What Is a Band Saw Used For?

A band saw isn't as indispensable in the woodworking shop as a table saw, but it's a versatile tool that greatly increases your creative possibilities.

Description of a Band Saw

It's easy to make accurate cuts with a band saw.It's easy to make accurate cuts with a band saw.
Like its handheld cousin, the coping saw, the band saw is designed to cut curves, and the width of the blade you use determines the accuracy. The blade is a continuous metal band with cutting teeth on one edge.

The band that does the cutting fits tightly around a pair of wheels -- of which sometimes there are three. The motor drives one of the wheels, while the other ones freely rotate. The cutting teeth pass perpendicularly through a metal work table, which usually is equipped with an adjustable fence and a sliding crosscut accessory. An adjustment on one of the free-spinning wheels allows you to tighten the tension on the blade, and a guide positioned behind the blade just above the table keeps the blade straight while you're cutting and prevents it from wandering.

Cutting Curves

The teeth of a band-saw blade face down and push the wood toward the table, so there is little chance of kickback, and you can safely focus on accuracy. To cut a curved shape with a band saw, line up the blade on the cut line and slowly push the wood through, rotating as needed to keep the blade on the line. It may be tricky to get an accurate cut because the blade tends to bend and wander off the line when you change the orientation of the wood. To minimize this, adjust the band tension to the manufacturer's specifications and keep the guide -- which is adjustable -- as close to the work as possible.

Using a Band Saw for Resawing

Slicing thick boards into thinner ones is called resawing, and it's safer and easier to do it with a band saw than with a table saw. Equip your saw with the widest band for which it is designed as narrow bands easily bend when cutting thick or hard wood. Once you clamp the adjustable fence into position and turn on the saw, slowly push the stock through the blade; you have most control if the off-cut is on the side of the wood opposite the fence. You can use this technique to dimension wood for special projects or to get the ultra-thin slices needed for marquetry inlays.

Band-Saw Tidbits

William Newberry invented the band saw in 1809, but it remained a curiosity for 40 years until a Frenchwoman -- Anne Paulin Crepin -- figured out a way to weld the band together so it wouldn't break. If you want to cut metal, you need to use a band saw designed to do that, but you can use your wood-cutting band saw to cut plastics and even bones; you'll often find a band saw in a butcher shop. If you're inclined to wood crafting, you may be tempted to make a band-saw box; this is a box shape hollowed out from a block of wood using only the band saw, along with a sander to smooth the wood.

About the Author

A love of fundamental mysteries led Chris Deziel to obtain a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. A prolific carpenter, home renovator and furniture restorer, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.