Retro-thinking Bandsaws

It’s the strangest thing. As far as I know I’ve never advocated that people not use machines, except perhaps in the odd situation where it was unnecessary and it might have stunted their growth in mastering a skill. Something like that. Neither have I ever said I don’t use them either. What I have always catered to is those like me who just love skilled hand work, the hand tools we use and the methods and techniques that are one by one being lost to emerging generations. What I have had the greatest battle with is those who make a living as wood machinists, those who teach in colleges and then those who sell machines and those who sell hand tools. Over the decades that translates into the ones who really don’t know too much about hand tool and hand tool work and creativity. The ones that say you can’t make your living with using hand tools do a disservice to the ones I teach and train and then reach out to extract them one by one from the plant manufacturing technologies. You see not everyone want to earn their living from woodworking. Those that do, that have trained and have skill, can actually make their living just fine from hand work.

I am not at all an anti-machine guy and never have been. I think machines have their place and so too machinist woodworkers making their living using them. Where the issue is is influencing others on what they may well know very little about. I made my living from using primarily hand tools with machines more in the background for taking the donkey work out of resawing. Dare I say that cutting tenons on a tablesaw is just resawing. Dare I say that it takes me 8 minutes to chop a mortise 4″ long, 2″ deep and any width you like. For a dining table that translates into an hour or so. In the grand scheme of things, say two days to make a handmade dining table or coffee table, that is not at all prohibitive. That said, using the combination of hand tools, with the bandsaw for resawing and dimensioning, is good complementary cooperation. I will never call machines anything other than what they are. I draw the line there. So I say this to counter the misconception that I do not use machines. I just don’t look at them the same way most machinists, machine sales staff and hand tool sellers and teachers and proponents of machine woodworking do, that’s all.

Some cuts just don’t lend themselves to hand work and bandsaws are ideal.

So, if I am anti anything I am anti about people who are machine-only woodworkers thinking that machining wood is the more progressive way and an advancement on hand tool methods of working wood: that these two spheres are equally skilful when in my view the one is truly skilful and the other can often be more perhaps an impost. I would just hate for anyone to think that working wood by hand and machining wood or using CNC systems to that end are in any way relatable. Certainly machining is not the more advanced way, just the efficient industrialised model for prepping wood, that’s all.

It should be plain to anyone that machines replace the need for skill but that they do not replace skilled work with an alternative skill. Machines, in my world at least, mostly displace satisfying and fulfilling elements of diversity and versatility only hand work dexterity brings to design. I’ve used machines all of my life and am as much an expert on machines and their use as I am with hand tools. Generally, you can learn as much as you ever need to control and use any machine safely in a couple of hours per machine to become safely competent. Mostly it’s a question of changing blades, aligning fences and stops and pushing on and off buttons before you push the wood along or across its long axis. Beyond that you end up making lots and lots of jigs to give a guaranteed outcome and then to repeatable cuts to identical parameters. On the other hand, hand tools are a continuous learning curve for the rest of your life because you and your body and mind are not restricted by the limits of a rotary cut fixed to a single arbor. Power planers and tablesaws plane and saw wood. They do this efficiently. They can rebate and rip grooves, cut tenons and so on, but it’s not what they do do perhaps so much as what they cannot do that matters. The freedoms they supposedly bring are soon countered by the adverse elements surrounding safety, noise, consumption of floor space and general mess.

I am introducing the bandsaw at this time in my training others because it’s time. We now have a few hundred thousands of woodworkers who have adopted hand tools to work with because they see their validity for them and they want the skills to use them through what we teach and have taught. A bandsaw is a machine I rely on considerably for reducing stock size to smaller sections and proportions. It’s a remarkable machine and one I have always enjoyed. The others? I can take them or leave them. The only reason I have owned them through the last decade is because my classes have required the sizing of 100 pieces of wood per student. That’s 2,000 per week-long class, far too much for hand work and absolutely unnecessary.

