A tablesaw is the first stationary power tool that many woodworkers buy, but a bandsaw is usually not far behind. In some woodshops, where handling large pieces of plywood is not part of the usual repertoire, a bandsaw may actually be the first choice. Bandsaws excel at two things: cutting curves and resawing thick planks into thinner ones. Yet they also can be used for straight-line ripping and even joinery.

What Counts:
• Rip and resaw capacities
• Maximum and minimum blade widths
• Power of motor
• Blade guide system

Sorting out bandsaws
Bandsaws are available in a range of sizes, from small benchtop models costing less than $100 to very large industrial models that cost as much as a good used car. Most have two wheels, one above and one below the work table, on which a thin, flexible blade is mounted. A system of guides and a spring tensioner work together to prevent the blade from twisting or buckling under load.

Wheel size is key because it determines the maximum width of cut. In fact, bandsaws are differentiated by the diameter, in inches, of their wheels. Other critical features include the guide system, the ease of changing blades, motor size, and the maximum vertical distance between the table and the upper guide. That determines how wide a plank the saw can handle.

Benchtop saws for detail work
Small saws -- 9-in. to 10-in. models that sit on an open frame or simply on a benchtop -- are the lightest and most economical, but they also are limited in what they can do. Motors are typically rated at about 1/2 hp or less, and the saws have small tables and limited vertical capacity. The size and power of these machines make them best suited for modelmaking, fine scroll work, and other applications where stock will be relatively thin. They’re not designed to handle thick planks of hardwood. Prices start at well under $100.

A general-purpose shop saw
In many small woodshops, the 14-in. bandsaw makes the most sense -- it has enough power and resaw capacity for most purposes but is still affordable. These saws have rip capacities of about 13-1/2 in. and typically can resaw boards about 6 in. wide, although some can take an accessory riser block to increase the resawing potential. Motors are generally in the 1-hp to 1-1/2-hp range. Models with full enclosed bases cost a little more than saws with open-frame stands. A number of manufacturers offer 14-in. saws, with prices starting at about $300 and rising to about $1,000

Suited for resawing
Where more capacity or power are needed, a logical next step is an 18-in. bandsaw. Motor size is typically in the 2-hp to 3-hp range, and resaw capacities are substantially greater -- generally from 10 in. to 12 in., but all the way up to 17-1/4 in. with one model on the market. These saws have full enclosed bases, larger work tables, and very rigid frames to handle wide resaw blades. Most run on 220-volt or 230 volt power. Prices are proportionally greater, too, starting at about $900 and topping out at about $2,900.

There are also much larger bandsaws on the market, going all the way up to models like the Powermatic WBS36, a 36-in. model that comes with a 7-1/2-hp motor and 18-in. resaw capacity. The size, weight and cost of these machines usually limits them to big production shops and industrial settings.