Why the Bandsaw?

Is a bandsaw something you would consider? It’s handy, but if you buy a bandsaw then why not buy all of the other machines? Aren’t they handy too?

It is a valid enquiry. The reason I would not generally advocate the other machines is because the process of hand work has proven to be so effective and then good for me. Why not for those who seek the enrichment hand work brings too. A lot of the woodworkers following here started out with machines but then discovered the power of hand work and it’s fulfilling rewards. The main struggle many had was with the hard slog of stock reduction in hardwoods and, additionally, the time that took to get to the interesting elements of woodworking that they enjoyed the most. The bandsaw is not the downward spiral to the slippery slope, it’s a practical solution with the smallest footprint and it dimensions stock for us to continue the work with our much loved hand work and hand tools. Surprising to machinists, people I work with want hand work as I do myself. I like chopping my mortises and pitting my wits and body against difficulties. It keeps me tome up to use hand methods. I will do it as long as my body and mind holds out. It is not wearing my body out, it’s keeping it toned. I just entered my 55th year of working daily, six days a week with hand tools. And I feel great!

My decision for fine hand work needed hand skills not machining. In fact machining could never match what my customers wanted which was not mass making methods to reduce costs. My customers wanted qualities they could only get with handwork. It was distinctive in the same way some people want a hand stitched suit with evidence of stitching showing throughout the work. having mastered my own workmanship I felt I could help others to find their  way to progress skill building. 

The bandsaw is the least invasive of all machines, it takes up little space and in my view, though there are inherent dangers as with all machines, with the right safety patterns and procedures, there is no reason everyone shouldn’t have the benefits for stock reduction and preparation prior to the work with hand tools. For the majority a machine workshop with half a dozen dedicated machines would be just impossible. I learned that early on in my work teaching. Then there are the surveys we have done through the years that showed how the majority woodworkers around the world had only a 10′ by 10′ space to work in. Even one machine would crowd out all other possibilities. It’s mostly practicalities that help determine which machine to buy. To some woodworkers the tablesaw is like the microwave is to the kitchen. Just how do you melt butter?

It really should not be a surprise to anyone that I have no problem with machines. It has been pure assumption that I  never use or used machines and I understand that. Often in any given conversation it is not what people say that makes the statement but what they don’t say. I rarely mention tablesaws and planers, power routers and skilsaws and such because I so rarely of ever use them. I love that I don’t rely on them too. So that then for some people at least becomes a  more profound statement than any spoken words I might offer. It is natural to assume that I do not like machines when i actually do like them. What I don’t like is how people never get to know hand tools and the way they work. “They never develop their knowledge and ability because, well, they don’t think that they are efficient. They can’t understand because they only ever used machines and poor quality, poorly sharpened and poorly set hand tools. The wow-factor of a sharp chisel, a plane that shaves onion-skin shavings and so on usually transforms the way they think in a matter of minutes. That’s why we are here.

28 Comments

  1. Mike Bullock on 7 January 2019 at 10:20 pm

    I purchased a band saw about a year ago and it has been a great addition to my workshop. I find it is a perfect fit for my needs. I still use my hand saws all the time. Yet, sometimes I have a project where I just don’t want to spend the time to dimension large amounts of wood with a hand saw. For example, I’m about to start work on some built in bookshelves that will span an entire wall in one room. Sure, I could do it all with a hand saw. Sure, I could use the exercise. In the end, though, the time I have for wood working projects is a zero sum game. I’d rather skip the donkey work with the hundreds of board feet of shelving and use that time for some cabinet making or other tasks. The band saw is great for this sort of stuff. It also doesn’t take up too much room in my shop (which is 25′ x 20′). I really enjoy the relative peace and quiet I get with hand tools. This is a key reason I don’t expect to fill my shop with lots of other machines. I also like being able to work without gearing up with masks, goggles, hearing protection and all that business. I find that I tend to use the band saw in spurts at the beginning of projects and this leaves me free to work quietly without much safety gear the rest of the time. All this said, I will be adding a wood lathe to the shop. This was bequeathed to me by my stepfather who recently passed away. So the lathe is joining the shop for sentimental reasons. I do expect to enjoy making some replacement handles for a few tools and turning the odd drawer pulls and such, but I don’t think I’d have added this machine if it hadn’t come to me the way it did.



