Bandsaws and Jigsaws are almost indispensable tools in any woodworking shop.
Each has its place and its function, and, in some cases, the jigsaw and the bandsaw can be interchangeable for some specialized types of cuts.
Bandsaws are used almost exclusively for re-sawing projects. Jigsaws are, by definition, hand power tools that cut with a reciprocating motion and are generally used to make various curved cuts on thinner material.
Can a Jigsaw Replace A Bandsaw? Jigsaws and bandsaws perform similar tasks, but the two are not interchangeable. Each performs a specific set of jobs in the workshop, and neither can do the job of the other adequately or efficiently.
Woodworkers should understand the functions and capabilities of their tools.
Working within the capabilities and design of your tools is the key to good woodworking practices.
What is a Jigsaw?
By definition, a jigsaw is a powered handheld tool used to cut various types of material using a reciprocating bade fixed to the motor body of the tool.
In simpler terms, it is a corded or cordless saw that has a replaceable blade the moved up and down rapidly to cut whatever material with which you are working.
Jigsaws are versatile tools around the shop, not just for woodworking. Equipped with the proper blade, they can cut a wide range of materials from wood to softer metals.
The cordless varieties are easy to use and convenient. The lack of a cord to get tangled in the workspace or your feet makes them a great addition to any shop.
Jigsaws are particularly useful when making complicates curved cuts in relatively thin wood stock.
The jigsaw, when equipped with a narrower blade, can make small radius curves, which would be impossible with any other kind of powered saw.
The wide range of saw blades gives the jigsaw a versatility that few other power saws in the shop can boast.
Using a Jigsaw
Jigsaws shine when cutting thinner material such as veneers or plywood.
A jigsaw can cut dimension lumber, but the length of the blades available for most jigsaws limits the depth of cut.
In practice about the longest useable jigsaw blade is six inches. A few manufacturers make longer blades.
The problem with using these extremely long blades is blade wander.
Even with shorter jigsaw blades, the end of the blade can wander or vibrate, causing one side of a cut to become wider or to vary greatly from the cut nearer the saw.
Selecting the proper blade is the key to making good cuts. You should match the type of material to the proper blade for the best results.
A wide range of tooth counts, blade thicknesses, and blade hardness are available to meet a wide range of construction and project needs.
Most jigsaw blade manufacturers offer detailed guides for selecting the proper blade for the job.
The jigsaw is the king in the woodshop when it is time to cut intricate patterns in relatively thin material.
Newer jigsaws, especially the battery-operated cordless models, make working multiple curved patterns a breeze.
This type of pattern and curve cutting is what the jigsaw does best and why every woodworker should have at least one in their shop.
Choosing a Jigsaw
As with almost anything, jigsaws come in a wide range of prices, features, and options.
The key to selecting a jigsaw is to understand how you intend to use the tool in your shop.
To make that decision, you need to understand the available features and how to use them.
Corded or cordless
Both styles of jigsaw have their advantages and disadvantages. Corded models tend to be more powerful, and you don’t need to worry about a battery dying in the middle of a large job.
Cordless models offer convenience in handling without the long trailing cord getting tangled around your feet or parts of your project.
If your budget restricts you to only one, chose the corded variety.
In the end, despite the lack of convenience at times, you may someday need the extra power and endurance that the corded jigsaw will provide.
Save purchasing a cordless version as a second tool when the time comes.
Orbital action sounds a little odd in a saw. Especially in a saw that works with a reciprocating blade.
In truth, once you have used a jigsaw with orbital action, it is doubtful you will ever want to have a jigsaw without this feature.
The standard jigsaw’s blade moves up and down in the same plane. While this is efficient, it does cause some problems in some materials.
The blade typically cuts on the upstroke. When on the return or downstroke, the forward pressure that the woodworker exerts on the saw causes the teeth of the blade to rasp against the material.
This rasping causes wear and tear on the blade and can cause some nasty vibrations.
A jigsaw equipped with orbital action swings the blade back slightly in an elliptical motion, taking it out of the way of the material on the downstroke.
This orbital action saves wear and tear on the blade and can reduce vibration. Cutting with orbital action usually makes for a faster cut.
However, when you need precision, use less orbital action, or, no orbital action.
All jigsaws equipped with orbital action have settings to cut traditionally with no orbital action in the saw.
