While the router is arguably the most versatile tool in a woodworkers arsenal, the band saw isn’t far behind – making it one of the tools you need if you are at least a semi-serious woodworker.
Our guide to the best band saw will cover exactly what you use them for, and then recommend some of our “top picks” if you are looking to make a purchase.
Table of Contents
Quick Comparison: Top Bandsaws Overall
WHAT IS A BAND SAW?
Band saws are primarily used to cut curves and generally any odd or irregular shapes, like cabriole legs. Below is a picture from John Fry on LumberJocks showing cabriole legs that he cut using a band saw:
In addition to curvaceous cuts, band saws are also commonly used to rip lumber into thinner pieces, and for doing accurate cross cuts. In fact, a good band saw is one of the smoothest cutting tools you’ll find.
The system seems a little archaic, but on the inside of a band saw is a wheel and pulley setup. Here's a diagram of the key parts of a band saw:
While the Grizzly above is a floor-top model, band saws actually come in quite a few sizes – including smaller bench top models. Bench top models tend to be more affordable, and obviously take up less room if you are a little tight on space.
As for the different sizes of band saws, Monte of Popular Woodworking puts it this way:
Band saw size determines the stock size it will handle and the size is based on two dimensions. First is the distance between the inner edge of the blade and the throat of the saw. A 14″ band saw has a 14″ measurement between the two. This measurement may range from 10″ up to 24″.
Some manufacturers may go by the wheel size, which will make the measurement smaller. The second dimension is the depth of cut — the distance between the table and the underside of the blade guide/guard.
On a saw with a 6″ depth of cut, you can actually cut about 5-7/8″ due to the clearance needed for the guide to assure easy movement of the work.”
HOW TO USE A BAND SAW
A band saw is one of those tools where you watch an expert do it and you think “oh, that looks easy!”
Then you try it and find out that there is a fair amount of skill and finesse involved.
So if this is your first attempt at using one, start with some pieces that you aren’t too emotionally attached to – that’s all I’ll say!
One of the trickiest parts of effectively using a band saw is figuring out the proper tension of your blade. This varies based on the model you are using, the material of the blade, and the density of what you are cutting.
Lonnie at Fine Woodworking wrote a great piece about blade tensioning and in it he says:
Bandsaw blades require tension and lots of it to consistently produce straight, uniform cuts, especially in thick or dense stock. Most blade manufacturers recommend 15,000 psi to 20,000 psi for a common carbon-steel blade.
However, bimetal, spring-steel, and carbide-tipped blades are much stronger than carbon-steel blades, so manufacturers recommend a much higher tension: 25,000 psi to 30,000 psi. Why do bandsaw blades need so much tension? For beam strength. The tighter the blade is stretched, the more rigid it becomes and the less tendency it will have to deflect in the cut.
So depending on your job, make sure you’ve figured out the appropriate tension before making cuts.
TEETH PER INCH
Another important measurement is teeth per inch or TPI for short. Like many power saws, there are a variety of blade styles available for band saws. Generally speaking, the finer cut you need the more teeth you need on your blade.
So if cutting a curve into a thin piece of wood, you’re going to need a blade that is pretty narrow. For more coarse cuts, you’ll be using blades with less teeth AKA a wider separation between teeth.
To see a band saw in action and learn some of the basic functions, check out the video below from Indiana’s Sculpture Department.
As you can see, there are a ton of different things you can do with a band saw.
GENERAL BAND SAW BUYING TIPS
Before we talk about our top picks for best floor top and bench top band saws, I want to give you some things to look for when evaluating any particular model.
- The frame is critical. The frame of a band saw is the primary support for the entire unit, so it is probably the most important feature of your saw. If you have a crappy frame, you’ll have a crappy band saw. Die-cast, welded steel, and cast iron are the 3 most common frame construction types. I prefer cast iron when available because it’s both strong and heavy – making your band saw very sturdy feeling.
- Wheel weight matters. Internal wheels are typically cast aluminum or cast iron – with the aluminum being considerably lighter than the cast iron. I prefer a heavier wheel (cast iron) because it brings a lot more inertia (tendency to stay in motion) which provides a consistent cutting experience because of the additional and steady speed.
- Big dust ports are ideal. It’s a good idea to hook up your shop vac to the integrated dust port on your band saw. A 4 inch dust port will tend to expel more dust than a smaller 2 1/4 inch port, so a little bigger is better – but you can get by with either. Just make sure you connect a vac or you’ll have dust everywhere!
- Quality Materials above all. The frame, the table, the wheels, etc. should be made with high quality materials (not plastic or cheap metal). Always make sure you check into what these items are made of and read some reviews about the cut quality before making a purchase. A band saw is something you don’t want to skimp on – buy quality and it will last and make great cuts for you.
Without further ado, let’s dive into our picks for the best band saws in several different categories:
BEST BAND SAW FOR WOODWORKING
Overall, if you are into woodworking or getting into it, then you really do need a high quality band saw and router. As they say, if you “buy on price, you buy twice.”
That’s not to say that you need to go crazy, but don’t forsake quality to save a couple hundred bucks. In the end, you’ll probably spend more in wasted wood and materials by going with something that doesn’t do the job as well.
Our top pick is the Grizzly G0555LX.
WHY WE LIKE IT:
- Runs well out of the box. Aligned and ready to go once you put it into place, so minimal tweaks needed to get started. In fact, another verified owner said it this way:
- Cast iron wheels are high quality and run smoothly.
- Super powerful-clean cuts. Another Grizzly owner who also owned a Ridgid band saw gave this comparison:
The video below is from Grizzly, but I really think it helps illustrate all the features and what you can expect when you purchase this saw.
Perhaps one the best things about this saw overall is the cast iron construction. A cast iron frame on a band saw isn’t essential, but it has a ton of advantages. Because cast iron is so rigid and strong, the frame really minimizes the vibration and helps provide a smooth and predictable cutting experience.
The other thing about cast iron is that it’s heavy!
This guy comes in at just under 300 lbs. so I’d suggest getting free shipping to your house.
Don’t just take our word for it, click here to read more verified reviews.
BEST BENCH TOP BAND SAW
Bench top band saws are considerably smaller than the floor models, and your saw blades are going to top out at 12 inches in diameter.
The good part is that the footprint of space is smaller if you are limited in the area you have in a shop or garage. The downside is that you generally can’t get the performance that a floor top model can offer and you are better served sticking to thinner wood and smaller wood working projects.
A serious woodworker should strongly consider investing in a floor top model, even though the initial cost is higher.
However, if you are getting a kid into woodworking or just a beginner yourself, then investing in a decent bench top model can be a smart move. This will let you see how you like it before dropping more money on a floor top band saw.
Our top pick for bench top band saws is the Rikon 10-305 Bandsaw.
WHY WE LIKE IT:
- High Quality Materials. The Rikon frame is make out of steel, and the table is made out of cast iron. It feels well made.
- Rip Fence Included. Though it’s removable, a rip fence for cutting boards is already in the kit. No need to buy it as an add on.
- Easy Adjustments. The guidepost height is changed with the turn of a knob and swapping out blades is quick and simple.
One “serious hobbyist” described the Rikon this way:
Click here to read more verified reviews on Amazon.
I go back to what I said earlier – if you buy on price, you usually end up buying twice. So if you are already interested in woodworking and think you’ll make good use of it, go with the Grizzly.
It can do everything you need and is made with high quality materials.
If you are looking for a more light-duty model for small projects, the Rikon is still made very well with a consistent performance.
Best of luck with your decision!