Bandsaws For Luthiers

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Bruce Johnson, Aug 22, 2017.

  1. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I thought it would be good to start a thread specifically about bandsaws. A good bandsaw is an essential tool for building instruments, and there are many things to consider when choosing one to buy, setting it up, and operating it safely. We've had some good information posted on several recent project threads, but it's scattered and hard to find. This thread will be easy for other interested readers to search for.

    So you know, I'm a hopeless antique machinery junkie, and my hobby is collecting and restoring old machines, and researching and writing about them. Old machines are often available for cheap, and they can be wonderful to own and use. But they do usually require some repairs and cleanup. I realize that most of you may not want to get into that. It's perfectly sensible to want to buy a new modern machine, that you can put right to work. But I like the old timers, and I'm gradually replacing the fine newer machines in my shop with fine old ones.

    At the moment I actually have 9 bandsaws in here, but two are heading to other shops up and down the hall soon. Leaving me with only seven....

    To start off, here are the three of my bandsaws that I have dedicated to woodworking.

    On the left is my medium bandsaw, a circa 1950 Davis & Wells 14" model. That's the one I use almost all the time, many times every day.

    The big monster is a circa 1942 Davis & Wells 20" model. I've been wanting one of these beauties for years, and just got this one on Sunday. It's an upgrade from my Grizzly 16" saw. In the pictures, I'd just moved it into position with the pallet jack. I'll do a separate post about this machine below.

    On the right, on the floor, peeking out is a circa 1938 Walker Turner Driver Line 12" model. That's my little bandsaw. I'm building a new wooden base for it, which will enclose the motor and be on wheels.

    The sizes of these saws has to do with the blade widths, horsepower, and the jobs I use them for. The medium saw, the D & W 14, has a 1/4" x 10 tpi blade on it. I use it for sawing wood up to about 2" thick, and it will turn corners of 1" radius. That covers most Luthier work.

    The little saw gets a narrow blade, either 1/8" or 3/16", and will be specifically for cutting intricate contours, like fancy headstock shapes.

    The big D & W 20 is getting a 3/4" x 2 tpi blade and will be used for the heavy cutting, like 4" maple neck blanks. It will resaw up to 12".
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
  2. Christopher DBG

    Christopher DBG Commercial User

    May 18, 2015
    Westerly, RI
    Luthier/Owner, Christopher Bass Guitar
    I love the Turner Driver Line 12" model. Modern 12" band saws are usually cheap bottom of the barrel stuff. That's a beauty. I have not wanted a new tool in years, but that might have just changed! I have three band saws. Not quite the lookers that yours are, but I use two of them just about every day.
  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Here's another picture of the little Walker Turner Driver Line 12" saw, taken just after I brought it home about 7 years ago.


    It showed up on CraigsList for something like $110. The guy I bought it from had about 90% restored it, cleaning it all up and repainting it this light metallic blue. A beautiful little saw, nothing wrong with it mechanically. All it needs is a base and a motor drive hooked up.

    Walker Turner was well established in the field of heavy duty industrial grade machines. They made many types of woodworking machines, but were primarily known for their bandsaws and drill presses. They put some style into the external design of their machines, usually some art-deco. Around 1937, they recognized that there was a growing market for nice home shop machines. Homeowners and farmers were starting to want nice power machines back in the shed. Electricity and electric motors were becoming more common.

    So, Walker Turner came out with their Driver Line series of machines, aimed at that market. These machines were lighter duty, less expensive, and really styled up to be gorgeous. They made Driver Line bandsaws, jointers, and drill presses. The bandsaws were made in 12", 14" and 16" models. They only made them for about 4 years, up to 1941. During the war years, Walker Turner ran at overtime capacity making industrial machines, like all the machinery manufacturers. When the war ended, the bottom dropped out of the machinery industry, and Walker Turner struggled for survival. They lasted up into the 1960's before shutting down. The brand name was sold and used later. Walker Turner never got back into the home shop market. Delta won that battle in the 1950's.

