See also entry on bandsaw blade

under construction, and probably always will be. A major tool in both industry and the home woodshop, the bandsaw's development has created both an interesting and a complex history.

Defining the meaning of Bandsaw

label for source code

A bandsaw is a saw in the form of an endless steel belt, running over two wheels; also, a power sawing machine using this device. Bandsaws are used chiefly for sawing wood. The wheels are arranged usually one above the other, but sometimes horizontally, and some models have three wheels. A bandsaw operating in "resaw" mode is a bandsaw where rough-sawn timbers (of various dimensions and shapes) are cut into thinner boards and/or slices, as in "veneers "Before a readily available AC source, bandsaws were powered by water and steam, on a line-shaft , and, finally, I have located instances of "foot-powered" bandsaws.

(I adapted this definition from the 2d edition of the 1952 Webster's New International Dictionary, one of my favorite dictionaries. In my other life -- i.e., before retirement -- I was an academic reference librarian, known to colleagues as a "dictionary-freak", or "word-freak", with a distinct affection for several dictionaries, especially Webster's 2d and the OED. In the definition above, I changed Webster's use of "pulleys" to the more common term among woodworkers, "wheels". I also rephrased the "resaw" sentence, because the original description in Webster's betrayed a lack of an "insider's" familiarity with the operation of resawing; evidently, though, Webster's sketch artist had an insider's knowledge of bandsaws, because you'll notice that he/she uses "wheels" in describing the mechanics of bandsaws.)

Some examples from the Oxford English Dictionary:

1864 WEBSTER s.v. Saw,


1890 W. J. GORDON Foundry i. 30

"A band-saw..which cuts through iron like cheese."

1916 Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) 9 July 13/4

The machinery is already partly installed in the bandsaw mill.

1909 Daily Chron. 25 Sept. 7/6

*Band Sawyer wanted.

Several paragraphs below are paraphrased from Manfred Powis Bale, "Woodworking Machinery, Its Rise, Progress, and Construction 1880, page 119:

The Bandsaw Introduced in 1808, But Refinement Slow Until Mid-Century

The bandsaw, although widely considered French in origin, was invented by the Englishman, William Newberry. In 1808, Newberry patented "a machine for sawing wood, in which an endless band or ribbon saw, strung over two wheels, was used". (Newberry also claimed that it could be used for splitting skins, etc. In operation, "a plain steel or iron band, sharpened, but without teeth, was probably used.) Strangely, the invention "lay dormant for many years, probably through the difficulty of obtaining blades of sufficient toughness to withstand the strain put on them, and the difficulty then found of rejoining the saws when broken".

While Newberry's machine exhibited a practical utility -- it failed to realise the inventor's anticipations, especially considering the inferior quality of the saws then obtainable -- recognize him as inventing the bandsaw, one of the most valuable of all woodworking machines.


A review of the woodworking machinery exhibited at the American Centennial Exposition states that bandsaws were shown in England as "novelties" in 1855.

(Source: Polly Anne Earl, "Craftsmen and Machines:The Nineteenth-Century Furniture Industry", in Ian M. G. Quimby, and Polly Anne Earl, eds., Technological Innovation and the Decorative Arts Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1973, pages 307-329.)

The 1858 Wilson Patent

In 1858 The London-based Englishman, Henry Wilson, patented "improvements in the mounting of band saws". Wilson was attempting to:

prevent the breaking or snapping of the blade saws from any sudden strain, or otherwise, while at work, and from the liability to snap on the cooling of the saws after ceasing to work; also to allow of ready adjustment of the bearings of the pulleys, over which the saws are stretched. I connect it to the bearing of the pulley over which the saw is stretched an upright rod or spindle, threaded at top, pass over the thread or upper part one arm of a lever, and adjust the spindle to the height required by a nut curved at bottom to fit any change of position in the lever, and to allow of the adjustment of the bearing of the pulley.

