Posted in Lessons Learned

Strike up the band saw

We interrupt this blog post for this special announcement: HAPPY 38TH BIRTHDAY, SCOTTY! LOVE YOU!

I have been pondering the purchase of a band saw for some time, because I just don’t have enough tools around the house with the potential to maim me (further). Actually, I have been wanting one for my inlay work. I buy small lumber from Woodcraft in 3/8″ x 3″ x 24″ pieces, which are generally too long for practical use, at least at this stage of the game. I had bought a circular saw for cutting them down, but at that thickness, it’s too much saw for the wood, and a saw that can whip wood at me at high speed if it has a mind to is not going to be my favorite tool in the shop, not to mention the whine of it when it’s working is deafening. I also have a couple boxes of scrap wood that I could use to create other tools, jigs, and aids in the shop if I had band saw; a band saw will cut around curves. A band saw is also the only saw that will allow you to resaw. I get a lot of great wood in the aforementioned size that would be great in inlay designs, but it’s too thick; a band saw will allow me to cut it into 1/8″ thick pieces. Table saws, circular saws, and miter saws will only do straight cuts, and the kerf of the blade is too thick to resaw; you’ll waste half your wood.

Plus, they can take your limbs off. There’s a greater safety factor in a band saw, which I’m always in favor of. My family is cursed by power tools, and while thus far it has only affected the men in my family, one can never be too sure when it comes to curses. Therefore, I approach them with great respect. If you start sawing into your finger with a jeweler’s saw, you’re going to notice before you do any great damage. With a power saw, by the time you feel the pain, the packrat that lives under the workbench has already scuttled off with your fingertip.

I finally bit the bullet and ordered this 9″ Delta in November, since I was ordering some other stuff with the birthday money my folks sent for the purpose. The price was right, and it was not overkill for the kind of work I intended. I was excited when it arrived, so excited that it sat unopened on my bench for at least two weeks.

I am a woman of the world, and am not generally intimidated by a tool of any size, but this one intimidated me. It’s a fine line between respect and fear, and while I had several books that would tell me how to use it, I was putting it off. Then the Woodcraft flier arrived, and wouldn’t you know, but the first class they were offering in 2008 was a class called “Band Saw Techniques.” For $75, a professional, experienced woodworker would show me how to set up and use my band saw. I breathed a sigh of relief, called to register, and assembled my band saw the weekend beforehand so that I’d at least have a sense of what I was looking at when I arrived at the class.

Thursday came, and I left work early to get across town to attend my class. I was, as I expected the only woman in the class, and the only person with a two-syllable name. My classmates were Bill, Ben, and Bob, and Don, the instructor. I was probably the only non-woodworker in the room, as well. Don had taught industrial arts classes and adult education courses in woodworking for 3o-some years, and the 3 Bs all had varying degrees of experience in woodworking and were just looking to broaden their knowledge. However, despite being a total noob, everyone there was gracious and supportive.

Don was an affable and knowledgeable instructor, and he was, in fact, missing half a pinky finger. It raised a chuckle, of course. However, he made sure we knew that it was not the result of a shop accident, but rather an ill-fated afternoon playing with an old push mower with his brother when he was a kid.

The support of my classmates was invaluable, because, as it turns out, I am NOT a band sawing prodigy. I suck out loud, as a matter of fact. While the concept is simple, the execution is not quite so facile, at least for me. I think my sawing suffered from three problems: 1) inexperience, which was a given; 2) a mental block about sawing next to the line and leaving it there, instead of shaving the line off, as I do when I’m sawing shell—my brain found it hard to make the switch; and 3) I have to wonder if my monocular vision makes it harder for me to keep track of the line, the saw blade at the cutting point, and the trajectory all at once. I have the same problem hand-sawing shell, but because the scale is so much smaller, one eye can take in the whole of the situation. You’re talking an inch of space, tops. When I’m cutting a large piece of wood, I cannot keep track of it all. Fortunately, I am not planning to make furniture. I want to cut wood to size, resaw, and if I some day get really ambitions, maybe make some small hardwood boxes to feature inlay projects, because I have already made too damn many paperweights. And now you know what you’re all getting for Christmas next year.

When all was said and done, I had 2 practice cuts that were not fantastic, but not disasters either. That is to say, they were still in 1 piece as intended. We had a third option, to cut a cabriolet leg for a table, but given how long I was taking to do my piece, and that the 4 of us only had the one band saw to use, I passed on that and took it home. Maybe some day. I left the class no longer afraid of my band saw, ready to put it to use, and with the same 10 fingers I arrived with. I’d call that a success.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.