for avid hunters who like to prepare their own game after a hunt.

Meat band saws are not intended for wood, metal, or anything else.

Band Saw Blades

The blades for band saws come in a variety of sizes and types, depending on what they are to be used for. Each blade is identified by the number of points (teeth) per inch, the gauge (thickness) of the blade, and its width.

The majority of blades are going to be between an eighth of an inch and a half inch wide, although larger band saws will have larger blades. The actual spacing, shape, and configuration of the teeth are dependent on the intended use.

As a general rule, the narrower the blade, the tighter the curve it will cut.

Blade For Band Saw

For example, an eighth-inch-wide blade will cut a quarter inch radius; a quarter-inch blade will cut a three-quarter-inch hole; a three-eighths blade cuts a one-inch radius, and a half-inch blade will cut nothing tighter beyond a one-and-a-quarter-inch arc.

And as with other saw blades, smaller teeth are better for cutting metal, while fewer and larger teeth are used for cutting wood. An example of this would be coarse-toothed blades that are used for rough-cutting thick lumber, while a high density of finer teeth produces a smoother cut for harder materials like a metal pipe.

Band Saw Blade Teeth Patterns

Blades are also available with different tooth patterns for their various uses. The four most common types are hook tooth, skip tooth, raker-set, and wavy-set.

Band Saw Blade Patterns
  • Hook tooth blades have wide set teeth and are more closely spaced. These blades are ideal for cutting hardwoods, harder non-ferrous metals, and also plastics.
  • Skip tooth blades have widely spaced teeth that offer optimal chip clearance when cutting softer metals, and also for soft, non-ferrous metals like aluminum.
  • Wavy and raker-set tooth blades are most often utilized when cutting ferrous metal. A wavy-set blade is used with horizontal band saws when cutting ferrous metal.
  • Blades without teeth are used to cut more fragile pieces such as ceramics, certain plastics, and for very smooth cuts in other materials. The cutting edge on toothless blades consists of a surface that has tungsten carbide chips bonded to the teeth.

Some manufacturers will also sell blades that have been categorized towards their specific purposes, such as general woodcutting, scrolling, and any non-ferrous or ferrous metal-cutting.

The actual profile of the blade teeth varies as well. Skip-tooth blades have deep gullets and are a best for general woodwork. For smooth cutting conducted at a slower speed, a regular or standard tooth is the better choice. Hook or saber-toothed blades are best for high speeds.

Scroll Saw Vs. Band Saw

It’s relatively common in the woodworking world to see people debate about choosing between a scroll saw or band saw. It’s easy to understand why: both of these saws are known for handing curved cuts better than others, and both are fully capable of making accurate and curved cuts for numerous uses.

While they both perform similar types of cuts, these two saws have quite a bit of difference, and this mainly has to do with how the blades operate.

Band Saw vs Scroll Saw

With a band saw, the blade is continuously going in a loop, propelled by the wheels. This gives the blade a cutting direction that is always downwards and allows it to handle more heavy-duty cutting tasks, such as sewing large pieces of lumber and such.

Scroll saw blades have a similar appearance, but they work differently. Rather than moving in a continuous loop, the blade reciprocates, moving up and down in a rapid fashion, not all that different from a jigsaw.

This may seem like a small difference, but it changes the way in which the blade cuts. This up and down motion in the scroll saw lets it be more precise, allowing for tighter curves and right angles during a cut. It also results in a smoother surface that sometimes forgoes the needs for sanding.

Another advantage of the scroll saw is the ability to make cuts within wood without any entry point going across. To do this, one can drill a hole in the wood, and then thread the blade up and through the hole. From there, you can continue cutting from the drill hole.

Although the scroll saw does offer some advantages regarding precision, it does not offer the versatility of a band saw. Band saws are not too far off from a scroll saw’s precision, while also having the ability to handle heavier cutting tasks and harder materials.

This means you can use a band saw for everything from cutting curved and irregular pieces, to cutting pipes, plastics, and large lumber pieces, whether you’re ripping them, resawing them, or merely breaking them down to smaller pieces.

