How important is it for a woodturner to have a bandsaw?
A bandsaw is an essential tool for woodturners, especially wood bowl turners. The bandsaw helps remove excess material in order to make the process of turning a wood bowl more efficient.
Understanding how the bandsaw works, using it safely, and showing it all due respect will make wood bowl turning quicker and easier.
A simple design, a thin metal continuous blade tensioned between two wheels powered by a motor, can save time, money, and bowl gouge steel. Understanding and safely operating a bandsaw to process wood bowl blanks is what this article will cover in detail.
Bandsaw basics for wood bowl turners will cover:
- identifying the parts of a bandsaw
- how to adjust the bandsaw blade
- how to select an appropriate blade
- how to handle the blades
- how to safely operate the bandsaw
- how to trim a wood bowl blank on the bandsaw
Why A Bandsaw?
You may be asking, why do I need a bandsaw? Well, if you do only a handful of turned wood bowls, or you have a friend that will let you borrow their saw, then you may not need one.
If you only occasionally make a turned bowl, yes, you can turn away rough cut squared excess bowl blank corners with the bowl gouge on the lathe. But once or twice rounding your bowl blanks through the bandsaw and it will be clear that the pounding you take when turning off square corners on the lathe is not worth the trouble.
If you plan to frequently turn wood bowls, a bandsaw is a huge time saver. And even if you are borrowing a friend’s saw, you will still want to acquaint yourself with the various components of a bandsaw and understand how to safely operate that bandsaw.
The parts of a bandsaw are pretty simple and straight-forward. Two wheels support a continuous metal saw blade. Power is provided usually by an electric motor which rotates the wheels and turns the blade.
Bandsaw wheels are usually metal and covered with rubber tires. Yes, these are called tires. The tires help cushion and center the blade as it revolves on the wheels.
On the right side of the machine, where the blade makes contact with the cutting material, the blade guide resides. The blade guide serves a couple purposes by helping to keep the blade straight and true while also safely shielding the rotating blade.
The table surface of the bandsaw in the business end of the machine where the rubber meets the road, or better, where the wood meets the teeth. Many bandsaw tables will have adjustments so they may be tilted to create angled cuts. Also, on the table surface is usually a straight groove, or miter slot designed to accept the rail of a sliding guide or jig.
Protective doors cover the two bandsaw turning wheels during operation. Latches keep the doors closed and secure.
Various knobs are located around the saw. Most of the knobs are designed to adjust the tracking, location, and tension of the blade.
The most significant adjustment for any bandsaw is the blade tracking. The blade needs to track true and centered for ideal performance.
Stop. Before you start turning knobs to seek this “ideal performance,” take a minute to learn what is what.
I’m speaking from experience here. Turning a couple knobs seems innocent enough, but you can quickly create a major headache and have a bandsaw that appears to merely reject its own blade, over and over.
Here’s what I learned, the hard way. Typically the lower wheel is straight and does not have an angled adjustment. The upper wheel usually has an up and down adjustment and an angle adjustment. If you get all of these moving at the same time, you can go crazy trying to fix the mess.
Instead of just turning knobs, look carefully at how the blade is tracking. With the saw off and unplugged, rotate the top wheel by hand several times. Is the blade riding on the crown of the tire, on the wheel? If so, stop, don’t do anything else. You’re good to go.
If the blade is riding on the front or back of the tire and wheel, some adjustments need to be made. Read your owners manual to see how this is best done. Typically, it will only take a small modification of the wheel angle to recenter the bland on the wheel.
When making bandsaw blade adjustments, a little movement goes a long way. So, easy does it on the adjustment knobs.
Adjusting Blade Tension
Again, see your specific bandsaw manual for the details on how to appropriately adjust the tension of the blade.
On my machine, I loosen the blade guide and position it back a bit and away from the blade. With the blade snug, but not fully tensioned, the saw is turned on, and the blade rotates. The tension knob is then tightened until any flutter or vibration leaves the turning blade.
With the tension set and the saw off, the guide is then repositioned over the blade in its proper protective position.
The space from the exposed blade to the left side of the table is called the bandsaw throat. This space determines the widest the material can be that passes to the left of the blade.
From the table surface up to the highest setting for the bandsaw blade guide is called the depth. This distance determines the limit of the height of the cutting material or bowl blank.
By the way, these dimensions for cutting space rarely match the named size of the bandsaw. Instead, the bandsaw is typically sized based on the wheel diameter.
For instance, I use a 17” Grizzly Bandsaw and its throat is 16 1/2” wide and the cutting depth is a little over 12” tall. The outer diameter of the turning wheels is 17” wide, hence the saw’s name. I have also, used a 10″ bandsaw and it was fantastic for specific tasks.