A jigsaw with orbital action is so much more versatile, so you should opt for a saw with this feature, if possible.
Variable Speed vs. Single Speed
This decision all boils down to your anticipated uses of the jigsaw in your shop. Variable speed is an advantage if you need to cut more than just wood.
Working with metal or plastic will almost always require a slower speed on the blade than working with wood.
Even working with wood can sometimes be with a variable speed jigsaw.
This feature can be handy if you are making tight intricate cuts or are working with fragile or thin material.
Opting for a variable speed saw is almost always a better choice.
The answer to almost any problem, according to a famous sitcom star, was “More Power.” In some ways, he wasn’t wrong.
An underpowered tool can be frustrating and dangerous. When selecting a jigsaw, look for a saw with an amperage rating in the 6.5 to 7 range.
A saw with this kind of power will rarely be overwhelmed. Most bargain brand jigsaws will have an amperage rating of 5 amps or less and can easily overheat to the point of failure.
As you shop for a jigsaw, you may become overwhelmed with the list of available features and options. Some of the more common are:
- Laser guidelines
- Toolless blade changes
- Depth of cut
- Shoe Bevel
- Dust blower or suction with a collection bag
- Trigger lock
These are all convenient and sometimes useful additional options.
The more important thing to look for is a tool that meets the demands of your projects is comfortable in your hand and fits your budget.
Finding a compromise can be a challenge.
What is a bandsaw?
Bandsaws are, by definition, a power saw with a continuous loop blade, moving in one direction, used to cut various materials.
The long continuous blade reduces blade wear and blade heating, and the single direction cutting action of the blade results in more uniform cuts and the ability to perform irregular or curved cuts.
Blades for the bandsaw come in standards sizes but, in some instances, must be custom manufactured. Purchasing custom-sized blades may mean extra costs.
As with the jigsaw, blades for the bandsaw come in various tooth counts, withs and kerf sizes (the thickness of the blade material itself.) specialized blades can be purchased, allowing the bandsaw to cut a wide variety of materials.
Both benches mounted, and floor style bandsaws are available. A few of the larger styles function as portable sawmills, allowing the custom milling of planks from logs.
One of the premier and most sought-after features of a bandsaw in a woodshop is using the bandsaw to resaw much larger pieces of timber into useable dimension lumber or veneers.
Using a Bandsaw
Using a bandsaw is not as easy as picking up a jigsaw and inserting a fresh blade. Bandsaws, because of their design, require a higher level of preparation that a jigsaw.
Maintenance and care for the bandsaw are also an issue. An ill-maintained bandsaw will not work as well as a properly maintained bandsaw no matter the skill of the operator.
Here is a list of several steps that you should do before you begin a bandsaw project.
Clean the saw and the work area
Cleanliness anywhere you are using power tools is a must.
Eliminating trip hazards, removing old unwanted material and waste products, putting tools in their proper place, and, last but certainly not least, keeping your power tools clean and well maintained.
Choose the right blade for the job
The blade you chose should be made based on the material you are cutting, the material thickness, the density or hardness of the material, and the kind of cut your project requires.
Different jobs need different bandsaw blades, and choosing the right blade is the start of a successful project.
Adjust the blade tension
You should never store your bandsaw with the blade under tension.
Storing the bandsaw with tension on the blade leads to increased wear on the rubber tires on the wheels of the bandsaw, the rollers and bearings, and on the blade.
Blade size and thickness, the material you are cutting, the thickness, density, and type of cut are factors that determine the correct tension on the bandsaw blade.
Adjust the blade guides on the bandsaw to the right placE
The manufacturers manual that came with your bandsaw is the best reference for learning the right place to spot your blade guides.
These settings can vary from saw to saw.
Adjust or install the blade guard above the cutting area
Having a large portion of your bandsaw blade exposed above the area on the cutting table that you work is an invitation to disaster.
Keep that guard in place and properly adjusted. You will be moving your fingers, hands, and arms in and around that moving blade.
Don’t risk the off chance of an inadvertent fall or momentary loss of concentration that could cost you a finger or a much worse injury.
Power up the saw
It is a good policy to keep any large power tools unplugged until you are ready to start your cuts.
