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Winter 2013-2014

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Tool Test Bandsaws

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Same song, second verse. In our last issue,  we tested 19 bandsaws that each cost less than $1,000 (AW #110, October 2004). This time, we're looking at the heavyweights in this class: saws that cost from $1,000 to $1,500. What you get is more power, larger capacity, a super-stiff frame and huge wheels that can easily take wide blades. The difference between this group and the last is comparable to the difference between a contractor's and a cabinet saw. Both will get the job done, but under tough circumstances, the bigger machine gives better results and is a lot more satisfying to operate. It can be a precision tool one day, a small lumber mill the next.

Features 

Power
You simply can't have too much power in a bandsaw. For cutting wood under 2 in. thick, a 1-hp motor is plenty. But one of the really useful things you can do with a bandsaw is to stand a board on edge and split it into two matched halves for panels or tops. You can also save money by sawing thick wood into thinner pieces for drawer sides and jewelry boxes, for example. Either operation is called resawing, and doing it well requires lots of power. A smooth, consistent feed rate is the key to resawing success. If you slow the blade, it wanders. If you stop it (which is very easy to do on an underpowered machine), you get a nasty bump. On a 1-hp saw, you must proceed very slowly when resawing and pay a lot of attention to how the motor is performing. Resawing is easier on a 1-1/2-hp saw, for boards up to 6-in. wide. Beyond that, you want 2, 2-1/2 or even 3 hp —the more, the better. The kerf of a wide blade can be up to 50 percent thicker than the kerf of a narrow blade. Removing that extra wood requires plenty of muscle.



PHOTO 1:

Rock the upper wheel of a large bandsaw. It should barely budge. That's the first of three easy tests that say a lot about a bandsaw's construction. Play in the upper wheel is caused by the sliding mechanism that tensions and tilts the wheel, not by a poor bearing.

 

PHOTO 2:
Push the guide post. It, too, should barely move. After all, the post holds the guides that steady the blade. Excessive play here is usually caused by the rack-and-pinion mechanism that raises and lowers the guides and by flex in the upper wheel housing.

Rigidity
A bandsaw is a hands-on machine, like a lathe. You can feel right through your fingertips how the machine is performing. If it shakes and vibrates, you naturally tense up and have a hard time holding to a fine line. If your bandsaw runs smoothly, it's heaven. In this price range, we expect a saw to be very solidly built. We can overlook some vibration in an inexpensive saw, but who can accept a rough ride in a Mercedes? We carried out three simple tests that tell a lot about how well a saw is built and performs. We wiggled the upper wheel (Photo 1), pushed on the guide post (Photo 2) and balanced a nickel on the table (Photo 3). We aren't reporting our findings in this nickel test, though. A lot depends on how well an individual saw's wheels are balanced. You can't judge a whole line of saws on the performance of one set of wheels. If you buy a saw in this price range and inadequately balanced wheels cause it to fail the nickel test, you've got reason to complain to the manufacturer.



PHOTO 3:

3Balance a nickel on the bandsaw's table while it's running. On a solidly built saw with well-balanced wheels, the nickel stays up. This is a classic seat-of-the-pants test for vibration in any machine. Caution: Don't let that coin come within 6 in. of the blade!

 

PHOTO 4:
An observation window in the upper frame makes setting up a new blade much easier. You can center the blade by adjusting the upper wheel's tilt while the saw runs.

Wheel Diameter
Big wheels have a lot of advantages that add up to a better machine for resawing (see “Big Wheels,”).

Capacity
You may hardly ever need it, but it's disappointing in this range of saws to get less than 12 in. of resaw capacity. (Some saws can only cut 10 in.) After all, you get 12 in. of capacity with a 14-in. saw and a riser block. If you can fit a 12-in. wide board through your planer, you should be able to resaw it on a premium bandsaw.

Guides
We prefer block guides for ease of setup with small blades (see “Types of Bandsaw Guides,” AW #110). Disc and ball-bearing guides are the norm in this class of larger saws, however, because they offer more front-to-back support for wide blades. (Disc guides are also called European roller guides.) Unlike block guides, they require very little maintenance. Both disc and ball-bearing guides perform well. Neither one is clearly superior to the other; they're just different. Some bearing guides aren't very deep, though. We prefer guides that offer at least 5/8 in. of support, front to back, to get the straightest cut with a wide blade (see Chart).You can certainly use small blades with disc and ball-bearing guides, but you must become adept at setting up the guides. Incorrectly set guides can quickly ruin a blade's teeth. Look for a saw whose upper and lower guides we rate as easy to set up (see Chart). We prefer bandsaws that allow you to set the side guides and thrust bearing independent of each other. On other saws, whenever you move the side guides forward or backward, the thrust bearing moves, too.



