Scroll Saw vs Band Saw : What’s the difference? Well, we go into detail between these two type of popular saws.
If you’re wondering whether to get a scroll saw or a band saw, we should be able to shed some light on the subject. Yes, you’ve guessed it – this article is going to focus on the scroll saw vs band saw and we’re going to cover every detail about these tools. Knowledge is power, so knowing how these tools work and what they are best for, will help you spend your cash wisely.
Scroll Saws vs Band Saws
I’d say that both scroll saws and band saws are specialized tools. They’re designed for specific types of cutting that goes far beyond the scope of any circular saw or even a jigsaw. One could use a jigsaw in place of a scroll saw, but it’s not the same machine. A scroll saw is to the jigsaw, what the table saw is to the circular saw. A band saw has some similarities to a scroll saw and that’s why many people have trouble choosing between the two. There are some very important differences between the two and this article is going to offer you a valuable guide to help you distinguish between them.
We’re going to start with a description of how these tools work. Understanding this will make it much easier to differentiate between their uses.
Professional Grade Scroll Saw —DEWALT DW788
How does a scroll saw work?
A scroll saw has a relatively small blade, like that of a jigsaw. This also means that you can get a large variety of blades for different types of materials and quality of cuts. Like a jigsaw, the blade on a scroll saw moves in an upward and downward motion. Though this is where the similarity ends.
The scroll saw blade is attached to an arm, running from the back of the machine to the front. The arm is attached to a vertical column which runs to the base of the machine. The arm is in a horizontal position and the blade is at 90° angle to the arm (the blade runs vertically). Parallel to the arm of the saw is the table. You place the piece that you’re cutting onto the table and move it through the blade. This allows you to move the piece as you need to, giving you the ability to make curved cuts and turn the piece to create very small curves and even sharp corners.
The table has a hole in it and the blade moves up and down through this hole. The blade is attached to a foot at the base of the arm and to a mechanism under the table. It is tensioned between these two points. The distance between the blade and the vertical column decides what size piece you can work with. This is called the throat. When looking at what size scroll saw you’re buying, the model will always refer to the throat size. A small scroll saw will have a 12” throat and this can increase up to 30” for the largest scroll saws. To the best of my knowledge, you don’t get a scroll saw larger than 30”.
Throat size is going to be one of your biggest considerations when buying a scroll saw. A 12” scroll saw will allow you to work with pieces of up to 24”. You’ll be able to have 12” of material hanging over the open end of the saw and have another 12” between the upright vertical column and the blade. It’s not always too easy working up to the maximum throat size and you’ll be better off not to expect to cut pieces more than 20” in width when using a 12” scroll saw. As the throat size increases, your piece will increase accordingly.
The blade on a scroll saw is easily removed, many use tool-free thumbscrews or a release clip to remove the blade. Your blade tension is important because this prevents the blade from snapping and reduces vibration. There are a number of ways that a scroll saw allows you to tension the blade. The most common way to do this is by using a tensioning knob. This can be at the back of the arm or at the front of the machine – either on the arm or below the table. A tensioning knob at the front of the scroll saw is the most convenient as it’s easy to access. Some will use a sliding tensioner, positioned on the arm of the saw.
Controlling vibration is a big part of working with a scroll saw. The way in which the blade moves can cause excessive vibration which will make the machine uncomfortable to work with and affect the accuracy with which you’re able to work. One of the things to look at when selecting a scroll saw is the blade operation. With some scroll saws, the entire arm moves up and down, this usually causes much greater vibration levels. Most scroll saws use a shaft along the arm and gears at the blade which means that the arm remains stationary and only the blade moves up and down. These are more common and most people prefer it.
Some scroll saws have arms that are able to tilt. The benefit of having a tilting arm is that this makes it much easier to thread the blade through the piece when making inside cuts. Inside cuts are when you first drill a hole into the piece and then thread the blade through the hole. An outside cut is when you start cutting directly from the edge (or outside) of the piece. The ability to make inside cuts is one of the biggest advantages of using a scroll saw vs a band saw.
When making bevel cuts, there are two ways in which the saw design allows for this. Most scroll saws have a table that tilts. Some tilt to the left, while others tilt to the right or in both directions. By tilting the table while the blade remains perpendicular to the arm, one is able to set the angle of the cut. A less common design allows the arm to tilt at an angle instead of the table, this requires more complicated mechanical components in the machine and these are, therefore, usually more expensive. Having an arm that tilts means that the angle of the blade changes and the table remains in a flat position. The benefit of this is that you’re able to work in a normal position – the table is always parallel to the ground. When the table tilts, you have to adjust your working position to the angle of the table.
