Similar in many ways, both the scroll saw and bandsaw have a lot in common. And yet, in practice, each saw is used for very different purposes. For your woodworking and DIY projects, it is vital you understand the scroll saw vs band saw debate, and which saw is best for your need.
Although both the scroll saw and band saw are designed to cut curves in wood, each tool has a slightly different purpose. And each have different strengths and weaknesses. Before you can decide which you need, you need to know what you want to achieve.
Are you planning on using your saw to cut intricate detail into wooden panels or to create ornaments? Perhaps you are thinking of a slightly bigger project like creating arched moldings or beautifully crafted furniture.
Here we show you how to choose between these tools for what you want to do and highlight the features you need to look for to ensure you’re getting a good quality tool:
At first glance, scroll saws and bandsaws are very similar. Both have a blade that sits in an upright fashion, perpendicular to a large platform. Both saws move the blade up and down in order to cut the material. As a user, you use both saws in a similar fashion - rest the material on the table and slowly push and direct it through the blade.
However, while appearing similar at first glance, both saws have very specific uses. If you want the short, down-and-dirty difference between a scroll saw and band saw, here is our quick summary:
A band saw can cut a wide array of materials and can cut very thick materials, but it can't cut tight curves and turns.
A scroll saw can cut very tight curves and turns, but is limited in the type of materials and thickness it can cut
That only tells a fraction of the story, though. It is important to understand the perks of each, and when to use which saw.
A scroll saw has a thin blade that moves up and down perpendicular to a large flat table. A scroll saw is the perfect tool for cutting tight curves on artistic projects like making clocks and puzzles or even your favorite Christimas time ornaments and decor. It is especially good at cutting tiny arcs with ease, allowing for complete precision.
The narrow blade of the scroll saw cuts a narrow slice through the wood resulting in a thin kerf that allows for pieces to be easily slotted back together.
Although that feature doesn’t sound very useful for most projects, if you’re producing marquetry and wood inlays, the scroll saw is what you need.
Another feature of the scroll saw that makes it popular for more craft-like projects with wood is that it can make cutout shapes in the middle of a part without cutting through an edge.
Let’s say you’re making a clock. You can cut a large ring from a piece of plywood and then create a cutout inside it for the mechanism easily with a scroll saw. On the other hand, using a bandsaw would mean you would have to cut right through the inner ring, which would not do the job at all.
The scroll saw also has a detachable blade at one end. This allows you to drill a hole in a piece of wood, insert the blade through the hole, and then reattach it to the scroll saw so that you can make your cutout.
It is this feature of the saw that makes it popular with woodworkers for making highly detailed artwork such as portraits and landscapes out of wood. Most scroll saws can cut wood up to an inch thick, which is all you need for the majority of craft projects.
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As with any tool you buy, the more features it has, the more expensive it generally is. If you’re just starting out using a scroll saw, there’s probably not much point going for the most expensive one. You can always upgrade when you’ve become accustomed to using it.
One thing to note when first looking at scroll saws is whether it has a variable speed control. That’s one feature that can’t be added after purchase.
You also need to determine the type of scroll saw blade you need:
Pin-end blades don’t need a clamp, which makes tensioning it relatively easy because the blade is locked-in. However, some woodworkers say they find pin-end blades to lack variety and that they are not suitable for passing through very small holes in more intricate projects.
Pin-end blades are thicker because they will not be locked into the machine properly if the metal is too thin. This can create a couple of problems. Tight turns can cause the blades to break more easily and the pin is too large for a lot of projects the scroll saw is required for.
More widely available, flat blades are pinched in place by two small clamps on the scroll saw. One of the clamps is above the saw’s work table and the other is below. The blade is passed through a slot between the two.
The majority of people using scroll saws prefer flat blades. They are now considered the standard for that reason. There’s also a much wider variety of plain-end blades available to suit a broader range of projects.
There are some scroll saw machines that allow for both pin-end and flat blades for maximum flexibility.
Other things to consider when buying a scroll saw include:
Although the scroll saw is exceptionally versatile for intricate woodwork, it still has limitations and that’s where the bandsaw can step in.
This is the right saw to take on bigger projects or when you need something to take on different cuts in varying thicknesses of materials.
One thing the band saw is particularly useful for is creating veneer panels which can be used for a wide range of finishes around the home. Here is a closer look at what the band saw does.
Related: What is a Bandsaw Good For?