PHOTO 5:

Extra tension from a powerful spring below the upper wheel lets you pull some blades tighter, improving their performance. Large-diameter saws generally can develop more tension than small saws, but the range is wide.

 

PHOTO 6:
A sealed chamber and a 4-in. port under the table improves dust collection. On this machine, the blade passes through a piece of wood with a zero-clearance slot. The lower door seals the front of the chamber. This chamber concentrates the flow of air directly past the blade.

Other Features
• Blade observation window. This is a handy innovation (Photo 4). When you change blades, you often must “track” or adjust the tilt of the upper wheel to center the blade. On most bandsaws, you must slowly spin the upper wheel by hand while tracking. With a window, you can turn on the saw and track the blade much faster and more accurately while it's under power.
• Powerful spring. If you think every bandsaw has a similar spring, think again. The spring regulates tension on the blade and acts as a shock absorber if you hit a rough patch. The springs on every bandsaw we tested delivered adequate tension, but some are capable of pulling a blade much tauter than others (Photo 5). Some brands of 1-in. and wider bandsaw blades are designed to take plenty of tension (as much as 30,000 psi), but the springs on some saws only develop about 8,000 psi. Occasionally, increasing the tension on a blade can improve its performance, especially when resawing. Bandsaws with our two highest spring-tension ratings are capable of pulling a blade as tight as it should go. These saws give you one more option for improving the quality of your cut. Check with the manufacturers of your blade and saw before exceeding your saw's maximum tension settings.
-Quick-release lever and tension wheel. Few of the bandsaws in this price range have a really useful feature recently introduced on less-expensive saws: the quick-release tension lever. When you're done using your saw for the day, you simply swing this lever to relax the tension on the blade. This is good for extending blade and tire life, but it's certainly not an essential feature. When it's time to change blades and retighten the tension spring, we really like a machine with a conveniently located wheel under the upper frame (see “Tension wheel,”). This is much easier on your back and wrist than a knob located atop the saw.
-Direct dust-collection chamber. Truly effective dust collection has a long way to go on most bandsaws. Large 4-in. dust ports are a big help, but the single best improvement to date has been a sealed chamber under the table (Photo 6). The concentrated flow of air strips a lot of sawdust directly from the blade.
-Foot brake. You might remember this basic power-tool safety rule from shop class: The operator should stay at the machine until the blade stops. Large bandsaws have such momentum that their wheels can spin quite a while after you push the Off switch. A foot brake stops a bandsaw almost instantly, so you can quickly go about your other business (Photo 7).



PHOTO 7:

A foot brake lets you stop the blade in seconds. Some large saws' wheels are so massive that they spin quite a while after the power is off. By using a brake, you can quickly make sure the blade stops before you walk away from the machine.

 

 

 

-Guide-post crank. If you've ever smashed your fingers under a falling guide post, you'll appreciate this feature. A crank or wheel makes it easier to set the height of a heavy guide post, but it's not a make-or-break feature.
-Table height. Table heights vary widely. Most of us are used to the 44-in.-high tables of 14-in. bandsaws, which are perfect for detail work. However, a low (34 in.) table is much better on your back for lifting and pushing big timbers. Many large bandsaws have low tables to meet European ergonomic standards. It feels odd to stand in front of a low table, though, and when you hunch over to see detail work, it's hard on your back in a different way. Some blade guards also obscure the blade when they're set low on a short table. You can raise a low bandsaw on a wide and stout shop-made riser base to a good compromise height.

Big Wheels, Big Benefits

Size
Most bandsaws have 14-in.-dia. wheels, but machines with 15- to 18-in.-dia. wheels have five advantages.
-Deeper throat. Every additional inch in diameter adds an inch in throat capacity left of the blade.
-Larger blades. Big wheels can easily handle thick-bodied 3/4- to 1-in. blades for resawing. The bigger the wheel, the better. Most wide blades break prematurely on 14-in. wheels because they're bent over too tight a radius.
-More rigidity and momentum. Large, heavy, stiff wheels deliver better performance than small lightweight wheels. Extra mass helps carry you through the rough spots at a steady pace, and that's critical for a smooth cut.
-Longer blade life. Big bandsaws take very long blades. They last longer than shorter blades simply because they have more teeth. In addition, blades flex less around a large wheel. That puts less strain on the weld, where most blades break.
-Better traction. A blade is less likely to slip when it contacts more tire. Powerful saws running thick-kerf blades need more traction because they get pushed harder.

