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A Guide To The Portable Band Saw

What is a portable band saw?

A portable band saw is a handheld power tool consisting of a continuous blade looped around two pulleys. It really is just a small version of a regular band saw, with one huge advantage: you can move it around a lot more easily which lets you take it to the material if it can’t be moved to a regular band saw.A band saw is typically used for cutting metal or wood and you change the blade to suit the material. You’ll typically find that using a portable band saw will result in a cleaner and squarer cut than would a reciprocating saw.

Choosing a portable band saw

Capacity - Remember, the material you are cutting needs to fit within the throat of the machine so most have a cutting capacity of around 4 inches. If you need more then you can get high capacity versions that can go up to about 6 inches but these will be larger and heavier, and thus more unwieldy.

Power - As with most power tools you have two options when it comes to powering your saw; mains or battery. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Mains saws are typically lighter and can continue working indefinitely, but are restricted to a maximum radius from an electrical outlet. A cordless portable band saw can be operated anywhere however you have a maximum cutting time between charges, the battery adds extra weight and they tend to be a little more expensive than their corded equivalents.

Tension release handle - Usually located on the forward section of the saw, this handle is used to release the tension on the blade in order to replace it. This lets you replace a dull blade or switch blades depending on the material you are cutting.

Guide rollers - These support the blade as it cuts into the material preventing it from deflecting or binding. As the blade is very thin and flexible these rollers need to rotate freely and be in the correct position to stop it warping during cutting.

Tracking adjustment - This allows you to adjust the path of the blade as it travels between the two pulleys. The front pulley floats on a spring tension hub assembly which means that it needs to be aligned correctly so that the blade travels on the correct path while you’re cutting.

Cutting shoe - This is a flat metal guide which is designed to support the saw and somewhat offset the drag of the blade’s teeth as it performs the cut. This helps to prevent the material being pulled into the rear drive pulley during the cut.

Variable speed - Being able to adjust the speed of the blade will (along with an appropriate blade) allow you to cut a wide variety of materials.

Portable band saw safety

Before you start using any new power tool you should take time to read the manual and familiarise yourself with the safety features and potential dangers of the tool, and this is no different for a portable band saw.

A bandsaw has an exposed blade which is capable of cutting through wood and most common metals ranging from copper to steel; and it will have no problems taking off your fingers too. You need to keep both hands on the provided handles at all times, this will keep them safely away from the blade.

Appropriate dress is essential, namely safety glasses and gloves; but make sure you don’t have any loose jewellery which could easily get caught in the moving blade and drag your limbs in after it.

Make sure that the material you are cutting is supported. You don’t want your material to slip mid-cut, a section to come flying off propelled by the blade or something heavy to drop on your foot. This can be as simple as having a helper hold it, making sure that their hands are well away from the blade and the cutting area in general, using a vice or saw horse and clamps.

How to use a portable band saw

Understanding how you should use a portable band saw will not only give you the best results it will also ensure that you use it in the safest manner possible.

Prepare your material

Make sure your material is secured and the chosen cut is marked clearly. It’s best to mark it around the entire diameter of the material, so that you can judge the cut accurately whilst you’re doing it.

Clear your work area

Make sure that there are no obstacles on the floor or around the material on which you might slip or nudge your saw during the cut.

Check your clothing

Make sure you don’t have any loose clothing or jewellery. Put on your safety goggles and gloves.

Check your saw

Making sure it’s not yet powered on (so unplugged / turned off) check over the saw and make sure nothing looks worn or broken. Hold your saw in the cutting position over your material and make sure there’s nothing in the way. If you’re using a corded saw make sure that the cable isn’t going to be in area of the cut.

Make sure the blade is appropriate for the material you’re going to cut.

You want at least 2, but preferably more, teeth in the material at all times. So make sure the TPI of your blade is high enough if you’re cutting very thin stock. See my article on how to choose the right band saw blade for more information, it is equally applicable for portable saws as stationary ones.

