Buying a Bandsaw
By Joshua Farnsworth
A bandsaw is a woodworking machine that spins a flexible blade around two metal wheels while under tension. Bandsaws are useful for (1) ripping boards down their length, (2) resawing boards for veneer and thinner furniture parts, and (3) cutting curves. These operations can certainly be accomplished with a rip hand saw and a bow saw, but can take much, much longer to accomplish.
I’ve had several students tell me that they decided to switch to using all hand tools, except for their bandsaw. They just found the bandsaw to be a huge time & effort saver, and their bandsaw was the power tool that scared them the least. While I love using my rip handsaws to rip a board, I don’t love using them when I’ve got 10 or 20 boards to rip. And for woodworkers with health problems, ripping boards can take its tole. The bandsaw definitely saves me a lot of time and effort in those situations. But if you don’t plan on resawing, ripping a lot of boards, or cutting a lot of curved pieces then a rip hand saw and a bow saw may be the right choice for you.
If you just plan on ripping smaller boards, cutting curves, and doing light resawing then a smaller and lower-powered bandsaw may work for you. A 14-inch bandsaw (under 2 HP) like this JET bandsaw may work fine for you.
But if, like me you plan to rip a lot of thick boards and resaw lumber (for veneering, bookmatching panels, or making other thinner pieces) then a larger & more powerful bandsaw will be required.
Another consideration for me is cost. Because I use hand tools, I don’t need a top of the line, $5,000 bandsaw with all the precision features. I need a powerful bandsaw that is good at doing rough work, which I always follow up with hand tools or more precision power tools. This is exactly how I work with hand saws. I use hand saws to get close to a line, and then work up to the line with handplanes. I rarely use a bandsaw for precision work.
I used to own a smaller JET bandsaw (pictured above), but about 4 years ago I upgraded to a more powerful, yet affordable Grizzly bandsaw. The JET bandsaw worked fine, but just lacked the power and size that I needed. Yes, 14-inch bandsaws can be modified with a riser block to allow resawing, but larger bandsaws like this 17-inch bandsaw have a stronger frame, stronger guides, a larger cast iron table, and more importantly: more power. For substantial resawing you’ll need a bandsaw with at least a 1.75HP motor. And a bandsaw of this size excels at resawing boards from small logs with a Carter Log Mill. This setup works like a miniature bandsaw mill.
My Bandsaw of Choice
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of Grizzly brand tools in production woodworking shops, and had always heard about the great value for most Grizzly woodworking machinery. Grizzly is able to offer lower prices on their power tools because they sell higher volume and also because they don’t sell through distributors (except in their own stores in online marketplaces, like Amazon or Ebay). So I bought a 17-inch 2 HP Grizzly G0513ANV bandsaw. Because this machine is the black anniversary edition (and not their traditional green color) the price is lower. It’s the same bandsaw as the Grizzly G0513 model, but it is painted black and orange. I think it looks cool. You can buy it here with free shipping. This bandsaw won the “Best of Value” award in a well-known woodworking magazine’s bandsaw test.
At 2 Horse Power this bandsaw has plenty of power for me to rip through most any thickness of lumber that comes into my workshop, and has a wide 17-inch opening for when I’m cutting really wide boards. But the main reason I bought this bandsaw is because you can resaw boards up to 12-inches wide. This bandsaw has been more than capable of resawing. But the stock fence won’t work for resawing. You can certainly make your own resaw fence out of a thick board clamped to the bandsaw table, on edge. Or you can buy a resaw fence. I use this resaw fence (about $150) which gives me great safety and support for both resawing cuts and for normal rip cuts.
This Grizzly G0513ANV bandsaw has a good tensioning system, the blades track well, and it has two dust extraction ports. It can be wired for either 110V or 220V. I find Grizzly to be the best value for bandsaws, but Grizzly isn’t the only good brand of bandsaw. Some other top bandsaw brands are:
- Laguna bandsaws are usually considered the best quality, though not for every bandsaw model, so be sure to check online customer reviews. They are one of the highest priced bandsaws, and their 14-inch models are usually more expensive than Grizzly’s 17-inch models. You can shop for Laguna bandsaws and read reviews here.
