Real life Reviews: Buying a Bandsaw

When I first started to setup my woodshop a bandsaw wasn’t one of the tools I thought I needed. I eventually acquired a well-used 1970’s – 1980’s vintage Craftsman 12” bandsaw as part of a lot of other tools, but my initial impressions were far from favorable. Of course, once a tool has found it’s way into a shop you do eventually start finding projects to use it on, and gradually I came to appreciate what a bandsaw can do as well as spent some time tuning it up and learning to use it; a combination which led to it becoming one of the principle tools of the shop.

Having started a new work assignment in a location too far away to allow for a regular commute between it and the woodshop at Rurikia, I opted to take the opportunity to establish a satellite shop in the new location to focus on small projects using hand tools and the lathe. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before I was missing having the other tools available, particularly the band saw as I missed having it to rough out shapes for turning.

My first thought was to go with a smaller bandsaw than the one at Rurikia, and I spent several days evaluating the offerings in the 8” to 10” range. Although there were some fairly good machines in that range, the more I thought about it the more I was convinced that having gotten used to a larger bandsaw I would be frustrated by the limitations of the smaller ones, particularly as I have been bitten by the resawing bug and none of the smaller ones really offered the resaw capacity I desired.

Based on the combination of budget and anticipated need, I decided that a reasonably complete 14” bandsaw would fit the bill. Online research pointed me to the Craftsman BAS350 and the Grizzly 550LX. Then the trades began… The Craftsman offered the more rigid steel frame; Grizzly had a traditional cast iron frame (less rigid, but also has the flexibility of adding an extension). The Grizzley came with a fence and a miter gage, Craftsman didn’t but had a lower price, and for the difference a fence and miter gage could be purchased. The Craftsman was lighter (good for a one person shop), the Grizzly was heavier (better tool stability). The Grizzly was easier to set the guide bearings, the Craftsman had a bigger table…. After a few days of back and forth, I decided on the Craftsman, mainly because I could go to the store and pick it up that day instead of having to order it and take time off work to be home to receive it. I also ordered the Craftsman 14” bandsaw fence (which came, shipped from Sears under the Craftsman part number, as a Rikon branded item) and an Incra miter gage to complete the package.
Hindsight from a few weeks down the road? A modern bandsaw is a big improvement over the old one I have, and I’m very happy with the Craftsman. All things considered I think I would have been equally happy with the Grizzly. One item I overlooked was that the Craftsman takes a 99 3/4 “ blade, which is not nearly as common as the 93 1/2” blade used by the Grizzly – meaning when I decided I needed a ½ or 3/4 inch blade to resaw I wasn’t able to run down to the local home improvement store and pick one up; likewise even Craftsman only sells the ¼” standard blade on it’s own, otherwise they only have a 3 pack of 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2”, which my local Sears doesn’t stock, so blades become a special order item.

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