Although a band saw does offer more versatility, an ideal woodshop setup does involve having both on hand, as the intricate ability of a scroll saw comes in handy more often than not. If you had to pick one out of the two, however, the band saw is the better choice.

Common Band Saw Uses

As I’ve already highlighted, band saws are one of the most versatile saws you can own, since they can handle everything from intricate cuts to sizing down larger pieces, with ease either way. Here are some of the most common applications

Woodworking

Well, obviously. Band saws epitomize woodworking, since they can do so much with so many different types of pieces.

In many ways, band saws are a combination of saws, at least regarding what they can do with wood. The table, angle, and fences that come with most band saws allow you to perform crosscuts, miter cuts, straight cuts, and of course any range of freehand cuts with a wood piece.

This lets you use the saw in many different ways for the same piece. For example, you have a larger piece of wood that you need to make a few different pieces out of. You’d start by first making straight cuts to size the wood down, and then use the saw again to get them down to the exact sizes needed.

From there, you can use the saw to make and curved cuts you need. The blade’s size makes it ideal for cutting smaller pieces down even further as well.

Bottom line - A band saw is incredibly versatile for woodworking, and the longer you use it, the more resourceful you’ll get with all of the different uses available.

Ripping

Ripping lumber is a very popular use for band saws and one that they were intended for in the 1800s when first developed.

Band Saw Ripping

Ripping refers to cutting down large pieces of lumber along the grain. This is a way to take a large, unworkable piece, and systematically cutting it down into several functional pieces that can either be further refined or used as they are.

For an example of this, think of cutting down a big piece of lumber to be used as fence pieces that are all the same size.

The large table size and a cutting capacity of a band saw make it easy to simply line up multiple pieces in succession, run them along a fence or miter guide, and quickly make precise smaller pieces by feeding them to the band saw blade.

Metal Cutting

With the right blades, a band saw is highly effective and accurate for cutting various metal pieces. While more intricate cuts are going to be more difficult, they are still possible in many cases.

Metal tubing, sheets, and planks are all examples of the various metal materials you can quickly cut with a band saw. In most cases, you can use the same saw for wood and metal, as long as you do a blade change to the appropriate blade before starting.

This is just another example as to why band saws are so versatile.

Notable Band Saw Manufacturers

There are several reputable band saw manufacturers out there today, with most of them putting out some quality products. That said, here are four of the most popular and reliable brands of band saw manufacturers you can trust to offer up quality products.

Delta

Delta, also known as Delta Machinery, has a fairly rich history of saw manufacturing and innovation.

Delta Saws

The company was founded by Herbert Tautz in 1919, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Working out of his garage, Tautz began making small tools for home use, and eventually spread to industrial machinery. In 1945, the company was bought by Rockwell Manufacturing Co.

In 1966, the company invented the first power miter saw. Eventually, the company would be acquired by Black & Decker in 2005.

Delta’s band saw inventory is somewhat limited, but respected for its overall quality and durability, especially among contractors.

Dewalt

DeWalt is a widely recognized manufacturer of a variety of power tools, which includes several different lines of saws. Both DIY woodworkers and experienced professionals are fans of DeWalt products, which is a testament to the quality and value to be found with their saws.

Dewalt Saws

DeWalt began in 1923, founded by one Raymond E. DeWalt -- the inventor of the radial saw. The company was reorganized in 1947, and has been making several different saws ever since.

While DeWalt makes a ton of different saws, they are known for their portable band saws.

Jet

Jet Equipment has an extensive line of power saws, making them a favorite among full-time contractors. The company was established in 1958 by Leslie P. Sussman in Tacoma, Washington.

Power Tools by JET

The company began as a dealer of manual chain and trolley systems, and eventually started making more products for aviation warehouses. In the 1980s, Jet began focusing on a large woodworking division, leading to an array of products over the next two decades.

Today, Jet band saws are available in several different types and sizes, mostly relegated to floor standing models.

Skil

Saw history doesn’t get much richer than Skil’s. The company was originally founded in 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana, by an inventor named Edmond Michele, the developer of the very first circular saw, which has since been referred to as “the saw that built America.”