The lever is centred upon a pin supported upon a pillar. The opposite arm of the lever is connected to a second vertical shaft, or rod, the lower end of which is connected to a vulcanised rubber or other spring, is carried down on the outside of the pillar, and is provided with a screw adjustment, or not, as deemed necessary. The bearing of the pulley before named being free to move up and down within certain limits, it follows that upon any strain upon or contraction of the saw, the spring will allow of the bearing yielding, and thus prevent the snapping of the saw.

I do not limit myself to the precise arrangement of compound lever with screw adjustment and spring compensation, or either, just described, although I believe it the best suited to the purpose of my invention; but I desire also to secure the so connecting of the movable bearing of a stretching pulley over which the band saws are stretched to a spring or springs, as will enable the saws to accommodate themselves to any, sudden strain, and to contract without snapping.

Bandsaw Introduced to America Ca 1865

According to the material culture historian, Polly Anne Earl, bandsaws, were introduced quite slowly into general use in the furniture industry.

Source: Polly Anne Earl, "Craftsmen and Machines:The Nineteenth-Century Furniture Industry", in Ian M. G. Quimby, and Polly Anne Earl, eds., Technological Innovation and the Decorative Arts Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1973, pp 307-329.

An expert on shop practice in the furniture industry, M Powis Bale, writing in 1870, dated the rapid introduction of the band saw in America from 1865 on. Bandsaws, while potentially useful, needed numerous refinements before they could enjoy wide, reliable use. The wide commercial use of a bandsaw like the 1878 model produced by the Cincinnati-based J A Fay and Company (below) "required high-grade steel to prevent the blade snapping and a heavy iron frame to prevent vibration". As improvements in bandsaw design, the Fay bandsaw introduced several innovations common to bandsaws today. According to Bale,

From the image below, observe that machine's main frame, a flanged casting, is made in one piece. The upper saw-wheel combines a steel rim with wrought iron spokes, and a cast iron center. With this combination, Fay created a machine according to Bale (page 133), of "lightness and elasticity in the greatest possible degree, and reducing the strain on the saw". In addition, the steel spindles on the saw-wheels run in self-oiling bearings, which are adjustable for wear.

Blade tensioning is maintained by a screw and hand wheel on on a slide mechanism on the top wheel. A weighted lever (shown on the left of the image, at the rear of the machine) is designed to compensate for the blade's expansion or contraction as it rotates through workpieces. Guide blocks and thrust bearings are: first, three small metallic guide wheels receive the back thrust of the blade, an, second. the side blocks are of wood. the tires onthe wheels are India-rubber. For adjusting blade travel, the angle of the top wheel is adjustable. To adjust to the thickness of the workpieces, the guide blocks can be raised and lowerd. The table's angle is adjusted by a ball-and-socket mechanism. A mechanism for slowly either starting or stopping the blade's rotation is a combination of a "brake and striking gear". The fast-and-loose pulleys are in. diameter, and are speeded to run at 375 revolutions per minute.

Some Foot-Powered Band Saws

1879 American-Made Foot Power Band Sawing Machine.

The machine which we illustrate herewith is an attempt to do for the a foot power band sawing machine has the same advantages, in the class of work for which it is suited, in continuous motion and in speed of cutting, which the regular machines have, and is to be preferred over the foot power jig-saw accordingly.


The parts to this machine are very few, and the construction, as may be seen by the engraving, is very simple. The principal pieces of which it is composed are an upright standard, which, by means of suitable feet, is bolted to the floor; two brackets carried by it, which sustain the wheels; the wheels which carry the saw, a treadle, crank and fly-wheel.

The saw employed is of the well-known type ordinarily used upon band sawing machines, and runs upon wheels in the usual manner. The principal bracket carries an arm which holds the guide. A pulley on the shaft of the lower wheel is belted to the driving wheel, which in turn is driven by the crank connected with the foot treadle.

The saws used in connection with this machine are made thinner and finer than those used in the large machines, and are tempered by an entirely new process. The success attending their manufacture has been so great that the makers feel justified in warranting them from breaking.