Crown

If you look at the edge of a typical bandsaw wheel, you'll notice that it has a curved surface, or crown. Most 14-in. bandsaws have a pronounced crown, but the amount of crown on some 15- to 18-in.-dia. saws is almost negligible. Why is that? A high crown helps you track a blade in the center of the wheel. That's because the natural tendency of a spinning blade is to rise to the highest spot on the wheel, the top of the crown. Tilting the wheel changes the position of the highest spot. When you put a wide blade on a high crown, however, some of the blade doesn't touch the tire. The blade doesn't bend enough to fully conform to the crown. A low crown is better for wide blades and resawing. Most of the blade touches the tire, so it has more traction. In effect, more horsepower is delivered to the blade. The downside to a low crown is that tracking the blade is a more sensitive adjustment. For an all-purpose premium saw, we prefer a compromise: a wheel with a medium crown.



A high crown is well-suited for a narrow blade. The blade is easy to track, because it naturally moves to the wheel's highest spot.

 

 A low crown is best-suited for a wide blade. More of the blade lies flat on the tire. You get more traction and better power delivery.

 

Craftsman 22450
- Price: $1,300
- Power: 120 volts, 1 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 10-3/4 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
Most bandsaws can cut wood, nonferrous metals (aluminum and brass) and plastic, but this saw can also cut iron and steel. It has a second set of pulleys on the back side that increase torque and slow the blade to three very low speeds (80, 150 and 200 ft. per minute). In case you push too hard, a circuit breaker with a reset button is right on the front of the saw. This saw uses block guides. They're our favorite style of guide for ease of setup, but we'd replace the steel with phenolic blocks for cutting wood. The lower guides are quite close to the table's surface, which minimizes the length of unsupported blade. The blade comes out the saw's front, which decreases the chance of kinking a blade when you change it. We really like saws with this feature.

Cons
Craftsman rates this saw at 2 hp maximum developed. That's a different standard than most other manufacturers use. By the more commonly used continuous-duty standard, this saw has a 1-hp motor. That's pretty good for a 120-volt machine, but not as powerful as most other saws at this price. We'd prefer more brawn for resawing thick wood. The saw has no tension scale because it doesn't have a spring. (The frame itself provides tension and acts as a shock absorber.) You need four different tools to change blade sizes, which is a hassle.

 

Delta 28-682
- Price: $1,250
- Power: 240 volts, 2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 12 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
With 18-in. wheels and 12 in. of room between the guides and table, this saw has huge throat and resawing capacities. The table is located at a good working height and is exceptionally sturdy, because it has a third support point. This is the only saw with adjustable stops for tilting the table to 20, 30, 35 and 45 degrees. A sliding bar on the left-hand side of the table supports wide work. This is one of the few large saws that has a quick-release tension lever, but it's not our favorite design. The guides offer plenty of front-to-back support for a wide blade. This saw has a second, slower speed (2,300 fpm) for cutting plastics and nonferrous metals. With its 2-hp motor, you won't need the slower speed for wood.

Cons
The tension lever is on top of the machine, about 7 ft. off the floor. One of the lower guide adjustment screws is really hard to access, requiring you to tilt the table 45 degrees. The lower thrust bearing doesn't always lock in a rigid, upright position. The saw's spring develops adequate tension, but little more. The rigidity of the upper wheel and guide post is about average, as is the wheels' weight.

 

MiniMax S16
- Price: $1,500 ($1,650 as shown)
- Power: 240 volts, 2-1/2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 12-1/4 in.
- Wheel diameter: 16 in.

Pros
You'd never guess that so much power, rigidity and reliability could come in such a compact package. The excellent results you get when resawing on this machine come from just about everything working right. It's a tried-and-true design, made in Italy for MiniMax by Meber. The upper guides are easy to dial in place and don't require any tools. This is one of the few saws whose fence can actually be adjusted for blade drift. The blade comes out the front of the table, which makes changing blades a snap. An optional foot brake costs $75 and an optional guide-post rack-and-pinion wheel is $75. Optional phenolic (Cool Block) guides for 1/16-in. to 1/4-in. blades are $75.