Whereas the bandsaw will be coming more to the front edge for some of my work teaching and working, it will not replace skilled work and the teaching of such things. I think you will enjoy the extra I will bring for you to consider. If you ever see me lift up a power router with a dovetail jig to cut dovetails, you will know then that I have lost the plot!

Stay with me now!

42 comments on “Retro-thinking Bandsaws

  1. I tell my power tool friends that I sat frozen for years, unable to afford all of these power tools, and so I built nothing.
    A couple of years ago I came across a Paul Sellers YouTube video – an obviously mad Englishman hand planning stock ripping boards with a handsaw, and cutting mortises with a chisel and laughed.
    One day I tried it myself, and I don’t remember having as much fun at a power planned, a table saw, or a drill press.
    Obviously I must also be mad. Thanks for sharing the insanity that comes with understanding and appreciating the wood, the joy of making something with a few tools all older than myself.

  2. The pics of the wood is exactly why I need one. I’ve often thought about making things from free wood that I see outside of people’s homes but always thought how difficult it would be to mill it.

  3. I’ve got to admit Paul I do use my bandsaw and thicknesser but only for speed, I only get a few hours a week woodworking so that time needs to be spent as productively as possible. On the other hand nothing beats chopping a mortise or cutting dovetails by hand. It’s nice to see you using yours, I’d also be interested to see maybe some videos showing other machines, I trust your hand methods so much (after all you taught me all I know) that I’d like your take on machines too, maybe a mini series on the safe use of other machines you use? I think it would complement the hand tools work nicely.

  4. Ever since I visited Williamsburg VA many years back, I walked away with a curiosity I guess you’d call it for the work the craftsman there were creating using hand tools.

    Now that I’m retired, I’ve been watching and learning from Paul’s YouTube videos and the online courses he offers.

    I won’t say I won’t use the power tools I have (table, band, scroll and chop saws) but nothing replaces the joy of learning how to make a dovetail (still learning) or the other joiner techniques.

    I don’t see myself ever needing a jointer with all I’ve learned using a hand plane. I might cut a dado using the table saw but I don’t see myself thinking I need a dado set when I can clean them up with a router plane now.

    Simple things like setting a hinge now seems much easier as I learn to use hand tools.

    It’ll probably be a combination for me but I really want to do most all of the joinery by hand. It’s just more satisfying to me personally.

      • common Paul, tool: a devise or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

          • Definition of the word tool. ( google) This could be argued for a while put let’s just leave it that we disagree.

          • Not even disagreeing with anything really. You just expressed a perspective that reflects what’s influenced you. I neither accept or otherwise. It’s a free will thing, nothing more. I probably wouldn’t look to Google for a definition for what I know either.

      • I’m with George on this, they’re all tools. Hand tools. The big noisy machines. The computer I’m using to visit your website. All are tools to achieve a result.

        Even the guys that worked for me called their boss a tool.

        You can still celebrate anyway. You’ve earned that.

        -Tom Stenzel

        • It doesn’t mean you are right because of majority say so. A machine is not a tool in that is substitutes for tools and skilled work by becoming the extension of the will of the user who controls every element of power direction and functionality. I’m not trying to convert anyone to think like I do. Just to stop people accepting terms they never thought through but were indeed programmed to identify a different way without thinking that’s all. Remember it was the machine manufacturers and their lackeys the magazines who changed the term machine to “power tool”.

  5. I have found through life that people tend to shutdown listening when they hear something that they dislike or disagree with. My guess that Paul Sellers is against power tools can from that. You said something that they disliked (I bet it is the machining wood vs hand tool working wood skills). So they shutdown and do not listen to the the rest.

    I like hand tools because it feels like you are really creating something. When you push wood through a machine, it never really feels like you made it. Then there is the noise and seems to bring up the anxiety level in me.

    Thanks for all that you and your staff does. You all present quality articles and videos that are very enjoyable to read/view.

    • seriously, are you kidding, you cut a piece of wood on your table saw, finish the project then think it does not feel that you made that piece?

      • That is how we feel. We just pushed a button and fed the wood into the machine. We didn’t do much at all. I know it is hard for machinists to comprehend but they didn’t cut the dovetail if they used a Leigh Jig and a router. It didn’t happen. So simple.