    For only one year, 1938, the Walker Turner Driver Line bandsaws were sold through Sears with Craftsman badges on them. Here's one of them, a 1938 Craftsman 16" bandsaw, made by Walker Turner and, other than the badges, identical to the Driver Line 16" model. On the 16" model, the covers didn't have the distinctive cutouts, but they are embossed with the pattern.


    I found this one on CraigsList here in Thousand Oaks about two years ago, for $140. The paint is flaking off, but it's in great shape mechanically. It's not as monstrous as my Davis & Wells saws, but it's a nice sturdy bandsaw. Heavier duty than most of the modern imports. I'm fitting it up on a base with a 1 1/2 hp motor, and it's going down the hall to Mike Lipe's shop.
  4. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Here are some more pictures of my Davis & Wells 14" bandsaw. In my highly biased opinion, this is the ultimate 14" bandsaw. A simple, basic design, built like a tank. It's all cast iron, and weighs over 300 lbs, not including the base and motor. It's so smooth and stable, and it can saw wood all day, every day. This one is from the late 1940's or early 1950's, so it's about 65 years old. And it will easily go another 65 years.

    I found it on CraigsList (where else?) about 8 years ago, and paid $325 for it. It's missing the original cast iron base. It came mounted on that welded steel frame. I fitted it with a 1 hp motor and a somewhat funky dust collector connection.


    These two pictures were taken back in my Burbank shop, just after I got it.



    I don't think a single day goes by when I don't use this saw. As I mentioned above, I keep it fitted with a 1/4" x 10 tpi blade (91" long), a standard Lenox carbon steel woodworking blade. They cost me $13 each through They typically last 4-8 months in my useage.

    Davis & Wells was a fairly small Los Angeles company, known for their super duty woodworking machines. They were in business from about 1940 to the late 1960's. They mostly made bandsaws, table saws, jointers, and shapers. In the '70's, the company was bought by Rankin, and some machines were made under the Davis & Wells by Rankin name through the '70's.

    The Davis & Wells bandsaws were made in 12", 14" and 20" sizes. They all have the big one piece cast iron cover that swings out. On the pre-war 1940's machines, the cover has big holes exposing the centers of the wheels, and there's no back cover. On the post-war machines like this one, the front cover has domes completely covering the wheels, and there's cast iron back covers. The blade is fully enclosed, but it isn't very well sealed up.

    That's a general drawback to these older bandsaws. They really weren't designed for dust collection, as most modern machines are. I fitted this saw with an aluminum scoop hood under the table, and a 4" hose going to the big Grizzly dust collector. It works okay, and collects maybe 70% of the dust. But a lot still floats out the top and back.

    Sometime soon I'm going to build a nice wooden base for this saw, more compact than that welded steel base. I'm going to make it closed in, enclosing the motor, to keep it cleaner and easier to sweep around. It will be on casters, as it is now. I often need to pull it out a bit for clearance when I'm sawing a neck or a longer board.

    Anyway, if you see a Davis & Wells 14" bandsaw for sale in your town, you should think about getting it. It's a lifetime machine.
  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Here's the big monster, the Davis & Wells 20" bandsaw. I just bought it this week, and hauled it up to Fillmore on Sunday. I got it moved down into the shop and put into place yesterday. It's basically up and running, with a rusty old blade on it. A new blade is on the way from, a 3/4" x 2 tpi Lenox, 137" long.

    This saw is 6 1/2' tall and weighs about 750 lbs. It's supposed to be capable of resawing to 12", but it looks like it measures 11 7/8" with the blade guide all the way up.


    This is an early one, from about 1942. It has the open style front cover and no back covers. It also has the early style base, where the bottom base is a separate bolted on part. On the later 20" models, the base is all one piece with the main frame, and the motor mount is in the back. This is a rare version of a rare machine, although only a few of us hopeless machinery fanatics care.