Power Tools From Skill

Skil is arguably the most well-known saw manufacturer, with a wide array of saws that cover every major type. Skil band saws are available in multiple sizes, and their benchtop and portable models are very popular due to their low price and high performance.

Band Saw Maintenance And Cleaning

Proper care and maintenance are crucial for keeping a band saw operating at its best while ensuring longevity, and blade durability. This not only involves cleaning, but maintaining the guides as well.

  • Safety first - Start by locking the band saw's knob in the off position, and then unplug the machine from the power source. If you have one, use your blower or air compressor to blow any sawdust and other debris away from the band saw.
  • Now it’s time to remove rust, dirt, and carbon dust. To remove rust from the table area, take a piece of steel wool and dip it into liquid rust remover, then rub the steel wool on the top of the table to loosen and scrub away the rust.
  • After this, take a clean cloth to wipe any dirt and carbon dust off the table. (Be sure to never use any solvents anywhere on the saw or table.) When it’s dry, apply a small amount of car wax onto the surface.
  • Now onto the blade. While wearing gloves, remove the blade from the band saw. Using liquid rust remover, thoroughly clean the blade with either steel wool or a wire brush.
  • While the blade is still removed, clean any areas that hold the blade, such as the wheels and the pitch of the band saw. Once that’s done, spray resin remover on them and clean with a wire brush.
How To Clean Band Saw

Replacing Band Saw Blades (Step by step guide)

Whether you’re upgrading the original blade, or changing it out for a certain sawing task, these steps will walk you through the process.

  • Disconnect the power for obvious reasons, then open up the top and bottom cabinets to reveal the wheels. Clean out any sawdust or debris; it’ll make this process so much easier.
  • Time to loosen the blade tension. Find the tension knob on top of the band saw, which is usually on a vertical shaft just above the band saw's top cabinet. Turn the knob counterclockwise to loosen the tension on the blade until it’s pliable.
  • Now raise the band saw blade guard. To do this, turn the tightening knob found at the top of the guard on the back side of the top cabinet, then slide the guard up to the highest position, tightening the knob to secure it afterward.
  • The next step is to remove the rear blade guard. To do so, take out the screws that hold the blade guard in place, then set both aside.
  • Loosen the under-table guard. There’s usually blocks and adjustment wheels underneath the table, and also a wrap-around guard. NOTE: To access the guard, pop off the plastic center from the middle of the table with a screwdriver, and set aside. Now look down into the hole and find the screw that holds the protective wrap-around guard in place. Remove it.
  • Now you can start installing the new blade. Take your blade and slide it through the slot. After the blade is through the slot and in the center, rotate the blade and place it on the top and bottom wheels. NOTE:  Center the blade and start tightening the tensioning knob located on top, holding the blade in position. Make sure you don’t over-tighten.
  • plus-square
    The next step is to apply the proper amount of tension to the blade. Continue tightening the adjustment knob, while rotating the top band saw wheel and watching to see that the blade tracks within the center of the tire on the wheel. After the blade is tracking properly, adjust the tension on the blade until the gauge's indicator is positioned for the right blade thickness. This is also an ideal time to be sure that the band saw table is square to the blade.
  • plus-square
    Adjust the position of the rear roller, so that it is riding just behind the blade. Tighten all of the set screws to keep the guides in place, then rotate the wheels and observe how the blade tracks through the blocks and rollers to make sure the positioning is right.

Out the spacer back into the hole in the center of the table, then lower the blade guard about half-way toward the table, repeating the block and roller adjustment steps from earlier. Re-install the rear blade guide.

Turn the wheels by hand to make sure everything is lined up and set properly. When you’re satisfied with all the adjustments, and the blade is in the right position, close the top and bottom cabinets, bring the blade guard down to the appropriate level, and you're ready to go.

Conclusion

By now you should have a better picture as to how band saws work, and all the many advantages they offer As I mentioned earlier, these saws are found within a range of budgets, which largely depends on their size.

Are you in the market for a new band saw to add to your shop? Be sure to check out our buying guide for our top recommendations spanning several different types and prices. There’s something there for everyone. The same goes for our review section

Do you have any thoughts or recommendations for band saws? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!