  6. I have graduated to hand tools. Yet the power tools still have a place to do rough work. A band saw will eventually find its way to my shop for resawing . Maybe some shapes like handles for push blocks which are a waste of time to do by hand.

    My shop will be hybred.

  7. I use my machines for the donkey work. I mean you really have to love woodworking to handplane a 12” wide by 10’ oak board by hand. I really like using handtools for the finer elements like dovetails and inlay work. I find you have much more control and spend less time doing setups on a machine. Some people just don’t want to hear the message, too bad for them, they don’t know what they are missing out on.

  8. In the end being practical about the tools we use makes sense. Cutting down stock whether it be plywood or solid wood is sometimes much better suited to power tools. I can cut veneer out of almost any wood easily with a table saw. I’d like to see someone try it with a hand saw.

    Let’s face it, there will always be purists in any hobby. As a photographer I hear complaints from purists about using digital cameras, Photoshop and modern printers. I was always told that those who complain about technology don’t have the skill to use it.

  9. I don’t mind using hand tools to rip or cross cut. Where a band saw will be really helpful is when I want to work in thicknesses other than 3/4″ stock. A band saw will allow me to quickly thin down stock, which I don’t enjoy doing by hand. For now, I have been paying someone else to thin the wood.

  10. Paul; It reminded me of a movie I saw a bunch of years ago, Quigley Down Under, when he made a statement early in the show about handguns. Paraphrased was “I don’t have much use for them.” Later in the movie it became a finale ending statement to the tune of, ” I said I didn’t have much use for them, I didn’t say, I don’t know how to use them.” I worked with a man some 30 years ago when we were both getting started in home building and remodel work who, when asked about getting some good hand tools said, “what do I need hand tools for?” It gave me an immediate insight into his work philosophy which was purely production oriented and not so much in quality. We soon parted ways as his goals for success were all about the money. In the years following, I acquired nearly every power tool for that endeavor that was needed, many were duplicated for eventual breakdowns. I always seemed to have a few more hand tools on site that other machinist finish carpenters. Now that I seem to have more time to pursue woodworking, I embrace your knowledge and expertise through your videos. I am now a beginner all over again, at least it feels that way. Thank you once again for your willingness to mentor us.

  11. I don’t see it as adversarial like some do. It really comes down to what you want to spend your time doing. Some people take pride in a job being finished. Some take pride in the job they did.

  12. In my shop both hand tools and machines are welcome and used.

    I use my hand tools on every project and the machines when they are appropriate for the work at hand.
    Roughing out stock or creating a turning of some sort will always be done using the machines I have and appreciate. Finish work to put on the final touches and surfaces textures are always done with hand tools.

    I look forward to the introduction of machines into your coursework!

    Thanks Paul.

  13. Another machine you constantly use is a hand drill 🙂 , very nice invention indeed, we all love them. And of course I love manual drills too.

    Machines are good, they are our friends. All depends on scale, if you have to make a living and make a lot of furniture fast, machines will help.

    • Thank you SLA, I use both, the hand tools and the power tools and love every minute of it, and when the end result comes out, the project, I am proud and feel good about what I have accomplished regardless of the technique with which I accomplished it.

  14. That word machine has a fond memory for me. Though my grandma was born in the US, her family were immigrants. She was born just as cars started to become a thing. I guess the word they used to describe them in Italian translated to machine. Much later in her life I was born and then when I was older, I used to drive her around (I grew up next door to her and moved in to keep an eye on her when she was about 80). It I were getting ready, she would say “Ok, I will be waiting in the machine.” Just typing this makes me smile.

    Calling devices that use electrons instead of muscle machines is fine by me. It’s easy for me to remember.

    PS My huge pet peeve is when folks use the word decimate (change by 10%) when they mean to use devastate.