The throat and depth determine how much material the bandsaw potentially can cut. These are important dimensions to compare to the size of blanks you may want to trim on the bandsaw.
While a 17” bandsaw can easily handle a bowl blank that is eight inches tall and 16 or 18” in diameter, a 14” bandsaw may only have a cutting depth of five or six inches. With a six-inch cutting depth, or height, a 14” bandsaw cannot handle blanks taller than six inches.
The motor is also an essential component to size when selecting a bandsaw that’s right for you. If you will be cutting larger blanks, a more substantial two horsepower or larger motor is ideal. For blanks five inches and less, a one horsepower to one and a half horsepower motor should work fine.
Essentially, the larger the horsepower, the more force to cut the wood bowl blank. If there are options and you can afford a slightly larger motor, you will be thankful in the long run that you made the investment in more power.
Also, be sure to match the bandsaw motor voltage to what you have available. More powerful units are sometimes available in both 110V and 220V, or just 220V.
Bandsaw Blade Sizing
When sizing bandsaw blades, there are four elements to consider:
- Blade length
- Blade width
- Teeth Per Inch
- Blade metal thickness
1 – The bandsaw blade length is specific to each model bandsaw. For instance, my 17” Grizzly Bandsaw uses a 131.5” long blade. That’s the only length that will fit my machine, so there really are no options here. Use the length specific to your bandsaw.
2 – Bandsaw blade widths come in many options. There are a few tradeoffs here. The width of a blade will control how straight it cuts. For example, a 1/4” wide blade will move more freely than a 3/4” wide blade.
You may be thinking, if a wider blade equals a more accurate cut, then why not get a 1” or 1.5” wide blade. You can do this, but the take, from the “, give and take,” is turning small tight curves becomes more difficult with wider blades.
The width of the blade dictates the turning radius for that blade. Narrower blades can turn tighter small circles, while wider blades turn wider arcs.
3 – Teeth per inch (TPI) on a bandsaw blade will dictate how much material is cut and how clean a cut is made in a particular cut material.
There is a formula for calculating TPI, that looks like this.
Let’s look at this closer. If we are cutting a bowl blank that is six inches high at the highest point, the formula will look like 24 / 6” (high) = 4 TPI. So a three to four TPI blade should work well. This is a relatively course aggressive blade, precisely what we need to get through thick green wood bowl blanks.
Now, on the other hand, if we wanted to make some smooth cuts on a one-inch thick piece of plywood, our three to four TPI blade is going to rip and tear the plywood fibers. Instead, we need a different blade. Using the formula, 24 divided by 1” = 24 TPI, this is a much finer and smoother blade required for cutting plywood.
4 – The final measurement, blade thickness, seems to be an afterthought. I can share from experience, don’t overlook the blade thickness. At least not for turning green wood bowl blanks.
I ordered a 131.5” long, 1/2 wide, 3 to 4 TPI blade that happened to be .025” thick. The thickness didn’t even occur to me at the time. The blade cut fine, but when I’d move the green wood bowl blank, the blade would wander around and force me to twist and turn the wood blank to try to keep a normal path.
Later, I tried a blade that was exactly the same, except it was .030 thick. Guess what, it cut smooth and didn’t wander. I was shocked the amount of difference a mere five 1/1000 of an inch made.
If you’re only turning bowl blanks, you will probably only need a couple blades, one on the bandsaw and a duplicate backup blade. However, if you want to cut a variety of different materials on the bandsaw, be aware there is a proper blade for every task.
Don’t think the course three to four TPI, 1/2” blade is going to work for all of your woodworking tasks. Take the time and change out the blade when your needs change.
Changing blades is not that difficult, especially after you’ve done it a couple times. Like always, read your manual and do what your manufacturer recommends.
With the power off and the bandsaw unplugged, open the two separate wheel cover doors. Depending on the brand and model of the bandsaw, there may be a quick release for the tension, or you may need to loosen the tension adjustment knob. Either way, tension on the blade needs to be released.
Just release the main tension and don’t accidentally adjust any of the fine tuning adjustment knobs mentioned above. Yes, I wandered down that road once too. LOL
Next, examine the table and move any inserts or guards that will be in the way of removing the blade.
Wear safety glasses and a pair of thick leather gloves and grip the blade while taking it off the bandsaw wheels. Watch where the bandsaw blade is contained and slowly free it from each section of the bandsaw. Usually, the blade needs to be rotated ninety-degrees to pass out of the table surface. Do that step last.
How to Fold A Bandsaw Blade
Here’s how to fold a bandsaw blade. With the blade free from the bandsaw, hold two ends of the loop up and out in front of you. While gripping the blade, twist your right hand clockwise while keeping your left-hand stationary. Be careful to not get scraped by the blade teeth when making this fold.
