Scroll saws and band saws look pretty similar at first glance. They both have a work table and feature a blade that runs perpendicular through the center of it. But that’s where the similarities end. These are actually two very different pieces of equipment.
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What’s the Difference between a Scroll Saw vs Band Saw?
Scroll saws have short, thin blades that move up and down. They’re perfect for detail work and can even do inside cuts; however, they are limited in the width and length of material they can cut.
Band saws have a continuous, flexible blade that moves in a constant downward motion. They’re powerful and can tackle thick material of infinite length. Depending on the blade, they can do some detail work, but they’re best for large outside cuts and table-saw like rip cuts.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these saws to get a better understanding of how they differ and the types of jobs each is good for.
What’s a Scroll Saw?
A scroll saw has a flat work table with a column coming straight up from the back. At the top of the column, an arm extends out parallel to the table itself. A small, vertical blade runs from the end of the arm through the table to the bottom of the saw where it attaches to another mechanism.
When you’re shopping for a scroll saw, you’ll see something referred to as the “throat” size. This is the distance between the blade and the vertical column that attaches the overhead arm to the back of the saw. Why is this important? Because it tells you what size material you can work with.
Say you have a scroll saw with a 12-inch throat. This tells you that you can use material that’s roughly 24 inches across. Why 24 inches? Think about it: the blade only needs to reach the center of the material. After that, you can just turn it around and come at it with the blade from the other side. So, the throat measurement should be half the width of the material you plan to work with.
Keep in mind that it’s good to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room. If your scroll saw has a 12-inch throat, stick to around 20 or 22 inches so you’re free to move it around to make the detailed cuts you need. Most scroll saws have throats that are between 12 and 30 inches.
What about the length of material you can cut with a scroll saw? It’s actually somewhat limited. The cutting surface of the blade faces away from the back column. That means when you feed a piece of wood against the blade, it will eventually hit the column, preventing you from using long pieces of wood. This means long rip cuts are impossible because there’s no way to push long pieces of material through.
Another thing about scroll saws that might be a downside depending on your project is that the blades are only about 6-inches long. Because you have to allow for the up and down movement, this means that they usually can’t cut wood that’s any thicker than 2-inches and even that can be difficult. It’s best to stick to material with a thickness of about 1 inch for optimal results.
Different blades are available for scroll saws so you do get some versatility. Changing blades on a scroll saw is pretty easy. The most important thing is to get the tension right. This is usually done using a simple tensioning knob.
The blade is actually the biggest difference between a scroll saw and a band saw. Because the blade of a scroll saw is so short and easy to change, it allows for inside or plunge cuts. This is really important for delicate designs and one of the best things about a scroll saw. The ability of a scroll saw to do inside cuts is one of the biggest things that sets it apart from a band saw.
What’s Band Saw?
Similar to scroll saws, band saws also have a flat work table with a blade running perpendicular to the center but that’s where the similarities end. Band saws have a lot more power and can even cut through metal using the right type of blade.
As we mentioned, the blade is the biggest difference between these two saws. We already know a scroll saw uses a short blade that moves up and down, but what about band saws?
Band saws use a 2-wheel system with one above the table and one below. Sometimes, they use as many as 4 wheels. The saw blades are circular in shape and very flexible. They stretch over the wheels and work as a continuous, rotating band which is how the band saw gets its name. The wheels rotate the blade so that the teeth move in a continuous downward motion.
Another major difference between these saws is that the throat on a band saw only refers to width. It’s determined by the size of the wheels since they give the blade its shape and determine the size. Unlike a scroll saw, a band saw blade is open to the front and rear. That means there’s nothing preventing you from using long pieces of material. With a band saw, it’s possible to do long rip cuts just as you would with a table saw only you can use much thinner pieces of material.
The only thing that limits the thickness of material that a band saw can cut is how much room there is between the table and the top of the saw. Basically, if you can fit it on the saw, it’ll cut it, though you should leave yourself enough wiggle room to make sure you can maintain control of the material.
