Humongous Band Saw Cuts 18-Inch Steel Ingot


The metal cutting band saws on jobsites (by plumbers, HVAC, and sprinkler guys) are likely to be hand-held units or stand-mounted units that pivot down like chop saws. This industrial model operates more like a guillotine; the drive mechanism and spinning blade slide up and down on a pair of pillars (visible at the top) that look to be about 8 inches in diameter. As large as those pillars are, they can’t compare to the 18-inch diameter steel ingot to my right. This band saw can cut it – though I’m told it would take 20 minutes to do so. One of my tour guides said saws of this type can be found in factories and metal fabrication plants and are capable of cutting the material used to make train wheels.

The material shown here may be smaller than the 18-inch ingot in the previous photo, but it would still be a challenge to cut. Lenox produces blades capable of cutting all kinds of material and they test them in this part of the plant – which what the steel in this photo is used for. We didn’t talk a lot about band saw blades, but my tour guides made the point that much of the know-how Lenox gained from manufacturing band saw blades has gone into the production of hole saws a recip saw blades. They more or less said if you can make band saw blades capable of cutting 18-inch steel billets, then making other kinds of blades does not seem that hard.

These are some of the materials used to test recip saw blades and hole saws. I’m seeing 2x4s, various size pieces of steel conduit, thick-walled metal sprinkler pipe, angle iron, copper plumbing pipe, and other items one might encounter on a construction site.

Before my visit I specifically asked to be shown the automated recip blade testing machine I’d seen in a video on the Lenox website. The machine consists of a motor that drives the blade, steel jaws that clamp the material while it’s being cut, and a mechanism that advance the material for the next cut. It requires little human intervention beyond changing blades and monitoring the computer that counts and times the cuts. This photo is blurry because I had to shoot through a thick acrylic shield – which could not be removed while the machine was in action. The sparks you see are from a blade that’s about to give out after making many cuts through angle iron. I’ve seen similar machines at Milwaukee’s test facility in Wisconsin but was not allowed to take photos.

The next test station was a lot less automated. It was a bench (actually, more than one) with a pair of heavy vises used to clamp material while people went at it with recip saws and drills. I don’t know how much actual testing is performed in this manner; it was my impression that this area was used more for demonstration and observation. The guy with the saw is Matt Savarino, the product manager for recip saw blades. Matt is cutting metal with a Hitachi saw and a Lenox blade. The red foot pedal on the floor is used to activate the tool and the digital timer just above the upper cabinets. The timer isn’t running; the time of 14:28 is from some earlier test.

This test blank, a steel pipe with angle iron and flat bar inside, is designed to severely challenge (destroy) metal cutting blades. It’s unlike anything one would encounter on the jobsite so it’s hard to be sure how a blade’s performance in this material relates to the real world.

To put the performance of their blades in context, Lenox ran them against competing models.

Finally, they let me loose with a saw on a test blank. I don’t remember which blade I used but I do know the product manager’s time (with the same saw and blade) was significantly faster than mine – goes to show that technique and practice matter.

The guy with the drill is Matt Howell, the product manager for hole saws. Matt is drilling a hole in a piece of square stainless steel tube.

To make it harder on the saw he makes an interrupted cut where the teeth are part way in and out of the stock. This cut is being made with a Lenox Speed Slot hole saw – which except for some wear to the paint looked to be as good as new after a couple of cuts.

Like other manufacturers, Lenox tests their products against competing models. After a single cut in the stainless steel tube the teeth on this “brand x” hole saw are completely shot. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad hole saw – it might be great in other materials for other kinds of cuts.

I was impressed and jealous when I saw the super-heavy duty benches they use in the test area. They’re not really benches; they’re pit boxes, the mobile toolboxes used in the pits at auto races. This one was made by, which is owned by a former NASCAR driver named Ricky Sanders. I’d love to have one of these things but don’t think I ever will – given that a box this size retails for about $5,000.

A bonus photo: This is the sign on the men’s room in Lenox’s corporate offices. I went in, even though my name is not Lee Breton. Lee worked for Lenox for 48 years and came to be known as Hackman for his feats with recip saws and hacksaws. You name it; he sawed it in half with Lenox blades: houses, autos, airplanes, buses, and even railroad cars. Lee retired from Lenox and continues to cut things up with Team Hackman – which includes a bunch of men and a couple of women (one of them Lee’s daughter). I didn’t look, but it made me wonder if there was a Hackwomen sign on the women’s room.

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