Cons
Like most other big saws, this machine with stock guides is best suited for 3/8-in. and larger blades. Its flat wheels offer better traction for large blades but make it harder to track small blades. Its disc guides give lots of support for large blades but are awkward to set with small blades. You must reset the fence parallel to the miter slot each time you change blades. You need a 15/16-in. box wrench for tilting the table, which wiggles around when you loosen it, making it difficult to set the table to a precise tilt. The table is only 34-1/4 in. off the floor. That's fine for big timbers but too low for detail work. The blade guard hangs below the lower guides and obscures your line of sight for work under 2 in. thick.

Jet JWBS-18
- Price: $1,200
- Power: 240 volts, 2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 9-3/4 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
This saw has many advantages over 120-volt, 14-in. machines. Huge 18-in. wheels underneath the sleek white cabinet create an 18-in. throat capacity left of the blade. (Of course, that's 4 in. more throat capacity than a 14-in. saw offers.) Wheels this size can easily take 1- to 1-1/4-in. blades for resawing. The stacked-bearing blade guides provide plenty of front-to-back support for these wide blades.

Cons
With all that oomph, its resaw capacity is limited to just under 10-in. (For a similar saw with a 12-in. resaw capacity, see “Two Others Worth Considering,” page 76.) Tipping the scale at 460 lbs., this saw definitely won't fit on the average mobile base. The bandsaw's wheels have a low crown. That's ideal for wide blades but makes it tricky to track narrow blades. This saw has disc guides, too. Again, they're fine for wide blades but hard to set up with narrow blades. If you often switch between large and small blades and don't have a lot of patience for setting guides, this behemoth is not for you.

Grizzly G0506
- Price: $1,200
- Power: 240 volts, 2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 9-3/4 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
This is one solid, monster saw. The blade on every other saw in our test travels at a stately pace of around 3,000 ft. per minute (fpm), but this saw's blade zips by at about 4,500 fpm, driven by a 2-hp motor. This results in a lightning-fast cut, even in thick wood. The saw has an exceptionally sturdy upper wheel and guide post, develops more tension than you'll ever really need and has extremely heavy wheels. Basically, it's built to gobble up as much big stock as you can feed it.

Cons
With all that oomph, its resaw capacity is limited to just under 10-in. (For a similar saw with a 12-in. resaw capacity, see “Two Others Worth Considering,”) Tipping the scale at 460 lbs., this saw definitely won't fit on the average mobile base. The bandsaw's wheels have a low crown. That's ideal for wide blades but makes it tricky to track narrow blades. This saw has disc guides, too. Again, they're fine for wide blades but hard to set up with narrow blades. If you often switch between large and small blades and don't have a lot of patience for setting guides, this behemoth is not for you.

 

General International 90-240 M1
- Price: $1,300
- Power: 120 volts, 1 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 10-3/4 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
Both these compact powerhouses are built on the same well-engineered foundation: tight tolerances, super strength and real reliability. Neither machine is a giant, but both run so solidly that you feel you could cut veneer off any wide board. Both saws have recently been upgraded to Baldor brand motors, which have a well-deserved reputation for long, trouble-free lives. The heavy upper wheel is housed in an extremely robust slide mechanism. The 14SE is basically the same as a Laguna 14 ($950), but it has a full 12-in. resaw capacity and a larger motor to cut bigger boards. As shown, it's mounted on an accessory riser stand ($95) that raises the table to a comfortable 44 in. for detail work. The Laguna 16 has more massive wheels, a motor with as much horsepower as you could ever want on a saw this size and a much lower table. Both saws are a breeze to move around and store in a small shop when you add a mobility package ($135). This contains a set of two wheels on one axle that go on the saw itself and a separate jack handle with another set of wheels.


