Band Saw Troubleshooting Basics – The Key to Accuracy

Why won’t my band saw cut straight?

We get this question from customers quite a bit and it’s usually after some amount of frustration. Before you start tearing your saw apart, let’s take some time to review some band saw troubleshooting basics.

Tooth Count, Feed Rate, and Cutting Speed

Often, the blade is the most common culprit when it comes to cutting accuracy. Blade condition and tooth count is critical to cut quality and blades can easily be ruined if you’re not careful. Sometimes the solution is as simple as getting a new blade or using a blade that is more suited to your application. If you cut a variety of material, for example thin wall tubing and thick plate back to back, don’t be surprised if you start having issues right away. Therefore, take the time to understand the tooth count, feed rate, and speed settings required for the materials you are cutting. You may not be able to cut everything with the same set up.

Most saw manufacturers have guidelines listed in the owner’s manual (you did read that right?) and you can also get good information from the blade manufacturers. We would be happy to help as well. Band saws are versatile, but you can quickly ruin a new blade if you don’t follow the guidelines.

Correct Material Orientation in the Vise

Assuming you have selected an appropriate blade, feed rate, and speed for the application, there are still a few additional things to keep in mind. An often-overlooked detail is how the material is clamped in the vise. There is a big difference between 1×4 bar stock laid flat vs on edge. Feed rates can also vary dramatically as the saw moves through the work piece. Again, there are guidelines available, just be aware that getting this wrong can cause problems. Blade life can also be significantly compromised if the proper break-in procedures are not followed. When new, the blade tips are razor sharp and if pushed too hard too soon, they will grab. This results in damaging the shape and set on the tooth.

Realistic Expectations of Your Saw

Last thing is to know what to expect. A band saw that is set up properly for a given application should be capable of making accurate cuts to the point that your tape measure, marking method, and eyes are probably a bigger problem! Truth is, in most situations, a band saw is plenty good enough and offers a lot of capacity for the money and a huge improvement over messy abrasive chop saws. You shouldn’t expect it to be as accurate as a high-end cold saw and you should not expect your portable bench top saw to behave the same as a larger industrial band saw with a 1” blade. In general, the larger the blade width on a band saw the more accurate it will be. Obviously, there are other variables, but the point here is to understand the capabilities and limitations of your equipment.

For a lot of folks this may all seem obvious. Band saws can, and do, require maintenance and repairs from time to time, but it still pays to systematically double check the basics before you start fixing something that is not broken.

Dave Watson – Technical Sales

How to Get More Life Out of Hole Saws when Notching Tube

So you’re on your 20th something notch of your latest tubing project and the 3rd hole saw in a row binds up, twists your arms like a pretzel, and distorts to the point you can measure the cutter’s run out with a yard stick.  Hole Saws are for the birds, right?  They’ll never work!  Well, maybe there are a few things we can take a look at to get a little better life out of those inexpensive cutters and save your wrists from drill-induced torture.

First thing – let’s check out the brains of this operation – yes, you the operator!  I’ve lost more hole saws than I care to admit by getting in a hurry or not paying close enough attention to what I’m doing.  The number one killer of hole saws in my shop has been not removing the little slug that breaks off on the first half of the notch.  When you pass through the first side of the tube, a little hole saw-slaying slug will break off, often inside the cutter itself.  STOP! Back the hole saw up and take that piece out of the hole saw before continuing.  If you don’t, more often than not, it will poke its devilish little head out of one of the vent holes in the side of the cutter and wedge itself against the tube. Game over for the saw and the use of your right hand for awhile.  

Next up is drill choice and cutting speed. We don’t need anything real special to get good life out of a hole saw.  A quality 1/2 inch corded drill does the job well.  Preferably something on the slower end speed wise with good torque.  I personally use a Milwaukee 0300-20 drill with a max speed of 850 RPM, and I don’t think I’d want anything slower, but not much faster either.  When I’ve tried to run the drill at half speed or less the cutter tends to catch and bind more often and can cause it to chip off teeth.  Start relatively slow, and ease the cutter into the tube, then when the teeth are engaged into the material, you can open up the drill and let the cutter do the work.

