Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ToolBox Tuesday: The Bandsaw!!!

Today we are talking about BANDSAWS!!!  I have to say, I have many fun tools in my garage, but my bandsaw very quickly became my favorite.  I use it ALL THE TIME!  It doesn't just cut adorable wood crafts, it cuts plastic, {don't tell my husband, but I also used it to cut up a foam cushion-picked out all the batting before he could see it} and my hubbs tells me that Band Saws are actually what they use to slice up your friendly moo-moos for your Sunday supper :0)  Sorry, should have left out that last one, but thought it kind of interesting.  

My personal goal is to show any woman who will pay attention, that saws are no more difficult to use than sewing machines.  If you can sew, you can saw!  My first saw was a scroll saw, but my FAVORITE saw is a band saw.  There are limitations to both.  Please note, these can be very dangerous when used incorrectly.  Please research and read your owner's manual to fully understand your risks and proper usage.  

That said, I bought my first band saw from Sears for $175.  I wanted to make all the cute 2" woodcrafts I saw at The Wood Connection and my scroll saw just wouldn't do for wood that thick.  You can cut a smaller chunk of 2" here or there, but if you want to do some serious 2 inch-age you will need a bandsaw.  That $175 saw was total crap.  We could never get the blade to track right on the wheels and finally, I took it back.  After many months of research, bugging woodworkers I know, and checking out craigslist, I bought a new saw from Grizzly.  Can I just say, I LOVE IT!!!  Have I expressed that well enough?  I just don't want to be to vague about my love affair with my bandsaw :0)

Let me show you a little bit about my saw, the chosen tool for toolbox Tuesday this week.
{disclaimer:I did not clean up my garage so if you see a glimpse of my huge piles of junk all around my work space, you are to promptly close your eyes and scroll down to the next picture!} 

Originally I was looking at a Jet brand, but finally went with the Grizzly after receiving a high recommendation from an amazing woodworker friend of mine.  I also read the reviews on Amazon and other sites.  They were all very right people.  I have NOTHING bad to say about my Grizzly, and it was half the price of the Jet {$900}....about $450 plus tax. 

Here she is {sniff, sniff-tears of pride and joy}.  The Polar Bear from Grizzly.  
There are two doors that open to allow access to the blade.  You slide the blade over both these wheels, adjust the tension, shut the doors and SAW :0)

This saw was so remarkable because changing blades was hours quicker than on the craftsman brand purchased first.  You can consult your owner's manual for more detailed instructions on installing the blade.

Here is a picture of the blade tracked properly on the wheel.  It rides just a little forward of center.  You can tighten the pressure on the wheel by turning the black knob on top of the machine.  When you are using the saw, you have the lever {above right} pulled down like in this picture.  When the machine is not in use, you release the lever upright and it takes the tension off of the blade.  It makes your blades last longer.

I also have a soap box about blades.  Now that I have been BandSawing for a while, I can safely give you a couple warnings/recommendations.  My favorite brand of saw blades thus far are the Olsen blades.

The Olson All Pro is totally fabulous.  You can buy them online from Amazon or other woodworking sites.  I usually get mine from the local Rockler store Woodworkers Supply here in Phoenix.  They are usually about $22-30 depending on how wide the blade is, and they typically last months.  I use mine all the time and they still last months.

This Cheaper Blade, still made by Olson is OK, but I would still recommend the All Pro over the cheaper one.  I bought this one last time and it seemed to already act dull-ish after about the second project.  I have since decided I will only be purchasing the All Pro blades.  I did buy one blade from Home Depot a little while back.  I didn't want to drive the 30 minutes to The Woodworker's Supply store.  That blade wasn't worth the energy it took to open the package.  I had Scott put it on for me while I ran around like a headless chicken getting ready for something.  I came in the garage and cut about 2 inches on my wood project, then made Scott take it off and put on my last Olson blade because it barely cut.  Don't bother with other blades.  They are a waste of time AND money.

Here is the magical spot on the bandsaw, the cutting point on the blade.
Your first thoughts when cutting are, one, is the lever pulled down so the blade is tight.  Then second, adjust the rollers so they are the correct height for the project.  You can cut wood from 1/8" up to 6" tall without having to buy an attachment.  With the attachment you can cut wood up to 12" tall.  I think that would scare me just a bit, pushing a 12" tall beam through the saw.