Another feature that makes a scroll saw such a versatile machine is the ability to control the speed of the blade. Most scroll saws allow for a speed adjustment, this is measured in Scrolls per Minute (SPM). The speed adjustment isn’t the same for all scroll saws and can be anything between 250 and 1800 SPM. A scroll saw with the widest range of speed adjustments will obviously give you the best versatility. Beginners may want to work slower as they get used to using the scroll saw. Even seasoned wood and metal workers will make use of the speed adjustments depending on how they’re working. If you’re doing very detailed work with a lot of small intricate cuts, you’ll want to work at a slower speed as you turn the piece in every direction with little room for error. The material that you’re cutting may also require an adjustment of the blade speed. When cutting metal, one wants a slower blade speed as this prevents the blade from overheating.
One of the limiting factors of the scroll saw is the length of its blade. A scroll saw blade is usually 6” long and much of this length is used to move the blade through the table. This means that you’re seldom able to cut through pieces more than 2” in thickness when using a scroll saw. One is also able to use a different blade thickness, depending on the saw’s design. A thinner blade is helpful when cutting pieces with very fine detail. There are two basic blade types when looking at thickness. A pinned blade is much thicker and this means that it won’t snap easily and will work better for thicker pieces, especially if the material is hard. Pinless blades are much thinner and allow you to work more accurately. All scroll saws are able to use pinned blades – these blades have two pins to lock them into position when fitting them to the foot. Not all scroll saws can accommodate pinless blades and this usually requires an adapter that you attach to the foot. This is something to look out for if you intend doing fine detailing with your scroll saw.
A scroll saw is generally a small portable tool that stands on a workbench or a stand that’s built for the machine. Large 30” machines may not be that easy to move but most are smaller (12-21”). This makes the scroll saw ideal for small shops and woodworkers who need to transport the machine to several job sites. Because a scroll saw is small and not designed to cut through thick material, they don’t have large electric motors. They will usually use a motor that draws between 1A and 1.5A – this will depend mostly on the size of the machine. Having a small motor helps to make the saw lighter, smaller and, therefore, more portable. It also has the advantage of being able to use a regular 120V electrical outlet and these circuits don’t need a large a circuit breaker.
There are a number of accessories that one can get for a scroll saw. Most have the option of a stand which raises the machine to a good working height without using a workbench. Lights are a common feature and very handy. The main purpose of using a scroll saw is to do fine detailed work and a light is essential to see what you’re doing with better clarity. One can also get magnifying lights to help with really fine detailed work. Most scroll saws will have a foot clamp that presses the piece that you’re cutting against the table. A foot clamp helps reduce vibration on the piece and makes it safer when working with the machine. Another extra that some people prefer is a foot pedal to control the motor. Having a foot pedal means that you can hold the piece down at all times with both hands – you don’t have to remove one hand from the piece when switching the motor on and off or making speed adjustments. A foot pedal can be helpful when accuracy is crucial.
Learn more by reading our scroll saw buying guide.
How does a band saw work?
The band saw is one of the oldest power-assisted tools and its history dates back to the early 1800s. The basic design and function of a band saw have remained unchanged since they were first built, the most noticeable change from the first band saws is that modern machines use electric motors. The size of the machine varies greatly from small benchtop band saws right up to large floor-standing machines. The size of the motor will be determined by the size of the saw. The electric motor used in a band saw will generally be more powerful than those used in scroll saws. A band saw will have a motor producing between ⅓ HP (2A) and 1½ HP (9.3A).
Delta-28-400 | Heavy-duty Band Saw
Mechanically, a band saw is less sophisticated than a scroll saw and this means that there is less to go wrong. Most band saws use two wheels, one below the table and one above, some may use three or even four wheels. Smaller machines may use a third wheel to increase the throat size, thereby increasing the width of the piece that you’re able to cut. It’s the size of the wheel that determines your width (throat), so adding an extra wheel will create a triangular blade feed to increase the width. The saw blade is a continuous loop or band and this fits around the wheels. One of the wheels will be connected to an electric motor that drives the blade in a continuous downward motion. This differs from the scroll saw which has a ridged blade moving up and down.
