While “with a tape measure” would be both an accurate and cheeky answer to the question of how band saws are measured, it would also be true. However, there are several measurements to take when answering the question about the band saw true size as it would relate to what you can safely cut with it.
Some of the important measurements of a band saw are actually unseen, while others are in plain view. However, the common size discussion does not relate to the functionality of the saw. Beyond that, even, the “inch” size of a band saw listing won’t correspond to what you can see on the saw. A “14” band saw” will have nothing viewable that is 14”, so how do you like that for confusion?
Let’s cover a few basics first about band saws, and then we’ll attempt to answer the question such that the answer is useful to you.
What Is A Bandsaw?
We’ve written on these pages about bandsaws before, and if you’ve missed those articles, here’s our most recent one.
They are a power saw with a long, continuous blade that is held in a vertical position stretched between two wheels, one of which is powered while the other acts as a guide for the blade as it runs in that continuous loop around the wheels.
A portion of the blade is exposed, running through the saw table usually made of cast iron for strength and stability. You push the workpiece through the blade as it circulates.
The super power of the band saw is its ability to make a variety of cuts, with a specialty in making curve cuts. The versatility of the bandsaw extends to the following additional types of cuts:
- Bevel cuts;
- Compound cuts;
- Miter cuts; and,
- Rip cuts.
Need cabriolet legs for that new dining room table you’re making? The bandsaw is the right power tool for the job. Because the blade circulates continuously, you can just keep on working without delay or interruption.
Bandsaws are also adept at resawing lumber into smaller lumber, and for ripping slabs into smaller slabs.
In addition to cutting all woods, bandsaws are used to cut metal, too, and plastics. You will always see a bandsaw in a metal shop – they are not just for woodworking shops.
Bandsaws have many advantages to their work capacity that include the speed of cutting, the ability to make those curve and other irregular cuts, and their safety in use. Because the bandsaw blade cuts on the downward cycle, the workpiece will stay on the cast iron table without the risk of kickback.
Bandsaws can be a bit pricey, running from around $400 up to $4000, depending on the size. They are heavy floor saws, so you’ll need space dedicated to its placements in your shop.
For purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing the stationary vertical-cutting bandsaw. Another common type of bandsaw is the portable bandsaw, a model we have also written about on these pages, and you’ll find a piece about portable band saws here.
How Is Bandsaw Size Defined?
Let’s say you’re at one of the large DIY stores shopping for bandsaws. The label on the one in front of you says 14”, but the model is over 5’ tall, and more than 14” wide, so it can’t be the height or width measurement. In fact, you don’t see anything that is around 14”.
This is because the 14” is referring to the wheels in the saw’s housing – the drive wheel that powers the blade circulation, and the idler wheel that guides the blade on its continuous loop.
If you open up that housing, you will see the bandsaw wheels, and your tape measure will tell you the wheels’ diameter is 14”. Mystery solved, sort of.
There are other measurements to be concerned about, though, and they are at least as important as the wheel dimension. Those measurements have to do with throat capacity and gap.
Bandsaw Throat and Fence
The shaft that serves as the return path for the bandsaw blade is called the throat. The distance between the throat and the blade will determine the largest workpiece you can cut safely.
Some bandsaws will have a fence, too. This will factor into determining the largest workpiece you will be able to cut.
The bandsaw wheel size, not a functional dimension, and the distance between the blade and the throat, will be close, but the blade to throat distance will be slightly less, perhaps ½ “. We mention this so you will understand that the nominal size (the size the label on the bandsaw will identify) doesn’t quite represent anything to do with the largest workpiece you can cut safely on the saw.
The third measurement that you will want to know is the gap – the distance between the bandsaw table and the bottom of the upper wheel’s housing. That measurement determines the tallest/thickest workpiece you can cut safely on the bandsaw.
Bandsaw Wheel Measurement
So, while the wheel diameter is the central constructional measurement of the bandsaw, it only roughly determines the cutting capacity of the saw and affects its size (height, width, and depth). However, it also determines the cutting power of the saw.
Band Saw Sizes
The size of a bandsaw suggests its cutting power. Remember that the nominal size, the size that appears on the model label, is the diameter of the wheel. It has a relationship to the cutting capacity – the rate at which a workpiece can be cut – but only a relative relationship to the measurements that affect bandsaw functionality – that which it can cut.
The common bandsaw sizes include:
- 9” A benchtop model capable of small cutting jobs, and light enough to be movable and easily storable when not in use. Its limited cutting height capacity of under 4”, and its low motor power means your cuts are going to be slow-going. Small jobs, slow cuts.
- 10” This size bandsaw is the transition point between tabletop models like the 9” and floor models like the 14”. Closer to average cutting capacity and power, but also twice the weight of a 9” bandsaw. So, no easy lifting or moving about, but a bit more cutting power.
- 14” Probably the most commonly chosen bandsaw size. Ample power for most any cuts the average woodworking enthusiast would need to make, and with a cutting capacity of more than 10”. This is definitely a floor model, too heavy to lift, moveable only on castors.
- 18” This size is for the professional woodworker. With several horsepower motors, and a vertical cutting capacity of, perhaps, 15”, these models are good for sheet cutting and more serious lumber work. With a weight of between 300 – 800 lbs, these models are going to be in one place forever.
Key Bandsaw Measurements Affecting Functional Use
As you can now see, the nominal size listed on the bandsaw’s label only hints at what it can be used effectively and safely to cut. The key measurements are:
- Throat. This determines the maximum cutting width, meaning the width of your workpiece that will fit safely on the left side of the bandsaw blade.
- Gap. This dimension determines the maximum cutting height of the saw – the tallest cut possible. It relates to the amount of exposed blade available for cutting.
- The motor. The power that drives the continuous loop of the saw blade determines the maximum rate of cutting capacity. In other words, how fast the saw can cut.
Collectively, these three measurements determine what you can cut and how fast you can cut it safely.
Choosing a Bandsaw
Now we know what the model label and number refer to the wheel size, and we know the relationship between the wheel size and cutting capacity, and workpiece size. And, we know that the measurements that provide us with the practical and necessary detail that impacts our use of the bandsaw have to do with throat, gap, and power.
Bring your tape measure with you when shopping for a bandsaw. Measure the throat and gap to get a practical idea of what you will be able to cut safely with the saw. When you find a saw whose measurements of throat and gap suggest it is fit for the projects you intend to take on, that’s the one for you.
As we noted earlier, the 14” bandsaw size will fit the projects a woodworking enthusiast will be apt to tackle. It will likely have enough power (motor) and have throat and gap measurements that will accommodate the largest workpieces you are apt to have.
Here’s a very short and to the point video that shows you what we have been talking about in this article – wheel size, throat size, etc. At 1:30 length, it’s an easy watch.
Know your measurements on a bandsaw before buying one, and choose the size that makes sense against the projects you have planned. The video promotes a Grizzly bandsaw, and you should expect to pay around $700 for a 14” model.