By Bill Thomas
Specs and Tester's Tester Comments
Before I went into woodworking and custom boat building, I built and remodeled houses. Oddly, some of my earliest band saw work came framing a cloverleaf-shaped custom home. We spent days pushing 2x12s through the boss's rickety band saw, making miles of curved plates and parts for a funky mansard roof. I still remember the tipsy, underpowered, non-adjustable band saw and recall learning a lot about tools–mostly, stay away from lousy ones.
I remembered that low-rent band saw several years later when I set up my shop. The lessons I had learned about tools paid off: I was careful to evaluate my tool needs, then buy the appropriate equipment. I got the best 14-inch band saw I could afford, then learned to set it up and use it properly. I don't frame anymore, but my 14-inch band saw is still key to how I make my living today.
Access to the guide adjustments on the Delta–especially the lower set–is great.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
I tested seven new tools: the Bridgewood BW-14WBS, Delta 28-475X, Grizzly G0555, Jet JWBS-14CS 708115K, Laguna LT14SE, Powermatic PWBS-14CS 1791216K, and Ridgid BS1400. The street prices start at $350 and top out at around $1,200. They run on 120-volt current (but are convertible to 220) and accept 1/8- to 3/4-inch-wide blades. I looked at ease of assembly, blade guides, power, wheels and tires, dust collection, blade tensioning, cut capacity, tables and stability, accessories, and generally smooth performance.
Assembly & Manuals
Assembly. Dig out the sockets and wrenches, there's some assembly required. Get help, too–setting the saw body onto the stand is a two-person job.
Most of the machines bolted together in under an hour. The Delta, Powermatic, and Ridgid took more than two hours; I uncrated and set up the Laguna in less than 30 minutes.
Manuals. The supplied manuals ranged from fair to very useful. Grizzly's information includes a primer on choosing blades and general band saw techniques. Laguna's goes into even more detail, with a useful section on setting up and using the machine's fence and unique guide system.
Blade guides are the heart of a band saw. Each saw has two sets: one above the table, another just below. Their job is to align the blade and limit how much it drifts during a cut (see "Blade Drift," page 50). Each time you change the blade you must readjust the guides or the saw will cut poorly. Because band saws require fiddling and adjusting–and because the guides must be set accurately for good results–it's important that the guides are user-friendly and easy to reach and adjust. This was the case for all of the saws.
Bearing Guides. The Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Powermatic use an all-bearing system to tame their blades. Powermatic employs two stacked bearings to control lateral travel. Wider blades (1/2- and 3/4-inch) tracked very nicely in this system. One drawback of bearings is they're challenging to set up when using blades under 1/4 inch and often hard to adjust so that blade teeth don't accidentally contact them. Nevertheless, adjusting these three saws was straightforward and access to each guide was good; even 1/4-inch blades tracked fine.
Blocks and Bearing Guides. The Delta and Ridgid units use support bearings behind the blade while steel blocks provide lateral control. I would replace these blocks with aftermarket phenolic blocks, which are softer and easier on the blade should your adjustment be less than perfect. Jet uses polymer (different than phenolic) blocks that seemed to hold up nicely and can be redressed as they wear.
Of these first six saws, access to the adjustments location and component size was best on the Delta.
Ceramic Bearing Guides. Laguna takes a different approach with its blade guides–ceramic inserts both behind the blade and on the side–and it was the most accurate. The side blocks are deep and offer full support of wider blades. Even though it takes three Allen wrenches to make adjustments, the scale and the location of the guides are very user-friendly. In fact, this saw accepts up to a 1-inch blade. For blades narrower than 1/4 inch, Laguna offers an optional kit, which I didn't test.
A wheel brush, like on the Ridgid, helps keep the blade on track by keeping the tire clean of dust.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
Next to the blade-guide systems, power is vital. While it's possible to upgrade to a larger aftermarket motor, it's smarter to evaluate your needs before purchasing and buy the right tool from the get-go. In case the amp ratings on the motors' metal plates didn't tell the truth, I used a shop-built lie detector, testing for power by re-sawing softwoods–5-inch spruce and pine–and re-sawing hardwood, specifically several densities of mahogany that ran the gamut from very hard to incredibly hard. For all cuts, I used a new 1/2-inch blade on each saw.
Ridgid's 3/4-hp motor cut 2-inch hardwood and softwood easily, making it a handy addition to a mobile shop where you might cut corbels, radius trim, or small re-sawing runs. Re-sawing taller stock on a limited basis is fine, too, but if you anticipate lots of re-saw work (or cutting miles of curved framing), I think that will tax this smaller, but lighter, tool.
The Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Jet 1-hp motors provided ample power for general cutting and most re-saw work I did.
The Delta, Laguna, and Powermatic have 1-1/2-hp motors that provided all of the power needed for most general shop and jobsite cutting tasks. The Laguna, however, provided the most oomph. It was hard to slow this one down–even re-sawing in 10-inch mahogany.
Blade Speed. All the saws tested operated around 3,200 sfpm. Grizzly offers a slower second speed of 1,500 sfpm, which was quite nice. It improves the torque and helps when cutting thicker stock, plastic, or aluminum.