Anyway, you loosen the black knob on the back of the blade area, then you can slide the rollers up or down until they are just above the project height.  Why would you do this?  Why wouldn't you just leave the rollers all the way up and not worry about moving them?  You need the rollers to keep the blade straight, in tension, and tracked on the wheels.  They are there to catch the blade from skewing too far of your cut line, from twisting, and prevent undue stress on the blade.  I learned the hard way that it is very important to keep the rollers just above your wood in order to make your blade last longer. 

While we are talking about the blade, when you break a blade it can make you jump just a bit due to the noise, but you are very safe.  This cutting point shown above is the only spot the blade is actually exposed.  All of the other areas of the blade are covered by guards or doors, so when the blade does snap, you won't get a loose end in the eye.  I should mention, since I have been using the Olson blades, I have never broken a blade.  They cut and cut and cut until I decide it had become dull and then I change the blade.  How do you know when your blade is dull?  When the blade veers off the cut line, shifts side to side, or you have to push with effort to get the blade through the wood.  The Bandsaw is exceptionally powerful and you can usually push 2" lumber through with very little effort.  

Be certain to keep your hands, fingers, cloths, etc. out of the line of cut when pushing wood through.  The saw does not care if it is cutting wood or fingers :0)
Seriously though, the Bandsaw is super easy to use if you approach with caution and follow your manual. 

Oh, I should also mention blade width when purchasing your blades.  Bandsaw blades come in several widths, from 3/32" up to 1 1/2".  The thinner your blade, the more you can scroll and follow curves, but the less likely you will get really straight cuts or can cut through thicker wood.  The thick blades are not good for scrolling at all, but they are fabulous for ripping thick blocks of wood down, even to extremely thin pieces.  I typically use my saw for scrolling, so I use either a 1/4" or 3/8" blade.

There is an attachment you can purchase for the Bandsaw, Cool Blocks, that allow you to scroll with thicker blades, but I can't seem to find the housing they require and the blocks themselves are between $20 and $30.

My examples of how to cut with the bandsaw are the rainbow and shamrock I made last week.  I am actually going to show you the rainbow another day because my kids are about to rip the keyboard out from under my fingers at this moment...I will be lucky to get through the shamrock instructions, but I will be back with the rainbow another day.

So, trace your pattern onto the wood.  I like to turn the picture over {if I plan to use it to modge podge later} so I don't get any pen marks on the print.  Make sure lever is down and blade is tight, then adjust the rollers to the proper height for the wood you are working with.

Now, the bandsaw does not move wherever you send it, like the scrollsaw.  You have to take wide turns and end up chipping away at the design more than cutting it out.  I start out by cutting relief cuts in my project.  Relief cuts are so you can chip, chip, chip away, and have the wood come off.  For my 
Shamrock I make relief cuts into any spot I can't just turn and get out of.  All of the inside corners would be a problem so I cut in to the trace line, the back the saw out.

I am left handed, so I like to do all the left handed cuts first.  That means you follow the line with the project part of the wood to the left of the blade, the scrap to the right.  It is the same as sewing on a sewing machine typically.  Right handed cutting is cutting with the project part to the right of the blade, the scrap to the left.  These are not official terms, just my attempt to make my instructions clearer.  I have a 1/4" blade on my saw right now.  These small shamrocks are too small, with too tight of curves to be able to cut easily.  I have to cut away at the insides, then the outside curves, then clean up any points missed by my chip, chip, chipping away :0)
This is my Shamrock after all of the left sided cuts.  Then I go back and do all the other sides until the shamrock is finished.

This is actually the second small shamrock I cut.  I decided to make my relief cuts along the traced line, so when I came back to do the cuts from the right side, it cut a wedge out of all the inside corners.  It just means one less cut.

I hope some if any of this is making sense.

Now for a really tricky part.  The stem is curved, but a little too tight for the blade to just run along.  I have to make several relief cuts, then cut along the curve.  Every time the blade hits one of those relief cuts, a piece of wood chips off, making a little more room for my blade to turn and stay on the line.  It really is a magic trick.  
Look how awesome that curve looks! 

