If you're ready to take your woodworking to the next level, or you're sick of sweating your way through metal cuts with a hack saw, you might be considering investing in a band saw. But with a vast array of options on the market, it can be hard to sift through the mud and find those golden nuggets of truth. Never fear, gentle reader - here you'll find the information you need to make an informed purchase of a machine that will make your work easier for years to come. And no matter what you need, WEN has a band saw for you.
At first glance, this is an easy distinction. Woodworking band saws are for woodworking, and metalworking band saws are for metalworking. Simple, right? Mostly. The main differences include:
Most woodworking band saws are vertical band saws - the blade is oriented vertically relative to the table and the floor. The frame is stationary, and the saw doesn't move during operation.
Most metalworking band saws are horizontal band saws - the blade is oriented horizontally relative to the floor. The frame is often movable, and slowly drops down over the course of the cut, using the saw's own weight to help make the cut.
Most woodworking band saws have the blade run through a table, on which a workpiece rests. The operator can make freehand cuts, or use a fence or miter gauge to help make straight cuts, whether mitered or beveled.
On the metalworking side, most saws have the workpiece clamped in a vise, and the band saw frame drops down to help make the cut. Some metalworking band saws also pivot into a vertical orientation for irregular cuts in plate material.
There's really no need for a portable woodworking band saw - you can accomplish the same tasks using a circular saw, track saw, jig saw, table saw, scroll saw, or other saw. But when you're on a job site and have a bunch of electrical conduit or rebar to cut, a portable metal-cutting band saw will be your best friend. It makes overhead cuts and quick rough-cuts incredibly easy with minimal setup. WEN offers both corded and cordless portable metal-cutting band saws.
The WEN 20496 20V Max cordless band saw is both maneuverable and powerful - ideal for tough cuts in tight spaces where no power is available.
Generally, wood is softer than metal. (If you happen to find a case where the opposite is true, you may have a Nobel Prize in your future.) Because of this, woodworking band saws tend to run at higher speeds and use blades with fewer and larger teeth, spaced relatively far apart. Metalworking band saws tend to run at lower speeds, and use blades with more and smaller teeth, spaced relatively close together. Don't try to use a metalworking band saw to cut wood, or a woodworking band saw to cut metal - either way, it won't work well.
When starting your journey, here are some of the important terms you need to know to compare your options.
Band saws are rated in inches. Often, the rating is done by its maximum cut capacity, or by its wheel diameter. So a 14" band saw may have a wheel diameter of 14", or a throat of 14" (more on that in a moment).
Refers to the distance between the blade and the frame. This measurement is usually very close to how band saws are rated; for example, a 10" woodworking band saw may have a throat of 9-1/2" or 10". For vertical band saws, this means you can cut material up to 10" wide. For horizontal band saws, you could cut material up to 10" thick. This is just an example; make sure to carefully read the band saw's advertised specifications to make sure it can physically handle whatever cuts you need to make.
Throat capacity, shown on a WEN BA3962 woodworking band saw.
Throat capacity, shown on a WEN BA4664 metalworking band saw.
Refers to the distance between the top of the table and the bottom of the upper blade guide. More on blade guides in a moment. This is the maximum thickness or width of workpiece that you can cut. On metalworking band saws, it is the maximum distance between the blade guides.
A system of adjustable supports - often ball bearings, but may also be steel or ceramic screws or blocks - to keep the blade running properly and your cuts clean. There is an upper and a lower blade guide on woodworking band saws, and a left and a right blade guide on metalworking band saws.
The upper blade guide on a WEN BA3962 woodworking band saw.
Electric motors are rated by the amount of current they can handle, in amperes (amps). Generally, the higher the amperage, the more powerful the motor; for example, a 5-amp motor won't be able to handle cutting thick hardwoods or hardened stainless steel as well as a 10-amp motor. WEN uses powerful, quiet, low-maintenance induction motors on almost all our stationary band saws.
When choosing a woodworking band saw, your first consideration should always be space. Do you have the floor space in your workshop for a larger floor-standing model? If so, would you need a mobile base to help maximize versatility and portability? Or would a smaller, benchtop model suit you better?
How do you plan to use your band saw? Will you be resawing thick hardwood pieces? Opt for a heavy-duty, floor-standing model with a large cutting depth and powerful motor. But if you'll mostly be cutting out patterns and small workpieces (toys, for example), or working mostly with softwoods, that top-of-the-line model may be overkill. A smaller, less expensive model may be just what you need, and won't cost as much.
The wider the blade (measured from the back, or spine, of the blade, to the teeth), the stiffer it will be. If you're doing a lot of resawing, a wider blade (perhaps 3/4" - 1") will be just what you need to get clean, straight cuts. If you're doing fretwork or small-radius, intricate cuts, you'll need a narrow blade, usually in the range of 1/8" - 1/4". Most WEN band saws can handle a wide range of blade widths. We offer a variety of USA-made replacement band saw blades.
If you're a tradesman, working in overhead or tight spaces, a portable band saw might be the best option. It cuts cleaner and with more control than a reciprocating saw, but doesn't require you to bring the workpiece to the saw. Or if you're just looking for quick-and-dirty cuts on piping or rebar, a portable may be the way to go. Stationary models are better suited for more-precise work, especially if cut pieces will be welded later.
If you go with a portable, make sure to consider whether a cordless model is needed, or if a corded option will get the job done.
Similar to choosing a woodworking band saw, once you've settled on a stationary band saw, space must be your first consideration. Most floor-standing models have wheeled stands, so a mobile base is unnecessary, but do consider the impact it will have on the overall square footage of your shop. Benchtop models are also available for precise work on smaller pieces.
Similar to choosing a woodworking band saw, make sure you go with a saw that can handle whatever you can throw at it. Make sure its maximum cutting capacity is larger than the largest-diameter or widest workpiece you plan to cut, and it has a large enough motor to handle ferrous or work-hardened metals. If you're mostly cutting tubing or rectangular stock, you may not need a saw with a vertical configuration, but when cutting plate, it can come in quite handy.
We hope this has been a helpful starting point in your journey to choosing a band saw. If you have any questions about which WEN band saw is right for you, need more information, or have stumbled across that Nobel Prize-winning wood we mentioned, please give us a call at 1-847-429-9263 (M – F, 8 – 5 CST), or drop us a message here to talk to our friendly and knowledgeable technical support team.