There are several types of band saws, each designed to achieve certain things better than others:
These are small and portable and are meant for woodworkers who may not have the space for a bigger tool. Although they are small, benchtop bandsaws are really versatile and capable of cutting big sweeping curves in either ply wood or thick hardwoods with equal ease.
Stationary bandsaws are bigger and more powerful than the benchtop version. They can easily outperform most other types of saws, particularly on hardwoods like oak, pecan and hickory.
This kind of band saw also has wider blades, meaning they can produce much straighter and smoother cuts. As a result they are not as good with tight turns.
This machine is used specifically to create thin planks of wood and also cut veneers from solid wood. This makes it ideal for instrument makers to create sound boards and backs for string instruments like violins and guitars.
Larger resaw bandsaws are also able to cut curves. Although when wide blades are used, these are limited to large arcs.
However, they aren’t really designed for creating curves in wood as a principal feature. So, if your project generally requires smaller blades, you’re likely to need a different type of bandsaw.
Related: What Size Bandsaw Should I Buy?
It’s important to have your blade tensioned properly and the guides adjusted in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. When you want to install a new blade or change the current one, you simply loosen the tension to allow you to do so. Generally speaking the wider the blade you’re using, the more tension will be required on the blade.
You can determine if the blade is positioned correctly by unplugging the machine. With the guard open, slowly revolve one wheel a couple of times with your hand. That way you can see if the blade is tracking as it should be. It’s important to get the tracking right if you want to achieve the very best cutting lines.
As with anything, using a bandsaw is a case of practice makes perfect. It’s just as important to stick to all the safety rules applying to your saw. Always keep your hands clear of the cut line when there is power to your machine. Although a bandsaw is a reasonably safe tool, serious injuries can be caused in seconds if used incorrectly.
Related: 27 Fun Bandsaw Woodworking Projects
Make sure you always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from splinters or dust. If you haven’t used a band saw before, have a few practice attempts on scraps of wood before attempting to work on an important project.
Always use slow and steady movements with the stock. If it gets pushed out of line, the blade will bend as you’re cutting, and you’ll get an uneven finish. Make sure you have the right blade size for the work you want to do as the blade can be forced from the wheel if attempting to cut a smaller radius than it can manage.
Read our comprehensive band saw reviews.
As with all woodworking tools, which one is best for the purpose depends on what that purpose is. So, there is no clear winner - it depends on your project and your cut.
Most woodworkers consider scroll saws to be more of a ‘specialty’ tool that’s designed for the smaller, more intricate craft projects with complex cutting patterns. The kinds of pieces that are created using a scroll saw include jigsaw puzzles, marquetry and wooden sculptures, or ornaments.
On the other hand, bandsaws are great for the serious or professional woodworker looking to work with much larger designs and material surfaces. Bandsaws are very versatile and can take on most standard and custom cuts. Because they can be adjusted vertically, it’s easily possible to cut much larger materials than with other saws.
There’s a greater variety of blades available for a bandsaw than for a scroll saw, with different widths and tooth styles to allow for varying cuts. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a band saw over a scroll saw is that you can cut materials quickly and accurately. This means if your project involves cutting lots of odd angles and patterns, the band saw is probably slightly better for the job than the scroll saw.
One advantage that a scroll saw has is that it cuts so finely that there is not usually a need to sand afterwards. Although, this is limited to working with smaller pieces than you can with a band saw.
Related: Bandsaw vs Jigsaw
Now that you know the difference between band saw and scroll saw, you can determine which suits your purposes best. Settling the scroll saw vs bandsaw debate starts with thoroughly understanding what each saw does best, and the needs of your specific project.
Selecting the right saw depends on what you want to achieve. Where the scroll saw can cut intricate patterns, the band saw can cut ultra-thin veneer panels. They both have their own unique features. It’s up to you to decide which of these features are most appropriate for the project you have in mind.
Professional woodworkers who routinely get involved in different kinds of projects are more likely to need to buy both the band and scroll saw. Most hobbyists could probably settle on one. The bandsaw is generally regarded the workhorse of the workshop as it is more flexible than the scroll saw in terms of project size.
Safety is always paramount when operating machinery of any kind and for that reason, we always advise you read the manufacturer’s instructions when purchasing a new piece of equipment. Preparing your work area and keeping your tools orderly and dust-free is also important so that you achieve the very best results for all your woodworking jobs.