  2. Mario Fusaro on 7 January 2019 at 10:21 pm

    You have a good point, Paul. I was from “the machine side” of woodworking and machines aren’t the enemy. Machines can make life easier, as you stated, especially when dementioning lumber. Now I kind of wish I never got rid of my band saw (sad face).



  3. Dan Campbell on 7 January 2019 at 11:33 pm

    I have a bandsaw, tablesaw, jointer, planer… the list goes on. I use my bandsaw and love it. Very quiet in comparison to the other tools in the shop. I use my tablesaw – as a flat reference surface. Love it as well. I haven’t fired it up on probably 4 years. It isn’t close enough to a connection to plug in at this point. But it is flat and true.
    I find that the peace and quiet in the shop is rejuvenating. Now if only my cell phone would fall into a deep dark pit (again) all would be well.



  4. Ken on 8 January 2019 at 12:18 am

    Speaking of saws: today I received the Spear & Jackson panel saw as recommended by Mr. Sellers. I am delighted with it. Made a couple crosscuts in hard, 2×10, southern yellow pine and the saw exceeded all my expectations.



  5. A:Y:M on 8 January 2019 at 12:22 am

    I have a 12’x20′ shop. I have a decent table saw, a good band saw, routers and a good thickness planer. I can afford all the power tools to compliment a wood shop. I only use the power tools for dimensioning stock, a task I really don’t like. In fact it’s the only aspect of woodworking I dislike.

    From time to time, I do this thing where I decide to use my router for tenons, or hog out some waste, or the table saw to cut shoulders. Without fail, I will make a mistake. Cut out of square, knick an edge with the router…things like that. Then I question the use of the machine. As in it being a necessity. Not doing it for a living, I don’t think they are.

    Currently my router and small chop saw are undergoing a Craigslist catharsis.

    I’m leaning towards getting rid of the table saw and replacing it with a track saw for sheet goods..With money leftover for a Lie Nielsen shopping spree.

    Anybody else do anything similar?



    • Paul Sellers on 8 January 2019 at 8:11 am

      I cut tenons in about 4 minutes, surface both faces with a hand router as per my video on youtube. They always come out perfect. It’s not me, it’s just a question of taking time out to practice. Once you establish skill, it becomes as automatic as signing your name. I wish the influence of machinists had never invaded the zones of small scale woodworkers with their mass-making, speed-easy ways of work. It has been highly destructive for what was a peaceful way of working at home. I liken it to someone going for a nature walk bombing through trees and fields on their four-wheeler hoping to see a barn owl nesting. Once I was enjoying a swim in the Guadalupe river in Texas when a hydro boat with a giant fan on the back and three rednecks driving came round the bend at 90 almost over the top of me. Same again.
      Glad you found sanity in Craigslist at least.



      • Gordon on 8 January 2019 at 2:52 pm

        A:Y:M’s hit the nail on the head for me: machines for dimensioning stock.

        Fortunately I do have the space for a decent table saw, bandsaw, and planer/thicknesser – but over the years they’ve very much become the tools for the unpleasant job of machining timber down to create the stock for the enjoyable bit – making something by hand.

        Never thought it would end up that way (I used to spend hours attacking MDF with powered routers), but it’s gotten to the point where I try my best to avoid needing to use powered machinery; the noise, potential injury risk, and dust (and need for protection) has become a turn off, and not what I want to do for a hobby.



        • Paul Sellers on 8 January 2019 at 4:08 pm

          Well, I know I am nearing success when in the first part of your comment you refer to the machines as machines and in the second para tools but then the last powered machinery. Two thirds referred to as machines and one part tools. Now that’s success!



          • Gordon on 4 February 2019 at 10:55 am

            🙂



    • Ed on 8 January 2019 at 5:50 pm

      A:Y:M I’ve not owned a table saw, but have a track saw made by EZSMART. They provide the track, saw base, and clamps while I provide the skilsaw. I find it highly effective for sheet goods, partly because the large sheet stays still while I move the saw (rather than monkeying a 4×8 sheet across a table saw, which I have done and is no fun, even with an outfeed table). Also, the zero clearance system works, so I get clean cuts. The whole thing goes up on the shelf when not in use. A key thing, in my opinion, is to make a cutting table. Mine is some 2×2 and 2×4 in an open frame arrangement about 3’x8′ in size plus some cheap folding metal legs. You can use it like that or with a sheet of 1/4″ ply over it depending upon what you are doing. The key thing is that it be flat (to protect from causing saw binding). It is a sacrificial surface. EZSMART makes a big deal about safety, but I don’t believe it, so think carefully. You can still have kickbacks and at least some of their products, in my opinion, defeat the blade guard. I’m not affiliated with them. Oh, I also use that fold up cutting table for assembly, finishing, and other tasks. It can fold up and lean against a wall.