  15. Hi Paul,

    I am a new woodworker and I think I fall somewhere in the middle here of this debate. I am curious your thoughts on the most useful machines for woodworking. The bandsaw seems very versatile as you have shown here, do you think a table saw or mitre saw is as useful, or less so? Cheers

    • I could never advocate for tablesaws or mitre saws for those new to woodworking, Louis. It’s not going to happen. I am an advocate for people to learn and master skilled workmanship. You only need to learn a few safety procedures to use both those you mention. An hour on each and you’ll have what you need there. A few near misses when you least expect them are also good teachers, unfortunately. Your interest in woodworking was probably sparked by seeing hand tools being used, possibly not. Machines are the most invasive way to puncture into a wonderful world of real woodworking, but that is my view. If you plan on becoming a carpenter or cabinet shop pumping out kitchen and bathroom cabinets competitively then you would have to go that route of machining wood. I suspect that that was not your goal starting out. I think that the bandsaw is all you really need. They are quiet and safer than the other two but they too can take fingers and arms off in a heartbeat.

      • Thanks for your reply! I think you are right. Better to learn the right way, and then once experienced, make the educated decision whether or not to incorporate these things into your life. Cheers!

  16. I have a portable table saw and router table (with router) and chop saw. Mr. Sellers would you recommend I sell those and replace with a bandsaw or will I find hem useful and I should wait until I can afford the bandsaw in addition to? I used the router table and router once and didn’t like it at all. The table saw I just use for dimensioning because my skills for paralleling the wood isn’t there yet. Also thanks for all you do it’s really life-changing. My little daughter and I had plane and spoke shave some project or other every weekend. Hand tools brought us family time.

  17. I agree with your views on machines and hand tools. For me your approach is spot on. The mass media onslaught to create and sell machinery never seemed sensible to me so I avoided woodworking as a hobby. I tried reading books, but found it difficult to translate words into skills. Now, through your videos, I have learned to enjoy woodworking using hand tools. I appreciate your sensible approach to woodworking and look forward to learning more about the band saw!

  18. I have made a living as a carpenter, mostly in construction, for the last 25 years. After floating around till my late twenties, not really sure what I wanted to do, I had the opportunity to do an old-fashioned carpentry-training that was put together in the fifties. I never saw an electric drill, or electric jigsaw, or anything else: we learned to nail everything together, but first we were taught how to sharpen our chisels and handsaws. I didnẗ realise at the time how unique this was. I believe this school or training is no longer around – it was expensive (paid for by the unemployment agency) and cutbacks have laid the trainings for skilled crafsmen waste, not just for carpenters, but also for painters, bricklayers, plumbers and much else. These days “craftsmen” are imported from Eastern Europe, they do a mediocre job at best, but hey, they’ŕe cheap and willing to do the jobs the youth scorn and avoid, because it has little prestige, modest pay and you dont get to drive an Audi supplied by the business. .
    Maybe it is because of my training that I have always felt that attitude towards my work was different from collegues – for them it was something that paid the bills, even if they didn’t like their jobs very much, or even disliked it, and were always waiting for the end of the day to get out, waiting for the end of the week to do what they really wanted to do, waiting for the holidays, retirement…spending their whole lives in the waiting room.
    To be sure, there is a lot to dislike in construction. There is hard labour sometimes, dirty and sometimes dangerous work, bad pay, unreliable customers or bosses, poor or insufficient materials, tools and machines…..
    Very quickly I learned to avoid the new builds (which have very little carpentry in them these days anyway) and then I struck out for myself. Unfortunately, I too was by that time believing that in order to do good carpentry, you need power tools (or machines) – lots of them. So I bought them, and with it all that is needed: a vacuum cleaner, and then another one, router bits, drills, sawblades, and then the workshop became too small, and I would have to move, and another machine, air- filtering, make more cabinets for storing all the junk I accumulated, sometimes still being unable to find the right item among the hundreds if not thousands of items, but you have to earn money, right, you have to pay the rent for the workshop, make up for all the money you spend on items that were often laying around unused for 99 % of the time, not to mention the fact that you are trying to survive in a brutal industry, with cheating customers, unreliable employees, moronic suppliers, even courtcases, while trying to keep up with the pace of modern society. I have seen good companies go bellie-up because of criminal project-developers who would “ẅin” simply because they knew how to play the “game” better , and could afford better lawyers (no doubt afterward celebrating with champagne and coke). I have seen suicides. I have learned that in the world of big construction there is no justice unless you buy it. All enabled by a system and a society that is addicted to economic growth, money and prestige. It was sickening.
    What all this has to do with carpentry? Well, nothing anymore, not for me either. I lost all joy in what I was doing, being so caught up in the ratrace. Until I couldn take it anymore.
    These days I employ no-one. If the job is too big for one person I don’t take it. (I have learned that “no” is a valid answer, not blasphemy as most contractors believe). I limit my working weeks to 40 hours, instead of 70. And, most important of all, I have rediscovered the joy of working with handtools. I make nice things instead of expensive-selling things. I make less money, but I need less. I am in the process of selling my machines, and I will probably move to a smaller workshop at some point,, further un-complicating my life. I might keep one of the three bandsaws I own, simply because it is indeed the only machine I will need in order to avoid the donkey-work of ripping (I’ḿ not 18 anymore).
    People like Paul Sellers have made this possible because I might not have thought it possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Thank you for that, Paul. I feel that I am not the only one who is fed up with the Ikea-sation of woodworking and carpentry, or life and society in general. It is good to know and feel that.

