I Bought a New Bandsaw

By George T. (Terry) Chapman
Fairburn, Georgia

I have been searching for several years for a stick of dynamite. My old bandsaw has been slowly torturing me and I was planning its demise in a blaze of glory. One stick should be enough.

Steel City bandsaw I mostly turn wood and I use my bandsaw to round up the blanks and cut down on the amount of time to get a bowl roughed out. My saw is a department store brand 12 inch saw worn out in all the ways the books advise you to fix and it just would not cut it anymore (pun intended). It was what I could afford when I got it a long time ago and I suppose it worked fairly well for a while. I bought those special blades for bowl turners, the ones designed for wet wood , from Highland Woodworking and tried them and they would help for a while, but it had gotten to the point where it would take thirty minutes to simply trim the corners off a slab and try to get it rounded enough to put on the lathe. I bought " cool blocks " to guide the blades, but we had way worse problems than that. Being able to cut a round blank like you can buy at the wood store was simply out of the realm of possibility. So I decided I would take advantage of those large amounts of money Uncle Sam spent on getting me trained in explosive demolition and see if I could happen on just one stick. I was going to set the stick next to the upper wheel since that was the one I could never adjust. I would salvage the motor, and then invite my friends over for the event. We could have a little refreshment, some cookies, maybe grill a few burgers and ribs and then have a contest to see who got to push the button. It was going to be a blast, so to speak.

Unfortunately I could not find what I needed on eBay to pull this off, so I decided to let the saw complete its long slide into junkness (I had to add that word to the spell checker) and buy a new bandsaw. I had been watching Highland for the best price on their Steel City 14 inch bandsaw and when they made it a " Red Hot Special ," I pounced on it.

The guys at Highland put it on the back of my truck with a forklift, and thank goodness I did have a truck. You would have a hard time getting it in the trunk or back seat of your car. It comes in two boxes and the bigger box has a shipping weight of about 190 pounds. My plan was to open the boxes and sort out the pieces and get them into the shop one piece at a time by myself. Wrong! I did get the base section and motor (which come in one box) sorted out and into the shop without any great problem. But the bigger box is the main body of the saw and essentially all one piece, and that sucker is heavy. My friends were laughing because I ended up hauling it around in the back of the truck for three days until the weather forecast called for rain and I was forced to call for help because I was not going to let that baby get wet. One of my friends and I managed to get it off the tailgate of the truck into a large wheelbarrow and roll it down to the sliding door of the shop and then flop it into the floor. We used a hand truck to move it near its permanent shop location.

Part of the deal with this particular model is the riser section that can be added into the neck of the saw to significantly increase the resawing capacity of the saw. When I was looking at the floor model, the clerk at Highland pointed out that when she bought one of these saws for herself, she had a problem installing the riser block. First of all, the top section of the saw is very heavy, so it takes at least two people to hold it up and insert the riser. Secondly, there is sometimes a problem with the two alignment pins used to keep the riser block and the neck of the saw from twisting in relation to each other. There is a chance that the pins will slip down into their receiving holes so far they cannot be removed and there is no way to get them out short of drilling and tapping the pins themselves to pull them out. The solution is to take the neck apart very carefully and grab the pins with needle nose pliers before they can slip down into an unreachable position. That process probably increases the assembly crew you will need to three people. Highland is now providing a set of replacement pins which are long enough to keep from dropping out of sight when you take the neck apart. If you can grab them in time, you can pull out the old pins and stuff the hole with something like loaf bread to hold the pins up while you put the riser block in place and set the neck back on. I will tell you that after all the warnings from several people at Highland, I had no trouble at all with the pins and when they shipped me the replacement pins a couple of days later, I did not need them. No loaf bread either.

I did have trouble with one thing on it. The bolt that holds the neck of the saw onto the bottom portion of the saw gets replaced with a longer bolt which runs through the new riser block. There is not much clearance around either end of the bolt and it is very difficult to get a wrench on the top of the bolt or onto the nut at the bottom. Plus the nut is a 33 mm hex head, and I don't know about you, but I suspect very few woodworkers have a 33 mm socket and handle lying around. I have a friend who is much more mechanically inclined than me, and he was able to stand an adjustable wrench vertically from below, grab the nut with it, and then turn it by putting another adjustable wrench on the end of the first wrench. Not a standard method but it worked, and beat buying a large metric socket and handle for five minutes of use. Socket that big probably costs more than two new blades for the saw.

It did require two of us to take the top portion of the saw off and set the riser block in place. It was about all both of us together wanted to handle since you have to line up the pins, pick up the top half of the saw and then jiggle that new longer bolt into place, all the while holding the top piece at almost shoulder height. It was a good trick. Three people would have been better.

Once we got all that hooked up, I added the new bowlturner's blade (105 inches with the riser in place) that I bought at the same time I bought the saw. The first piece of wood I stuck in it cut so fast that it scared me. The cuts which used to take thirty minutes with the dynamite saw took less than a minute with the new one. I almost cried it was such a joy. It was better than government cheese.

The bandsaw in Highland's "Red Hot Special" includes a built-in mobile base (that means it is on wheels for you non-technical people) and it also comes with a rip fence for those who do a lot of ripping or resawing. The fence assembly includes a round pin which you can screw to the fence to act as a pivot to correct blade drift when you resaw a board. Though the fence appears adequate, it was not the thing which sold me since I seldom do the resaw thing. The only thing I have resawn so far was a big chunk of dogwood that I stood on edge (without the fence) and sliced to get a flat side to put on the lathe. The dogwood was about ten or eleven inches high and the saw didn't even know it was there. Beautiful!

The things I like most about this saw:

  1. The weight of the saw is a huge advantage. The entire frame is cast iron and there is no vibration in it. The top and bottom wheels are both cast iron and I understand they are dynamically balanced. Before you put a blade on it, the wheels will spin and spin, and even after the blade is on, the saw takes a very long time to coast to a stop. All that momentum in the wheels just adds to the effectiveness of the cut.

  2. I really like the blade tension gauge on the rear of the top wheel. To set it, you simply dial in the blade width on the gauge and then pull the tensioning lever over to the set (blade) side and the blade tension is set. I could never feel like I had the tension set correctly on the dynamite saw, so this system is a real pleasure.

  3. The table is large and there is a big red "off" button which is easy to reach to shut the saw off quickly.

  4. It looks good in the shop and I look good using it.

Things I like less about this saw:
  1. There was no manual in the box, although I could see one online at the Steel City web site. When I complained in an email, they immediately sent me one by mail.

  2. It sure enough is heavy and you better have some help when you put it together.

  3. The dust collection port is poorly located. I hooked up my dust collector and I run it whenever I run the saw. It picks up some of the dust, but there is probably a quart and a half of dust in the very bottom of the saw. They put a little shelf at the dust port to catch dust coming off the blade at the bottom wheel, but it is hardly effective. Dust collection could have been done much better.

  4. All that momentum I mentioned in the "pro" list above can also be a disadvantage. The blade runs on so long after you cut the saw off that you almost forget it is still running. I put a stopwatch on it and it took almost 14 seconds to stop completely. By that time, I have changed focus and moved on to something else and if that something else is at the saw, it could be a problem.

I like this saw a lot and would recommend it highly (especially with the riser block and the wheels) to someone looking for a really good bandsaw at an exceptional price. Add the proper blades and this saw is a real winner.

Terry Chapman, a retired engineer, lives in Fairburn, Georgia. He writes an entertaining blog at www.asthewoodturns.blogspot.com . His turned bowls are available at www.thewoodshop.etsy.com .

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