    This machine has some damage. At some time in its life, it may have fallen over. The big cast iron cover was broken into three pieces, but it's been fairly neatly repaired with some angle iron and steel plates. A part on the upper blade guide was also broken and rewelded. The motor isn't original, but the mount and drive parts are. Everything else is original and in good running condition. I'm going to put a better switch and new wiring on it, but that's about it.

    Notice how I've mounted it on a pair of 4 x 4's, 30" long. I do this on all of my big machines, partly for earthquake protection. We get occasional wigglers here, and I really don't want a machine like this falling over. Particularly if I happen to be standing next to it! The 4 x 4's are bolted to the machine base, not just screwed. These timbers also make it easy to move the machine around with a pallet jack. I bought one of the small narrow pallet jacks that are commonly used in restaurants. It's a fast and safe way to move the big machines.

    Ever since I got the Davis & Wells 14" saw, I've been wanting one of the big 20" models too. I have a Grizzly 16" bandsaw (more on it later), which is a fine modern mid-sized saw. I've been using it for all the heavier bandsawing and some resawing, for about 23 years. But it will only resaw up to 7 1/2" high. I wanted to step up to a 20" saw, and I particularly wanted a Davis & Wells.

    The Davis & Wells 20" bandsaws show up now and then on the Los Angeles area CraigsList, but the prices have usually been $1500 to $2500. Much more than I could afford. But patience paid off. In January, this one appeared for $800. I salivated, but didn't have the money. Then it was listed again in May and June for $500. I still couldn't afford it. Then the ad disappeared and I thought I'd lost it. Then last Sunday, the same machine was posted again for $300! And I actually had a little bit of spare money. So obviously, I grabbed it. This machine was waiting for me, and is now part of my shop.

    My buddy Keith Horne, whose shop is right across the hall, badly needs a good bandsaw. So, I'm selling him the Grizzly 16 for $350, exactly what the Davis & Wells 20 cost me, including the trailer rental. Good deals for both of us, upgrading our bandsaws!

    The saw was in Canoga Park, about 40 miles south of me. The owner was a cabinet maker who is getting out of the business. He had worked in a larger shop, and the owner of that shop had bought this saw about ten years ago. This gentleman, Robert, had restored and repainted the saw for the owner, and had used it a fair amount at that business. When the shop closed down, he ended up with it, in his home shop garage. He did some custom work from his garage for a while, but then stopped and needed the space. It's amazing that, even at $300, I was the only call he got for it. He was very happy to sell it to me, because I knew what it was and appreciated it.

    The best way to transport a machine like this is with a small flat trailer. With really solid tie-down rings.


    We took off the table and the cover for the move, for safety. I used a small folding engine hoist (aka cherry picker) to lift it up onto the trailer. An 8 point tie-down; four at mid height and four at the base. Chains with bolts and locknuts for the back four; heavy cargo straps with locking clevises for the front four. That's the safest way I know of to transport a tall top-heavy machine like this. I took off all the knobs and strapped the upper wheel trunnion assembly. It's amazing how much pounding and vibration a machine gets in a 40 mile trip up the California freeways. Yes, I've done this many times before!

    And obviously, the journey was classier using my '67 Ford pickup to do the towing.

    In Fillmore, I backed the trailer down into the Secret Underground Lab, where it is always nice and cool. I rolled up my handy gantry crane, lifted the saw up a few inches, and drove the trailer out from underneath it. Then I took a break for a few hours to cool off. The purchase and transport went off without a hitch, but it was a scorching hot day. Sunday night I used the crane to mount it on the 4 x 4's, and moved it into the shop. I had it up and running a little while later.