Cons
Be careful which resawing blade you chooose for a 14-in. saw. One-inch or wider blades may break prematurely because they're too thick. For resawing, we recommend a 5/8- or 3/4-in. blade that's 0.025 in. thick. No two ways about it, the ceramic guides on all Laguna saws brings out strong opinions. No one disputes that they offer more support to a blade than any other saw in this class and they're virtually maintenance-free. The question is whether it's worth it. Just mention “ease of adjustment” and “sparks,” and watch some verbal sparks fly. Adjusting these guides is not for the faint of heart. It takes concentration, a number of tools and an orderly mind. A good mechanic would have no trouble but, the counter-argument goes, why should it be so complex? As for the small sparks, they're common to all ceramic-style thrust bearings. They won't make your shop explode, but some people find them disconcerting when concentrating on a cut. On the other hand, when you're not pressing hard on the blade, the guides rarely spark. Even when they do, the sparks are not nearly as numerous as those you'd get sharpening a chisel on a grinder. Just the fact that these saws have only two “cons” tells you a lot about their good qualities. When you come to terms with the guides, these are terrific machines.

 

 

Laguna Group
                                                 Laguna 14SE                       Laguna 16
- Price:                                   $1,200 ($1,295 as shown)    $1,400
- Power:                                 240 volts, 2 hp                      240 volts, 3 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity:  12 in.                                    12 in.
- Wheel diameter:                  14 in.                                    16 in.

Pros
Most bandsaws can cut wood, nonferrous metals (aluminum and brass) and plastic, but this saw can also cut iron and steel. It has a second set of pulleys on the back side that increase torque and slow the blade to three very low speeds (80, 150 and 200 ft. per minute). In case you push too hard, a circuit breaker with a reset button is right on the front of the saw. This saw uses block guides. They're our favorite style of guide for ease of setup, but we'd replace the steel with phenolic blocks for cutting wood. The lower guides are quite close to the table's surface, which minimizes the length of unsupported blade. The blade comes out the saw's front, which decreases the chance of kinking a blade when you change it. We really like saws with this feature.

Cons
Craftsman rates this saw at 2 hp maximum developed. That's a different standard than most other manufacturers use. By the more commonly used continuous-duty standard, this saw has a 1-hp motor. That's pretty good for a 120-volt machine, but not as powerful as most other saws at this price. We'd prefer more brawn for resawing thick wood. The saw has no tension scale because it doesn't have a spring. (The frame itself provides tension and acts as a shock absorber.) You need four different tools to change blade sizes, which is a hassle.

 

Rikon 10-340
- Price: $1,000
- Power: 240 volts, 2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 12 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
This is a huge machine for the price. It has as much resaw capacity, power and wheel size as other machines in this test costing hundreds more. You also get a very large table with miter slots on either side of the blade, micro-adjust screws for squaring the table to the blade's front, a quick-release tension lever, a blade observation window and a good dust-collection chamber. Plenty of tension is available to pull harder on a blade to improve its performance. This saw has a second, slower speed (1,500 fpm) for maximizing torque and cutting plastics and nonferrous metals.


Cons
The guide bearings tend to creep minutely out of position when you give them a final tightening. The upper wheel and guide post aren't as rigid as we'd like. 



Correction 

Last issue, in our test of bandsaws for less than  $1,000, we mistakenly ran the photo of the 18-in. Rikon bandsaw (above) in describing the 14-in. model (10-320, $500). Here's what the 14-in. Rikon bandsaw really looks like.

 

Woodtek 118-199
- Price: $1,000
- Power: 240 volts, 2 hp
- Maximum resaw capacity: 10 in.
- Wheel diameter: 18 in.

Pros
It's a massive saw. You get big wheels, a big motor, almost-big resaw capacity and a table strong enough to support a massive framing timber. This is the only saw in this class with a foot brake that also automatically shuts off the motor. The fence is rock-solid and easy to adjust side to side. The spring under the upper wheel is mighty powerful, providing more tension than any blade will ever need.

Cons
With all its good, large qualities, this saw is full of small annoyances. Dust collection doesn't work very well. The lower blade guides are a full 6 in. below the table's top, leaving a lot of extra blade unsupported. The table swims around when you loosen it, making it hard to set an exact tilt, and we're still looking for the right weird-shaped 23-mm wrench to tighten down the table when you heel it to 45 degrees. The tension gauge is a complete mystery, with readings that change with blades of slightly different length. The blade guides are mounted on a round shaft without an indexing slot, so they're free to rotate out of position when you adjust them. The guide post doesn't have a spring to counterbalance its weight. The wheel that raises and lowers the guide post would be easier to use if it had a crank handle.

Two Others Worth Considering
There are plenty of good saws to choose from beyond those under our somewhat arbitrary price cap of $1,500. Generally, you get larger wheels (20 in. is common), more power (3 to 5 hp) and much faster blade speed. Two saws just beyond our price range are worth noting.


