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Do you need a bandsaw?
or What kind of bandsaw do you need?

After 40+ years of woodworking without any bandsaw, I finally got the small Delta benchtop saw. It did a few projects that could have been done as well with a jigsaw. No precision. Terrible drift. Needed realignment every time you adjusted depth of cut or anything. I couldn't follow a line to get a gradual curve in 3/4 inch thick walnut (I switched to a $25 jigsaw, which did better). Out of fairness, I never tried a "better" blade on that saw than the one that came with it (which are notoriously bad), but the counterpoint is that I never used it enough to have worn out the first blade (rule of thumb... don't expect more than about 2-5 hours use out of a "normal" blade).

I had a very experienced woodworker align the little Delta saw, and it worked fine for at least 2 minutes. I took a class in using a bandsaw, and it didn't get any better. Based on this experience, I couldn't see why anyone wanted a bandsaw. I have other Delta and Porter Cable tools, so I am not down on the company. But I sure feel ripped off by that bandsaw.

Someone convinced me that the minimum size "real" bandsaw was 14 inches, and research suggested that the "best buy" at that time was the 14 inch Jet. I finally sold the benchtop Delta for next to nothing, and got the Jet. (The buyer of the benchtop bandsaw said it was great, but I saw it back on Craig's List a couple months later.) The Jet was enough better to see the value of a bandsaw, but dust collection was terrible. Then I saw the Grizzly G0555 - recognized identical components and castings, but with a good dust port, fence, a quick tension release, roller guides, and a number of other features. A couple months later, someone walked into my shop and said "that is the kind of bandsaw I want to get. If you every want to sell yours...." And a week later I had the Grizzly. Good saw. Every bit of the quality of the Jet that cost much more, plus the extra features and dust collection.

I bought some good blades (Timberwolf) for the Jet/Grizzly saw, and started to use the saw more regularly. For example, 3/4 inch wood is too thick for a small drawer side, so I often would resaw the sides to 1/2 or 3/8 inch. Sure I could plane the wood thinner, but taking lots of time and power, and producing lots of noise and wood shavings. Fairly typical was one experience where 4 sets of drawer sides were resawn perfectly, and while cutting the 5th set of sides, the blade decided to wander and destroyed the wood. Can a 14 inch bandsaw do resawing? Yes. Do I want to count on it (especially with good wood)? Well... maybe not.

An opportunity arose to buy a refurbished MiniMax 24 inch bandsaw. That saw is made by Centauro in Italy - most consider Agazanni and Centauro the two best makers of bandsaws in the world. I bought the saw, and one of the $250 Lenox Tri-Master carbide blades that make sense on such a saw. Wow! I now have no reservation about resawing anything. If I have a special board or only need a small amount, I routinely make shop-cut veneer. In fact I am now using the new Lenox Woodmaster CT carbide blade (cheaper, and I like it at least as well as the Tri-Master). See the page on resawing for lots of details on tuning the bandsaw for that use. I kept the 14 inch Grizzly for cutting curves, so I don't have to take the expensive resaw blade off the big saw. After 40 years without a bandsaw, I now have two in my shop.

If you will be cutting green wood - milling lumber before it has dried, the requirements are similar to resawing, but you need a different blade. The "wet" sawdust will expand, so a wider kerf is required to allow the sawdust to be cleared so the blade does not wander. This is often associated with a thicker blade as well (don't even try a Wood Slicer on green wood.) Bowl blanks have a similar requirement, but you will be cutting curves... therefore you may need a 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch blade for the bowl blanks, and may find a 3/4 inch or 1 inch blade better when milling lumber.

There are lots of recommendations about the smallest diameter curve you can cut with each blade width, but the simple answer is "the narrower the blade, the tighter the curve." I generally keep a 3/16 or 1/4 inch blade on the smaller bandsaw I use for "scrolling" - general curved work. An expert on bandsaw boxes suggested that a 3/16 inch blade seemed ideal. I have seen a 1/8 inch bandsaw blade, but that is so small that conventional bandsaw guides don't work - there isn't room for them to hold the side of the blade behind the teeth ... replace the side guides with "cool blocks" or hardwood blocks soaked in mineral oil, and "bury" the blade in the blocks.

Can bandsaw blades be resharpened? Steel blades cost so much to commercially resharpen that I don't know anyone who does it. There is an 18 minute UTube video by someone who resharpens his own steel blades, with apparent success. I got a quote of $80 to resharpen a carbide blade, but I can get a new one for just over $100, so I don't. On one of the forums, someone found Cutters Edge in Clifton NJ (www.cuttersedge.com) that resharpens carbide bandsaw blades for $35 to $60, and tried them with both a Woodmaster CT and a TriMaster. He reported that the Woodmaster CT cut like new but the finish was rough - would require a lot more sanding. The TriMaster cut ok, but not as good as new. Cut was also a bit rougher than new. Tracking on both blades was perfect. He also found Industrial Carbide Saw & Tool Corp. in Louisville KY (www.icstc.com) that offered the service. To me, that endorsement did not make me want to have my carbide tip bandsaw blades sharpened.

If you will be cutting really sharp curves, consider switching to a scroll saw. One inch material is on the thick side of a scroll saw capacity, but it does well with sharp curves, and also can do "inside" cuts... where the blade is threaded through a pilot hole prior to sawing. If you are just starting, look for a pin-less number 5 scroll-saw blade, then refine your blade choice based on your experience.

There are a number of people who say the bandsaw is the most important machine in the shop - even arguing that it can replace "all" power tools. Now that I have a top quality bandsaw, I can understand the argument, but I am not ready to take the plunge. And the "universal tool" argument only applies to a top quality saw with a top quality blade, perfectly aligned, with a very skilled operator. My friend Sam Blasco fits in that category (and has the same MM24 bandsaw that I do). At the end of a trade show for MiniMax he took the challenge, and built a table, complete with dovetail joints, starting with rough lumber, exclusively with the bandsaw he was demonstrating. His story on the family woodworking forum was most entertaining!

If you haven't been put to sleep yet, and you want more, go on to the page on resawing.

Do you need a bandsaw? For 80% of my woodworking life, I didn't have one, so obviously you can live without one. A cheap one didn't help. But now that I have a good one (two), I am using it (them) more and more.