One thing to be aware of, with all the chip, chip, chipping away, it is expected that some pieces of chipped wood will get stuck in the blade hole.  You might be tempted to try and get the chunk out while the saw is running, like by using another scrap of wood or something.  Don't.  You look really good with five fingers on both hands.  I wouldn't want that to change.  Turn the machine off.  It only takes a couple seconds for the blade to come to a stand-still.  Once the blade has stopped, pick the pieces out, turn the machine back on, and keep cutting.  

There are so many more things I could tell you about using a bandsaw, but the keyboard is starting to slide under my fingertips and the kids are grabbing the car keys as we speak.  Here is my finished shamrock.  If you are a newby at bandsaws, don't start with a shamrock!  They are tricky.  Start with an Easter Egg or a heart or something, and move into the tricky stuff when you are used to the saw a bit.

Have any questions about this post?  Feel free to leave a comment or email me at vanessa.cam5@gmail.com. I LOVE woodworking with a passion and would love to share :0)


  1. Love the post... but I think my husband would KILL me for spending that amount on a bandsaw... besides which, we still have one that works. :) But what I really want to know is... What are your feelings about *Jig Saws*... I have a very small, teeny, tiny scroll (sp?) saw. And it can't do (cut) anything unless it is under a 1/2 inch. (maybe even a 1/4 in.) Well, that won't do for my Turkey Cut Out's! Those are at least 1 in. thick. So what I *think* I need is a Jig saw... which would be bigger and could cut out things inside of other things... right? Did that make sense? Do you own a jig saw? Do you use it? And I don't mean a hand held one... I think what I mean is one that is up-right (like the band saw) or a table top one that is bigger... I think. Now I'm confused. Anyways, I still would love the input. Thanks!

    1. OK, I had to look just a little. I don't think there is such a thing as a stand-up Jigsaw. I think the only ones there are are the hand held ones and I would say, Yuck! At least the low end ones are not worth the money and you can get something that works way better for not too much more. Now, As far as the bandsaw, I started making those darn clippies and had unexpected bundles of money come in begging to be spent. Normally we would not be able to purchase such an expensive thing, but took advantage of a brief moment of income :0)

      The past 10 years I have been getting by with my handy dandy Craftsman Scroll saw. I have nothing bad to say about it. My husband and I disagreed on the blade deally, he liked the regular, but after having breakdowns over adjusting blades on my father-in-law's machine, I insisted on "pinned" blades. LOved IT!!! So easy to install and no worry about how tight you have to tighten the blades.

      Please forgive my lame explanation. I do actually plan on showing the scroll saw next week, then drill press, and so on-real hard core tools in the toolbox this next month. I have the REAL bunco at my house in like an hour and i need to go clean, but I will attempt to finish....

      YOu can get a decent $100-$150 scroll saw from Home Depot, Lowes, Craftsman, etc. My general observation is that you do not want the MOST cheep tool, but the low end on scroll saws worked fabulously for me {and I think that is what people think of when you hear the word Jigsaw}.

      The Rotozip is totally fabulous. If you are looking at getting a jigsaw, DONT, and get a Rotozip-also coming up in the toolbox. It is a rotary drill, similar idea to the dremel, but WAY more powerful. I have cut out crafts with that tool, but it won't give you the smooth cut a scrollsaw will, but...well...it's a gift from Heaven.

      Like I said, more on all those tools to come, so stay tuned and start saving up your $100-$150. Feel free to ask me more. I will answer after Bunco :0) so you should get something a little more clear!!!

      Thanks Heather! Love hearing from you,

  2. AWESOME! I will stay tuned and keep saving my $$. Oh, and I asked my husband what people call the jig saw that I want... and he says that people (meaning me) sometimes call it a jig saw, but really mean a scroll saw. So I guess I really want a scroll saw... just not a teeny tiny one! lol Thanks for all the tutorials! They really do help!

  3. That was very informative. It made me want to attempt that someday. You certainly know your stuff!

  4. Ummm, I think you definitely need to have a bandsaw toolbox part 2. I have a band saw and love to mess around with it, but learned a ton from your tutorial! I would love to know what kind of wood you use, where you buy it, etc.

    1. Awesome! YOu totally made my day. I figured Heather and myself were the only crazy ladies in the whole world that would get anything out of this post :0) Tomorrow I will get you a part 2. Please let me know if there is anything else I need to include in that. I will cover the wood and all that.



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