Portable Band Saw Brands

You’ll find that most of the named brands have similar features and use a standard blade length. Well known brands include DeWalt, Milwaukee and Porter Cable. You can, of course, buy cheaper brands, often for a far lower price. However be aware that the build quality of these tools will be far inferior and often will not last beyond a few jobs. As with most things, you tend to get what you pay for. And so we come to the end of our guide to portable band saws.

What Is A Horizontal Band Saw?

Band saw machines consist of a thin rotating blade in a loop fed between two pulleys and they fall into three categories; horizontal, vertical and portable. This refers to the orientation of the blade.

For a horizontal bandsaw the workpiece is held stationary and the saw moves vertically downwards into the workpiece, usually using the force of gravity to feed the cut. A vertical bandsaw has the blade stationary and the workpiece is moved horizontally into the blade.

A portable band saw is what it sounds like; the same looped blade around pulleys, but a much smaller, handheld version.

A horizontal bandsaw is typically used for cutting stock to length. With an appropriate blade it can be used to cut steel and harder materials. It can typically swivel and can thus make mitre cuts.

A vertical bandsaw is more versatile and can be used for cutting patterns/contours, polishing and filing as well as cutting to length. It is usually used for wood, plastics and softer metals.

The main drawback of the horizontal bandsaw is that you can’t cut patterns. If that’s what you want to do then buy a vertical bandsaw; it’s as simple as that. If you’re not interested in patterns then carry on reading.

A horizontal saw does a similar job to a power hacksaw. They range from small, manual, pulldown saws right up to large hydraulically controlled automated machines which can be left running unattended.

How to choose a band saw?

What features should you look for when choosing a bandsaw:​

Mitre saw – The angle of the blade can be adjusted so that you don’t have to move the work piece.

Vice – Essential for holding your work piece in place securely.

Adjustable feed pressure – This is usually changed by adding or removing weights in the pedestal.

Variable blade speed – If you cut several different types of material then you’ll want to be able to change the blade speed.

Manual or automatic – If this is for your garage workshop then you’ll want a manual saw. However if it’s for your profession then you might want a CNC controlled automatic horizontal bandsaw.

How to use a band saw?

  • Clear the floor around the saw of any slip or trip hazards.
  • Inspect the saw in its entirety, you’re looking for signs of wear and tear. Check your manufacturer’s manual for advice on sourcing replacement horizontal band saw parts.
  • Make sure you’ve got the correct blade for the type of material you want to cut. Take a look at my article on horizontal band saw blades for advice on this.
  • Check the blade for signs of wear or damage. Change the blade if you find any, these can cause the blade to catch on the workpiece, sending it flying.
  • Make sure the blade is tension-ed correctly according to the width of the blade. Check the manual for how to do this. You need to keep the blade tension-ed to keep it tracking correctly. Too little tension will cause the blade to wander, too much will break it.
  • Set the vice to the correct angle if you wish to make a mitre cut.
  • Put on your safety goggles, gloves and mask.
  • Never hold the work-piece by hand; make sure it’s firmly secured in a vice before beginning cutting. No using a saw horse here, make sure it’s definitely fixed in place.
  • Make sure that the work-piece is not touching the blade before starting the machine. Always allow the saw to come up to full speed before beginning cutting.

Here’s a good video demonstrating an Ellis horizontal bandsaw:

That’s a decent primer on the horizontal band saw. 

Coping With A Coping Saw – The Best Coping Saw

A coping saw consists of a thin, detachable, blade stretched across a deep U-shaped frame. It is one of the most versatile types of saws for fine and intricate woodworking. 

They are generally cheaper and more robust than a fret saw. ​

Best Coping Saw

​Although a lot of people would not describe a coping saw as a precision tool it can still be used to cut some very intricate and detailed shapes. They are less maneuverable than a fret saw and cannot turn as quickly due to the wider blade.

