Looking for rain? Try Seattle. Looking for the best in band saw performance? Turn to Carter Products, a company dedicated to bringing woodworkers the finest band saw upgrades. "The key things that control band saw performance" explained Carter's owner Peter Perez, "are top-notch tires, blades, and guides. We offer all three."
That's just the tip of the iceberg. They also offer a bright yellow upgrade tension spring, called the Cobra Coil, a unique small blade guide that lets you use your band saw like a scroll saw, an electronic feedback unit that tells you exactly how much tension is on your blade, and what is probably their most talked about product, the Quick Release. The last three of these are all exclusive to Carter.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Perez; his son, Lee, the company's media director; and Vice President Terry Camp about the company, their products and their vision. The first surprise was that this always was and still is a family-owned company: Peter's wife, Carroll, is the founder's niece. Even more amazing in this day and age is that their products are made right here in the U.S.
It all started back in 1929 during the Great Depression. Andrew Carter was the chief engineer at a local Grand Rapids company when he invented an industrial de-mountable band saw tire: a quick change tire that goes onto a wheel with a lock-on rim. Prior to that, changing worn or damaged tires was a very time-consuming process. His company did not want to pursue his idea, so he went out on his own.
At first, he made just band saws and wheels, but his inventive mind didn't stop there. Next came a set of specialized guides, which he developed in the late 1940s after realizing that there were not sufficiently high quality guides available. From the 50s through the 70s, inspection lights, lasers and other improvements were offered to Carter's customers. Bear in mind that his focus was still on sawmills and commercial woodworkers: rugged environments where results are critical.
It was not until the mid-70s, however, that they turned their attention to bringing high quality guides to smaller saws. Today, Carter has two major divisions. Carter Technology focuses on the industrial side, while Carter Classic offers just about every upgrade a hobby or small shop woodworker could desire.
"In the 70's," Perez explained, "the Rockwell Delta 14" band saw was the most popular tool among hobby woodworkers. We shrunk our guides down to fit that saw, and it was very well received. With that encouragement, we added upgrades for other brands and sizes."
That they were well received is no surprise. One look at the rugged, well-designed Carter guides makes it clear why they work so well. "Our guides are an all-ball-bearing design. They last longer, run cooler and provide more consistent cutting than the typical rubbing block guides," Perez explained. "We make them for saws ranging from 12" on up to 36", prepackaged in kits that contain all the hardware and components needed to convert your saw, with complete instructions on how to do it." The list of common configurations on their web site is extensive, but they say that even if they have never heard of the brand, they can make a conversion kit to fit the saw.
Another newer guide option called a Stabilizer lets you make scrolling cuts with quarter inch and smaller blades. "When you want to run a very narrow blade, you need a special set of guides that work only on blades that are a quarter inch or less. For that, you back off the lower guide, remove the upper guide, and replace it with the stabilizer guide, which has a groove in the wheel but no side guides. It allows you to make tighter radius cuts. Naturally, it is designed to be easily and quickly interchangeable with the regular guide so you can go back and forth between the two."
Band saw tires, the product that gave them their start, are the second largest selling item in the Carter Classic line, but glued-in rubber is no longer the only option. "Urethane tires are more durable, easier to install and need no adhesives," Perez explained. Initially, urethane tires were much more expensive, but these days, the two are so close in price that it makes sense to upgrade to urethane, he said.
Once your tires and guides are working well, Carter has some upgrades to deal with one of the thorniest problems of all: getting the right tension on the blade. "The Carter Cobra Coil band saw tension spring provides greater durability, superior strength and is a direct replacement for the spring in most 14" saws. The Cobra Coil gives you the ability to properly tension larger blades to give your saw superior tracking, which in turn allows you to make straighter more precise cuts."
Want to know just how much tension is on the blade? Last year, Carter introduced the ETG (electronic tension gauge). For now, it is only available for the Delta and JET 14" band saws, but it will be available for others shortly. It sports a digital display that tells the exact tension on the blade, and gives a continuous readout whether the saw is stopped or running. Not only does it help you set up the saw properly, it also lets you make adjustments for worn or duller blades.
A blade under tension takes its toll on tires, bearings and frame, so for better saw life, it is best to release tension when the saw is not in use. That's not easy on most saws: it is slow, and difficult both to crank it down and to get it back to the exact spot where it was. To solve that problem, Carter developed the Quick Release. Simply pull a lever to release the tension and just as quickly re-set it to the former tension. A third position, at half tension, allows you to check tracking when replacing a blade. At the end of the handle is a bright red knob that sits boldly in the way of the cut when the tension is released, reminding you not to turn on the saw until you reset the tension. With its bright red "nose," it's the Rudolph of band saw accessories, and easily one of the cleverest gadgets I have seen.
Of course, good blades are also important, so after being asked for years, they started offering them in 2005. "Our Accuright blades run cooler and last longer. They are a hard-edge, flex-back blade with a particular tooth set which can run at a wide range of tensions," Perez explained. "Running at lower tension is fine if you get adequate performance, and it can reduce wear on the saw, but increasing the tension can increase the accuracy of the cut. Having a blade that can run at all tensions is an asset."
To help you figure out just what you need, they offer a video that shows step-by-step how to set up and use your band saw, how to assess its performance, which things can improve performance, and how to use them. Backing that up is an easy-to-navigate web site heavy with information and guidance. You can buy direct from the web site, but you'll also find Carter products at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware and other woodworking supply companies.
Best of all, they are accessible and open. "We like hearing from our customers about how our products work and what else we can do to help them get better results," Perez told me. "We want to hear about their success or frustrations about using our products, and their thoughts and ideas about what other products can help them.
"In spite of the fact that we have been around since 1929, we pride ourselves on being inventive and pioneering, and try to take band sawing to a new level. Our main problem is convincing customers the value of taking the time to do upgrades, but once they do, we often hear they wish they had done it much sooner."