      • A:Y:M on 8 January 2019 at 7:50 pm

        This appeals to me. It’s a huge space saver too.



  6. Donald Kreher on 8 January 2019 at 1:22 am

    I think the 3 reasonable machines to have are a bandsaw large enough for re-sawing, a multi-speed drill press and a small lathe. I could live without the others.



  7. Joe on 8 January 2019 at 6:45 am

    Thanks Paul. At some point I will own a band saw for the reasons you mention above. I can get 3/4″ thick stock to other thicknesses by hand but it’s a lot of work I really don’t enjoy. For now, I usually pay someone else to do it. At some point, I will get a dist collector and bandsaw so I can do it. I’m in no rush though.



    • A:Y:M on 8 January 2019 at 11:39 am

      Paul- I guess I should have been more clear. 99% of the time I use hand tools for all joinery. Only power for dimensioning. Tenons not quite as fast as yours, but fast none the less. I’m fact I use mostly your method of doing things.

      The 1% of the time I think I can do better with a machine, Murphy finds me.

      The only problem at times, is when I seem to be in a creative doldrum. This usually brings on the Craigslist catharsis.



  8. Loxmyth on 8 January 2019 at 1:27 pm

    In retrospect, I do wish I’d bought the bandsaw before the table saw. I didn’t realize that some of what I wanted the table saw for could be done with the band saw, possibly mixed with handwork to finish the operation, and some of the remainder could be done with a guided circular saw / tracksaw.

    Paul, I suspect that as you start using more plywood, motorized tools may start being more tempting. Think about having to do what amount to many more 4 to 8-foot rip cuts on awkwardly large stock just to get to starting size. And ply doesn’t chisel or plane or rip the way natural stock does; there’s effectively no deep grain, so some of your most efficient tricks just won’t behave the same.

    Consider that a friendly challenge — go out there and prove me wrong!



  9. Ken on 8 January 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I went to Home Depot this morning to buy pine 2x10s and 2x4s. I was able to find fairly good wide boards but none of the narrow boards were fit for my purpose.
    I am now very interested in a band saw to rip wider boards down. I wait with anticipation tests of the small saw that Mr. Sellers has purchased.



    • Ed Minch on 14 January 2019 at 11:36 am

      To get good wood out of construction grade material, look for the widest and longest pieces. 16 foot 2X12’s have a lot of usable wood in them



  10. Ben Bunting on 8 January 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I too was raised in my Father and Grandfather’s woodworking shop. The only machines in the shop when I left after High School was a table saw, drill press and a lathe. I knew of other machines through school shop class. I was trained as a mechanic in the military and had a great appreciation for shop machines, but in my personal life, I was forced to do most of my woodworking by hand with exception of a circular saw and an electric drill. When my Uncle passed away, a wood crafter of great skill himself professionally, left his carpenter’s tools and chest to my Father who passed the box and contents immediately to me for he already had more than enough machines and hand tools. The box was on wheels and its contents were more a memorial to my Uncle so the box and contents after I had scantly rummaged through it, became more a an assembly table. I thought I was pretty well equipped until a few years back when I came across Paul Sellers who motivated me to reopen the chest and I discovered nothing but treasures and have put everything back into good use and condition and I now use them daily. I also have great moments of a sense of the presence of my ancestors who made a simple quiet living with nothing but their heads and few basic tools. Thank you Paul for my rediscovery of my roots.



  11. Ed on 8 January 2019 at 6:01 pm

    I am increasingly grateful for, if not dependent on, my bandsaw. The ability to resaw has changed what I can do, mostly by speeding up the wood preparation stage. One nice thing about a bandsaw that has not been mentioned is that, if you buy a saw and a blade or two, you’re ready to do a lot of work as long as it came with a decent fence. Oh, you need to handle dust, too. Many other machines require a lot of accessories. The only accessories I feel an itch for are an outfeed table of some sort for longer work and a featherboard for resawing. I do without them now but suspect they could help improve the cuts a little and perhaps improve safety.