The next item on our checklist to notching nirvana is the depth of the cut.  Don’t plunge the hole saw into the tube 6 inches from the end and use the notcher to cut your tube to length!  I’ve done it, it’s dumb, and you’ll wear out a hole saw faster than you can imagine.  A good notch depth should just barely leave the long edges of the “fish mouth” shape untouched by the hole saw.  Any deeper and you’re engaging too many teeth into the material, and building too much heat, which will wear out the cutter faster than normal.  If you’re notching to the proper depth, that little slug we talked about earlier will break off inside the hole saw.  Don’t forget to stop and get him out! Beware at this point as you break through the first half of the tube that you are easing up on the pressure so as not to ram the hole saw into the opposite wall.  This is sure to ovalize your hole saw which will also end it’s life prematurely.

Finally, if you’re heeding at least some of the wisdom from above, you should be making some good notches, and getting your money’s worth out of these $12-$15 hardware store heroes.   The last items to take a look at are the hole saw itself and lubricant.

No matter what, every once in a while the cutter is going to bind up, the drill will stall, or something else will happen that puts a huge load on these thin steel constructed cutters.  Some hole saws are constructed with a thin stamped sheet metal base.  This thin base can distort and ruin a hole saw long before the teeth ever wear out or break off.  I prefer to use hole saws that have a thick steel base plate.  This more rigid design seems to be less prone to binding, and when the cutter does bind up, it’s less likely to destroy the hole saw.

A good quality cutting lubricant can also help to reduce heat in the cutter and extend blade life.  WD40 and similar products are probably not the best choice for this, as they are primarily solvents, and you’ll have to use some type of weld-safe cleaner to remove the residue left behind.  I prefer water based cutting lube that can be simply wiped off with a rag when finished.

While the number of notches per hole saw can vary based on a lot of factors, with a little practice you should expect to get 50+ notches in mild steel and somewhere around 20-30 in chromoly.   Once you’re in-tune with your notcher, the drill, hole saws, and the proper notching procedure, you won’t cringe when it comes time to take on that next tubing project. 

-Written by Christian Huffman – Inside Technical Sales

Custom Header Builds Just Got FUN!

As most of you may know, building custom headers is a major trial and error process. Massive amounts of time and material are wasted due to micro adjustments and tack welding, only to find your header is in contact with a frame rail or another element in your cramped engine bay. The cost of your job is rising faster than your blood pressure and your scrap pile isn’t getting any smaller. After hours in the shop with little progress, you find yourself back at the drawing board looking for a solution. The guys at Icengineworks know this process all too well and have come up with a header building system that puts the FUN back in fabrication. Some fabricators call it cheating, however if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’, right?

Icengineworks provides 3 categories of products that simplify the header building process. Their most popular product is the Header Modeling Blocks. These time saving blocks allow you to simulate an exhaust runner using plastic blocks built to specific radii and OD. Adapt your runner to the header flange on your motor and precisely maneuver around obstacles in your engine bay until you have created a model of your custom headers. This eliminates cut and weld adjustments that waste both time and material. Once you have a block model of your custom headers, use the Icengineworks Tube Cutting Jigs to cut pre bent U and J bends to match the radii of your block model. When you have all your pieces, recruit Icengineworks’ Tack Weld Clamps to get the job done.  Clamp and position your pieces to create the final product by using these easy to use clamps.

The video below explains and demonstrates how the Icengineworks system can save you both time and money. This video was shot at the 2015 PRI Show and highlights the major advantages of the Icengineworks products.

Bend-Tech Dragon Tube Cutting and Marking System

When first introduced to the Bend-Tech Dragon Plasma Notcher, it didn’t take us long to figure out how it got its name. Its unique beast-like figure looks intimidating and the sparks from the plasma cutter replicate the breathing of fire. These characteristics are vastly similar the the fictional beast, making the Dragon a perfect name for this hardcore Plasma Notcher.

It’s accuracy and capabilities are unlike any animal we’ve seen, almost as if it’s unreal. The Dragon is capable of taking full length tubing, cutting it to length, notching the end profile, marking holes or slots as needed, and marking any bend locations with rotation and degrees; something you wont find in any other plasma notcher.

Included with the Bend-Tech Dragon is two powerful software packages; Bend-Tech Industrial and Bend-Tech Dragon Software. Working side by side, these products will allow you to create 3D CAD designs from scratch or convert from SOLIDWORKS, AutoCAD, Inventor, PRO Engineer, etc. into a readable format for the machine. Dragon Software will automatically create your cutting, marking and etching paths directly from Bend-Tech Industrial and comes with a nesting ability to allow several parts on the same stock tube.

Check out the video below and see this nonfictional machine in action. This video was shot at the Trick-Tools booth during the 2015 SEMA Show and highlights some of the major characteristics that make the Dragon a necessity in a production environment.