If you are looking to get a new saw for your woodworking project, you may get to a point where there’s a choice to make between a scroll saw and a band saw. If you are not an expert, they might look quite similar at first. So, it’s probably a good idea to look out for some information before reaching into your pockets.
When it comes to deciding between a scroll saw or a band saw, the main thing you want to ask yourself is: what am I gonna do with this piece of equipment?
If you want to do some kind of specialty work like fretwork, intarsia projects, then you need a scroll saw. If your projects are more heavy-duty (for example you are planning on creating pieces of furniture like shelves), then you need a band saw.
If you wanna learn more about how these two machines work, and what are the differences, check out the rest of the article.
What is a Scroll Saw?
A scroll saw is pretty much like a sawing machine for wood. In fact, it uses a reciprocating blade that goes through a hole placed in the work table. If it comes with a pedal, you can control the operating speed with it, just like a sawing machine. If there’s no pedal, it goes up to operating speed when you turn it on. The most common ones have a pedal, so you can always have control over your cuts.
The most distinctive factor of a scroll saw is the presence of a support arm that comes from the back of the machine upon the working table. It creates a limited space between the blade and the back frame of the arm itself, which is called the throat. The size of the throat is very important, and we are going to talk about that later on.
What is a Band Saw?
A band saw is a powerful saw that is made of two or more wheels: if you have two of them, one is situated under the working table, the other one is placed over the working space. One of the wheels is powered (usually with an electric motor) and pulls the other one in motion. The blade is made by a long continuous piece of metal, stretched between those wheels.
They can cut a variety of materials, even metal with the appropriate blade. The continuous rotating action of the blade guarantees uniform cuts.
When I started writing the article, I decided to put a paragraph about the similarities between these two saws. Now that I think about them, there aren’t many. If you are not an expert, when you first look at these machines you might think that they are quite similar.
But if you look closer, the only things that they have in common is the presence of a working table and a blade that move perpendicular through it. That’s it.
On the other hand, there are several differences. We are going to talk about them in the following paragraph.
Now, we will go into detail and analyze all the differences.
The main difference, as I touched briefly before, is the job you can do with these machines. A scroll saw is used for fine woodworking projects: for example, detailing work, intarsia projects, fretwork, and so on. Basically, whenever you need to work on decorating small pieces of wood. It’s not your classic day-to-day woodworking activity: chances are that you will never need one if you are not into these kinds of things.
On the other hand, a band saw is a more common piece of equipment to have. They come in different sizes, but they all can do a heavier job than a scroll saw. They are needed when you are working on pieces of furniture like a table, a bench, a shelf, and so on. The kind of projects that may need a band saw are certainly less niche.
Another big difference is a structural one. A scroll saw comes with a throat, while a band saw doesn’t. As I hinted before, the throat of a scroll saw is the length between the blade and the vertical part of the support arm. The throat size is important when deciding what size of scroll saw to get. A smaller saw can have a throat of 12 inches, while bigger ones can come close to 30 inches. The length of the material you are going to cut depends on the throat size.
Why? Think about the working process. You are pushing the piece of material through the blade against the back frame of the support arm. So the latter acts like a limit switch. You can’t go past that.
What about a band saw? In this case, you don’t have to worry about the presence of a throat. There may be some constructive differences between band saws (for example, if you think about horizontal saws). Whatever the case is, this kind of machine is opened all the way through. In vertical band saws, the top wheel is supported with an arm placed to the side of the work table. In this way, it doesn’t interfere with the material flow.
The Material Length
In the passage above, we established the influence of the throat on the material length. In a scroll saw, you can cut a piece of material up to double the throat size: after cutting half the piece, you can turn it the other way and cut the other half. It’s always good to have some clearance so that you can move around your wood piece with ease. If your scroll saw has a 16 inches throat (which is the most common size between the machines available on the market), you might want to use pieces up to 28-30 inches. That’s probably the max length when it comes to a scroll saw.
On the other hand, we noticed that a band saw is opened from front to end. Therefore, the length of material you can cut is theoretically unlimited. I said theoretically because you may have a very long board, that goes way off the working table. When you approach the end of the cut, the piece is going to try to flip. For better balance, you might need the help of someone to hold the other end of the piece.
The Material Thickness
We talked about the material length, now let’s talk about the thickness. If you need to cut up to 1-inch thick material, a scroll saw is enough. Between 1 and 2 inches, a band saw might be better. Over 2 inches, you certainly need a band saw.
You might be asking yourself: “How did this guy come up with these numbers?”. Let me explain my thought process. A scroll saw comes with a very small blade: the majority of them have a 5 or 6 inches long blade. And don’t forget that the blade moves in an up and down motion, which makes its job harder than if it was moving in a circular motion. These are the reasons why a scroll saw usually can’t cut material over 2 inches thick. If you only have a scroll saw, and your piece is thicker than 1 inch, you might have a hard time cutting it. That’s why I think it would be better to stick to 1 inch as an upper limit. If your piece exceeds a thickness of two inches, you need a band saw.