  12. Chuck on 9 January 2019 at 1:05 am

    You have to be high
    I have been working with wood my entire life (10 years old start)
    Of course when I was ten it was hand tools ,which was a good lesson
    But when I got power tools and did high end veneer work you need a re saw band saw
    Since I purchased two I very hardly ever use my table saw
    Don’t knock power tools
    If your good at what you do
    It will always show if you are a craftsman
    Over and out
    Chuck



    • Paul Sellers on 9 January 2019 at 9:24 am

      That’s funny that you substituted hand tools for machines, as though they were childish things for children, and then say don’t knock (so-called) power tools as though that was the more skilful and advanced method. Machines were a substitute for skilled craftsmanship not at all exemplary of it. Anyone can use machines. Dial in the distances, cut to width and length, slide through a drum sander and such. Job done. We know all of that. And no one is knocking machines, just not everyone can justify having them that’s all. Then on the other hand amateurs like myself simply love the whole process, the ambiance, the development of skill and so on. Sometimes, more often than I care to see, the so-called professionals have much less skill than they actually care to acknowledge. What’s more, it’s getting much worse by the day. On the other hand amateurs are often seen knocking the socks of those in the ‘professional’ realms. Now of course it’s not all of them. There are many professional woodworkers of amateur status–that is they do it because they love it.



  13. james on 9 January 2019 at 8:52 pm

    I used to do everything by hand but have now added a smallish bandsaw and have found it really useful for repetitive rip cuts and resawing (although the width of timber I can resaw is very limited). I was worried that I might sacrifice development of hand skills by relying on the bandsaw but it hasn’t really felt that way, and I still do a lot by hand.

    Like many I only have a small shed to work in but have been toying with the idea of a small table-top planer/thicknesser that I can take outside the shed to use – part of me wants to resist any more machines in my already limited and peaceful space, but with job/children I get precious little time to do woodworking and sometimes it feels like stock preparation eats up too much of it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy smoothing/thicknessing with hand planes, I do, but it does seem to leave not much time to hone other skills, which I guess I could get to more quickly if I relied on more machine power. I’m still not sure though – anyone else in a similar position or have advice? I do want to continue to develop my hand skill as much as possible.



    • Paul Sellers on 9 January 2019 at 9:07 pm

      I know I have the answer but you have to do what feels right and only you have the answer. Noise, mess, neighbours, family (esp kids) all have to be considered.



      • james on 10 January 2019 at 1:35 pm

        Thank you Paul. If I’m perfectly honest my skill in getting a board etc. dead square and true is not fully developed, as I have caused myself some problems later down the line on a few occasions. It could be that a machine may become too much of a crutch and mean I never get that finesse, which is something I don’t want to sacrifice. So I guess I have my answer too.



  14. Jeff on 14 January 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Your statement that, “I rarely mention tablesaws and planers, power routers and skilsaws and such because I so rarely of ever use them.” Makes me wonder about the latest so called woodworking tool, the CNC router. There must be no real hands on skill as sitting in front of a computer and pushing buttons to create something.



    • Paul Sellers on 15 January 2019 at 9:36 am

      Using CNC router is like using machines but extended to lessen the already low level of woodworking to become a substitute for skilled workmanship. Some woodworkers are fascinated by both woodworking, machines and then the CNC building too, so their interests are different than say the machinist or the hand tool woodworker. Using the CNC as a system is not woodworking in the same way using machines is very different than hand work. `they are not the same thing at all because the machine substitutes for skill and that was the reason for its invention. Speed efficiency and so on. For joinery and such the CNC guided equipment will eventually replace most machine tasks as will AI. It will not be too long before joiners and carpenters will be replaced by robots if indeed it is not already in place as in big businesses like IKEA. Here is just one vid to help see what’s moving and shaking in that direction. Skill-less working in the actual physical production of many things is the ‘progressive’ move because you do not have issues with unpredictable human personalities to contend with. What once was only available to large corporations is now coming down the line to small workshops. Who knows where it will end up.



  15. John McDermott on 14 January 2019 at 11:42 pm

    If one can take a rough board, plane a reference face and edge on it and then bandsaw that down to _almost_ final thickness, using the reference face against the fence, then the bandsaw would be the best power tool for my hand wood working. I just don’t understand if that specific operation can be done on a bandsaw.



    • Paul Sellers on 15 January 2019 at 6:55 am

      Absolutely it can!