Resawing with a Band Saw: Basic Hows and Whys
How to set up your band saw to resaw boards into thin stock. Choose the best resaw blade and resaw fence.
So you can use a band saw to slice thin pieces of wood from bigger pieces of wood ... what's the benefit? Why not buy your wood sliced thin to begin with, or just plane or sand it to thickness? Here are five good reasons right off the top of my head: First, you’ll get the best use out of expensive or beautifully figured wood. Second, you'll be able to create book-matched, slip-matched or swing-matched panels.
Third, you'll have a method to efficiently use salvaged or reclaimed lumber of large dimension. Fourth, you'll be able to create your own lumber from a tree (or even from firewood)! And fifth, when you get good at it, you can begin to make your own handmade plywood.
Creating your own plywood gives you total control of a project's appearance and wood species. Woodworker's Journal author Nina Childs Johnson used resawn narra to construct a lid for a large box. By baking in the edges with solid narra (an uncommon Southeast Asian hardwood) and using a 1/8" plywood core, she was able to create a book-matched figured lid that looked like it was made of a solid piece of hardwood — but it had the strength and stability of plywood.
She used successive book-matched flitches, top and bottom, to support the "solid wood" illusion even when the lid was open. Resawing is the key to this creative joinery.
Equipment Makes a Difference
To get started with resawing, I recommend a band saw of sufficient power and with a large depth of cut. Any motor smaller than 1hp and depth of cut less than 10" will limit your effectiveness. (Some 14" band saws have about a 6" maximum cut...so you'd be limited to a 12" wide book-matched panel or less.)
I also recommend using a point fence of some sort. By having a single point to register the cut (placed adjacent to the cutting edge of the saw blade), you will be able to swing your stock left or right to correct for blade drift. You might be able to get away with using a standard fence once in a while, but if you're trying to slice off a 1/4" piece of expensive hardwood, and your blade drifts toward the fence, you are powerless to correct it.
And, speaking of saw blades: the rule of thumb for resawing is "the wider the better." Wider blades, 1/2" and larger, cut straighter, which is the goal. Also, fewer and larger teeth per inch make for better resawing.
The question that I often hear is, "Can you resaw using a narrow band saw blade?" I always answer, "Sure. And you can hunt buffalo with a BB gun, too." In both cases, you're asking for trouble!
When it comes to resawing blades, think wide and dentally challenged. Fewer teeth per inch allow the blade to remove sawdust more effectively. And if you are slicing through a 10" or 12" board, you can imagine how much waste that makes. Three teeth per inch is often identified as the sweet spot for resawing. And wider blades just track better and cut straighter — exactly what you want when resawing.
Laguna Tools' Torben Helshoj has created his own resaw blade design, dubbed the Resaw King. It has carbide teeth, excellent steel and is a real performer. But even if you don't opt for a "specialty" resaw blade, stick with a wide and open-toothed blade to enhance your resawing activity.
Resawing By the Numbers
Here's a step-by-step primer on resawing:
1. Square up and surface two faces of your lumber. While it's possible to resaw rough-cut lumber, your work will be more accurate and easier to control if you first prepare the stock.
2. Use a point fence. You can easily make or buy one. Many of the larger band saws come with a screw-on fence attachment for this purpose.
3. Set the fence to the thickness of the stock you require. Be sure to accommodate the saw kerf in your planning. For example, it's impossible to get three 1/4"-thick pieces of stock from a 3/4" piece of wood. The two saw kerfs eat up close to 1/8" of wood.
4. Adjust the upper blade guide to the width of the board you are resawing.
5. It is a good idea to scribe a line the width of the slice you are removing on the top, visible edge of the board. This will help you keep the saw blade exactly where you want it during the cut.
6. Use a push stick to finish the cut, when you slice off the slab of wood.
7. If you are making multiple resaw cuts in a piece of lumber, decide whether you need to run the face of the stock over your jointer or not.
8. Use a planer with a slave board to remove the saw cuts from the faces of the thin resawn slabs. A surfacing drum sander also works well for this task.