The bandsaw can be a game changer for a woodworker. Used skillfully, a quality saw will allow you to use wood to its full potential and greatly expand your creativity. I consider my bandsaw to be one of the most important tools in my shop, and it is certainly my favorite woodworking machine.
This series of posts will explain the great value of the bandsaw, but I would like to first dispel a few misconceptions…
How to use a bandsaw: Getting started
For the woodworker who is gradually acquiring the major woodshop machines, the bandsaw is often considered a low priority. Instead, I recommend the bandsaw to be one of the first machines to get into the shop, if not the very first. As you will see, its versatility and importance in expanding your range as a woodworker are unmatched by any other machine.
When buying a bandsaw, go for capacity and quality as much as your budget allows. More detail on this later, but a good bandsaw for a small shop would be a steel frame 14″ or 16″ (wheel diameter) saw with 12″ of cutting height and an adequate motor to make such cuts. Don’t skimp; place the priority on a good quality bandsaw and defer the other machines if necessary.
Finally, please do not suppose that the bandsaw is just a big saw to cut curves and shapes in 3/4″ wood. While it can do that, there is so much more potential in this machine.
So, what can you do with a good bandsaw?
This means sawing a board along its width, like cutting a long roll to open it up for a sub sandwich.
This produces two pieces with “bookmatched” inner faces, as seen above, so called because separating them is like opening a book. These can be used to great effect as, for example, panels in a pair of side-by-side cabinet doors. A similar technique can also be used make a box in which the figure seems to run continuously around the entire perimeter.
Of course, resawing can also be used to simply make thinner pieces out of thicker boards. This frees you from using stock thickness lumber, makes economical use of the wood, and produces pieces with consistent color.
2. Reset the edge of a board
Rather than accepting the edge of the board as it comes from the mill, it is often better to re-cut the edge so as to more elegantly align the figure along its length. An example might be preparing several boards for gluing up into a tabletop where you want the figure to coordinate among the boards.
Simply snap a chalk line in the location you prefer, as below, and saw freehand at the bandsaw. This work, along with any preliminary breakdown cuts in rough lumber is far safer and easier at the bandsaw than concocting special jigs at the table saw.
3. Reset the face of a board
Here you are taking further control of grain and figure to maximize their effects in the piece.
A simple example is demonstrated in the photo below. Table legs usually look best, especially when they are shaped with curves, when the annual ring end grain pattern is oriented approximately 45 degrees to each face, which produces four faces with similar figure. The squares laid out on the end grain of this 12/4 board show how it can be sawed to produce leg blanks with this orientation.
Another example, a little more sophisticated, involves maximizing the ray figure in certain species by sawing to reorient the face of the board to the annual rings. The bandsaw excels at this type of sawing, which can elevate the quality of your work beyond the ordinary.
4. Make veneer
Working with thick veneer can open up new design possibilities. A board is sawed into several thin slices, which then can be used as a matched set in a piece, such as for a set of drawer front faces or curved doors. This is a great way to maximize the use of an exceptional, highly figured board, and add a refined look to your work.
Again, the bandsaw accomplishes this as no other tool can. Below, these 7/64″-thick, 11 ½”-wide slices of ribbon-stripe African mahogany were bandsawed from a single board.
Thinner veneer can also be sawed in your shop with a good bandsaw. The piece of curly koa veneer pictured below is 3/64″ thick.
5. Make bent laminations
The bandsaw is by far the most practical tool to saw the thin laminates that compose a bent lamination, which is another technique that can greatly expand your design possibilities. Similar to thick veneer, the laminates are sawed in succession from a thick board as was done to make the ash laminates shown below, which will be glued together against a form to produce a curved furniture part.
6. Process small logs
The bandsaw can be used as a mini mill to process small logs, such as those that might come from your own backyard. On a small scale, this can be a fun and exciting way to discover some of nature’s treasures.