Scroll Saw vs. Band Saw: What’s the Difference?
A scroll saw looks like a mini-band saw, but they're different tools. Compare a scroll saw vs. band saw to decide if you need one, the other or both.
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Some years ago, a fellow woodworker demonstrated how to make a band saw box. The procedure involved cutting out the center of a block of wood with a band saw, then gluing on a bottom and affixing the top on a pin. That way it could rotate to open and close the box, or make the top removable. To do this, you have to make a single cut through the side of the box and repair it with glue.
A lingering question has always been whether the procedure could have been done more efficiently with a scroll saw, which looks like a band saw but is a significantly different tool. A scroll saw features a removable blade that can poke through a predrilled hole in the center of the wood, eliminating the need to cut through the side of the box. This is a great feature. But even so, it’s doubtful you could use a scroll saw to make these boxes.
To see why, you have to know how different scroll and band saws are. That will help you appreciate the best uses for these tools.
What Is a Scroll Saw?
A scroll saw is a benchtop tool for cutting intricate curves in wood, metal and other materials. The most common design features a vertical column with a metal cutting surface. Above it, an arm holds a thin cutting blade about eight inches long or so, depending on the tool.
Blade widths range from #12 (.065 inches) to #2/0 (.024 inches) with a variety of tooth orientations, depending on the type and thickness of the material you’re cutting. The blade, supported from underneath, extends through a hole in the table. It cuts by reciprocating action, like a jigsaw.
Throat width, the distance from the blade to the vertical column at the back, determines the size of the scroll saw. Twelve inches is common, but models with 30-inch throats are available. A longer throat means you can cut wider material; a 12-inch throat is suitable for most DIY purposes.
Scroll saws typically have a tiltable table for making bevel cuts. Some come with a dust blower and foot-powered lever to control blade speed, which makes it easier to cleanly cut intricate curves.
What Is a Band Saw?
A band saw is a more common shop tool for cutting curves. Choose from floor-standing, benchtop and handheld models.
The blade is a loop of toothed metal that passes through a hole in a tiltable table and fits over drums above and below the table. The blade moves continuously when the drums rotate, and the teeth are oriented to push down on the material you feed through it.
Known for its versatility, a band saw can do heavy-duty rip cutting as well as shapes, depending on the size and power of the machine and the width of the blade. Blade width varies from 1/8-in. to one inch, and in thickness from .014 to .063 inches. Wider, heavier blades are best for rip-cutting, but you need thinner, lighter blades for detail work. Blades also vary in teeth per inch (TPI) and tooth orientation.
Like a scroll saw, a band saw has a characteristic throat depth, which in this case is the sideways distance from the blade to the housing. This determines the size of the tool and the maximum ripping width. While 10- to 18-in. is common for at-home tools, industrial band saws can have up to a 48-in. throat.
What Are These Tools Used For?
A band saw can take on heavy-duty tasks that a scroll saw can’t, but it isn’t as accurate for detail work. Here are some of the common uses for these tools:
- Cutting wood pieces for inlay and marquetry.
- Making puzzle pieces out of cardboard or wood.
- Making musical instruments.
- Fashioning dovetail joints.
- Cutting shapes in soft metals, like copper and brass, and other materials, such as plastic. You can cut harder metals if you keep the blade lubricated.
- Cutting curves and shapes in wood and other materials, such as metal and plastic.
- Re-sawing wide boards into thinner ones.
- Milling trees into usable lumber. Many industrial and portable sawmills are band saws.
- Cutting pipes. This is the most common use for handheld band saws.
- Crosscutting wood and other materials. Most meat cutters are band saws.
Pros and Cons
A scroll saw is much more of a specialty tool than a band saw. Although it cuts intricate curves, the distance between the table and the overhead arm limits the thickness of the material you can feed through it. And the thin blade bends when you try to cut thick material.
A band saw, for its part, has more overhead clearance, no obstruction behind the blade, a heftier blade and more power. You can use a band saw with a rip fence (which is usually included) or cut free-form shapes, although not as accurately as with a scroll saw.
How Much Do They Cost?
Scroll saws cost between $100 and $1,000, so there’s one for every budget. More expensive tools typically come with a stand and extra features, including a guide light, dust blower, deep throat and variable-speed motor controlled with a foot pedal.
The price range for band saws is wider because of the wider range of models for different purposes. A budget benchtop model for home woodworking projects costs about $200, while a large floor-standing model for re-sawing wood or cutting metal can cost $3,000 or more.
Corded and cordless handheld band saws, mostly used on jobsites for cutting metal and plastic pipes, cost from $200 to $600.