  6. sowilson


    Jul 5, 2013
    Nice Walker Turner bandsaws. There are a lot of great, older bandsaws. Myself I would like to find a 36" Oliver, Yates, Northfield, or Powermatic, but alas I have no place to use or store it. I use to have a 14" Jet which was pretty good for most tasks. After a few years I upgraded to a 20" Minimax MM20 and have been enjoying that ever since. Decent resaw capacity, good dust collection, and enough beam strength to properly tension any blade I throw at it (1" Lenox Carbide stays on it most of the time). Unless I'm processing sheet goods I rarely rip cut anything at the tablesaw as the bandsaw does a great job with a lot less pucker factor.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2017
  7. I'm truly amazed! This and the other thread you have on fixtures need to be sticky threads :)
    goodkingzog, kaoskater08 and tbrannon like this.
  8. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Beautiful saws!
    They sure don't make them like that anymore.
    I miss the old design aesthetics, there is no reason why a machine can't be both functional and beautiful.
  9. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yeah, when I was a teenager, a friend of mine had a shop with a beautiful old 36" Oliver bandsaw in the back corner. I used to stand in awe, staring at it. That vision played a big part in the growth of my young brain, and the direction of my life. There's something magical about big, old machines. Particularly ones that you can use to build things.

    About two years ago there was a fairly nice American (brand) 36" bandsaw available for $500. Something was broken on it, but it was repairable. I thought about it, but......really, I don't need a 36" bandsaw. That's getting awfully big in height, weight, horsepower. I'm not cutting ship's keels here, and I don't really plan to. Most 36" bandsaws are pushing 10' tall and three or four thousand pounds.

    For those of you not familiar with how bandsaws are sized, that number is the throat depth; the horizontal distance from the blade to the inside of the C-frame. On a two wheel bandsaw, it's also the diameter of the wheels. So my Davis & Wells 20" saw has 20" diameter wheels, and a 20" wide workpiece will swing through the frame.

    I completely agree that ripping thick boards on a big bandsaw is a lot safer and less frightening than ripping on a big tablesaw. A bandsaw doesn't jam the blade too easily, and it won't kick the wood back at you. It's slower and not as flat a surface, but safer. You've seen my monster table saw in the other thread, which I'm getting set up for heavy ripping of maple boards. But realistically, I'll be doing a lot of ripping on this 20" bandsaw.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
  10. Ross W. Lovell

    Ross W. Lovell

    Oct 31, 2015

    I lucked out early on when I grabbed a 16" DoAll with a blade welder for free. It was redundant and they wanted it gone immediately as they had a newer one. Mine is from about '64.

    Other than replacing the 3 phase with a single phase of twice the HP, it's been a great saw.

    Mine too had went done and broke the pivot on the 24 x 24" table, luckily it snapped clean without bending.

    I silicon brazed it, it's just fine.

    The Oliver's.........are gorgeous and I know what you mean about looks and old machines.

    My drill press is a refitted Charles Allen from the 30's. 24 x 24" table like a knee mill, paid $100 for it but it did weigh over a 1000 pounds. Guy goughtbit for stainless as it had a slower range of speeds than his main one, good for stainless steel.

    Best part about old tools, large castings, hard to vibrate.
    Bugeyed Earl likes this.
  11. thisSNsucks

    thisSNsucks I build Grosbeak Guitars and Basses Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 19, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    Grosbeak Guitars
    Awesome! I just upgraded from a 10" craftsman benchtop to a 14"grizzly, but you're on a whole other level! Lol
    Bugeyed Earl likes this.
  12. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I was just playing with the big Davis & Wells 20 a little while ago. How could I resist? I needed to rip some 1 1/2" mahogany for neck laminations for a pair of guitar necks for Mike Lipe. Even with the rusty old blade, it sliced the mahogany like butter.

    I mentioned that these old machines weren't designed for dust collection; that is, the saw blade path isn't enclosed and easily able to be ducted to a dust collector. But I noticed something interesting in this test run. It really didn't seem to throw any sawdust around at all. Even with those big wheels spinning pretty fast. The sawdust all seems to fall straight down on the floor, making a neat little pile in front of the base. Sawing mahogany is usually pretty messy, but this wasn't. There's hardly any dust on the table or behind the saw or on the upper half. It just dumps it straight down. I think if I built a little wood box tray thing that fits close around the base in the front, it would catch almost all of the sawdust. I may not even need to mess with a dust collector connection.