AN unpowered tool greatly reduces the chance of an unexpected tool start while you are checking settings, changing a blade, or have your hands in and around belts and pulleys.
When you have finished the project, unplug the tool, release the blade tension, and clean your tool.
Related Content: How long should a bandsaw blade last? Familiarize yourself with bandsaw blades!
Choosing a Bandsaw
You are going to learn quickly that the list of features and options on bandsaws is confusing at best and daunting at the worst.
There are a few things that you must consider before you begin to tray and decide on the bells and whistles.
Size and Style
The first thing to consider is the size of the bandsaw and the style.
Bandsaws sizes reference the diameter of the wheels on which the bandsaw blade rides.
On a small shop bandsaw, a 14” wheel diameter is a good choice.
The dimension of the wheels determines the throat capacity of the bandsaw.
The throat is the widest board that will pass between the cutting edge of the blade and the column that supports the upper wheel.
If you plan on using your bandsaw for resawing projects, you will want to consider the resaw capacity of the bandsaw.
The resaw capacity refers to the maximum thickness of the material you can cut.
Frame styles are another decision. The two most popular frame styles use either cast iron or steel.
You can find both styles in either a bench mount of floor mount configuration. No matter which style you choose, buy the best quality machine you can afford.
AS with any power tool, the power rating on the tool or the motor that drives the tool is an important consideration.
Floor or bench mounted power tools are no different than handheld power tools.
The higher the power rating, the easier it is to perform a given job.
On a bandsaw, especially a floor or stand-mounted version, the saw itself is probably driven by an electric motor through a series of belts and pulleys.
Adjusting the pulley allows you to adjust the speed of the blade for the material and blade type. A data plate on the motor usually lists the power rating.
Bench mounted band saws typically have a power rating of one to one and one-half horsepower.
While this may be adequate for most jobs, the bandsaw will struggle with thicker material and may not have enough power to take on even a modest resawing job.
A bandsaw with a power rating between two and two and one-half horsepower is a better choice for the home shop.
This power level will give you that extra margin for those projects that would challenge a smaller saw with less horsepower.
The list of other features offered manufacturers offer on bandsaws is lengthy.
Many good websites tackle these other features in-depth. Look for the list at the end of this article.
For now, here are a few of the most popular additional features you may want to investigate.
- Wheel types – aluminum, steel, cast, the list goes on.
- Springs and Tension Adjusters – quick release options, screw type, lever type, etc.
- Guideposts and adjusters –
- Blade guides – roller guides, ball bearing guides, ceramic guides, etc.
- Table size and adjustments – two-axis or three-axis, integral fence mounts, etc.
- Table fence – rip fence, quick release, fence height, etc.
Related Content: How to choose a bandsaw blade, know the essentials!
Should You Use a Bandsaw or a Jigsaw? Making the Decision
If you are lucky enough to have both tools available to you in your woodshop, the question remains, how do you know which one to use?
Fortunately, there are a few simple considerations that can help you make that decision.
The jigsaw should be your choice when:
- You are cutting thin material such as paneling, sheet goods, or veneers.
- Your work is at an odd angle, such as cutting out a section of drywall.
- You need to make a small quick cut on a material other than wood such as plastic or thinner metal
- Your project requires intricate tightly curved patterns.
Opt for your bandsaw when:
- Resawing larger pieces of timber or lumber.
- Making large diameter curves in thicker lumber
- When you need longer smooth rips cuts in lumber thicker than your table saw can manage.
- If your saw has the right table, the bandsaw excels at making compound angle cuts in complex designs.
jig saw vs bandsaw: Last Thoughts
Follow the recommendations in the user manual that comes with your power tools, especially those about safety and tool maintenance.
Don’t remove the guards and other safety mechanisms on your power tools, thinking that they get in the way.
Use the proper tool for the job. Trying to make-do or force a tool will only raise your frustration level.
Using tools inappropriately can have disastrous results.
There are add-on accessories for jigsaws that promise that you can use your jigsaw like a table saw or a bandsaw.
Be wary of claims that promise what sounds too good to be true. The adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is wise advice.
The jigsaw and the bandsaw each have specific roles in the woodshop. Any well-equipped woodworker will have one of each in their shop and will understand the differences of each tool.
The good woodworker will know how to use and maintain those tools for the safest and best woodworking experience.