A band saw is a fantastic machine that can cut various materials like wood, metal, and plastic. There are both portable and stationary models of this machine available, and they are widely used for woodworking, construction, and home DIY. In this article, we answer the question, “what is a band saw used for?” and delve into the mechanics and nuances of these cutting machines.
Precise Cuts on a Variety of Materials
Generally, band saws excel at making precise cuts. Due to the configuration and design of the machine, you can easily create intricate cuts with curves and strange angles. It makes them fantastic for woodworking or making designs with a variety of different size components. As you can see below, the three main materials a band saw can cut is wood, metal, and plastic:
Wood is the primary material used with a band saw. The fast-cycling action of the blade and the spacing of the teeth mean that a band saw can quickly and effectively cut through wood.
You can use a band saw to make straight cuts in wood and even rip timber and lumber. It can also be used for general resawing to make smaller, manageable pieces of wood out of large sheets of wood.
Band saws are fantastic for woodworking if you enjoy making wood sculptures or carpentry if you want to make different joints. Softwoods can be cut easier with a band saw, and you can generally use a regular saw blade. However, for ripping timber or cutting thicker pieces of wood, a hook-tooth blade could be better suited.
When making cuts into wood, it is always prudent to cut on the outside of any cutting lines you have marked. It gives you extra material to work with and ensures that you do not cut into the finished piece of material by accident. Also, when making straight cuts, it is advisable to use a guard or a bevel to guide the wood and get your cut line perfect.
Although a band saw is most commonly used for wood, it is also great for cutting through metal. However, a scroll saw can generally only cut through thinner metals – either sheet metal, box section, or tubing. It is not suitable for cutting through thick metal like rebar or large steel rods.
Vertical band saws are fantastic for similarly cutting sheet metal to wood. You can simply slide the sheet metal along the guide plate and still create intricate patterns. Common types of sheet metal cutting include aluminium, brass, and even stainless steel (although harder blades may be required for stainless steel).
You can also use vertical or horizontal band saws to cut metal tubing and box section. Again, it is because the metal is not solid so the saw can easily cut through the different sections.
Finally, this type of saw can also be used to cut thin plastics. It could be sheets of plastic, plastic tubing, or a plastic box section. If you use your saw to cut plastic, you must first research if the material is suitable and safe for cutting. For example, some plastic can give off fumes when it is cut at high speeds.
Regardless, you can use this type of saw to cut plastic materials like acrylic and perspex. A regular saw blade or skip-tooth blade will cut plastic with greater precision and speed than wood.
Types of Band Saw
There are two main types of band saw, and this is something to consider. From a large benchtop band saw to a small portable band saw, the difference is great. They also have very different uses and would be used in different environments. We have described the different types of band saw below:
Compact Band Saw
A compact band saw, or a portable band saw, is the smallest type of automatic band saw available. A portable band saw is generally cordless and is used handheld. It is essentially a smaller version of a benchtop band saw without a table.
Portable band saws are generally used in construction and on-site work as opposed to personal use. They are incredibly durable but still offer a decent amount of cutting power and speed. They also typically have a rechargeable battery, as opposed to a mains electrical connection.
Benchtop Band Saw
Benchtop band saws are the other most common type. These generally come in two categories – small models that can fit on top of a workbench or larger models that are free-standing. You will find larger band saws in woodworking shops and factories.
Alternatively, smaller tabletop band saws are better suited for home DIY and woodworking usage. It is because they are much smaller and do not have the same footprint as a free-standing band saw. For example, you could easily position a tabletop band saw on a workbench in your garage or DIY shed.
Vertical/Horizontal Band Saw
Aside from the types of band saws, there are also two main configurations – horizontal and vertical. A vertical band saw has a stationary blade that does not move (it only rotates).
However, a horizontal band saw usually has a pulley mechanism. You place the materials flat on the cutting table and pull the blade down on top of the material. This band saw is better suited for cutting materials like metal box sections, metal tubing, and plastic tubing. Vertical band saws are better for woodworking and cutting wood.
Components of a Band Saw
Aside from looking at what you can do with a band saw, you should also understand the different components and how it works. We have listed the main components of a band saw below. Please note that the exact design will vary depending on the manufacturer.
The motor is what powers the band saw. Without an electric motor, you would effectively be using a manual saw. Generally, the power of the motor in a band saw is measured in amps. Typically, a band saw will have a motor of 10 amps or higher.
The other main motor measurement is the feet per minute (FPM). FPM is how far the band saw’s blade moves in one minute. The higher the FPM, the greater the cutting power and speed. The motor is housed within the main chassis of the band saw.