- Powermatic also makes good quality bandsaws, though some models have issues. They are also one of the highest-priced bandsaws. You can shop for Powermatic bandsaws and read reviews here.
- Grizzly has quite a few other bandsaw models to compare. You can shop for Grizzly bandsaws and read reviews here.
- JET bandsaws are also descent quality. I’ve owned a JET bandsaw and liked it. You can shop for JET bandsaws and read reviews here.
- Rikon bandsaws are good, but not my favorite. I owned one in the past and felt like some of the features weren’t well thought out, and manufacturing flaws aren’t uncommon. But they are reasonably priced. You can shop for Rikon bandsaws and read reviews here.
- See all bandsaws on Amazon here
Buying Bandsaw Blades: Which Bandsaw blades are Best?
The blades that come with a new bandsaw are usually not great. They’ll work alright for rough ripping of a board, but not much else. You’d think companies would spend a few extra dollars to make sure customers have a good first impression of their expensive bandsaw! Thankfully there are much better band saw blades available. But do a little research so you don’t buy a poor quality band saw blade, or spend too much money on more blade than you need.
For a general purpose blade, I would recommend purchasing a carbon steel bandsaw blade with 3 tpi (teeth per inch). A course tooth count like this helps to prevent clogging. A skip-tooth pattern further assists with speed and cleaner cuts, as it clogs less and has a more relaxed rake angle. A 1/2-inch wide band saw blade will work great on pretty much any size bandsaw, from small benchtop bandsaws up to larger sized bandsaws like mine. A bandsaw blade like this should work well for ripping, cutting joints, resawing, and cutting larger curves. A 3/4-inch resawing blade will only fit the larger bandsaws, and can offer easier tracking, but don’t really offer any difference in performance.
In a Fine Woodworking Magazine test of 19 bandsaw blades (all 1/2-inch wide), the winner was the Wood Slicer® Resaw Bandsaw Blade manufactured by Highland Woodworking. The Wood Slicer blade is not only fast at resawing and general ripping, but leaves a lot fewer saw marks than most other bandsaw blades. This can save you a lot of time & effort later on. The kerf is thinner and the blade is stronger and harder than many other bandsaw blades.
You can buy the Wood Slicer bandsaw blades here. Just choose the appropriate blade length for your bandsaw. Highland Woodworking says that this blade will work for multi-purpose use, but recommends that you use a cheaper stock blade for normal ripping, and reserve this nice blade for resawing, to keep it sharp. And here’s a video about this blade:
If you also plan on cutting tight curves, then buy a blade dedicated for that purpose. Buy a skip-tooth bandsaw blade between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch wide with 4 tpi. I own this popular 3/16-inch / 4tpi skip tooth bandsaw blade, and have loved it.
Here are some thoughts on other readily-available bandsaw blades:
- Highland Woodworking, in my opinion, has the best value for bandsaw blades (their Wood Slicer® blades and General-Purpose blades). You can shop for Highland Woodworking bandsaw blades here.
- Timber Wolf bandsaw blades are one of the more popular brands, though more expensive than Highland woodworking. You can shop for Timber Wolf bandsaw blades and read reviews here.
- Starrett also makes quality bandsaw blades. You can shop for Starrett bandsaw blades and read reviews here.
- Olson bandsaw blades are what I used when I bought my first bandsaw years ago, because they are quite affordable. But they don’t last as long as more expensive brands. You can shop for Olson bandsaw blades and read reviews here.
- Laguna bandsaw blades have very high-end carbide-tipped bandsaw blades (Resaw King line) that last a very long time, but are all over $150. I haven’t heard anything about their normal carbon steel bandsaw blades.
- You can check here on Amazon for a huge selection of bandsaw blades for woodworking, along with user reviews.