Scroll Saws vs. Band Saws: A Workshop Comparison
Scroll saws and band saws are both specialized tools that find their place in the homes of woodworkers, both professional and amateur.
Chances are that anyone looking to get into the art is going to end up with both at some point, but the differences between these seemingly similar tools are pretty big, and it can be a hard choice to decide which is the right to add to your workshop first.
Read on, and we’ll help you make the decision.
How Does a Band Saw Work?
Band saws run a continuous, flexible blade through the entirety of the machine. These blades are often quite robust, able to handle a large amount of material.
Band saws are made for both metal and woodworking, but the differences between them are a bit more than the blade. For the most part, you’re looking at rubber belts with a woodworking bandsaw and a complete metal drive-train in those that are made for working with metals.
The concept is the same; however: a motor drives the blade, and the cutting surface underneath allows for a remarkably agile saw which is capable of precise cuts.
For metalworking purposes, you’ll also be able to find horizontal band saws, these function similarly to chop saws but use a band which keeps the heat on the blade down and makes for a smoother cut. These come in both powerful stationary and agile “portaband” designs, which are often powered by batteries.
Band saws, as a general rule, are suitable for a wide variety of applications in woodworking. They’re somewhere between the ubiquitous table saw, and the lighter scroll saw in utility. They can both rip 2x4s and make curved cuts if you’re willing to develop the skills necessary to use them.
If you’re looking for an entry-level band saw, the WEN 3962 Two-Speed Band Saw is a great option. It’s a solid workhorse saw that you’ll be able to use for an extended period of time without running it down. It’s a cheaper option, and those who are looking for something exceptional may want to spend more money, but it’s a great start overall.
How Does a Scroll Saw Work?
Scroll saws, on the other hand, are the detail-oriented workhorse saws used by most artisans. They’re not nearly as heavy-duty as a band saw, but they allow for agile interior cuts, which simply can’t be made any other way.
For some types of woodworking, such as fretwork or forming pieces for complex inlays, there’s really no substitute.
A scroll saw works in a similar manner to a jig saw, just with a thinner blade. The blade is driven up and down at a constant rate of speed to make smooth cuts. The light blades used in a scroll saw often have a high TPI to help eliminate the need for extensive finish work on the piece.
The arm determines a lot of the usage for a scroll saw, you want something which can smoothly lift and then be inserted into drilled holes for interior cuts. That’s doubly important if you’re planning on doing extensive scrollwork or fretwork, which requires detailed inside cuts.
On the other hand, many people use them for simpler things like making jigsaw puzzles or simple wooden toys as well. You don’t necessarily need to be trying to make high art out of every workpiece.
Scroll saws are a light, artisan tool. You’re not going to be using them to rip apart 2x4s for framing or even cut overly thick materials. They lack utility when it comes to things like construction, but they make up for it by being the most controllable and agile of the various stationary saws available to the modern woodworker.
We have a full guide to scroll saws available, but if you’re just looking for a quick buy, the DeWalt DW788 is an excellent scroll saw. It has most of the features you need, and while its a tad expensive, it’s definitely not a bank breaker like some of the super high-end saws out there.
So, Which Am I Looking For?
Any serious woodworker is eventually going to need both of these saws in their wheelhouse before too long. On the other hand, both types of saw are expensive and require a bit of dedicated workbench space, so most of us ending up picking one or the other first.
For the most part, band saws are the more versatile of the two. They allow for cuts in much thicker material and can be used for construction material in a pinch as well as finer forms of woodworking, such as furniture creation.
On the other hand, a scroll saw is really the only way to make extensive, smooth cuts on the interior of materials. A good one will allow you to easily drop into drilled holes without needing to disassemble the saw, which is a huge bonus for those who are focused on lighter artistic work.
For a quick reference: band saws are better for those working with heavier materials while scroll saws are what you need to ensure that you’re able to do fine work.
As a general rule, scroll saws are the cheaper of the two, and most of the work which can be done with a band saw can also be done with different saws.
Pairing a scroll saw and a good wood router is the basis of all artistic work with wood. Other saws simply don’t have the agility.
If you’re already set up for woodworking, we recommend focusing on getting a scroll saw before a band saw. Both are able to do some fine work, but a scroll saw allows you to open up a whole new dimension of woodworking.
That said, the band saw is definitely the more utilitarian of the two tools. For long, straight cuts in materials thicker than an inch, you’ll be able to get a lot more done. They are quite aggressive, so if you’re using them for more detailed work, you can expect to spend a lot of time doing finish work on the edges.
What If I Want to Cut Metal?
Neither of the saws we recommended are quite suitable for cutting metallic workpieces, especially with standard blades.
Cutting through metal requires that you find a specialized blade and have a saw with a lower speed. This is just to avoid overheating, as an overheated saw blade will warp and can have a spontaneous catastrophic failure. So… if you try it out, then make sure that you have an ANSI-rated pair of safety glasses on.
There are specialized band saws created specifically for cutting metal. They run at a slower speed and generally come with blades suitable for cutting any kind of metal.
On the other hand, for intricate work in thin metal, you can use a scroll saw. The key is to make sure that you’re using a skip-tooth blade. Something like the Olson Saw FR49400 Skip Tooth Scroll Saw Blade will let you handle non-ferrous metals up to about ⅛” without too much trouble.
For cutting steel, you may have to find something tougher, but in all honesty, there are much better ways to handle steel than a scroll saw.
Wood blades, on the other hand, tend to work fine on most non-metallic materials within reason. You’re obviously not going to be able to cut stone with a regular saw. Bone, shell, and most other fine artistic materials will cut just as well as wood, although the denser stuff will cut a bit slower.
Which Is Right For You?
So, we’ve got things rolling at this point. You know which saw you’ll need to add to your workshop, the question is just when are you going to get it?
There’s no time like the present. Get the saw that you need today!