    I suspect part of the reason is the design of the wheels. They are cast iron, smooth on both sides. They don't whip up much air while spinning. Modern saws mostly have cast aluminum wheels with spokes, to save weight and cost. When they spin, they are like fan blades.

    They put some cleverness into these old machines.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2017
  13. That's cool! I'm wondering if you or any other luthier here could send me a link or tips on cutting neck lams on a band Saw? Can take it off this awesome threat or point me somewhere else. Thanks!
  14. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    You've already seen the Router Planing Fixture thread, right? I used the big bandsaw just for sawing out the rough profile view shape of the lams from a larger board of mahogany. Hand sawing to pencil lines. Then they went over to the router bench and into that long fixture. I routed the side surfaces of each to make them flat and equal thickness. Then glued them up.
    kaoskater08 and chinjazz like this.
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Your 20" monster has me wanting to replace my 14" Delta with a 6" riser. Even though I have no need to do so.
    Beej and kaoskater08 like this.
  16. sowilson


    Jul 5, 2013
    Save up and get a 20" bandsaw. Even when properly setup the Delta/Jet 14" w/riser block isn't that good at efficiently resawing material. You end up needing to do a lot of cleanup on the planer, wide belt sander, or with hand planes. On a larger saw with decent resaw capability you can generally tension the larger blades properly and end up with panels that need very little cleanup work. The Jet/Delta 14" bandsaws are great but work best with smaller blades.
  17. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Yessir, I am aware
  18. I'm super unhappy with my bandsaw's ability to resaw effectively. I'll take a bunch of pics next week and quiz you all about what the heck I'm doing wrong. I can't tell you how much timber I've ruined trying to resaw it. :(
    kaoskater08 likes this.
  19. kaoskater08


    Apr 1, 2011
    I'm in the same boat as you..
  20. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Two basic rules for successful resawing with a bandsaw:

    1.) Don't try to resaw against a fence. Draw a pencil line along the top edge of the board, and make sure the bottom edge of the board is relatively square. Use a sliding "squaring block" to hold the board perpendicular to the table, and feed the board through, steering it along the pencil line.

    I've spent years messing with fences on bandsaws, and given up. If you try to force a board into the gap between a fence and a bandsaw blade, the blade is going to move sideways. In a normal bandsaw, the blade is too flexible. The thicker the wood, the more flexible the section of blade becomes. You can play with high blade tension, super-special blades, nose block fences, and all the alignment tricks that the guys on the woodworking videos show. And maybe you'll get the fence thing to work occasionally. But you'll ruin a lot of good wood along the way. It isn't worth the trouble. I get more consistent results free-hand sawing to a pencil line with a sliding squaring block. I don't have or use fences on any of my bandsaws.

    2.) Use the lowest tooth-count blade you can get to fit your bandsaw. This usually means the widest blade that will fit. Any 14" bandsaw will take a 1/2" wide blade, so get a 1/2" x 3 tpi hook tooth carbon steel blade. I recommend the Lenox brand, which will cost about $14. No need for carbide-tipped blades (which are very expensive) unless you are continuously cutting thick boards of tough wood. I don't believe that carbide-tipped bandsaw blades cut any better than normal carbon steel blades; they just last longer in tough conditions.

    The main reason that you want the low tooth count is to clear the chips out of the long slot in the wood. The big problem when resawing thick boards is heat buildup in the slot. If the chips pack up, the blade binds and heats up. This scorches the wood, squeals the belts, makes the blade wander side to side, and dulls the sharpness of the teeth. All of which build up more heat, which makes it all worse. A blade with big teeth, and not many of them, will stay cooler and cut better.

    Fewer teeth also means less horsepower needed to make the cut, which is also important. The thicker the board, the more horsepower is needed. And most bandsaws are not designed with the frame strength and horsepower for heavy resawing.

    Here's the new blade on my Davis & Wells 20" saw. This saw will take a 3/4" wide blade, so I was able to get a 3/4" x 2 tpi hook tooth blade. It cost $25 from, but it's 139" long.