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I remember the first time I used a portable band saw as a young plumber's apprentice. We were working on a large commercial project and needed to hang our piping mains above a drop ceiling. When my boss told me to make 50 hangers out of steel stock and threaded rod, I thought I'd be stuck there forever. Luckily he set me up with a portable band saw that cut through the unistrut like butter and cut threaded rod five at a time. A short time later, we started slipping pipe through the completed hanger assemblies right on schedule.

Since then, portable band saws have been the kind of tool I can't do without. If you're in the field and have to cut any amount of metal stock on a regular basis, these tools will cut your production time and make cleaner and squarer cuts than a reciprocating saw or abrasive blades. And if you choose the right blade for the material you're cutting, you can get a spark-free, clean, and quiet cut–and more of them because band saw blades will outlast recip saw blades and cut-off wheels on chop saws.

Test Criteria

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The curved rear grip and large front handle make Makita the most comfortable to use.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

I tested five portable band saws including four corded models–the DeWalt D28770K, Makita 2107FK, Milwaukee 6232-6, and Porter-Cable 97724–and one cordless saw, the 28-volt lithium-ion-powered Milwaukee 0729-21. I evaluated each tool in the field for four weeks, followed by a stint in the shop, looking at cutting power and speed, balance and ergonomics, switches, blade changes, and extra features.

What you Get

All five of the saws came in their "kit" form. That just means they come with plastic cases in addition to a standard blade, and the cordless saw gets a battery and charger. It also means that the model numbers listed above are different than those on the tools and manuals.

Power & Performance

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The two-finger trigger on the cordless Milwaukee makes it easy to run–even with gloves on.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Portable band saws are generally best suited for cutting metals like channel and angle iron; we use different tools to cut other materials, such as a snap-cutter for cast iron pipe and a chop saw for plastic. The beauty of using portable band saws is that there is almost no setup, you can move them easily around the site, and they cut so cleanly and squarely that my guys even used them to cut baseboard heating sections, fins and all. The band saw cuts came out smoother than using tin snips and saved tons of time.

For this test, we used the band saws to fabricate pipe and equipment hangers out of light metal stock. Most of the cutting was done at a freestanding tripod vise with the materials clamped solidly. During the four-week field test, we used the stock blades provided with each of the saws that proved suitable for most of our applications.

Like any bladed tool, however, blade selection will greatly affect how well a band saw will perform. The coarsest blades (less teeth per inch) will cut faster, but when cutting a thin material you need to switch to a fine-tooth blade because a coarse blade will tend to grab and tear up your work. Fine-tooth blades will generally give you a cleaner cut, as well.

All the corded tools run on 6-amp motors, except the Makita, which has 6.5 amps. The cordless Milwaukee V28 is powered by the company's 28-volt lithium-ion battery and performed right up there with its corded competition.

After concluding that each tool performed well in the field, I brought them all into my shop to run side-by-side tests cutting through 3-inch-by-1/4-inch angle iron with brand new, identical 14-teeth-per-inch bi-metal blades. They all tracked well and allowed for fairly square and accurate cuts. None of them bogged down or jumped around during cutting, but I did notice differences in cutting speed between the tools. While running each tool all-out, the DeWalt and corded Milwaukee seemed to have a slight edge on the Makita and the cordless Milwaukee, with the Porter-Cable bringing up the rear.

When you cut with a band saw, you let the weight of the saw do most of the work; if you try to force it, the saw just cuts more slowly or the blade snaps.