A metal cutting horizontal bandsaw is a necessary tool in the metalworking arsenal. If you purchase a metal lathe or milling machine, it won’t be long before you’ll be purchasing a cut off (horizontal) bandsaw to reduce rough stock to manageable sizes. In Part 1 of this post, I’m going to detail what you need to know before buying a saw, what to look out for, and how to apply some Victorian Steam. Because this is an involved “restoration”, Part 1 will detail the body and stand for my horizontal bandsaw. A follow up blog post, Part 2, will detail the restoration and installation of the upper body.
What Size Saw Do You Need?
There are many sizes of bandsaws on the market, so bear a few things in mind when you purchase:
- How big is the biggest piece of metal you will realistically cut off? The small 4″ x 5″ (or 5″ x 6″) models are typically more than big enough for most antiquarian projects.
- How much room do you have to store and use the bandsaw? These are not small tools and have a minimum 30″ x 40″ footprint.
- What kind of electrical power do you have? Bandsaws are available in numerous sizes with many variations in motor sizes. Be sure your electrical power is sufficient for your saw. For my 5″ x 6″ saw, the motor required standard US residential single phase AC power.
- Will someone be available to help you move the saw or will you be moving it by yourself? The saw itself is made of cast iron and steel. My small 5″ x 6″ saw is 115 lbs (52 Kg). It came with casters, as do some of the medium sized saws, and can be shifted by one person. Larger saws are stationary and too heavy to move about for storage after use.
- What kind of manufacturing quality do you realistically need in your tool? Many of the saws made in mainland China are not well made however quality varies and MSC sells rather good ones. Saws made in Thailand are slightly higher quality. Saws made in the USA and Europe are top of the line. Buy the best you can afford but remember to balance your needs carefully.
I purchased my 5″ x 6″ saw from Enco (now MSC). The box shows it was made in mainland China. There is also a close copy available at Harbor Freight (also from mainland China) but the quality is much lower despite being almost the same price. If you can, I strongly suggest looking at the actual saw in person before making your purchase. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Inspect the motor drive pulleys to see if they were turned (on a lathe) and that the belt surfaces are smooth. It is preferable to have an aluminum pulley and this is a good indicator of a higher quality saw. The lower quality saws have cast iron pulleys that do not run true. I’ve even seen one that the center shaft hole was not bored through the exact center of the pulley. This caused the motor to flop around when running.
- Pay careful attention to the precision parts because the details absolutely make the difference. The blade guide bearings and safety guards/guard attachment points need to be very precisely made. It will be obvious under close inspection as to whether or not the manufacturer cut corners in these locations to save money.
- Check to see if oil is leaking from the saw gearbox. While the gearing quality is typically the same across the different quality saws, the oil and gearbox seals are not. If you don’t plan on replacing the Chinese oil and gearbox seal, make sure your saw doesn’t leak.
My saw arrived by truck (equipped with a lift gate) and the driver moved it from the truck to my house using a pallet jack. The saw was shipped in a cardboard box complete with tensioned shipping straps. Inside, the saw was wrapped in plastic and surrounded with custom molded styrofoam. It took some effort to free the saw from its bindings.
“Putrid Green”. At least I think that is the correct name of the color. But wait, there’s more putrid green:
Not What I Ordered, But Great Customer Service
I bought this bandsaw with the expectation that it would match the catalog colors and that it wouldn’t have the extraordinarily cheap “afterthought” plastic wheels required for use. Here is what the saw was supposed to look like:
I called Enco to see if they had shipped me the wrong saw. My saw matched the catalog number, so Enco said they would do some checking and get back with me. To be honest, I thought this was the last time I would hear from them. However two days later, they called and informed me that they had checked all of the saws in their warehouses around the country and all of them were the Putrid Green, cheap caster type like mine. They asked if I wanted to ship it back or take a 25% refund off the sales price. Considering that I purchased the saw using a “40% off with free truck shipping” discount code they had emailed me (as part of their advertising campaign), I was more than happy to take the additional 25% off and deal with the paint color and plastic wheels.
Applying Victorian Steam – Antiquarian Style
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, in Part 1 I’m going to “restore” the body and stand which is the blue section of the saw shown in the Enco picture above. I’ll tackle the powered bandsaw section (shown in white above) in Part 2.