The wheels are the cornerstone of a band saw and what allows its blade to rotate. A band saw usually has two wheels. These are evenly spaced and are connected to the motor. The motor powers the two wheels and causes them to spin.
The blade is connected around each wheel like a cog and pulley system. When the wheels turn, the blade also rotates in a continuous cycle. It is this fast rotating speed that gives table saws their cutting power.
The blade is another highly important component of a band saw. As mentioned above, the blade is connected to the two wheels and rotated in a continuous cycle at high speeds. The blade is taut and has great tension so that it can cut through materials easily.
You can get many different types of band saw blades, each with different purposes. For example, you can get blades that are better at making straight cuts, blades for irregular cuts, and blades for cutting metal.
Regardless of the type of blade, it will always have teeth. A common measurement/parameter for blades is the teeth per inch.
In benchtop band saws, there is a table. The table or cutting plate is situated in-between the exposed gap between the two encased wheels. Also, the table saw blade would pass through a groove in the table.
A solid platform like this is essential for control and for making accurate cuts. It is because you can place the wood or metal flat onto the table and push it smoothly onto the blade. The band saw table often has measurements engraved into the platform. It may also have a series of adjustable guides and guards to give you flexibility when making irregular cuts.
Tips for Using a Band Saw
We have now covered what is a band saw used for. You should also now understand the components of a band saw and how these tools work. To finish, we have provided an array of useful tips to help you use your band saw effectively and safely.
Consider Your Safety
A band saw is a potentially dangerous power tool. Although it has a blade guide and safety features, you could still be at risk of serious injury. If your hand slipped, for example, whilst holding the wood, you could easily cut yourself. Alternatively, pieces of cut wood or plastic could fly up from the cutting table and potentially cause serious injuries.
Therefore, consider your safety. To start, we advise wearing safety glasses. These will protect your eyes from any stray debris and fragments. Also, you may want to wear ear protection. Many band saws are noisy, and over time this could damage your hearing; ear defenders make a great choice.
Some people also choose to wear protective gloves, but this could hamper your control of the wood, metal, or plastic. If you do choose to wear gloves, make sure they still provide enough freedom of movement. Also, make sure that they cannot potentially get caught in the blade.
Look After Your Band Saw Blade
Looking after your saw blades is an essential part of your band saw maintenance. Firstly, when finished with your band saw, always release the blade tension. If you release the blade tension, you will reduce the strain on the blade. It can rest, and it will last for much longer, instead of being under constant pressure, even when not in use. Most saws have either a quick-release mechanism or a dial to alter the tension.
You should also regularly clean your tooth blades and the area surrounding the blades. As you use the scroll saw, the blade will become clogged with debris. It can reduce the effectiveness of the blade and cause it to cut slower. After each use, blow away any debris and wipe the blade fully – you should also manually rotate it by hand so you can clean it all – not just the exposed section.
Finally, always replace an irregular or dull blade quickly. Using a dull blade can place strain on the motor. It will also reduce the quality of your cuts. You can generally tell when a blade is dull as it will require greater force and time to make cuts. Also, you may notice burn marks on the material from the blade as it generates more friction.
Practice Makes Perfect
Unless you are already skilled with a range of power tools and cutting tools, a band saw has a learning curve. The basic process of the machine, i.e. switching it on and using it, is relatively simple. However, it may take time to improve your cutting skills, and cutting curves, for example.
It is a great idea, therefore, to practice! If you have any pieces of an offcut, we advise saving them. Create a storage box where you place offcuts from your DIY projects. You can then use these large pieces to practice different cuts. The material isn’t needed, so instead of throwing it away, put it to good use and improve your cutting skills with your band saw.
Understand the Types of Blade
Did you know that you can get many types of blades for your table saw? It is important to know the difference between the blade types and what you can achieve with each one. The main three categories of a band saw blade are hook-tooth, skip-tooth, and regular-tooth. The most common type of blade is the regular tooth blade. These are all-purpose and can cut an array of materials and thicknesses. They do not have any specialities, and you will usually find a regular-tooth blade installed as standard in a new band saw.
Hook-tooth blades are generally larger and have a deeper gullet. These blades are therefore better suited for making quicker cuts with less precision.
Finally, skip-tooth blades have widely spaced teeth. As a result, they are used to cut softwood, plastic, and non-ferrous metals.
Do You Own a Band Saw?
As you can see, band saws are highly useful tools to have for your woodworking and DIY projects. Having a band saw gives you great power and flexibility for cutting a range of materials. This machine excels at cutting wood; it is also perfect for cutting sheet metal, metal box sections, tubing, and plastics. A band saw also gives you far greater control over the accuracy of your cuts.
Now you know what is a band saw used for; you know whether it will make a good addition to your collection.