However a coping saw is a very effective tool in the right hands. They are cheap and easy to use and replacement blades are generally both cheap and easy to come by.​

Some of the best coping saws will allow you to switch the blades 360 degree so that you can swap the actually cutting to either the push or pull stroke of the saw. This can give you more control especially on supper detailed and delicate work. ​


​Robert Larson 540-2000 Coping Saw

​The German made Robert Larson coping saw has an easy to adjust tensioning system - you just turn the handle. 

It has a great ergonomic wooden handle and a nice stiff frame.​

Specifications

  • ​6 inch blade length
  • Cutting depth roughly 5 inches 
  • Accepts saw blades with pins
  • Tension adjustment is by turning the handle.

Olson Saw SF63510 Coping Saw

The SF63510 Coping Saw from Olson is a great all round workhorse of a coping saw. It is designed very much so in the traditional sense and is exactly what you would look for in the best coping saw for your next project.

Specifications

  • Hard wood handle
  • 6.5 inch blades
  • Blade can be switched to either cut on push or pull
  • Standard pin end blade
  • Can be tension-ed on either end

BAHCO 301 6 1/2 Inch Coping Saw

The Bahco 301 is a standard 6.5 inch coping saw that comes with a very high quality beech handle that is lacquered in orange. The blades are made from tempered and hardened carbon steel.

The frame is made from nickel plated steel and the whole saw has a very high quality feel.​

Specifications

  • Nickel plated steel frame​
  • 6.5 inch blades
  • High quality frame
  • Lacquered beech handle 

Why is it called a coping saw?

This saw got its name from the type of joint it is typically used for, which is called a coped joint. A coped joint consists of two pieces of molding where one is cut to fit over the other. A typical application is for one piece to be cut flat to fit up against the corner of a wall and the second piece is shaped to fit over the first.

So what is a coping saw used for?

Well, as above, it was named after a coped joint. The thinness of the blade allows for the cutting of intricate shapes and tight curves in thin materials. This means that a coping saw is also very useful for decorative cuts.

Another ideal use for this type of saw is cutting shapes out from the middle of a work piece. The blade is detachable so that you can fit it through a hole in your material and then reattach the blade. You can then cut out the required shape and detach the blade to remove the saw.

There is one drawback to a coping saw, you can only use it for cutting thin stock (but not extremely thin). The size of the blade and teeth is far too small for large workpieces. You’ll need to limit your workpiece to about 1″ thick.

If you find that you can’t cut a tight enough curve with a coping saw then you’ll probably want to try a fret saw. The much deeper frame of the fret saw also allows for cutting further away from the edge of the workpiece.Both coping saws and fret saws are pretty cheap tools, so you’re not going to break the bank if you buy both.

Another use for a coping saw is to add the finishing cuts when removing the wood from a dovetail joint or any other awkward or detailed cut(see below).​ Once the main cuts are made with a back saw the coping saw is placed into one of the vertical cuts and then cut into the surplus material working towards the opposite vertical cut. Once the waste is removed the coping saw can then be used to remove the rest from the bottom edge of the dovetail. A rasp of file will then give a smooth finish to the inside surfaces of the dovetail.

coping-saw-dovetail

Coping saw used in dovetail

How to Use a Coping Saw 

Here’s a step by step guide on how to use a coping saw to cut a section from inside a work-piece:

  1. Draw the shape that you want to cut out onto your work-piece.
  2. Make sure that the frame of your coping saw is deep enough to allow you to make your cut (try a fret saw if not).
  3. Drill a hole in your workpiece inside the section you want to cut out. The hole needs to be bigger than the thickness of your blade. If there are multiple sections to be cut out then drill a hole in each.
  4. Detach the blade from the saw. For most coping saws you twist the handle to loosen the blade so that you can detach it.
  5. Pass the blade through one of the holes you cut and the reattach the frame.
  6. Use a smooth back and forth motion to cut from the drilled hole to the line you have drawn and then cut all the way around it.
  7. Detach the blade again and remove it from the workpiece. Then push the cut section out from the main piece.
  8. Sand the edges of the hole to get the finish that you want.