I like restoring and repurposing antiques, so I decided to apply some Victorian Steam to this saw. American tools from the late era of the Industrial Revolution were typically painted gloss black. The hard paint was actually a gooey substance made from tar, linseed oil, and other not so friendly ingredients. The metal parts were dipped into this slop and it was allowed to dry into a very hard shiny surface. This coating was known as “Japanning” because gloss black products from the Orient were all the rage at that time. My love/hate relationship with this material has evolved over time and I now like gloss black painted items so long as there is a little something extra added for spice. Ergo, if you add stainless or bass hardware to accent the black paint, it makes for a rather good looking restoration. I decided to “restore” this saw to its Victorian glory by painting all of the Putrid Green parts gloss black, replacing all of the black oxide and galvanized hardware with Stainless Steel hardware, and replacing the plastic vise handwheel with a chrome handwheel.
Disassembling the Saw
Required safety disclaimer: Be very sure of your skills and understanding of mechanics before attempting to restore a mechanical device – proceed at your own risk. The first step in any Victorian upfit is to take everything to pieces and document anything that may give you trouble during reassembly. One such area for me was the switch wiring:
After some diligence, I ended up with all of the iron castings separated from their hardware and electrical wiring. The main body casting is shown below.
I cleaned off the shipping grease/oil from the Putrid Green parts and spray painted them gloss black using the methods shown in my Painting Tips post. I used masking tape to cover areas of machined iron that didn’t need to be painted, and I rolled pieces of paper towel and stuffed them in shaft holes and threaded holes to prevent spray painting these mating surfaces.
Stainless Steel Hardware
You need to be judicious when selecting which hardware to replace because stainless (304, 18-8, and A2) is softer than typical steel hardware. Brass is even softer. Therefore, understand the mechanical function and necessary strength requirements for each and every piece of hardware. I measured all of the nuts and bolts and ordered stainless replacements from Fastenall. This project was much more difficult than usual because there was a strange mix of metric (SI) and standard (fractional/SAE) hardware throughout the saw. I’ve never before seen such a variety of bolt sizes and mixed up measuring standards in a small imported tool. Also, remember that you want to order 18-8 stainless if possible because it’s less expensive. Here is what showed up on my front porch:
If you’ve done everything correctly and measured and procured the proper size hardware, the bandsaw should go together beautifully. I didn’t have any misalignments or any other unforeseen issues however you may want to test assemble your project prior to applying Victorian Steam. Below is the assembled base frame of my saw.
Replacing the Crank Handle
The vise crank handle that came with the saw is a cheap plastic handwheel with a set screw. As an example of the poor manufacturing quality of this handwheel, the hole for the set screw was not even threaded prior to the screw being driven in at the factory. I was unable to turn the setscrew for fear of breaking off the hex wrench or stripping the screw head. If you run into this problem, remove the screw if possible and use a tap to thread the hole to match the screw.
I decided not to use the original plastic handwheel and purchased a 4-inch diameter offset chromed handwheel and the necessary revolving handle from MSC. (If you haven’t already, sign up for their email list to get some great discount coupons for purchases like these.) The hole in the center of the handwheel hub as delivered from MSC is smaller than the bandsaw vise shaft which measures .001″ less than 1/2″. I decided to drill out the center of the hub using 31/64″ drill bit and turn the bore to the final inside diameter using a boring bar on my benchtop machine lathe.
If you don’t have a machine lathe, you can drill the handwheel hub on a drill press with reasonable accuracy. Once the hub is drilled/machined to the proper internal diameter, it’s a simple matter to drill and tap the set screw hole (5/16″-18 in my case) and install a 3/8″ long set screw. Be sure to use a drill press and vise for this operation.
Painting the Safety Guards
All of the bandsaw safety guards were different shades of dull yellow. While I could have brightened up the yellow with a new coat of Rustoleum “Safety Yellow” paint, I decided to use the “Safety Red” color instead because it compliments the gloss black better to my eyes. The Rustoleum safety paint colors are part of their “Professional” paint line. They dry quicker than their normal paints and are accompanied by a much stronger smell during the drying process. I painted the safety guards outdoors using the same methods as the bandsaw body painting discussed above. The overall results were very good, and I’m pleased with the surface finish of this “Professional” paint.
Putting It All Together
Assembling the switch guard onto the switch and the handwheel onto the shaft completes the base of this bandsaw and Part 1 of this project. It took one evening to unpack and disassemble the saw, approximately six evenings to mask/paint the parts, an evening to complete the initial assembly, and an evening to finish the handwheel and complete the saw assembly. This project is spread out over approximately nine evenings if you worked every evening. The result is shown below.
In Part 2 of this project, I’ll disassemble and mask/paint the upper bandsaw frame, clean the junk gear oil out of the gearbox and replace it with high quality gear oil, and fix a few problems. In Part 3, I’ll install leveling feet, modify and install a mobile base, assemble all of the pieces, wire the saw, and correct any other issues that crop up.