Choosing the right saw

By Greg Farnum

Know your saw, know your application and know your supplier

The process involved in choosing which metal-cutting saw to purchase is no different than when choosing any other equipment. The application dictates the choice. However, with sawing machines there are so many different types of saws and so much information that choosing one is often more difficult and confusing than it needs to be.

That's the opinion of David Louvar, senior vice president of Peerless Industrial Equipment Corp., Oshkosh, Wis., a producer of bandsaws, power hacksaws, saw blades and cutting fluids. FFJ recently asked Louvar to share some of his thoughts on sawing. He stresses that the first stage in getting clarity about specific sawing needs is to have at least a general understanding of the types of saws available. The major types of sawing machines are:

The circular saw group, which is broken down into three primary machine types.

  • Cold saws: The blade speed for these machines is slow. They are available in manual, semiautomatic and automatic models. These machines are an excellent choice for smaller, softer materials with shorter runs. They are generally a poor choice for nonferrous and harder metals.
  • Nonferrous circular saws: The blade speed is fast for these machines and, as the name suggests, they are used to cut aluminum and other non-ferrous metals.
  • Standard circular saws for ferrous materials: Large, regular circular saws were once widely used by structural steel fabricators to cut beams. This type of machine has largely given way to band saws. However, the recent development of narrow-kerf circular saw blades has helped spawn a comparatively new breed of automatic circular saw machines for cutting large volumes of mild-steel solids. Some models are available with wider kerf blades to cut very hard materials.

  • The band saw group is broken down to five primary machine types.

  • Contour saws: These are vertical saws used for scrolls and patterns in flat material.
  • Nonferrous vertical cut-off saws: These are used mostly by aluminum foundries for cutting gates and risers.
  • Friction saws: A type of vertical cut-off saw with fast (5,000 sfpm to 15,000 sfpm) blade speeds. They don't really cut as much as burn. They are used for cutting small, hard materials.
  • Vertical tilt-frame saws: These are general-purpose saws used for a variety of applications such as test cuts in labs. The saw frame can tilt left or right for miter cuts. They are available in manual, semiautomatic and automatic models.
  • Horizontal cut-off band saws: These saws are popular and available in a wide variety of capacities and abilities. They are offered in either a pivot type (scissor type) or in a dual-column type as manual, semiautomatic and automatic models. There is an abundant array of variations and options to choose from including CNC controls, chip conveyors, bundling attachments, tandem lines linking a computer to the drill line where data is downloaded directly from detailing software and much, much more.

    Abrasive saws are essentially grinding machines with thin grinding wheels. They do an excellent job on solid, smaller, harder materials. They are available in manual, semiautomatic and automatic models.

    Power hacksaws are comparatively inexpensive but much less versatile and slower than a band saw for most applications. They're still used extensively on U.S. Navy warships and in mines.

    After you have decided which general type of saw your application requires, it's important to remember that the capacity of a saw is far more than just how big of a piece you can shove into its opening. The blade width used is the most important ingredient in determining the machine capacity, and bigger is not always better. Other factors such as availability of blade pitches, cutting rate requirements and budgetary constraints also need to be addressed.

    User criteria
    Bayside Machine Corp., Ashwaubenon, Wis., is a rapidly growing company that provides precision, custom machining for an expanding list of OEMs in the food machinery, paper converter and printing machines industries. Bayside has been in business for five years and has grown at a staggering rate of 30 percent each year. During that time it went from four to 40 employees. Bayside has just taken delivery of a new band saw that features mitering capabilities and an automatic material-feed system. Bayside President Paul Fritsch listed his company's considerations for the saw as: a reputable company to deal with, a recognized name brand, versatile, accurate and affordable. Fritsch included cutting speed as a factor because "everything is about speed. Customers need it yesterday."

    Eric Johnson is shop foreman at Tyson Building Products, Doe Run, Ga., a structural fabricator. He says that the primary factors he considers before recommending a saw to his company are cutting capacity, mitering capabilities, maintenance requirements, and the knowledge and reliability of the company from which they are buying the machines. Lejeune Steel Co., Minneapolis, has been a premier structural fabricator for more than 60 years and is now the largest structural steel fabricator in the Midwest. It recently took delivery of a new saw. Lejeune's Doug Oehrlein is production manager and states that the company made its saw selections based upon "production speed and parts availability. We decided our capacity requirement based on current production with room for projected future requirements. While price is always a factor, it becomes less significant when amortized over a seven-year period."

    BJ Services Co., Houston, recently invested in a new saw, as well. BJ's core business comprises cementing, stimulation, downhole tools and coiled tubing services worldwide. The company also provides tubular services, process and pipeline services, and specialty chemical services in selected geographic markets. Steve Benson is with the BJ Services Completion Div. in Houston where the company purchased the new saw. Benson says that the criteria for selecting a new saw are "quality, ease of operation and parts availability."

    Price versus cost
    Louvar states, "The price of your new metal cutting [machine] is always an important consideration. However, there is a big difference between price and cost. The lowest-priced saw is rarely the lowest-cost saw when you consider productivity. Remember: 'The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the sweet taste of a low price.' If the saw takes too long to cut or is difficult to set up, your labor cost rises. If the machine is down, it isn't productive and that costs money. If the saw doesn't cut accurately you may have additional expenses with lost material or reworking the piece. These all contribute to cost per cut. Perhaps spreading the price over the life of the machine can show you how there is little difference in price. However, the cost per cut can make sawing a profit center or an expensive annoyance. The real value is achieved when the proper saw for the application is purchased."

    Domestically manufactured or imported saws--which is better? This is an international market, and there are a number of good domestically manufactured machines, as well as some that are not so good. The same is true for imports. The important factor is not the country of origin. The profit you make with a good saw will be made in the United States regardless of where the saw was made. Buy the best saw that's affordable to do what the operation calls for.

    And keep in mind that saw machines don't cut anything--saw blades do, Louvar notes. The source for new machines should provide the saw blades, cutting time estimations, cutting fluid, proper feeds and speeds. New bi-metal blades with sophisticated tooth geometries and 4 percent chromium backings paired with a broader array of pitches are important to ensure full benefit from a new saw. Bi-metal blades are saw blades made from two dissimilar metals. The teeth are tipped in high-speed steel (matrix, M-2, M-42 or M-51) and the backing of the blade is a softer, more flexible material. The two metals are welded together by an electron beam. The result is a more flexible blade with harder teeth for extended blade life, faster cutting and a lower cost per cut.

    "Sawing technology is improving by leaps and bounds," Louvar says. "New, completely automated saws are now integrated into drill lines for structural fabricators, and models aimed primarily for steel service centers add real value by producing cuts four times faster on 1018, two times faster on 304 and H-13 with new designs using state-of-the art electronics and features. To keep abreast of this rapidly changing technology, you must deal with a reliable, knowledgeable supplier that has the experience to provide real solutions and dependable advice. This alone is most likely the most important consideration for a saw buyer." FFJ

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