SHOP TEST: Deluxe 14" Bandsaws
These saws deliver big resaw capacity and excel as precision curve-cutters.
If you can own only one bandsaw— and that’s the reality for most home woodworkers—one of these models fills that sweet spot between bare-bones entry-level models and powerful and pricey 17"-and-up resaw kings. Compared to lesser-priced 14" saws, this class typically features quickrelease blade-tension levers, larger tables, rack-and-pinion table-tilt and blade-guard mechanisms, more powerful motors, and about double the resaw capacity. (The Powermatic PWBS-14CS comes with a riser block; you must disassemble the saw and add this extension.)
Of the seven models we tested headto-head in the WOOD® magazine shop, three are of the traditional castiron C-frame style; the other four use a steel-frame cabinet design. While at first, frame type might not seem like a major buying decision, some factors tend to be common in similarly designed saws. Here’s what you need to know.
Big capacity requires big power
It takes a lot of muscle to rip through 12" and wider hardwoods. To see if these saws were up to the task, we outfitted each with a 3⁄4" 3-tpi blade, then resawed 24"-long pieces of red oak 1⁄8" narrower than each model’s maximum resaw capacity, feeding them as fast as the saw could handle. We were impressed with the performance of both the steel-frame Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox W1849 that managed 14"-wide cuts—the widest in the test—without bogging down. Conversely, we could easily stall the C-frame Jet JWBS-14DXPRO and Powermatic; however, they cut just fine when we sawed at a more realistic rate.
Power is great, but not at the expense of accuracy, so next, we resawed 1⁄8" slices at a more deliberate feed rate and measured each test piece for deviation in thickness top to bottom and end to end. Again, the Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox, as well as the Grizzly G0555XH, excelled, with deviations of less than .010"— impressive. Workpieces cut on the Jet DXPRO deviated no more than .030" (less than 1⁄32"). We found the biggest deviation (.125", 1⁄8") in pieces cut with the Powermatic.
These saws handle curves well
Cutting curves—a bandsaw’s other primary function—relies more on finesse than power, so, with a 1⁄4" 10-tpi blade on each machine, we cut circles of 11⁄4", 13⁄4", 21⁄4", 23⁄4", and 31⁄4" diameters. Next, we cut out a 6"-tall block-letter “S” from 3⁄4"-thick poplar, to test each saw’s ability to make curved cuts without backing up.
All of the saws performed well in these tests. The blades never popped out of the guides, and our tester had no trouble following the pattern lines.
Guides keep a blade on track
Let’s be honest: Nobody likes tinkering with their saw’s blade guides after a blade change to get them spot-on. If it were an easy task, we’d all change blades to suit each cut, rather than making do with the blade already installed.
So, to make this chore as painless as possible, choose a saw with guides that adjust easily and accurately. Blade guides (below) limit blade deflection both side-to-side (side guides) and front-to-back (thrust bearing) when cutting, and we found two basic types on these saws—ball bearings and steel discs. Although both proved equally effective, we prefer ball bearing guides, especially those with cam-style adjusters for fast and easy adjustments.
Most of the tested saws use cam-mounted bearings for both the upper and lower guides—we found the Grizzly G0817 easiest to adjust overall—but the Jet JWBS-14SFX uses a difficult-to-access sliding system on
the lower guides that sometimes fell out of alignment when releasing tension on the blade. Instead of cam adjusters, Rikon’s spring-loaded side guides press into place and secure without tools, but the spring tension makes fine adjustments difficult.
Some saws provide knurled-knob microadjusters for setting the side guides fore and aft on the blade. We found them handy, but with as much as 3⁄4-turn backlash, not terribly precise.
Each saw wraps a blade guard around the lower guides (shown above) that makes adjustments to those guides difficult. Some guards could be removed, but with others we had to set the guides by feel rather than by sight.
The upper guide posts on most saws came from the factory adjusted to maintain alignment with the blade throughout their vertical travel. We found it easy to realign the Jet DXPRO, but the Rikon proved more difficult. All models except the Powermatic have a rack-and-pinion guide-post assembly height adjustment—a nice feature that allows onehanded operation. Upper blade guards on the C-frame saws proved more cumbersome than those on the steel-frame saws.
Set the blade for success
All saws but one successfully tensioned and tracked 1⁄4" and 3⁄4" blades as set up from the factory. We had trouble initially getting a 3⁄4" blade to tension fully on the Rikon. After talking with Rikon’s technical support, we made an adjustment to extend the jam nuts at the top of the tension bolt, which worked, but is not covered in the owner’s manual.
All seven saws incorporate a blade-tension quick-release lever, but none of those on the C-frame saws released enough tension so we could remove the blade. As a result, we had to release additional tension with the adjustment knob. Powermatic’s mechanism, shown above, proved irksome.
