I bought a Ridgid band saw on Craigslist for $200 a couple of years ago. It retailed for about $450 at the time (they no longer sell it), and it had barely been used. The reviews were mixed on it, but I thought I’d do some upgrades to it and see if it could end up being a good tool.
I have never had a band saw in my shop, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it. I’ve always got along fine with a saber saw. Spoiler alert: I have ended up using it quite a bit.
As I said, it had hardly been used when I bought it. The only problems were that it was a little rusty, and the on/off switch didn’t work very well. It had been stored outside under a carport – maybe not the best idea in western Oregon.
Most of the used tools I’ve bought have this same story: Someone bought it, used it a couple of times, stored it somewhere that wasn’t the best, then finally decided to get rid of it. When I buy a tool, I use it until it falls to bits – then I cobble it back together and use it some more. Also, I don’t buy anything until I’ve obsessed over it for way too long. Maybe there’s a balance in the middle…
Back to the saw: The first thing I did was replace the lightweight metal base with a sturdy wood one. The top complaint I had read on the forums was that the base allowed a lot extra vibration. While I was at it, I moved the motor below to reduce the overall footprint. I have plenty of room in my shop, but it never hurts to consider how to optimize the space.
I replaced the standard belt with a linked one. When I did this on my table saw, it really reduced vibration, but not so much here. It didn’t make anything worse, so I left it on. I think in the long run, linked belts are the way to go, since they don’t retain any shape that causes problems like a solid belt can.
In my ongoing love-hate relationship with Harbor Freight tools, I’ll put the link-belt they carry in the love column. They work well and cost about half of the other brand, Fenner.
The motor is mounted using a 4″ door hinge, and it’s weight keeps the belt tight. Link belts work well for this since they are adjustable, and I have removed a couple of segments over time as it stretched out.
The standard vacuum port is directly under where the blade cuts. This works well for removing dust from the work piece, but still allows sawdust to accumulate at the bottom of the saw. When it builds up, it eventually gets between the wheel and blade and can cause slippage. To stop this, I added a dust port at the bottom case.
I replaced the faulty switch with a standard light switch – the 50 cent solution. While I was at it I mounted and wired in a work light, which comes on when I turn the saw on. I also put an outlet in the base, which I have done on most of my tools. Since the saw sits in front of the wall outlet, it’s convenient to have an additional outlet at the front.
Finally, I upgraded the wheels. I put on new urethane tires that grip the belt better and reduce it’s tendency to wander. The set cost about $30 and was well worth it.
I balanced the wheels by drilling a few holes to remove some weight, and also epoxying a couple of washers on. The technique is pretty simple: keep removing or adding bits until the wheels will stay in any position.
So, after all of this, does the saw run better? Yes – it’s acceptable. Does it run great, giving really smooth cuts? No – there’ still a bit of vibration. I use the saw a lot, especially for rough cutting curves that I subsequently sand smooth. It’s actually a very handy tool, and for about $250, I can’t ask for much more.
There’s still more I could do with it, including upgrading the blade guide blocks and making a better table with a fence. I’ll probably do these on some rainy Saturday in the next year or so.
Long term, I think I will buy a good quality band saw, and plan on spending $1000 to $1500 on it. This will definitely get me by until then.