A band saw is one of the most versatile saws in the wood shop. Even entry-level models can cut thicker lumber than most table saws. They can create a variety of angles and joints, and they can also cut curves. Their capabilities make them popular with everyone from professional furniture makers to enthusiastic hobbyists to modelers and miniaturists. Our favorite model from Jet, the Deluxe Pro, has the power and precision to satisfy the most demanding of woodworkers.
Considerations when choosing band saws
Band saw sizes
You'll probably notice that all band saws are rated by size: nine-inch, ten-inch, and so on. This figure describes the size of the band saw wheels, which are hidden inside the case.
The important figures you need are maximum width (the distance from blade to throat) and maximum depth of cut. Maximum width will typically be around half an inch less than wheel size, but it's worth checking. Maximum depth might be anything from 3 1/2 inches on a nine-inch band saw to 12 inches on a 14-inch band saw.
Nine-inch band saws are almost always benchtop models (worth bolting down for extra stability). These cost between $120 and $150.
10- to 12-inch band saws can be benchtop or floor-standing models. The cost from $250 to $450.
14-inch+ band saws are invariably floor-standing models. These cost $800 or more.
Note: Band saws with stands can be very heavy, and they often arrive in two pieces. You'll probably need help to put them together.
Other band saw features
Overall rigidity is important, as any flex in the frame will affect accuracy. Most small band saws are pressed steel. In larger models, look for cast iron.
If you're re-sawing long or wide boards boards, look for a large work table that will maximize support. Again, rigidity is important. Cast iron is best, though many are aluminum.
Table adjustment is often just a question of loosening a knob and positioning manually. Rack and pinion is easier and offers greater precision.
Blade length is fixed by the size of the band saw, but blade width can vary. Narrow blades allow you to cut tighter curves. Wide blades make it easier to cut a straight line through thick material (the blade is less prone to deflecting). The best-case scenario is having a good range from narrowest to widest, thus giving you the greatest amount of versatility.
Band saw blades need to be changed regularly, either for different types of sawing or because the blade is worn. Quick-release mechanisms help make this less of a chore.
A good fence is invaluable. Quick clamping is a bonus. A miter guide helps with cutting angles. These items are often supplied, but not always, even on high-end band saws. The argument is that professionals often like to choose precision alternatives from other manufacturers.
Some band saws offer two speeds. In truth, most wood likes to be cut fast. The benefits of a slower speed are only apparent if you're cutting metal or if the machine is struggling to cut at a higher speed. Running slower increases power. If you're buying a band saw solely for woodworking, it's a feature you may seldom use.
Q. What's the difference between a band saw and a jigsaw?
A. A band saw is excellent for general-purpose woodworking. Every shop should have one. However, it can't cut the really tight curves that a jigsaw (also called a fretsaw) can. Jigsaws have very fine blades for highly detailed work (like jigsaw puzzle pieces, as the name suggests), but the maximum depth of cut for a jigsaw is two inches or less.
Q. Can band saws cut other materials?
A. Yes. They are often used for plastics and composites, which they cut very well. You can get special blades for cutting soft metals like aluminum and brass, though we would recommend a dedicated metal-cutting band saw if you plan to do that often. They are not capable of cutting steel or iron; you definitely need the metal-cutting version for those.
Band saws we recommend
Best of the best: Jet JWBS-14DXPRO 14-inch Band Saw
Our take: Power and precision for the professional woodworker.
What we like: Everything! Awesome 12-inch cutting depth. Cast iron frame for tremendous stability. Two speeds. Fast blade change. Stand offers storage and useful shelf. An outstanding tool.
What we dislike: It's expensive, and the price does not include a fence or miter guide.
Best bang for your buck: WEN 3962 Two-Speed 10-inch Band Saw with Stand
Our take: Remarkable specification for the money. Great for the home wood shop.
What we like: Unbeatable cutting capabilities for the price. Two speeds are nice. Good fence and miter guide. Clever three-in-one dust port. Sturdy stand.
What we dislike: Adjusting blade guides and tracking can be frustrating.
Choice 3: Skil 3386-01 9-inch Band Saw
Our take: It has all the features of full-size saws and is ideal for hobbyists and model makers.
What we like: Rack and pinion table adjustment is fast and accurate. Miter gauge included. Useful flexible LED work light. Three-year warranty. Competitive price.
What we dislike: The supplied blade isn't great. The drive belt can work loose, leading to power loss.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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