Choosing a Metal-Cutting Band Saw: Which is Best?

The DeWalt DCS377 Metal-Cutting Band Saw

One of the key tools to have access to when working with metal is the metal-cutting band saw. These saws often cut through lengths of metal or plastic more efficiently than other cutting tools. They achieve this feat through the use of a toothed blade that runs in a continuous loop. This arrangement keeps the blade cool while operating, allowing for uninterrupted cutting, and making cleaner cuts that require little post-processing. Metal-cutting band saws are also renowned for their power, making short work of metal or plastic that would otherwise be laborious to cut. 

Here, we take a look at this specialist saw to cut metal, exploring what makes it better than other metal-cutting tools. In addition, we look at how one might choose the best metal-cutting band saw for his or her toolbox or home workshop, before surveying what's actually available on the market today.

Why Use a Metal-Cutting Band Saw?

Versatile Cutting Capability

One of the first advantages of metal-cutting band saws is their ability to easily cut through different metal workpiece types. These include aluminium extrusions, circular steel bars, flat metal plates, as well as metal tubes and blocks. In addition, non-metal materials, such as plastic or nylon, are also cut efficiently with this machine type.

Clean and Precise Cuts

Metal-cutting band saws are also known for their ability to deliver clean, smooth cuts. The cut is often so smooth that it eliminates the need for any post-processing cleanup of the workpiece.

Continuous Operation

As the blade on a metal-cutting band saw moves in a continuous loop, no single point of it is subjected to continuous cutting friction. This means each point on the blade that comes in contact with the workpiece has plenty of time to cool down before having to re-engage at the cutting interface. This allows a metal-cutting band saw to operate almost indefinitely. As a result, this saw type is ideal for cutting larger metal workpieces that require extended cutting sessions to complete. 

Maintained Workpiece Temperature

Not only does the blade on a metal-cutting band saw stay cool but so too does the workpiece it is cutting through. This becomes particularly important when working with heat-sensitive materials or those that are at risk of distortion or warping.

No Cutting Fluid Required

Unlike other metal-cutting methods, metal-cutting band saws generally do not require the use of cutting lubricants. That's because cutting fluids are typically used to lubricate and cool the cutting interface, thereby controlling temperature and preserving tool life. However, since metal-cutting band saws control cutting temperatures by their very nature, cooling lubricants are usually unnecessary. This makes the metal-cutting process cleaner, more efficient and eliminates additional operating costs.

Partial Automation of Workshop Machines

Larger workshop metal-cutting band saws are often designed to be "fire and forget" machines. This means that once you get a cut started the machine can often be left alone to finish the job. This is usually achieved through the use of gravity and hydraulic pistons to control the pressure of the blade as it goes through the workpiece. 

What to Look for when Buying a Metal-Cutting Band Saw

Portable or Workshop

One of the first decisions to make when buying a metal-cutting band saw is whether to go for a portable version or a more stationary workshop type. Portable metal-cutting band saws are relatively compact and lightweight, making them easier to carry around and use on the spot. However, cutting capabilities are more limited and less precise. On the other hand, workshop metal-cutting band saw models offer increased cutting capacity and accuracy. However, they remain confined to a workshop and usually come with a much heftier price tag.

Corded or Cordless (portable models only)

Workshop metal-cutting band saws require a mains-powered connection. However, if a portable model is the saw of choice, then like most other power tool types, they come in both corded and cordless versions.

There are different pros and cons to corded versus cordless power tools. In the case of metal-cutting band saws, corded portable models tend to be less expensive than their equivalent cordless counterparts. However, they also come with all the negatives of being tethered to an electrical wall-socket.

On the other hand, cordless models can be used anywhere but come with all the anxieties of using batteries as a power source. Importantly, if a battery-based model is to be purchased then ensuring it is compatible with your preferred power tool battery system is key.

