I am just starting to learn about woodworking, and am trying to decide which would be the more versatile
machine to buy first, a bandsaw or a tablesaw. Any suggestions?
The orthodox response is "Get a tablesaw first," but that may be due as much to historically limited
understanding of the bandsaw as to the inarguable value of the tablesaw. There's no right or wrong
whichever choice you make. Both machines are immensely useful, and each does things the other can't
do. Neither one is a stand-alone tool; stock must be processed by other tools before it goes on the
tablesaw or after it comes off the bandsaw.
Tablesaws make clean, straight, cuts – they're great for ripping joinable edges, cutting to
precise dimensions, doing joinery, and even making cove molding. Before you can safely use the saw
however, you must have used a jointer or jointer plane to make edges straight and surfaces flat and
out of twist, or you'll invite kickback, which is the immediate cause of most tablesaw injuries.
Tablesaws can't resaw wide stock or cut curves.
Bandsaws can cut curves and they can cut straight lines as well. They're ideal for resawing to
create custom stock thickness, and safer as well since they don't cause kickback. You can rip stock
freehand without having to joint an edge first, and you can make cuts in stock too small to handle
on the tablesaw without extra jigs. However, bandsaws don't leave cut surfaces clean and flat.
You'll have to use a plane to make edges and ends smooth enough for joining, and you'll need to use
planes, scrapers or sanders to smooth sawn surfaces.
So which one to buy first? Some will surely argue with us, but our bias is that the bandsaw is
clearly the more versatile of the two machines, and for that reason is an excellent choice for your
first stationary tool. Using hand tools to follow up teaches you more about the wood you're working
on than electric jointers and thickness planers ever will. Finally, while no machine that turns
hardwood into dust can be described as completely "safe," the bandsaw is far less hazardous than any
tablesaw (with the possible exception of the SawStop machine), which is no bad thing for a beginner.
Whichever tool you choose, get instruction! Learn from a thoroughly qualified instructor, and read
everything you can lay your hands on as well. Mark Duginske's
New Complete Guide to the Bandsaw
and Kelly Mehler's
The Tablesaw Book
are excellent sources of sound information to get you started.