A bandsaw is a power saw with a long, sharp metal blade in the form of a continuous band with very sharp teeth that rounds about two wheels, one of which is powered. The constant turning of the band forms a formidable cutting action of the band as the material being cut is moved through the blade.
The top wheel, or pulley, guides the blade, and the lower pulley, the powered one, controls the blade speed.
It’s a fine addition to any woodworking shop and versatile enough to cut not only wood but also metal and other materials. Bandsaws are also used in lumbering.
They are handy at cutting curves in wood but can do much more. They can be used to cut tenons and small rabbets, as well as ripping stock and cutting small strips from larger pieces of wood.
What Materials Can a Bandsaw Cut?
Bandsaw blades come in a variety of sizes and tooth counts (teeth per inch, or TPI). This enables bandsaws to cut wood, metal, and plastic.
Any of these materials can be cut by moving them along the bed of the saw, with or without a fence, guiding the material through the blade along the lines and shapes marked. Because you are moving the material being cut, rather than moving the blade as you would in other power saws, you are able to cut curves and irregular shapes. You are also able to cut irregularly shaped pieces too.
Bandsaws are the perfect saw for cutting through thick materials. Small bandsaws can easily cut through 4 inch thick woods, and larger ones can handle even 6 inch thickness.
They are not perfect for cutting flexible materials, though. That flexibility will affect the quality of the cut and the safety of machine use. This is in line with their strong point – cutting thicker materials that are stable as moved through the blade.
Thin metals are not suitable for bandsaw cutting. The general rule of thumb for cutting metals is that the metal should be at least as thick as three teeth on the blade, if not thicker.
Materials suitable for cutting with your bandsaw:
- Softwoods like pine
- Hardwoods like maple and walnut
- Soft and hard plastics
- Soft metals like brass and aluminum
No matter what it is you are cutting, though, it is recommended you not wear gloves, loose-fitted clothing with floppy sleeves, or your hoodie’s drawstrings, as these can be pulled into the moving blade. It’s not likely you are wearing jewelry in your shop, but just to be sure, we’ll mention any such accessories should be left outside your shop, especially when using a bandsaw.
Bandsaw Blades And The Materials To Be Cut
The blades you use on your bandsaw will be determined by the materials you intend to cut with it. In this instance, it’s the right blade for the right job.
The factors of bandsaw blades include thickness, width, the size of the teeth, and, as mentioned above, the tooth count per inch. The choice of blade factors will be determined not only by the material to be cut but also the type of cut to be made, whether straight or curved:
- Thick blades – provide more rigidity and straighter cuts
- Thin blades – for more detailed and intricate cuts
- High TPI – slower cuts that will prevent wood tear-outs
- Low TPI – faster cutting
Generally speaking, blades intended for cutting wood will have larger teeth and a low TPI. The teeth will angle down, cutting down through the wood rather than angled up that can lift the wood as it is being cut.
Blades intended for other materials such as plastics and metals will have smaller teeth and a higher TPI. These blades would also be suitable for foam and other materials.
With the right blade and the right speed, even steel can be cut with your bandsaw. We’ll talk about blade speed in a moment, but for a video demonstration of a reduced-speed high tooth count machine cutting some steel, we found this one for you.
Bandsaw Blade Speed
The common speed for a bandsaw blade is about 1000 feet per minute. However, wood can be effectively cut at a much higher blade speed – upwards of 5000 feet per minute. However, for safety, it is recommended that you use a lower speed. And, again, what you are cutting is a blade speed consideration, an intricate curve, for instance.
High speeds are not suitable for cutting metals, though. The blade speed for cutting meals should be considerably slower, in the range of 100 to 300 feet per minute. Any faster, and you will likely ruin your blade.
Two-speed bandsaws expand your machine’s capabilities, too, and are intended to permit cutting both wood and metal. Reducing blade speed on these models involves moving the drive belt to a secondary position on the drive pulley and the powered pulley.
The bandsaw speed reducer for metals is a handy idea and a piece of equipment that can even be purchased as a kit. In essence, it provides the secondary position on the drive and powered pulleys to adjust blade speeds for woods and metals if your bandsaw is not a two-speed model.
We found a bandsaw speed reducer kit on eBay for about $85. Bespoke models can run from around $100 to $400 and higher, depending on your bandsaw model and your speed adjustment needs.
The right blade and blade speed can do many of your wood and metal cutting tasks. Safety goggles are a must, of course. A wood tear-out can send a splinter, and a metal shard or filing can land in your eye. Again, no loose sleeves or sweatshirt drawstrings, and no jewelry, while working with any power tool, but especially a bandsaw.
Be safe, and be accurate in your cuts. Your bandsaw will serve you well on many projects.