The wheels have an adjustment to tension the blade. This is a simple gear mechanism and is usually operated by a turn handle operating a rack and pinion system. When you need to fit the blade, you’ll turn the handle to move the wheels closer together, this will cause the blade to slacken, making it possible to slide one blade off and slip the replacement blade over the wheels. One then turns the handle in the opposite direction to move the wheels apart and this will place tension on the blade.
The table on a band saw is similar to that of a scroll saw, in that the blade passes through the table at a 90° angle (perpendicular to the table). One of the most important differences in the design of the band saw is that one cannot remove the blade to feed it through a hole for inside cuts. A band saw cannot make inside cuts. Another difference in this design is the throat position. With a scroll saw, the throat lies between the blade at the front and the vertical column at the back of the saw. A band saw has a vertical column to the side of the blade. The throat is, therefore usually on your left. This means that a band saw is open to the front and rear of the blade, giving it the ability to make long rip cuts like a table saw. Like a scroll saw, band saws are also rated by their throat size, this generally ranges between 10” and 24”. The throat size determines the width of the cross cuts and curved cuts that the machine is able to make. The length is basically limitless.
This throat position is one factor that separates a scroll saw from a band saw. A scroll saw won’t make rip cuts – the piece can’t move past the vertical beam at the back of the saw. One of the common uses for a band saw is re-sawing. In other words, taking pieces that have been ripped using a table saw and re-sawing them to a thinner width. A band saw can cut extremely thin strips of wood – much thinner than a table saw.
Like a scroll saw, a band saw has many different blade designs for virtually any type of material. One is also able to use a very thin blade for making detailed curved cuts, though it will never compare to a scroll saw when it comes to very fine detail. Generally, a band saw is used for outside curved cuts when making furniture and molded finishes – these are larger pieces of wood. Fine ornate work is usually reserved for scroll saws.
When looking at the table of a band saw, it is very similar to that of a scroll saw and many will have tables that tilt to make angled cuts up to 45°. There’s a big difference in the distance between the table and the top of the blade though. A band saw has an overhead arm with a blade guard that adjusts along the height of the blade. The thickness of the piece that you cut with a band saw is almost limitless in terms of the height of the arm. Almost limitless doesn’t say much, so I’ll need to elaborate. Even a small benchtop band saw will have a blade guard that can accommodate thick material. Depending on the size of the saw, your depth of cut can be anything from 6” to 36”. Though the height of the saw may be able to accommodate a thick piece, the motor may not, so this is something to consider.
It will depend very much on the density of the material that you’re cutting in relation to the horsepower of the motor. If you’re cutting hardened steel, you’ll need a lot more power from the motor to get through a thick piece. For woodworkers, it’s very much a question of whether you’re using hard or softwood. If you’re cutting very hardwood with a ⅓ HP machine you probably won’t be able to cut pieces much thicker than 3-4” – even though the blade guard will be able to rise to a height of 6” or more. When cutting softwood with this size machine, you may be able to cut up to 6”. A larger motor will obviously give you more power, enabling you to cut thicker pieces of hard material.
When it comes to accessories, there isn’t much that you get for a band saw. You’ll usually have a fence rail for making accurate rip cuts and a miter gauge for making angled cross cuts.
If you want to learn more about our recommendations for band saws read our buying guide.
Choosing Between a Band Saw and a Scroll Saw
Having gone through the technical workings of these two types of saws, you probably have a good idea of what they’re used for. In this section of the article, we’re going to summarize their uses. We’ll look at the pros and cons of using a scroll saw vs a band saw. This will make it easy for you to quickly see which of these saws will work better for your requirements.
Band Saw Pros
- Can handle large volumes of material and work faster.
- Can make very thin rip cuts.
- Can saw through thick pieces for curved, cross and rip cuts.
- Powerful motors for thick dense material.
Band Saw Cons
- Cannot make inside
- Cannot cut fine detail as accurately as a scroll saw.
Scroll Saw Pros
- Can do fine detailed cutting for ornate woodwork and other materials.
- Speed can be adjusted for detailed work.
- The blade can be removed and replaced for inside cuts.
Scroll Saw Cons
- Cannot make rip cuts.
- Cannot cut through thick pieces.
If you’re looking for a saw to make curved cuts and very thin rip cuts on thicker pieces, a band saw is the tool for the job. A band saw is preferred by people making furniture who want to make curved and fairly detailed cuts. You’ll work much faster with a band saw when handling large pieces.
If fine detailed ornate cutting is your thing, the scroll saw is going to be your best option. Generally, you’ll be cutting thin pieces for decorative inlays or wood sculpture with a scroll saw.