Tuning Up a Benchtop Band Saw
A little elbow grease will help keep your saw singing a sweet tune.
In these strapped economic times, low-cost benchtop band saws and other tools are looking better than ever! Granted, a small band saw won't chomp through big ripping or resawing tasks, but it's mighty handy for making intricate contour cuts or creating parts for smaller projects. Here's a quick tune-up regimen you should perform periodically to keep your band saw in tiptop shape.
Benchtop band saw blades are inexpensive, so don't expect them to last forever. As soon as you begin to notice diminished cutting performance, or if you've tried other adjustments and the blade still cuts like it's put on backwards, replace it. The teeth are dull or they've lost their factory "set." Chances are, you'll notice an immediate improvement with a fresh blade. If your saw doesn't have a tensioning scale, tighten the blade until there's almost no deflection when you wiggle it from side to side (see Photo 1). Another cue that you're getting close is that the blade will resonate a clear twang when you pluck it.
Most experts agree that you should keep the blade centered on wheels with tires that crown in the middle, or set it slightly forward for flat-profile tires. To adjust the tracking, first open up the blade guides so the blade can spin freely. Tension the blade, then slowly turn the upper wheel by hand as you adjust the tracking knob (see Photo 2). Lock the knob when the blade stays in one place on the wheels.
Adjusting the Blade Guides
Here's the skinny on how to adjust your saw's upper and lower blade guides. They're critical for keeping the blade tracking properly and cutting efficiently. (Note: on Photos 3 through 5, the blade guard has been partially removed for clarity.) Adjust both the upper and lower guides the same way, following these three steps:
Step 1: Start by loosening the guide block and sliding it forward until the side guides are located just behind the blade gullets - they're the "scooped" areas between the points (see Photo 3). Tighten the block. Now turn the blade slowly to make sure the side guides stay clear of the teeth; otherwise they could flatten the tooth set and ruin the blade.
Step 2: Next, slip a doubled-up piece of paper between the thrust bearing (the one behind the blade) and the blade. Move the bearing forward until it lightly touches the paper, and tighten it (see Photo 4). The paper provides just enough clearance to prevent the blade from spinning the thrust bearing when it's not cutting. Pull out the paper and turn the blade by hand to check this setting.
Step 3: Adjust the side guides, this time using a single piece of paper as a shim (see Photo 5). Push each guide gently into place until it touches the spacer but does not shift the blade left or right. Once they're tightened, the blade should "float" in between.
Squaring the Table
Now that your blade is tensioned and tracked, and the blade guides are dialed in, check the table and blade for squareness (see Photo 6). Adjust the table's tilt control as necessary. Make this a regular habit before every cutting session.
Saw with a Safe, Solid Foundation
Lightweight benchtop band saws are going to vibrate more than bigger saws. It's inevitable without all that cast-iron to soak up the shakes. So, either bolt your saw permanently to a workstation, or attach it to a board that you can clamp down to a bench so it stays portable (see Photo 7). Anchoring the saw base is a simple way to dampen vibration and keep your band saw from doing the jitterbug... right onto the floor.
Finally, a few words about tire care. The tires on your band saw wheels may be hidden away most of the time, but don't forget about them. When you're not using the saw, release the blade tension. It will keep the blade from crushing the rubber and creating flat spots. Also, wipe the tires down every now and then with a rag and mineral spirits to clean off accumulated wood pitch and sawdust (see Photo 8). Both of these tips will prolong tire life and help reduce vibration.
A little maintenance is worth miles of better cuts!
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