The manufacturers claim for this machine ... is the most complete of its kind ever offered to the public It is the only one that can be run with equal success by either foot or steam power. It is also claimed for it that it can do the finest, as well as coarse and heavy work, being adapted to use in the finest toy work and upon heavy lumber. This machine is manufactured by Messrs. Kimball & Kimball, 639 Arch street, Philadelphia, who will be pleased to furnish any further information desired.

Source: Building Age 1 June 1879 New York, David Williams company, page 114.

1908 Foot Power Band Saw

The new 20-inch foot power band saw is an improved type, built by the Silver Manufacturing Co., Salem, Ohio. The table is of iron and it can be tilted and locked in any position for angle sawing up to 45 degrees by loosening a nut with an attached lever. The frame is in one piece, cored out, and is heavy and symmetrical.


All adjustments are accessible to the operator, who can control upper wheel adjustment, saw guide, tension of saw blade and tilting of table without changing position at saw.

The foot power mechanism is a novel as well as valuable feature, being different from the ordinary "dead center" construction. In ordinary foot treadle machines, each downward stroke requires enough power to drive the wheel a complete revolution because of the "dead centers" at top and bottom of driving wheel. The mechanism on this machine allows it to be started in any position. A heavy strap attached to treadle is fastened to a ratchet pulley and, as soon as the pressure of stroke is relieved, the ratchet automatically winds up and raises the foot lever with it. During a single down-ward tread, the saw blade travels 8 feet.

In Fig. 1 is shown a 20-in. foot power band saw and in Fig. 2 a combined foot and belt power band saw. The two are similar in all respects with the exception that the latter is provided with belt shifter and with tight and loose pulleys for power.

The height of the machine over all is 67 ins. and the floor space 24x30 ins. The distance between saw and frame is 20-ins. and the height under saw-guide when raised is 9 ins. Tbe saw blade is 10 ft. 5 ins. long and two blades are provided, one 1/4-in- wide and the other 3/8-in. wide. The wheels are 20-1/2-ins. diameter and 1-3/8-ins. face. The size of table is 18x22 ins. and size of base is 11-1/2x23-ins. The gear wheels are of 8-in. and 16-in. diameter. The speed of the machine is from 300 to 400 r. p. m.

Source: Modern Machinery 22 August 1908 page 223

Additional Considerations About Bandsaw Development

In the woodworking community today, the over-worked adage, "scarce as hen's teeth", fits when you look at the "accessible" literature on the bandsaw . (By accessible I mean literature relatively easy to locate, like articles in books or in woodworking magazines. To name a few within a fairly select group, Michael Duncan, Mark Duginske, Lonnie Bird, Gary Rogowski come to mind.)

Using either websites maintained by woodworking magazines to retrieve articles those magazines have published and/or google books to discover books whic cover bandsaws yields disappointingly fewer "hits" than you expect, given the versatilty of the bandsaw for dimensioning wood in woodworking shops. Why is this true? As a diehard bandsaw user myself, it's indeed hard to say.

Lately, I have noticed -- while making several coffee-tables with veneered tops -- apart from cut-offs with my old RAS and/or precise miters with a sliding compound miter saw, virtually all of my sawing is with my bandsaw. Now, true, I am working with large, rough cut slabs, cut from a huge big-leaf maple, from a friend's sawmill, so dimensioning is central to the operation. With the rough dimensioning completed, turning to the jointer is next, where you are able to fairly quickly reduce workpieces to the exact size needed. Using my cabinet saw is rare.

Why the soliloquy about the bandsaw? Because -- considering its importance and usefulness, little is written about it, both currently, today, or about its history.
Thus when you do run into a source dedicated to bandsaw history, you treasure it. One such source is Chandler Jones' 1992 Bandsaws: Wide Blade and Narrow Blade Types. Granted, to get a copy took some effort onmy part, even though the book was publshed locally (90 miles south) in Seattle. Below is some of the wisdom I have gleaned from Jones' book:



In the 75 years it took to develop the know-how to make the wide band saw practical the changes were frequent, but gradual. But, the band saw certainly expanded upon the "continuous cutting action" which made the circular saw so successful, these are some of the advantages achieved:

  1. The long saw blade creates a time interval for cooling, so blade heating is less of a problem. Only a small percentage of the saw is cutting at any moment.
  2. The band blade cuts essentially in a straight line, just slightly inclined from the perpendicular. So, it saws always at the same cutting angle. This compares with the circular saw which cuts in a longer, sweeping and curved path.
  3. The downward cutting force of the band saw holds the material snugly: ... onto the carriage knees in the case of the sawmill ... onto the bed rollers in the case of the linebar resaw ... onto the table top in the case of the shop saw. Thus, the tendency for kickbacks as experienced with circular saw does not occur.
  4. Thinner blades make less sawdust and solid wood yield is greater.
  5. Less power is required for a band saw than a circular saw.
  6. The band mill with its large throat opening is ideal for milling large diameter logs.
  7. Narrow band saw blades as used in the furniture industry cut intricate shapes very economically.

Source: Chandler Jones, Bandsaws: Wide Blade and Narrow Blade Types Seattle: Privately Printed, 1992.

Delta's First Homeshop Bandsaw

under construction 8-12-08


The image on the left shows the first page of the patent -- 1933, but the bandsaw was on the market in 1930 -- to Herbert Tautz for Delta's bandsaw designed for the homeshop. Volume II, Chapter 14, of Delta's 1930 woodworker's manual, The Modern Motor-Driven Woodworking Shop: How to Plan-Operate and Get the Most Out of It has many images like the one below of the bandsaw patent pictured on the left.


World War II Rationing a Problem? Make It Yourself


The issue of rationing in World War II impacted every corner of the national domestic situation fom 1941 until at least 1945, when peace treaties were signed and combat ceased. Today, anyone over 70, even at such a young age, since they were born in the 1930s, living in America -- including Canada -- has memories of food rationing, and other supplies either difficult or impossible to get, or manufactured at a low quality. The nation's effort was dedicated to the deployment of the War.

In this circumtance, clever people resort to other methods to obtain needed goods, hence Popular Mechanics 1941 publication of the woodworker's manual, Forty Power Tools You Can Make.

One of the forty tools illustrated is the bandsaw on the left.

Sources: Manfred Powis Bale, Woodworking Machinery, Its Rise, Progress, and Construction London: Crosby, Lockwood and Son, 1880 (1894); Joseph M. Wilson, History, Mechanics, Science, volume 3 of The Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition Philadelphia: Gebbie and Barrie, 1877, pages 107-9; "The Endless Band Sawing Machine," Journal of the Franklin Institute, 3d ser. 59, no. 1 January 1870), pages 6-11; John Richards, "Wood-Working Machinery," Journal of the Franklin Institute, 3d ser. 60, no. 3 (Sept. 1870): 174-76; John Richards A Treatise on the construction ... of Wood-working Machines. London: Spon,, 1872; Herbert Tautz and Clyde J Fruits, The Modern Motor-Driven Woodworking Shop: How to Plan-Operate and Get the Most Out of It Milwaukee: Woodworkers Educational Department, Division of Delta Manufacturing, 1930, volume 2; E K Spring, "Develpment of Materials for Wood-Cutting Tools", Proceedings of Wood Symposium: One Hundred Years of Engineering Progress with Wood, The Centennial of Engineering Convocation, September 3-13, 1952, Chicago IL; Charles Singer, ed., A History of TechnologyOxford: Clarendon Press, 1958, volume 4, page 437; Polly Anne Earl, "Craftsmen and Machines:The Nineteenth-Century Furniture Industry", in Ian M. G. Quimby, and Polly Anne Earl, eds., Technological Innovation and the Decorative Arts Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1973, pp 307-329; Chandler Jones, Chandler Jones Bandsaws: Wide Blade and Narrow Blade Types 1992 pdf format Seattle: Privately Printed, 1992. In their respective manuals on the bandsaw, both Mark Duginske and Lonnie Bird provide many destails, suggestions and illustrations useful for bandsaw users, especially newbies. For citations to Duginske and Bird, and more info and images on bandsaws, see my bandsaw syllabus

Bandsaw Blade click here for entry on the bandsaw blade ( 4-15-08)