Learning how to use a coping saw correctly and safely will mean you will get much better results from the blades but it will also mean that you are less likely to break the blades.

And how to cope a joint

  1. Cut the first piece of molding so that it fits flush with the wall where you want to mount it.
  2. Place the first piece on top of the second piece, edge on, and trace around it carefully.
  3. Use your coping saw to cut out the required shape, remember to stay inside the line!
  4. Test the fit.
  5. Make any adjustments needed. You might be better of with a piece of sanding paper here rather than the saw again depending on how much needs to be removed.
  6. Fit both pieces to the wall and bask in the glory of your perfectly fitted joint.

Here’s a great video on YouTube demonstrating this method:

Coping Saw Blades

You’ll need a different coping saw blade depending on the material you’re going to be cutting.

The majority of coping saws should come with at least one starter blade. You may need to experiment with some different bladed to see which one suits your specific needs. ​

Another major factor in how well your oping saw will perform is how well you tension it. Depending on the particular saw model that you choose you will need to experiment with just how tightly you tighten the saw blade. ​

Wood

There are two types of blade for cutting wood, coarse and fine. This refers to the number of teeth per inch.

Coarse blades (less than 15 teeth per inch) will cut quickly which makes it easier to follow the line you are cutting (doesn’t really make sense, you would think it would be easier if you’re cutting slowly but that actually makes the blade more likely to wander).

Fine blades can cut tighter curves but will be slower. Most of the time you’ll want to use a coarse blade and then sand the resulting cut. You’ll only want a fine blade if you want to cut a very small radius curve.

Metal

The blade will be made of the same material as hacksaw blades, high-carbon steel.

Tile

You’ll want a tungsten, carbide-encrusted wire.

Plastic

This blade will have helical teeth and will cut in all directions; which lets it make sharp turns by simply changing the direction of pressure.

Power Coping Saw

Looking for a power coping saw? Well a power coping saw or an electric coping saw is what some people refer to as a scroll saw. Many hobbyist use the term power coping saw. I rarely however hear a carpenter or professional woodworker use the term.

So there you have it, the basics of using a coping saw. 

A Guide To The Different Types Of Saw

From wikipedia:

A saw is a tool consisting of a tough blade, wire, or chain with a hard toothed edge. It is used to cut through material, most often wood. The cut is made by placing the toothed edge against the material and moving it forcefully forth and less forcefully back or continuously forward. This force may be applied by hand, or powered by steam,water, electricity or other power source.

I’ve put together a list of the most common types of saw, along with their common use cases; this should help you to decide what sort of saw you need for the job you want to do.

Hand Tools

Back Saw

The technical name for a saw that is stiffened along the back edge of the blade, which is more commonly referred to as a tenon saw as their typical use is for cutting tenons. The blade is usually relatively short. For particularly fine work it is called a dovetail saw which has very fine teeth at 22-24 points.​

Coping Saw

A coping saw is used for cutting tight curves or shapes in thin wood. The blade cuts on the pull stroke but as it can be removed you can reverse it to cut on the push.​

Cross-Cut Saw

​Used to cut across the grain; the teeth are bevel-filed at an angle other than 90 degrees and pitched at 75-80 degrees. Tooth size varies from 6 to 12 points.

Dovetail Saw

​A type of back saw with very fine teeth between 22-24 points.

Drywall Saw

Typically used for cutting holes in drywall; this saw has a pointed end which is stabbed into the material and then cuts in a regular manner. Has coarse teeth which cuts quickly but leaves a ragged edge.

Folding Saw

A folding saw is usually used in the outdoors for trimming tree branches. They are extremely easy to carry in a backpack as the saw blade is folded back into the handle. They are great to bring on a camping trip. Some are capable of cutting some fairly thick branches despite looking like a large pocket knife​.

