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Chop Saw vs. Band Saw For Metal: Pros, Cons, and FAQ

Chop Saw vs Band Saw

When it comes to making accurate cuts in metal, there are two options that come up again and again, chop saws and band saws. If you’ve ever spent time in a commercial workshop, you will have likely seen both of these kinds of saws being used to chop various different metals. You are also likely to have heard some heated opinions on the matter. When it comes to chopping metal, some people swear by chop saws, and other people swear by band saws. Is one type of saw better than the other? What are the main differences and sticking points?

This comprehensive guide will break down exactly how chop saws and band saws work and give brief but informative overviews of each. We will cover the pros, cons, and frequently asked questions regarding which saw is best for you when it comes to cutting metal.

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Overview of Chop Saws

Chop saws are one of the most basic types of saws on the market. They make straight, consistent cuts, and they can be used all day. Chop saws are great tools that are easy to find, cheap to obtain, and portable. Chop saws can be used to cut thin metal strips, metal straps, metal tubing, metal piping, and more.

However, the blades that need to be used to cut metal are very noisy. Chop saws make a lot of noise and create a big mess when they are used for cutting a lot of metal. It sends metal shards flying and creates piles of fine metal shavings. For these reasons, people do not like to use chop saws inside to cut metal or around a lot of other people.

person cutting wood using chop saw
Image Credit: Maleo, Shutterstock

How Chop Saws Work

Chop saws take a spinning circular saw blade and put it on a simple arm that pulls down. Line up your material below the blade, pull the trigger to start the saw, and then pull straight down. Let go of the blade, move your material, and repeat. It is very simple. Just pull the trigger, then pull down. Chop saws can be battery-powered or plug-in. Band saws never run on batteries. That makes chop saws the ideal choice for a portable saw.

Best Uses For A Chop Saw

Chop saws have many different uses. They are great for outdoor job sites where large numbers of identical cuts need to be made. For example, if you need to cut metal pipe or tubing for a job and have to cut 25 of them to a particular length, a chop saw will excel. Chop saws are also great for amateurs and at-home craftsmen. They are simple to use, simple to upkeep, and make very consistent cuts. They can also be used to quickly make large numbers of cuts. Band saws are very slow compared to chop saws.

Pros
  • Portable and great for job sites
  • Cheap to buy and upkeep
Cons
  • Extremely noisy when used on metal
  • Sends metal shards flying everywhere

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Overview of Band Saws:

Band saws are large and complicated saws that have been in service for hundreds of years. The earliest band saws were used in the early 19th century and were powered by a hand crank that turned the blade. Today, band saws are still an integral part of specialized cutting services and construction. They are great for making curved cuts, and they can cut through a wide variety of materials. There are a large variety of different blades that give band saws an enhanced level of versatility and flexibility that chop saws do not have.

However, band saws have some key downsides. First, they are very expensive. They are also very large, bulky, and heavy. These are not portable saws. Secondly, band saws can be very dangerous. They require extra attention and training. One small mistake on a band saw running at high speed can easily remove a finger. That makes them more complicated to use than a chop saw which is very basic.

Wood band saw
Image Credit: Ono Kosuki, Pexels

How Band Saws Work

Band saws take long ribbon-like saws and run them through a series of wheels to make them spin.  Instead of going in a circle, these blades travel like a belt. There is one specific spot on the saw where the long saw blade travels by and is exposed. The user then puts the material up to the blade. This allows the user to move the material around and make specialty cuts. In that way, a band saw is almost more like a lathe than it is to a chop saw.

Best Uses For A Band Saw

Band saws are great tools in the hands of professionals and craftsmen. They are used to cut large pieces of metal, and they can also be used to make specialty curved cuts. Band saws can do things that other saws simply can’t. They are extremely versatile and can cut wide curves in sheets of metal or grind their way through thick metal bars.

Band saws are also great for indoor workshops. They are much quieter than chop saws, and since they always cut facing downward, the mess is much better contained. This makes them ideal for use in indoor spaces as opposed to chop saws which are best for outdoor job sites.

Pros
  • Extremely versatile tool
  • Can make curved cuts in addition to straight cuts
  • Great for indoor use
Cons
  • Large and heavy
  • Can be dangerous
  • Expensive to buy and upkeep

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FAQs

Can band saws be used for any type of metal?

Yes. Band saws can cut through almost any type of metal. There are various different types of blades for the band saw that allows it to make different kinds of cuts. There are carbon steel, high-speed steel, and alloy steel blades that are made for different kinds of metal. There are also various thicknesses and TPI grades for the blades that allow them to cut faster, slower, straighter, or for curved cuts. Band saws are extremely versatile, and there is a blade out there that can do nearly whatever project you set your mind to.

bandsaw cutting metal
Image Credit: Surasak_Photo, Shutterstock

Why are chop saws frowned upon in shared working environments?

If you go into an enclosed workshop that is regularly used by professionals, you likely won’t see many chop saws. That is because chop saws are considered rude by many tradesmen. Chop saws are extremely loud when they are used on metal which creates a distracting din, especially when used inside. Chop saws also send clouds of hot metal shavings flying around. These shavings can get onto the skin or even into the eyes and cause extreme irritation. Again, this issue is exacerbated when used indoors.

For these reasons, it is generally frowned upon to use chop saws on metal while indoors.

Are band saws or chop saws cheaper?

Chop saws are much cheaper than a band saw. The cheapest band saws come in around $1000, and they can be as expensive as $3000 or more. Chop saws start at around $100, and even the most expensive chop saws are usually no more than $500. A high-quality chop saw can easily be found for $300. That means chop saws are roughly ten times cheaper than band saws.

Chop saws are also easier to maintain. Band saws require adjustment and expensive maintenance over the course of their lifetime, while chop saws do not.

What thickness of metal can a band saw or chop saw cut?

Band saws can cut extremely thick chunks of material. Band saws can cut materials up to 6 inches or even 8 inches thick. Band saws are only limited by their speed and the patience of the user. Band saws, however, cannot cut very thin material. Thin sheets of metal won’t do well under a band saw. Band saws also struggle to cut flexible material.

Chop saws can cut up to half the diameter of the blade being used. If you are using a chop saw with an 8-inch blade, you will be able to cut up to 4 inches thick. The larger the blade, the thicker the material you can cut. Chop saws are also limited by their motor. Chop saws with weak motors will struggle to get through thick pieces of metal without overheating or slowing down. So, while the blade might be big enough, the motor might not be able to handle certain cuts on metal.

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Conclusion

Band saws and chop saws are both extremely useful tools. They are cornerstones of modern construction and can be used in a variety of different settings. Chop saws are cheap, basic, and easy to use. They can make large numbers of consistent cuts. Band saws are more specialized, more expensive, and more versatile. Band saws are more suited for indoor use by specialty professionals while chop saws can be used by almost anyone. In the end, the one that is best for you will depend on what you are trying to do, your budget, and your skill level.


Featured Image Credit: Image Credit: (L) Anselm Kempf, Shutterstock | (R) Super8, Shutterstock

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