The General International 90-270 M1 ($1,600) is a real powerhouse. It's very similar to another saw we like in this test for its strength, rigidity and high blade speed (4,000 to 5,000 fpm): the Grizzly G0506 ($1,200). The General International version has a full 12 in. of resaw capacity  and a 3-hp motor, compared with the Grizzly's 10 in. capacity and 2-hp motor. The 90-270 M1 is available from General International, (514) 326-1161, www.general.ca.

The Bridgewood PBS-440 ($2,100) is an awesome production saw. It has 18-in. wheels, a 3-hp American-made motor, foot brake and an extra-rigid frame. It's actually the starter saw in Wilke Machinery's Professional bandsaw series. You can reach Wilke at (717) 764-5000, www.wilkemach.com.

RecommendationsThis test looks at bandsaws priced between $1,000 and $1,500; we reviewed bandsaws priced under $1,000 in our October issue. We'll be the first to admit that $1,000 is a somewhat arbitrary line to draw. The features of saws over this line aren't dramatically different than those below it. Obviously, if your budget extends to $1,000, you should look at bandsaws in both tests on either side of the line. We typically give selected machines in a tool test “Best Buy” and “Editors' Choice” awards. This test is different. Premium bandsaw owners have so many different needs that we're making use-based recommendations. In the last issue's test, we divided the field into four price ranges and picked our favorite saws, in both 120 and 240 volts. In this test, we'll pick saws for four different kinds of woodworkers: our favorite 120-volt saw (the rest require 240 volts), the least-expensive saw with the largest capacity, the out-and-out beefiest saw for heavy work and, finally, the best all-around big saw.
- Our favorite 120-volt saw: General International
90-240 M1 ($1,100). You get lots of power and capacity, a reasonable amount of rigidity and a bunch of good features. The million-dollar question, though, is whether it's a better pick than our 120-volt favorites in the last test, the Delta 28-475X ($900 plus $100 for a riser block) and the Powermatic PWBS-14CS ($900 plus $70 for a riser block). We prefer the Delta because it uses block-style guides, the easiest type to set on very small blades. (Both this General International and the Powermatic use bearings, which are a bit trickier to set up with 1/4-in. blades and impossible with smaller ones.) If your interest is to fully explore all the things a good bandsaw can do, from using tiny to large blades, we still prefer the Delta over the General International. If, however, you see yourself doing lots of resawing and little work with small blades, we recommend the General International 90-240 M1.
- The least expensive saw (in this price range) with the largest capacity: Rikon 10-340 ($1,000). If you want a good value in a saw that can handle almost any size board, this is an excellent candidate. However, in our last test, we selected two less-expensive saws that deliver as much power and have the same resaw capacity: the Grizzly G0513 ($750) and the Bridgewood BW-17WBS ($900). Among these three saws, the Bridgewood is our favorite. None of these three saws use block-style guides, however. So be aware of the trade-off for a huge capacity and ability to run 1-in. or larger blades: Small blades are fussy to set up.
- The beefiest saw for heavy work: Grizzly G0506 ($1,200). With little exaggeration, we'd say you could rip railroad ties on this thing all day long. This saw would ideally supplement a smaller, more versatile bandsaw in an extremely well-equipped shop.
- The best all-around big saw: Laguna 16 ($1,400) and MiniMax S16 ($1,500). Here, we're looking for a muscular, compact tool, a bandsaw that's good for heavy resawing, as well as fine detail work. With a saw like one of these, you can learn new techniques, such as sawing veneer or cutting dovetails. Based on their strengths, either of these saws is a fine choice. They're extremely well-built, run very smoothly and should give many years of trouble-free service. It all comes down to one choice, though, and these saws' minor weaknesses might tip the balance for you. The Laguna's guides are a chore to set up. However, if you want to run narrow blades, Laguna sells an auxiliary set of phenolic guides ($80) that eliminate the risk of ruining your blade with an improper setup. The MiniMax, on the other hand, uses disc guides that are very easy to adjust, but it has relatively flat wheels. Thus, the MiniMax is ideal for wide blades, but a bit awkward to set up for small blades. Phenolic guides for narrow blades are a $75 option. In the end, the best way to choose between the two saws might be to wait for a really good deal to come along and jump on it—they're both a joy to use!

See the Model Chart


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