the joys of resawing, the beauty of curves
one of the questions that shows up more than just about any other is “if i want a handtool shop but i’m just going to have one powertool, what would it be?”. my answer is always the same. get two. a bandsaw and a planer. the bandsaw will let you resaw, rough-cut, rip, straighten edges (even edge-joint). the planer will get you parallel faces and control over board thickness. yes, you can do all these things with handtools. this, however, is efficient. a fully-stocked shop with lots of other tools is wonderful. but you can get by with just those two powertools for the rest of your woodworking career. in this category, there are many big-name players. this list is aimed at value for money without sacrificing quality and the names that keep showing up are rikon and grizzly. jet, powermatic and laguna certainly provide good options but they generally have higher prices for similar feature-sets. if you can get a good deal on a similar model from one of those brands, that’s often just as wise a choice. in this category, i would suggest avoiding discount-focused brands like ryobi and wen. you really do get what you pay for with a bandsaw.
a very small bandsaw is useful for basic cutting. it doesn’t have the power or capacity for serious resawing but it will get the job done if you have to use it. if you have very little space, this is your option. otherwise, don’t bother. get at least a 14″ and you’ll be happy you did.
rikon 10-3061 ($450)
this is a 25cm (10in) bandsaw with about a 13cm resaw capacity and a 1/2hp motor. it has a solid table, stable fence, reasonable amount of power for its size and feels far more rugged than i’d ever have imagined from such a small saw. it can live on a stand or a bench. there are a few other bandsaws out there at this size with similar pricing (grizzly g0803z, ryobi bs904g, etc) but they’re generally neither as stable or powerful as this. you’d save a little money but it’s not even slightly worth the tradeoff. anything less than this, you’d do just as well with a jigsaw while you save up.
small bandsaws are where you start to get serious about using the tool for what it was meant to do. unlike “getting by” in the land of the 25cm saws, a 35cm saw will do serious resawing and cut straight rips and fair curves without nearly as much potential for deflection – assuming you have it setup well with an appropriately-sized and sharp blade, of course. of course, there’s far more competition in this market and they appear across a wide price spectrum.
grizzly g0555lx ($750)
this may be the best value for money in a 35cm bandsaw today. with a 15cm resaw capacity and a 1hp motor, it can certainly hold its own against larger saws. it’s definitely underpowered if you’re trying to resaw wide, dense stock but it can power through it if you’re patient. it’s got a tiny footprint and excellent build quality, as can be expected from grizzly. it looks small and insubstantial but its performance makes you forget that in a hurry. it’s not a bigger or more powerful saw but if this is the price and size that fits your shop, i can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with it.
rikon 10-326 ($1300)
a 35cm bandsaw with a staggeringly large 33cm resaw capacity and a 1 3/4hp motor, this isn’t your average small saw. it’s really just a miniaturized version of a 45cm saw packed into a smaller case at a lower price. one of the nice things about this is that it can run on standard 110v power so you don’t need to worry about high-voltage wiring in the shop. all told, this is a serious piece of equipment but at a budget-friendly price and with a small-shop footprint.
so you want to resaw some serious boards and pound through stock quickly? you need a big bandsaw. well, maybe not “big” in the industrial sense but what you’re looking for is a full-size floor-standing model with some serious weight and power. you’ll be looking at definitely needing 220v in your shop and ensuring the floor is stable enough to hold up both a tall and narrow piece of equipment. i suspect no woodworker ever bought a big bandsaw and decided they didn’t really need it. anything you can do with a small saw, you can do with a big one and the inverse is rarely true.
grizzly g0513x2f ($1450)
while there is a standard g0513, the x2f model is marginally more expensive and includes heavier-duty construction. you can save about $200 by getting the non-heavy-duty model but my recommendation is to consider it an investment in not having to mess with it later. you know you’re not going to treat it gently. this 43cm saw has a 30cm resaw capacity (42cm throat, if that’s useful to know) and a 2hp motor. yes, there are some things it won’t cut through but you’re not likely to run into them very often. it’s adjustible-speed (only two but that’s better than one) and has a tilting cast-iron table and two dust ports. the mobile base (optional, i believe) is nice if you have a small shop. you can in theory wire it for 110v but you’re really just going to regret it unless that’s a temporary fix.
rikon 10-342 ($1900)
in this case, there is an upgraded version of this (10-347) for about $700 more and if you have the money, it’s a worthwhile upgrade but i wouldn’t let the lack of the extra stop you from getting this model. it’s a relatively new saw from rikon, single-phase 220v, 45cm, 33cm cutting capacity, 2hp motor. the tilting table is flexible and easy to use, the fence system is accurate and the build quality is extremely solid. it’s what you expect from a serious 45cm bandsaw at a very reasonable price. is it worth the extra $450 over the grizzly model above? that is an excellent question and it really comes down to a close inspection of the specifications. yes, it can do more. yes, it’s more expensive. do your research. both saws come highly recommended.
if these are too small for your needs, you’re a serious professional and not really within the scope of the recommendations here. i would suggest looking at the grizzly g0531b and g0568 (53 and 61cm respectively) or the rikon 10-385 (61cm). all three are excellent saws but at this size, you likely have specific needs and considerations that are particular to your shop and any general recommendation won’t be that useful. the laguna lt24x24, jet jwbs-20-5 and powermatic pm2415b are all worth serious consideration.