Also, the steel-frame saws have large, easily grasped tension-adjustment knobs (good) or handwheels (better). The Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox mount the handwheel below the upper wheel housing, where it’s easy to reach. Small, top-mounted knobs on the C-frame machines proved more difficult to operate.
We found adjusting and securing the blade tracking on all the saws easy enough, but prefer the large knobs and wing nuts on the steel-frame saws to the tiny thumbscrews and wing nuts on the C-frame machines.
We timed how long it took to change from a 3⁄4" blade setup to 1⁄4" on each saw, including resetting all guides and thrust bearings. The Grizzly G0555XH proved quickest, requiring only 11 minutes; the Jet SFX took more than twice as long. (See grades on
The blade-exit slot in the front of Rikon’s table eases blade removal on any width of blade, even saw-maximum 3⁄4" blades that commonly scraped the table center cutout of side-slot machines as you rotate them to line up for installation.
The highs and lows of fences
Each saw except the Jet DXPRO comes with a rip fence. The fences on all but the Powermatic offer you high or low orientation (6" high, 1⁄2" low), shown on the next page. Powermatic’s fence stands just 2" high, and although it comes with a removable resaw pivot post, it lacks the height needed to pro
vide good support for workpieces standing more than 5" high when resawing.
Rikon’s fence features an adjustment mechanism for aligning the fence face parallel to the blade. But we had to shim the locking knob to tighten the fence face against the base. And, because the base of this fence (and that on the Jet SFX) wraps around the steel guide rod, it requires some multistep maneuvering to remove it.
We love large, easy-tilt tables
All saws except the Jet DXPRO provide castiron tables significantly larger than those on lower-priced 14" bandsaws. This Jet and the Powermatic have one miter slot; the other tables have two slots, providing more options.
Table heights range from 37" to 44" above the floor. When you consider table height, think about the kind of work you’ll do most on this bandsaw. Low tables prove more ergonomic for resawing, but you might be more comfortable sitting on a stool when cutting curves or doing other close work. High tables allow you to work comfortably when standing, but can make resawing large pieces awkward.
Each saw’s table tilts at least 45° to the right and at least 5° left. The Grizzly G0817, Rikon, and Shop Fox use a single-trunnion, rack-and-pinion mechanism to tilt their tables, which makes fine adjustments easy. The C-frame saws have two trunnions, which partially block the front view of the lower blade guides and impede access to the trunnion bolts, making squaring the table to the blade difficult.
Dust collection: More is better
Each saw incorporates a 4" dust-collection port at the bottom of the lower-wheel cabinet, and the Grizzly G0817, Jet SFX, and Shop Fox add a second port just below the lower guides, as shown below. A brush on each saw helps to reduce debris from building up on the lower tire. All these brushes proved effective except on the Jet DXPRO and Powermatic.
Bandsaw bits and pieces
■ Hit the lights. Two saws incorporate a task light that works with a standard screwin bulb, and activates with a separate switch. The Grizzly G0555XH’s light has its own power cord to plug in, but the Powermatic’s light is wired directly to the saw, saving a space at the wall outlet. The Jet SFX and Rikon include built-in outlets for an aftermarket light, but neither includes one.
■ Onboard storage. Five saws have a storage compartment in their bases for blades and accessories. The Grizzly G0555XH, Jet DXPRO, and Rikon have large cabinets; the Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox have 4"-deep cabinets. Powermatic’s cabinet contains its motor (no room for storage), but provides surface-mount holders for the rip fence and miter gauge.
■ No miter, no matter. Both Grizzlys and the Powermatic come with a miter gauge, but because we seldom use a miter gauge on a bandsaw, we don’t consider this a vital buying point.
■ Quick stop. Only the Grizzly G0817 incorporates a foot-pedal blade brake for faster stops. The other saws need 20–40 seconds to coast to a stop.
■ Details, details. A chart inside the Rikon’s upper door contains lots of helpful quick references, such as blade length and widths, as well as tips for choosing blades.
■ Clear the way. Powermatic’s blower clears dust from the cutline in front of the blade, but we found its mounting bracket flimsy and easy to bend.
■ Get amped. Power cords on the Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox come with a 20-amp plug, requiring a matching 20-amp outlet. The other saws use a 15-amp plug.
■ Two speeds. The Jet DXPRO and Rikon have two blade speeds: the faster for cutting wood, and the slower for cutting nonferrous metals and plastics.
Put your deluxe dough here
Two similar saws rose to the top of this deluxe field: the Grizzly G0817 and Shop Fox W1849. Their blade guides differ and the Grizzly offers a foot brake. Both performed at or near the top of every test we performed, and they have useful features we appreciate, so they share Top Tool status. You can’t go wrong with either.