When it comes to band saws, there’s a limit in the thickness you can cut. It depends on how much space there is between the working table and the wheel placed above it. Usually, there’s enough room for very thick materials. If you are planning on buying a small band saw, it might be a good idea to check this parameter. Also, you don’t want to fall short of space, so give yourself some clearance to properly move the piece of material.
Another big difference is in the blade. A scroll saw has a short, small blade: a band saw comes with a continuous, bigger blade. If you think about it, it really depends on the work they are supposed to do. For a scroll saw, you need a fine blade to do intricated designs, typical of detail work. On the other hand, in a band saw you need a solid blade for heavy-duty work. Although, that’s not completely true: you can do some detail work with a band saw if it’s equipped with the right blade.
Usually, in a scroll saw the blade is 5 to 6 inches long. It’s a reciprocating blade, going in an upward and downward motion. On the market, you can find scroll saw blades with a different number of teeth per inch (from a maximum of 30 teeth per inch down to 10-12 teeth per inch). This guarantees some versatility: you will use a finer blade (30 TPI) for fine projects, while a bigger blade (10 TPI) will do for the quick cuts. You can usually buy a set with different kinds of blades, which is pretty convenient.
When it comes to bandsaw blades, they are very flexible and circular in shape, because they need to go around the wheels. Unlike the scroll saw blade, a bandsaw blade works in a circular motion. Obviously, since the job they do is very dissimilar, you have very different TPI (Teeth Per Inch). It’s common to see 3 TPI blades (although you can find up to 14 TPI blades). For metal, it goes up to 24 TPI.
The Type of Cuts
As a result of the blade installed, the type of cuts realized by a scroll saw and a band saw is very different.
With a scroll saw, you can perform all kinds of intricated cuts that you need for detail work: curved cuts (up to 90 degrees), circular cuts, and more. You can also perform pierce cuts (or inside cuts). To do those, you need to preemptively make a hole in the wood, then position the wood under the blade (which can be lifted), then make the blade go through the hole, and finally reattach it under the working table. Furthermore, you can also do angled cuts with ease, since the working table can be easily tilted to the appropriate angle. Another good thing to consider about scroll saw cuts is the cleanliness of the cut. You need to perform very little sanding after cutting. You could have expected it, given the blade size.
On the other hand, a bandsaw is useful to do larger, straight cuts on longer pieces of material. You can easily perform a rip cut, which is a way to split a piece of wood along its grain. You can do curved cuts, but with a small radius of curvature. You can also do some detail work if you have the right blade. Obviously, you won’t be able to compare it to the results you would get with a scroll saw.
A downside is the inability to perform pierce cuts. To create a hole in a piece of material, you would need to cut through the edge to access it. Finally, it’s important to remember that if you use a bandsaw, you are going to get a much rougher cut surface than if you were using a scroll saw.
The Materials They Work With
Both the scroll saw and the bandsaw can work with a variety of materials. A scroll saw may be used for bone, rubber, metal, leather, and of course wood. It all depends on using the right blade.
A band saw is mainly used for woodworking and metalworking (in the latter case, you need a blade with high TPI). It is also used for cutting plastic.
Scroll saws come with variable speed. This guarantees you to have full control over the cutting process, which is particularly important when doing detail work. Usually, the speed may vary between 400-500 to 1500-1600 strokes per minute (A stroke is an up and down movement). You can control it by using a pedal (same as a sawing machine if you are familiar with those).
A band saw, on the other hand, is a fixed speed machine. Some models can operate at two different speeds. You want to use a slower speed for a cleaner cut, while a faster speed is better to cut thick material (the blade won’t get stuck).
Another thing you wanna take into consideration is the portability of your saw.
A scroll saw weigh on average 30 pounds. It is also more compact than a band saw and thus easier to carry around.
A common band saw is a heavy piece of equipment: commercial ones that you can get on Amazon weigh between 40 to 70 pounds. There are also smaller bandsaws that weigh around 20 pounds. If you consider portable bandsaw, those can get as low as 15 pounds.
Those are specific cases: in general, a scroll saw is a more portable piece of equipment than a common band saw.
Noise and Safety
When it comes to noise, a scroll saw is less loud than a band saw (especially if you consider older bandsaws). Talking about safety, I think that both machines need to be handled with care: you are putting your fingers very close to a moving blade. If you always pay attention to what you do, you will be fine.
It really depends if you are getting a top-quality saw or an entry-level piece of equipment. At the same quality conditions, a scroll saw is cheaper than a band saw. Especially if you are considering bigger band saws.
When it comes to small bandsaws, there isn’t that much of a difference in price.
As you can see, there are a lot of differences and very few similarities. So it is pretty impossible to do all the jobs with just one of the two. If your pockets are deep enough, and you are planning on doing a variety of projects in the future, you should consider getting both.
If you still don’t know what saw suits you, here’s a final summary:
- If you are going to work on small pieces of wood and you need to do a lot of fine, curved cuts (maybe pierce cuts), then you should get a scroll saw.
- If you are planning on doing common woodworking jobs (like creating furniture), where you need to cut thick material fast, then a band saw is the right tool for you.
That is pretty much all there is to say in this scroll saw vs band saw comparison post. I hope you found the information useful.