Cut Capacity

The throat–the distance between the blade and the post–for all the band saws is around 13-1/2 inches. This is determined by the wheel diameter and is fixed. What really increases the versatility of a band saw is re-saw capacity–the maximum distance between the table and the upper guides.

Bridgewood's 8-inch clearance, while larger than most, is fixed. The Laguna boasts 12 inches of standard cutting height, and it was perfect for re-sawing that 10-inch mahogany plank. The Delta, Grizzly, Jet, Powermatic, and Ridgid offer a more standard 6 inches of clearance. You can add an optional riser block to those saws, which increases their re-saw capacities to almost 12 inches. While lots of work can be done with a 6-inch-capacity tool, the larger a saw is, the more versatile it is.

Tables & Stability

Tilt. Each saw tested has a table that tilts 45 degrees (or more) right and 0 to 15 degrees left. Laguna's saw tilts left the farthest–15 degrees. It also has a great positive stop; while it locks the table at 90 degrees, the stop also easily swings out of the way for left tilts–a sweet detail. The rest of the saws required more work to tilt left. All the saws have stops that can be set to lock the table at an exact right angle to the blade. Delta's saw has three adjustable stops, nice when doing production runs where several angles are used and repeated, which I often use for cutting boat frames.

Size. Laguna and Powermatic offer nice large tables–15x19 inches and 15x20 inches, respectively. Delta's 16x16-inch table is also large and adjusts easily. Jet's table is 15x15 inches, and the Bridgewood, Grizzly, and Ridgid measure 14x14 inches. Each table has a miter-gauge groove, though I've never found one to be particularly useful with a band saw because of blade drift.

Stability. All the tables were stable. Bridgewood's and Ridgid's had the most play, but I was still quite comfortable cutting out templates from long 2x6 stock.

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Good lighting is key for band saw work. Powermatic's smart onboard fixture lights the way.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Vibration. Even under load, vibration was not an issue with any of the machines. The Laguna, Jet, and Grizzly ran the smoothest, though differences between all seven were slight.

Accessories

There aren't a lot of options you can throw at a band saw–a solid, well-made machine stands on its own. But there are a few cool ideas.

Light. Good lighting is mandatory for band saw work and Powermatic's onboard light is great. If I had a band saw without a light, I'd add one.

Fences. The Jet and Powermatic fences have a post attached, which serves as a good bearing surface for re-sawing. Laguna's fence is top-shelf and adjustable to accommodate for blade drift; lumber being ripped or re-sawn came off the saw straight and true. In fact, Laguna's manual stresses taking the time to match the fence to the blade's drift.

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Laguna's optional jack handle and wheel kit make toting this unit around the shop easy.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Mobile Base. Laguna has an optional mobile base consisting of two wheels on a single axle mounted on the base. A separate jack handle with two wheels elevates one end of the machine and, despite its 250-plus pounds, I was able to move it easily around the shop.

Brush. The Bridgewood, Laguna, Powermatic, and Ridgid have a small brush in the lower housing that bears against the lower tire, keeping it clean. This goes a long way toward keeping the blade on track. Like the light, if I had a band saw without one, I'd install one.

Kill Switch. Ridgid's saw ships with a removable key-type switch; removing the key disables the switch. This is good if your shop is in your home or a site where kids might be poking around; however, I'd get a couple of extras before leaving the store with the saw and then duct tape them somewhere on the unit. If you lose it (and you will), you're out of luck until you get a new one.

Winners

At the beginning of this test, the first thing I noticed was the broad price range between all the tools in the group. I thought that I'd be comparing apples to oranges, but not so. Each saw performs the same basic functions quite well. Some of the more expensive units offer more versatility, but they are all good tools–and different tools may be better suited to different shops or sites. So it's important to figure out how expensive a machine your business needs. A large cut capacity, top-flight blade guides, and relentless power in the toughest stock drew me up the price ladder and I made my selections based on the high-tolerance and high-power requirements of my shop.

Ridgid offers a solid and stable, but smaller, machine. Power is limited compared to the other tools with larger motors, but it's a good basic tool at a low price.

The Jet and Grizzly both run smoothly and employ reliable blade-guide systems. The blades track well and both saws have tough 1-hp motors. Jet has a larger table, but Grizzly offers a quick-release lever for blade change. And, Grizzly's second lower speed is great. The Grizzly is the price champion for this test–the best combination of features and price.

Bridgewood's 8-inch resaw height is helpful for lots of cutting situations; however, the re-saw height doesn't exactly match its 1-hp motor. For miles of hardwood re-saws, a larger motor might be better. The machine has nice, easy-to-turn knobs and a first-rate quick-release blade change lever.

The Delta and Powermatic 1-1/2-hp machines are both high quality. I like Powermatic's fence and nice post for re-sawing. To fit a 3/4-inch blade on the Powermatic, I had to fiddle a bit with the lower guide carriage. Delta's design and quality were great and I appreciated the thoughtful placement of crucial knobs.

The Laguna really rides high and is the winner. The overall design and implementation are wonderful. It has the widest, heaviest wheels in the group and, similar to a boat making way through the water, the wheels' mass helped transfer power and contributed to the machine's smoothness. The fence is adjustable to match blade drift. The well-engineered saw guides are terrific and the maximum cutting height of 12 inches–coupled with a motor and table that match this capacity–added to the saw's already substantial appeal.

–Bill Thomas is a woodworker, boat builder, and writer in Stevensville, Md.

Blade Drift

No matter how carefully set a band saw's guides are, the blade still tends to run out of square to the table. This is called drift or lead. When following a line and cutting freehand, you compensate for this without really thinking about it, but it's not so simple when ripping or re-sawing: the stock being cut must remain in line with the blade. A fence, set so it parallels the true path of the blade, ensures cuts remain true.

Here's how I line up a fence: On a plywood scrap about 4 inches wide and 24 inches long, strike a pencil line down the center parallel to a machine edge. Use the band saw to carefully cut halfway down the line. Stop the saw but don't move the scrap–not even a little. The plywood is probably not at a right angle to the table. Make a light pencil mark along the machine edge of the plywood. Then, clamp or adjust your fence parallel to the line, which is also parallel to the blade path. Each time you change blades, re-establish the line.

Blades

My blade advice for band saws is short and sweet: Spend money on nice blades. They cut cleaner and last longer. More teeth yield a finer finished surface, fewer teeth cut faster and with less effort.

Scrolling. I seldom need a blade smaller than 1/4 inch, but if you cut small radii (3/8 inch or less) get a 1/8- or 3/16-inch blade.

Re-Sawing. You can re-saw with a 1/2-inch blade, but 3/4-inch blades work better. If your saw accepts 1-inch blades and you have thin veneers to slice, this wider blade might be the best choice. Then again, wider blades often are also thicker and these heavier blades don't bend around 14-inch wheels with grace. When in doubt, check with your blade supplier.