Conventional wisdom dictates a woodworker’s most important and probably most expensive purchase should be a good table saw and preferably a cabinet, but at least a good contractor’s model. Laguna Tools wants to change all that. According to company president Torben Helshoj, the company has refined its band saw line to the point where it now offers serious competition in taking the number one position on a shop wish list!
We last touched based with Torben just a little over three years ago and thought it was past time we caught up on Laguna Tools and its extraordinary band saw.
“We wanted a system that did one thing perfectly,” Torben explained. “Just go straight.”
To achieve that simple but elusive goal, Torben focused on developing a superior frame. Working with both Laguna and overseas engineers (all the company’s machinery is manufactured in Europe), he developed a revolutionary ceramic fence that allowed closer tolerances.
“With most saws, you wouldn’t want the frame to touch the blade,” Torben noted, “but the friction co-efficient between the steel blade and ceramic fence is so low, they can actually touch each other, and you can guide the blade better through the cut than with any other fence material.”
To further supplant the table saw, Torben targeted another enhancement for his band saw and a superior blade.
“The table saw is a dangerous tool — especially the way it throws the wood back at you — plus the blades cut a wide kerf that uses up a lot of wood,” Torben explained. “Our goal was to be able to rip solid wood just as well and a lot safer on our band saw.”
Most band saw blades are created by pushing out cutting teeth on each side of the blade. Torben decided to make the equivalent of a table saw blade for his band saw. His goal was a blade with carbide tips braised onto the teeth and then ground down to a narrow, smooth cut. His search for a manufacturer was fruitless until he attended the LIGNAplus Tradeshow in Hanover, Germany just two years ago.
“As I walked through a hall, I just happened across an interesting band saw blade at a booth and told the guy working there what I was looking for.” Torben recalled, “This was not a blade manufacturer, but a company that makes the machines for other blade manufacturers. He seemed to understand what I wanted, but when I told how I needed this really narrow kerf and he said ‘no problem’ and that did not impress me. Only later, did I discover that in South Africa, which is where this guy was raised, ‘no problem’ doesn’t mean ‘no problem’ but means ‘I understand you’. So it started us on the path of making blades that give you table saw quality cuts on your band saw.”
Torben feels that the combination of ceramic fence, better blade, and the inherent advantages of a band saw (the cutting action is down in the table and a lot less wood is removed) will attract many woodworkers to invest in his self-admitted rather pricey machines.
“Our typical customer is the one who’s already bought one or even two cheap band saws — and may have lost half of his hair from the stress of using them,” Torben laughed, then added, “or it’s the guy who buys right the first time. I’ve talked to customers who say now it’s my band saw that’s in the middle of the room. And I only pull out the table saw when I want to do sheet material.”
Though the company’s Web site attracts inquiries from around the world, Laguna primarily markets its products to North American customers. Though it’s now focusing a lot of attention on its band saw line, the company remains best known for its combination machines — just as it was when Torben and his wife founded the company in 1983. As mentioned above, all the tools are still manufactured by European companies — traditional sources of quality production like Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Italy — but they’ve recently started working with a company in Bulgaria.
“It’s been a fantastic experience there.” Torben explained, “the Bulgarians are ambitious and it’s easier to get them to please us than in our other countries. You say something is made in Germany and people say wow! But I’ve bought junk made in Germany. The truth is it’s the designs we dictate and the culture of the individual company that makes the difference. We make the machine we want and then the price is secondary, which, yes, does make us pricey compared to other direct importers. But because we also sell direct, we’re actually about 25% cheaper than if we sold through dealers.”
The California-based company’s Web site is currently under revision, and the new version will feature the company’s new band saw blades and other accessories.