There are a lot of important questions that come up when deciding which tools you need for your new woodshop. Your budget can influence your choices. If you find yourself in a position where you are debating between a bandsaw or a table saw, there are many factors to consider.
Both tools are major purchases which will certainly influence the kind of projects you can create. While there might be a little bit of overlap in their basic functions neither tool can completely replace the other. There are simply things a bandsaw can do that a table saw can’t and things a table saw can do that a bandsaw simply cannot replicate.
Taking a closer look at the features and benefits of each will go a long way toward making the right choice for you and the first projects you produce in your new woodshop.
Understanding a Bandsaw’s Features and Benefits
Bandsaws have long played a role in woodworking as well as metalworking. They have a long, continuous blade that is looped and tensioned between a pair of rotating wheels. When the wheels turn the blade moves at a consistent speed.
Bandsaw blades are typically thinner than table saw blades, which gives them a thinner kerf. The thinner blade further allows you to make precise contoured cuts.
Bandsaws can be configured in different ways. Most of the units found in woodshops are oriented vertically and are electrically powered. Size is often the determining factor in how a bandsaw is mounted. Larger units often need to be bolted to the floor, while smaller bandsaws can simply be secured to a workstation table.
Head saws or resaws are more common in the lumbering industry. They use large, horizontally mounted blades which are designed for cutting along the grain of a large piece of wood for creating veneers and other specialty cuts.
Most woodshops use a bandsaw to cut material into irregular shapes or to rip larger stock into thinner pieces. Blades can be quickly changed out which allows for more efficient cutting of particular stock.
Many bandsaws sold on the retail level come with a fence. However, this can reduce the size of the throat. In certain applications a reduced space between the two blade positions can influence the size and width of the material it can handle.
If you are new to woodworking operating safety can also be a factor. While table saws are generally considered to be more dangerous than a bandsaw, you still need to respect it’s potential to cause serious injury. For a deeper look at the most common woodworking accidents take a look at this article that I wrote.
You need to take all the necessary safety precautions including safety glasses or a face shield, ear protection, and any necessary footwear requirements. You also need to inspect the unit before using. Make sure all the guards are secured in place as well as properly adjusted and that all band wheels are enclosed.
The smaller kerf of a bandsaw blade means that less material is wasted, which can also help with sawdust cleanup. The reduced thickness of the cut also decreases resistance when you need to cut or rip thicker material.
In general, bandsaws excel at making curved cuts which allows them to replace some of the basic features of a scroll saw. The creative angles they are capable of creating simply cannot be replicated by the large, circular blade of a table saw.
Bandsaws also tend to offer more versatility. Different blades can vary in thickness and number of teeth, which will determine how quickly the blade can cut through hardwoods as well as agile the blade is when make turns in the wood.
Another nice feature about bandsaws, is that you can easily purchase additional blades that will give you the ability to cut different types of metals and plastics.
If your woodshop will be located in or near your home, then noise can a factor. Most bandsaws are significantly quieter than table saws. However, it’s still recommended that you use ear protection while operating a bandsaw.
Depending on the blade and material you use, a bandsaw can potentially create cuts with slightly rough edges. This might increase the amount of sanding and finishing needed later in the process. However, a high-quality bandsaw with a blade that is applicable for the material is still likely to produce a relatively clean cut.
Bandsaws also don’t have the same raw cutting power as a table saw. This means long rips will typically take longer and you will need to feed material at a slow rate.
A bandsaw also cannot cut dados or grooves. If you have projects that require these specialty cuts and you don’t have a table saw, you will also need to invest in a quality router as well as the applicable bits. It’s also worth noting that while a bandsaw can make certain bevel cuts, a table saw is often more efficient and likely to be more consistent.
Understanding the Features and Benefits of a Table Saw
Most woodshops have some size table saw. It features a circular saw blade powered by an electric motor. The ability to adjust the blade depth and angle makes a table saw very versatile for producing a wide range of cuts.
The raw power the table saw produces helps it to rip and cut large amounts of material with speed, precision, and consistency.The size of the tabletop can vary, but most are relatively larger than a comparative bandsaw tabletop. Many table saws also include some form of dust collector that can be connected to a shop vac to reduce air quality and cleanup concerns.
You need to take all necessary precautions when using a table saw. This includes safety goggle or a face shield, as well as ear protection. You should never wear gloves or loose clothing when operating a table saw. Longer material should be introduced with a push stick and you should also use a stop block when crosscutting.
When setting up the table saw for the specific cut you should double check all applicable angles and blade depth. The blade should be set to just barely exceed the thickness of the material yet should not extend more than a few millimeters above.
When passing material into the table saw, you should avoid any awkward angle, and always stand so that your body is not in line with the blade.
Table Saw Strengths
Table saws owe a lot of their popularity to both their power and versatility. They can quickly handle a large amount of material. The fence and miter gauge slot allow you to make precise and consistent cuts, which is a major benefit if you are working on a large project or one that requires repetitive cuts.
Manufacturers also offer a wide range of accessories and jigs to help make specialty cuts, which further expands the table saw’s versatility. Many of these options simply cannot be replicated by a bandsaw.
Most modern table saws allow you to adjust the blade depth to precise increments. This is typically done by cranking a wheel to raise or lower the blade when making grooves or dados. Most table saws also allow you to tilt the blade to specific angles, which allows you to cut easily cut a bevel greater consistency and efficiency than a band saw.
Potential Drawbacks of a Table Saw
The raw power of a table saw increases safety concerns for amateur as well as professional woodworkers. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) notes that on an average year table saws are responsible for a reported 39,750 injuries. This makes up roughly 70% of all stationary saw injuries compared to 7% of reported band saw injuries.
Table size can also influence safety. Trying to rip a full sheet of plywood on a table saw with a small table top can prove difficult and increase accident risk. Forcing hard or dense material through the blade faster than it is capable of handling can potentially cause a very dangerous kickback!
Noise is also a major issue with table saws. They tend to produce a much higher decibel level than a bandsaw, which can be prohibitive if your woodshop is located in or near your home.
Material diversity can also be an issue. Most table saws are only designed to cut wood, yet bandsaws can employ different blades to cut other materials like plastic and metal. At the same time, the thick kerf of a table saw’s circular blade also wastes more material per cut and may need to be accounted for in some project board plans.
A table saw is only meant to make straight line cuts, grooves, and bevels. It simply is not capable of the curved or scroll cuts that a bandsaw can make. Blade height can also limit the thickness of material that a table saw can cut compared to the potentially much larger throat of a bandsaw.
Making Your Choices
There can be no doubt about it. While bandsaws and table saws are capable of a few similar cuts, one simply cannot replace the full function of the other. Attempting to use or improvise a power tool in a way that it isn’t intended can significantly increase your chances of suffering a major injury.
At the same time, your new woodshop is a serious long-term investment. The last thing you want to do is purchase an inferior quality bandsaw or table saw only to replace it a year or two down the road when your budget allows.
Ideally, you want to be able to purchase two quality units at the same time. If budget is indeed a prohibitive factor in choosing one over the other, you may need to take additional time to think about the kind of projects you will most likely be doing in your woodshop’s earliest days.
In the short term, you might be able to pair a bandsaw with a quality circular saw and a router, which might allow you to get by until you can afford a quality table saw. However, most of the time the versatility, precision, and power of a quality table saw simply trumps the ability of a bandsaw. Yet you might be able to pair it with a less expensive scroll or jig saw if you need to occasionally make some curved cuts.