Fold the blade over until two distinct loops appear, then fold the remaining third loop up onto the first two loops. Gently hold the three loops and jiggle them until they even out into three equal folded loops.
Another way to fold the blade is to first step on the blade loop. Position the teeth away from you and twist your wrist as you lower the coiling bandsaw blade down into its folded loops.
The blade should collapse and fold into thirds in a tight, neat loop. Once the blade is contained, use twist ties or zip ties to secure the loops from springing open.
Hang the blade out of the way, but handy so it’s ready to be used when needed.
11 Bandsaw Safety Tips
- First and foremost, read all the manufacturer’s instructions, safety tips, and advice specific to your bandsaw.
- Whenever making any adjusts to the bandsaw, turn off the power and unplug the machine.
- Lower the guide down to the lowest point over the bowl blank being cut. Do not leave the guide up too high, lower the guide as needed while making a cut
- Keep any body parts at least 4 inches away from the band saw blade at all times
- If it is necessary to control material being cut within four inches of the blade, do so only with wood push sticks.
- Never backup while making a cut. Reversing direction can potentially reposition or derail the blade.
- Don’t pinch or bind the blade. It is ok to pull material out behind and away from the back of the blade if more the four inches from the blade. Be sure not to pinch the cut material together which can constrict the blade
- Never freehand cut round material on its round end on a bandsaw. Round material, such as a small diameter limb, does not have a flat supported bottom and can potentially, twist, bind and damage the blade, or worse. Use a specific supportive jig when cutting any material without a solid flat, supportive bottom
- Be sure the area around you is clear and clean at all times. Your body position and posture should be stable and secure. Never lean or reach towards the bandsaw.
- Know all the ways to shut off and stop the bandsaw. Occasionally check that emergency shut off switches are operating properly.
- Remember, even though you’ve turned off the bandsaw, the blade will continue to cut until it comes to a complete stop.
Cutting Bowl Blank
I use cardboard circle templates to quickly visualize and create round cuts on green wood bowl blanks. The cardboard circle is temporarily held in place by an awl which it tapped into place with a mallet.
With the circle template in place and safety glasses and respirator on, I turn on the bandsaw. When the blade is up to speed, I feed in the left edge of the green wood bowl blank and begin following the edge of the cardboard circle, without cutting the cardboard.
Here is the critical part of the process. When the awl, which is perfectly centered in the blank, is positioned approximately ninety-degrees off the right side of the blade, imagine the awl is now fixed.
Instead of fixating on the cutting edge of the blade and its relationship to the cardboard circle template, I focus on the awl and keeping it stationary. If the awl remains still and the wood gently rotates to the blade around the pivot point of the awl, a perfect circle will be formed with minimal effort.
Follow all guidelines indicated in your user manual and instructions first, as always. Clean, grease or oil any specific locations stated in your manual when necessary.
In general, keep the bandsaw and area around the saw clean. Remove any sawdust buildup in the wheel housings and anywhere on the bandsaw. A vacuum system attached to the saw’s dust ports and running during operation is the best way to keep dust under control.
Wax can be applied to the bandsaw table to make the movement of green wood bowl blanks more smooth. This also aids in the cutting process when rotating the bowl blanks.
If a particular blade seems to not be cutting too well or is getting bogged down, there are waxes and dressing that can be applied directly to the blade. Follow the instructions carefully when applying. Friction reduction can be helpful especially when turning very wet green wood, or very hard wood dry bowl blanks.
Just like bowl gouges, blades need to be sharp as well. If a blade is not cutting smooth, getting hot, smoking, or bogging down, sharpen the blade, if possible, or replace the blade with a sharp one as soon as possible.
The bandsaw can make quick work of bowl blank production. This gives us wood bowl turners more time at the lathe doing what we really enjoy doing, making bowls.
Even though the design of the bandsaw is quite simple, we do need to give this powerful machine the respect it deserves, and in exchange, it will provide us with countless pieces of readied material to turn at the lathe.
Click here to see what bandsaws I recommend. Let me know if you own a bandsaw, and what kind. What would you like to add to the article? Leave me a comment below.
Preparing wood to turn is vital to bowl turning. Here’s more for you:
• TURNING GREEN WOOD BOWLS – THE PROCESS
• GREEN WOOD BOWL BLANK MAKING PROCESS
• HOW TO SHARPEN A CHAINSAW – ILLUSTRATED GUIDE
• BOWL TURNING GRAIN ORIENTATION – WOOD BLANK DIRECTION
Thanks, and Happy Turning!