  19. It’s horses for courses, although I use machines for the sake of convenience I have to agree that the satisfaction from using hand tools to make something is far greater and having been apprenticed in the 1970’s that is how I learned my trade. For me at least, and there will be those that disagree, it equates to trawling as opposed to fly fishing.

  20. I’m not a machine versus hand tools man. However, I do know that when I discovered Paul’s YouTube videos and his books about two Years, I also discovered that I too would like to develop my woodworking skills; I now make things from wood by hand.

    For years I tried to saw wood straight by hand,but never to my satisfaction. I could only ever use pre-dimensioned timber/wood because I have never had the space for machines. Using a hand plane was beyond me, as was sharpening plane irons and chisels. Since discovering Paul’s videos and books I have made, using only hand tools, several pieces of polished furniture out of oak and beech. Side tables, chest of drawers with half-blind dovetailed draws, CD storage units, shelf units, and various cutting boards.

    At the age of 70 plus I now have the confidence to take on the making of our own furniture, that actually fits our small home, not the grossly over-sized commercial offerings of inferior quality. I now sharpen all my own tools by hand too.

    About 9 months ago I purchased a 10” bandsaw to do the re-sawing of boards because I find the sawing of long timbers too demanding on my old body. But all other work is done by hand in my modest shed; planing, sawing, jointing, etc.

    Paul, I want to say a very big thank-you to you and your team of video producers. Without your videos and books I would never have gained the confidence and basic woodworking skills that I now greatly enjoy. Taking rough sawn boards of oak and creating a piece of polished furniture by hand is very satisfying.

  21. This week there was a program about John Harrison who designed and built the most accurate clock at that time for the navy to use in navigation . What surprised me was he was a woodworker making Grandfather clocks .One fascinating detail was the way he solved the clock lubrication problem .For bearing surfaces he used Lignum Vitae wood which is a naturally oily wood and one clock has been running reliably for Three Hundred years with no added lubrication at all . Something to make any woodworker proud in his world changing achievements . A nice combination of wood used as a machine with a few bits in brass . There is a youtube film covering that .

  22. One of the things you have been biased against is hard point saws that have not allowed normal sharpening. But last week I used a Japanese diamond file to renovate a Jet Saw bought from B&Q years ago . Hard points and very tall teeth with 3 cutting surfaces. The very thin Japaese file is able to reach the tight angles and in fact I just touched up the tiny triangular plateaux that do the most cutting work . This saw was used to make a four seater sofa in oak in 1970 just after I was married . Nice to have it working again .

  23. Do you have any recommendations for a good, decently priced bandsaw. I am not doing woodworking that often but that may change-I am just getting started up. There are just too many options on the market!

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