Brushed or Brushless

Like other power tools, metal-cutting band saw electric motors come in brushed and brushless types. Brushless is the latest electric motor technology and should always be the preferred option. However, it is also usually more expensive and if funds are tight, then a traditional brushed machine might be more appropriate. Brushless metal-cutting band saws offer several advantages over their brushed brethren:

  • Brushless motors tend to be more compact than equivalent brushed ones, allowing metal-cutting band saws that make use of them to be more compact.
  • Brushless motors have little or no power loss when operating making them more efficient than brushed ones. This is particularly important in battery-powered metal-cutting band saws where power is limited.
  • Brushless motors experience very little friction when they rotate compared to brushed motors. This means that brushless metal-cutting band saws generate less heat, allowing them to run for longer. This is especially useful since this tool type is designed to operate continuously for extended periods.
  • The lower internal friction of brushless motors also makes metal-cutting band saws that use them quieter than brushed machines.
  • Unlike brushed machines, brushless metal-cutting band saws don't have carbon brushes that periodically wear out and need to be replaced. This makes them require less maintenance than their brushed equivalents.
  • Brushless metal-cutting band saws generate higher torques than equivalent brushed devices. Accordingly, this makes them more powerful without having to be bigger in size.

Maximum Cutting Capacity

One of the most important considerations when choosing a metal-cutting band saw is its maximum cutting capacity. As alluded to earlier, workshop machines usually have much greater cutting capacity than portable devices. However, even within the portable category, machines can have very different maximum cutting specifications. Therefore, it is important to choose a model that is capable of handling the workpiece dimensions you commonly work with.

Tool-less Blade Change

Another modern technology to look for, especially in portable metal-cutting band saws, is a tool-less blade change system. This allows for quick and effortless blade changes without the need to have additional tools at hand.

Variable Blade Speed

Tellingly, a lot of professionals, especially those using portable machines, consider precisely-controlled blade speed on a metal-cutting band saw unnecessary. However, having the ability to control the speed of the blade on a metal-cutting band saw can be useful in some situations. In particular, being able to set the blade speed to match different materials can enhance cutting performance and improve the cleanliness of the cut.

Blade Size

Metal-cutting band saws come in a variety of different sizes. In general, the size of the device and its cutting capacity correlate with the length of the blade loop. This means that metal-cutting band saw blades are different for each size of machine. So, when choosing a metal-cutting band saw, make sure replacement blades can be readily procured.

LED Light

A lot of metal-cutting band saws, especially portable ones, will have an integral workspace light. Although not essential, having one that lights up the cutting area can make cutting easier and more accurate especially in poorly-lit environments.

Weight

Finally, the overall weight of the metal-cutting band saw is another consideration to take into account. Unsurprisingly, workshop machines are very heavy, so some thought should be given to actually receiving and installing the machine. As for portable machines, these are considerably lighter. However, one still needs to consider how easy are they to carry around and work with especially if used regularly. In general, a heavier machine will generally have a greater cutting capacity but a lighter saw will be easier to manoeuvre and transport.


Popular Portable Metal Cutting Band Saws in the UK

Power
(Volts)
Brushless
Max. Cutting
Capacty
Variable
Speed Dial
Blade Size
(mm)
LED
Worklight
Weight
(kg)
Bosch GCB 18V-63
18V
63.5mm
733 x 12.7 x 0.4
3.7 - 4.7 kg ††
DeWalt DCS371
18V
63.5 mm
835 x 12 x 0.5
4.2 - 4.7 kg **
DeWalt DCS377

18V
46 mm
686-692 x 12.7 x 0.5
3.2 - 3.8 kg **
Makita DPB184
18V
51 mm
730 x 13 x 0.5
3.3 - 3.6 kg
Makita DPB182
18V
64 mm
835 x 13 x 0.5
3.8 - 4.1 kg
Makita DPB180
18V
120 mm
1140 x 13 x 0.5
6.8 - 7.1 kg
†† includes the use of Bosch Professional original and ProCORE batteries.
** includes the use of DeWalt regular and POWERSTACK batteries, but not FLEXVOLT (which are significantly heavier).

Conclusion

Metal-cutting band saws offer several advantages over other metal-cutting machines. Their ability to cut various metals and plastics cleanly, among others advantages, make them an indispensable tool for anyone who works with metals regularly.

So if you are looking for a metal-cutting band saw, try to find the right balance between power source, cutting capacity, and portability. Since choosing the right one will allow you to maximize productivity in your metal-working tasks.