One of the best things about a band saw is its versatility. There is a wide range of blades available that allow it can cut through just about any size of hard or soft wood and even metal and plastic. With very thin blades, you can get detailed cuts similar to a scroll saw, but it’s not quite as good for getting fine details. It leaves rougher edges behind and isn’t able to provide the same flexibility.
When to Use a Scroll Saw vs A Band Saw
If you’re debating whether you should buy a scroll saw or a band saw, the most important thing to consider is the kind of jobs you’re planning to do. The truth is these tools are so different that if you work on a variety of projects, you could justify needing both.
When to Use a Scroll Saw
If you work with small, thin materials and primarily do crafts or decorative work, a scroll saw is the best choice. The thin, short blade makes intricate, detailed cuts that are very clean and precise. Plus, unlike a band saw, you can do inside plunge cuts with a scroll saw.
Some projects that a scroll saw is perfect for are:
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Making wooden letters, numbers, names
- Wooden plaques with detailed, curved edges like states, animals, silhouettes
When Shouldn’t You Use a Scroll Saw?
Anytime you’re working with thick material, a scroll saw isn’t the right tool. While it’s true you can upgrade the blade to something with a little more cutting power, the motor will only be able to handle so much. For material thicker than 1 inch, it’s best to skip the scroll saw.
Scroll saws are not designed for making straight cuts. If they’re a few inches long and part of a larger overall design, okay, fine. But as far as cutting pieces of material in half or trying to do short rip cuts, well, that’s just not what they’re made for. Basically, the same features that make them great at curves and small details are what make them ineffective at straight lines.
When to Use a Band Saw
If your projects require a lot of power, a band saw is the best way to go. The continuous blade is designed to cut through pieces of material upwards of 2 inches thick. In fact, with the right blade, the only limitation to how thick this machine can cut is how much room there is between the work surface and the top of the machine.
One thing that band saws are particularly effective at is making fast and accurate aggressive straight cuts. One reason for this is because the blade always goes in the same direction which eliminates even the slightest up and down, side to side movement of the material while you work.
With the right blades and jigs, you can also make arches, circles, and other shapes with a band saw but keep in mind that they are only able to do outside cutting. Also, with the right blade, a band saw can cut through materials a scroll saw just couldn’t tackle, even metal.
All this is not to say that you can’t get creative and crafty with a band saw – you can. You just won’t be able to get the same fine details and intricate cut-outs that you can with a scroll saw.
Some project ideas for a band saw are:
- Furniture, i.e. tables, nightstands, or bookshelves
- Planter boxes
When Shouldn’t You Use a Band Saw?
The speed and aggressiveness of a band saw are great for thick materials and rip cuts but the downside is there are a lot of rough edges left behind. This requires a lot more sanding to get a smooth finished edge.
One more thing that a band saw can’t do is something we’ve already mentioned a few times already, it can’t make inside cuts. Imagine you’re trying to make the letter O. With a scroll saw, you could drill a hole in the middle of the letter, thread the blade through, and cut out the center part of the O without a problem. If you were using a band saw, you’d actually have to cut through the perimeter of the O which would not only look a little messier, it would also affect the strength and integrity of the wood.
Room for Two
At first glance, a scroll saw and band saw look very similar. So similar, in fact, you might think they can be used for the same types of projects. There is a little bit of overlap, but these saws are actually made for two very different purposes.
If you’re making decorative, detailed cuts with a lot of curved edges and inside cuts into a thin piece of wood, a scroll saw should be your go-to piece of equipment. The fine, flexible blade was made for jobs that require a lot of precision.
For thicker material and more aggressive jobs, including rip cuts, you can’t go wrong with a band saw. They’re powerful, aggressive, and great at making straight cuts.
If you do enough woodworking or a wide range of projects, you would certainly be justified in having both a scroll saw and a band saw in your workshop. They are vastly different tools that are used for very different purposes. You’ll surely find a way to use both.