Flush Cut Saw

​Has a very thin, flexible blade with fine teeth which cuts on the pull stroke. The blade flexes so that you can cut dowels and plugs flush with the surface without damaging it.

Fret Saw

Similar to a coping saw but with a much deeper throat.

Hacksaw

Has a thin blade with very fine teeth held under tension in a steel frame. Typically used for cutting metal.

Japanese Saw

​This type of saw has a thinner blade which cuts on the pull stroke and leaves a narrow kerf.

Panel Saw

​This is simply a small version of a crosscut saw with smaller teeth at 10-12 points. Its teeth are pitched and beveled the same as the crosscut saw. It is used for cutting thinner wood.

Ripsaw

Used to cut timber to the correct width, along the grain. Some ripsaws have incremental teeth; which is where the teeth become larger the closer they are to the handle. Generally the front of the saw’s teeth are at right angles to the blade; and are pitched at 85-90 degrees. These saws are unusual these days as timber is widely available in common widths. If you are ever needing to rip cut timber a crosscut saw will do the job just fine.​

Tenon Saw

​A more common name for a back saw; which is the technical name for a saw that is stiffened along the back edge of the blade.

Veneer Saw

​A small, double edged saw which is used for cutting thin veneers from hardwood.

Power Tools

Band Saw

​The blade is a continuous band of thin metal with teeth along one edge. A bandsaw comes in three types; vertical, horizontal and portable. A vertical bandsaw (pictured) has the blade fixed vertically; the material is moved horizontally and can be rotated freely to cut complex patterns. To use a horizontal bandsaw, the material is clamped in place and then the horizontal blade is lowered onto it using gravity to make the cut. These are typically used for ripping timber to length. A portable saw is used for the same purpose as its horizontal cousin, but is not fixed in place.

Chainsaw

​A chainsaw consists of teeth fixed to a rotating chain running along a guide bar. They are typically used for felling trees and cutting logs.

Circular Saw

​Consists of a spinning circular blade attached to hand grips. Very effective for ripping long pieces of wood as well as cross cuts. Reasonably accurate when used in conjunction with a fence.

Hole Saw

​Also known as a hole cutter, this is a ring shaped saw blade which is fitted to a drill in order to cut a circular hole in a (usually) thin workpiece.

Jigsaw

​Also known as a bayonet or sabre saw. This has a reciprocating saw blade attached to an electric motor. It can cut patterns similarly to a band saw, with the advantage that it is not restricted in how deep it can cut, however the blade is not as well supported and so can twist easily causing it to be less precise.

Miter Saw

​Consists of a spinning circular blade which is lowered onto the workpiece, which is usually clamped in place against a fence. The angle of the blade can be changed relative to the fixed fence in order to make an angled cross-cut.

Power Coping Saw​

Some people will refer to a scroll saw as a power coping saw due to how similar the blades and the cuts that you can make from them. The hand coping saw is more easy to maneuver and cheaper.​

Radial Arm Saw

​A precursor to the miter saw, this has a circular saw mounted on a sliding horizontal arm. It is used to make cross cuts in wider material than a miter saw can usually cope with.

Reciprocating Saw

​Similar to a jigsaw this has a thicker reciprocating blade mounted in-line with the handle. This is a very versatile saw which can be used for many applications by simply swapping out the blade.

Scroll Saw

​A scroll saw is a small, thin-bladed saw used for cutting intricate curves and patterns in thin material in cases where a coping saw or jigsaw cannot be used.

Table Saw

​One of the definitive tools for a woodworking shop. This consists of a circular saw blade driven by an electric motor, mounted partially protruding in a table. This tool is highly effective, and accurate, for both cross and rip cuts; as well as mitre cuts as the workpiece can be presented to the blade at any angle and bevel cuts as the vertical angle of the blade can be adjusted.

Now this is not an exhaustive list of all possible types of saw; however, most of the other types are variations on one of the types shown here.​