Upgrade your Bandsaw; Keeping your blade in line.
By Michael Kampen
Every shop has one; a tool that barely met expectations out of the box and then just seemed to get worse as it aged. Im my case that tool was my bandsaw. When I first bought my 14” Jet it seemed to barely meet my needs without ever exceeding my expectations. As the guides and blades became worn, the saw became a more or less constant source of frustration and a machine of last resort. New blades helped for a while, but without a decent set of guides, the blade easily wandered off the cut line.
I recently needed to produce a number of perfectly cut 5 1/2” diameter hardwood circles using 3/4” stock in preparation for pattern routing. I built myself a jig to cut the circles and after forcing my way through about a half dozen I came to the conclusion that as the saw stood, it was more of a hinderance that help.
In 2010 I was on a seminar tour of Western Canada and my fellow presenter was bandsaw expert, Alex Snodgrass. I decided that since I needed some expert advice and quick results I would give him a call and ask for his recommendation. When I laid out my situation he suggested that I upgrade the guides that came with the saw to correct the blade tracking issues, he recommended a different blade and suggested I invest in a circle cutting jig.
Alex had recommended upgrading to the Carter guides and that I could order directly through the manufacturer at the next wood-show. To avoid dealing with the US shipping and border issues, I called the Canadian Woodworking Ltd store in Surrey to see if they had the kit for for my saw in stock. They had one, so I ordered it and had it shipped over to the island overnight. Now I should point out that typically the cost of a tool is at the bottom of my list of concerns, I would rather cry once when I buy it, than every time i use it because I bought a less expensive and functionally inferior product. I decided that since I had have seen Alex do some pretty amazing things with his bandsaw on the tour, I felt sure he would not lead me down the wrong path.
The Carter Guide conversion kit includes everything you need to upgrade the existing guides on your saw right down to a couple of allen keys. The parts ship in a plastic clamshell case which displays them effectively and Carter has chosen not to seal the edges of the packaging; instead, they use a singe staple at the top. This is a great idea as it is much easier to safely to pull the staple than be forced to use a box cutter to perform surgery to access the guides. The guides are very securely packaged in foam which has been cut out to accept the individual parts. After you take everything out of this secure packaging you realize that there really are only four main pieces. The upper guide and bracket, the lower guide and bracket and the blade guard and holder. This kit is manufactured in the USA and the quality of the materials and workmanship is obvious.
Installation of these guides could not be simpler but before you begin any work, unplug your bandsaw.
Open the wheel housings and reduce the tension on the band so it can be removed. Once you have the blade out, undo the two clamps that hold the table to the saw frame and remove the table from the saw; this will give you more room to work. Removal of the lower guides on my saw was as simple as undoing two bolts and lifting the assembly out. Removal of the upper guides was just as simple, undo the set screws holding it to the post and then it drops off. The factory blade guard was mounted to the guide holder and is removed at the same time.
Begin by sliding the blade guard bracket up onto the post, sliding it toward the top of the post to keep it out of the way and then fasten the metal blade guard to the mounting bracket. Next, position the upper guide onto the bottom of the post and tighten the three set screws enough to hold it in place. The bottom assembly is held in place with two supplied allen head bolts which should be tightened enough to hold it in place. Once the guides are roughly in position, loosen the four wing screws on the front of the upper and lower guides and move the bearings to the outer most position using the adjustment knob. Move the thrust bearing to the most rear position in the same manner.
Mount a new blade on the saw and adjust its tension and tracking until it runs straight and true on the wheels. Spin the wheels by hand to be sure the blade is not in conflict with the guides, which at this point should be at their furthest position from the blade. Plug the saw in to confirm the blade runs true under power and then unplug the saw before moving on.
With the position of the new blade established, it is time to adjust the guides. At this point, the table should still be off so the access is unimpeded. Begin by adjusting the upper guide block to ensure the bearings are not meeting the blade at an angle; the surface of the bearing should be exactly parallel to the side of the blade. When you have adjusted this, tighten the screws on the post. Repeat this with the lower guide block by adjusting the angle and then tightening the two allen screws that hold everything in place. The bearings should be positioned so they are running just a hair behind the base of the gullets. This is done via an adjustment on the mounting arm.
You should now be able to move the bearing into place using the black adjustment knobs. Once you have set the bearing within a few thousandths of an inch of the blade (the thickness of a piece of paper) with the bearing running just a hair behind the base of the gullets, tighten it in place using the wing screw on the front of the bearing. Repeat this with the thrust bearings and give the saw a few spins by hand to be sure there are no issues and that everything moves as it should. Plug the saw in and confirm that everything runs smoothly under power; unplug the saw again. Attach the table and use an angle gauge to confirm the table is at 90º to the blade, replace the insert and replace the pin in the end of the table slot.
The moment of truth.
After spending less than an hour working on the saw, I now had what I hoped was a solution to the poor blade tracking i had been experiencing. I turned on the power and made a couple of cuts on a piece of hardwood. Before swapping out the original guides for the Carter guides, the blade would easily deflect and follow the grain. With the new guides in place and a new blade, I was able to take some very narrow and straight slices off the edge of a piece of maple.
The blade also remained completely straight and in place during long sweeping curves. I manually followed a outside of one of my 5 1/2” circles and was able to cut a complete ring a millimetre in thickness around the whole circumference.
I then placed a piece of wood on edge and using a rather rudimentary fence, I was able to take a consistent thin slice off the full width of this as well.
I can say that I don’t regret this upgrade, it has turned my bandsaw from a source of extreme frustration into a piece of equipment that can now justify the space it occupies. I found myself wondering why I had not taken the plunge and done the upgrade much earlier.My impressions of the Carter Guides upgrade kit was positive right from the start. Made in the USA,it was well packaged, the parts were nicely machined and finished, and the installation following the included instructions was a breeze. The adjustment process was simple and once everything had been fine tuned, the results were dramatic. The blade was held exactly in place and cut without drifting or deflecting during use. With stability like this, you will find it much easier to follow a complicated line on a pattern precisely. This is one item I would expect to benefit anyone who owns a bandsaw with the original guide system still in place. The results speak for themselves and this is one upgrade that is well worth the cost.
Of course, when you upgrade one part of a machine, suddenly the next shortcoming steps forward into the spotlight. I noticed that there is a vibration in the frame under power and I suspect the factory wheels may be the issue; perhaps new wheels and tires are in order.
And come to think of it, what about a Magfence and perhaps a Band Saw Stabilizer for scroll cuts…..
Carter products are available in Canada through Canadian Woodworker Ltd.
To see the entire Carter product line, visit the Carter Products site.