When starting out to set up a home workshop, it's important to know that many tools can perform the same tasks as others. Such is the case with certain types of power saws that are especially designed to cut odd shapes and curves. And although some functions make them very similar, others make them quite unique.
In this special Shop Report, we'll discuss three types of power saws that, while they may seem to have much in common, your particular needs will dictate which one or ones your shop requires. We'll explore the differences between the saws and explain many of the uses of each.
The Bandsaw is one of the most popular woodworking shop accessories. It gets its name from the continuous lop or "band" formed by the flexible steel blade. This blade cuts the stock with a continuous downward motion (that is, towards the worktable surface), as opposed to the up-and-down "stroke-type" motion of a scroll saw or hand-held jigsaw (saber saw).
And, since the blade is cutting continuously, you'll quickly discover that the Bandsaw is, by far, one of the fastest-cutting accessories in your shop. Bandsaw blades are available in various widths and tooth configurations, depending on the intricacy and size of the cuts you need to make, as well as the thickness of your stock. Choose narrow (1/8" or 1/16") blades for small cut-outs, tight corners and thin stock. Reach for wide (1/2" or 5/8") blades when making straight or almost-straight cuts - or when cutting very thick stock, as in resawing.
The Bandsaw is very versatile. It's most common uses are for cutting external curves, very thick stock and resawing (making thin boards out of thick ones - a real Money-Saver). External curves or irregular cuts are often used for creating sweeping, decorative edging cuts or radius cuts for projects such as circular tabletops.
But the Bandsaw doesn't stop there. Crosscuts, rip cuts, bevels, miters, compound curves, duplicate pieces and even cutting the basic shape for a Queene Anne leg and preparing stock for turning on the lathe are all major work-saving applications for the Bandsaw.
It will also easily cut unusual materials. With the proper blade running at the proper speed, the Bandsaw
will cut plastic, plastic laminates, MDF (and virtually all other types of manufactured sheet stock), and even soft, non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass and aluminum.
The Scroll Saw
The Scroll Saw is often considered to be the ultimate saw for "fancy" woodworking. It has experienced a tremendous growth in popularity over the past several years and is also well known as one of the safest power tools to operate.
The blade differs from the Bandsaw's loop-style blade in that it is typically a 5" to 6" long straight piece of metal, suspended between two parallel-moving arms. These arms move up-and-down with the blade…keeping it under constant tension during both the up and the down strokes. A very slight, rocking, back-and-forth motion allows the extremely fine teeth of most Scroll saw blades to cut so smoothly that sanding the workpiece is often unnecessary.
Scroll Saw blades are available in a wide assortment of tooth configurations for many special situations. The largest Scroll Saw blade is smaller than the smallest Bandsaw blade - while the smallest Scroll Saw blade appears to be little more than a piece of fine wire with no visibly discernable teeth. The super-small size of these blades allows the Scroll Saw to cut incredibly small radii and into areas that no other saw can reach.
When equipped with the right blade and running at the optimum speed, the Scroll Saw is capable of making very straight or very complex curved cuts in a variety of materials, including hard and soft woods, plastics, non-ferrous metals, ivory, mother-of-pearl, bone. It's also one of the only saws that can make internal piercing cuts - like a donut hole - in the center of a piece of stock.
Some of the Scroll Saw's most common uses include intricate scrollwork, toys, puzzles, household decorations and making tiny models or miniatures for doll houses, dioramas, and similar projects. And as your skills increase, you may choose to move into unique cuts for inlay, marquetry (inlaid veneers), intarsia (wood mosaics), and even extra fine cuts for ornamentation and jewelry-making.
The hand-held Jigsaw
The hand-held Jigsaw (often called a saber saw) is a traditional portable power tool in many homes with and without a woodworking shop.
Although it will perform some Scroll Saw and Bandsaw functions, it is supported by a relatively small shoe rather than a large worktable and therefore lacks the control and accuracy of a stationary Scroll Saw or Bandsaw.
The hand-held Jigsaw is a reciprocating saw with a chuck that grips a short, rigid blade. Available in a variety of tooth configurations and sizes for specialized uses, the blades usually have a very short stroke of about 1" or less. Since the blade is only attached on one end, the hand-held Jigsaw can be used for internal piercing cuts.
Some models have dust blowers to clear the line as they cut; knobs for adjusting their orbital blade action; variable speeds; illumination lamps and more.
The hand-held Jigsaw is ideal for home improvement projects that are too large or awkward to cut with a Bandsaw or Scroll Saw. Common projects for this tool might include making countertop sink cut-outs; cutting electrical or plumbing holes in drywall; cutting toe kicks in kitchen base cabinets; etc.
The choice is yours to make
Now that you've read how all three of these similar or not-so-similar saws perform and what they do best, it's your decision. The kinds of work you're going to do will determine, as always, which one, or combination of these tools is best for you. Just be sure to think before you buy.