As much as I love the 16in Startrite 401e bandsaw that I’ve had for over a year now, I’m continually frustrated by the lack of a a built-in scale when it comes to setting the fence for a width of cut. Many cheaper bandsaws have them as standard, even if they’re not all that accurate. I’ve never understood why Startrite don’t include one… This has meant that, instead, I’ve either had to set the fence using a ruler before I start the saw or, for multiple cuts of varying widths, it’s often meant marking each board with a pencil line, so I do not have to switch the saw off. With its electronic brake, you can lose a lot of time in between stopping and starting a machine of this size. On the other hand, you don’t want to be putting a steel tape measure of ruler anywhere within the proximity of a continuous blade running at full speed!
In order to remedy this problem, I purchased a length of self-adhesive tape or rule, which is produced by Kreg.
These tapes are available from Axminster but, in order to save myself a few pounds on p&p, I actually purchased this package from a seller on eBay, even though it took a few extra days for the item to arrive through the post. I purchased a scale that reads from Right-to-Left, which sits to the left of the blade on my bandsaw. You can also buy tapes that read from Left-to-Right, for table saws, for example. It is important to buy the correct tape for your application. Similarly, near-identical products are available from other suppliers and manufacturers but, you may well find that they vary in width. One of the reasons that I went for this Kreg tape was because it is only ½in (12.7mm) wide, which was the narrowest I could find.
You see, there isn’t an awful of room to play with underneath, which is why finding the narrowest track available was so important. Between the edge of the cast iron table and the black casting on the underside of the fence, there was about 18mm of clearance, with no more than 21mm between the top surface of the table and the large washers you can see, where the round fence rail is mounted to the table’s edge. This, at least, gave me the dimensions to work with.
With a length of oak prepared, the first thing I did was to route a ½in-wide but shallow groove on my router table, which would neatly receive the self-adhesive scale. I always enjoy preparing small sections like this by hand, particularly when I’m making a jig or workshop aid and I cannot be bothered with my planer/thicknesser.
My current stock of bandsaw blades contains blades that vary in both width and thickness from one to the next. I sometimes find that a blade’s position in relation to the ‘centre’ of the table can vary from one to the next, meaning that the ‘zero’ on the new fence scale may not be the same for each blade (different ratios of tension applied, etc.). That’s why I decided to elongate mounting holes in to slots, using a ¼in forstner bit, which I found does a neater job of cutting overlapping holes. Unfortunately, my bit wouldn’t quite cut through the full 18mm thickness so, I had to finish off by drilling through from the other side. These slots allow for the necessary adjustment and then, a bit more!
It’s also important to look carefully underneath your cast iron table before drilling any holes, so that you know you’re not going to be trying to drill through any of the ribs underneath, which help to keep the top flat and stable. Drilling through 6mm (¼in) of cast iron is tough enough… Why would you want to have to drill through any more?! 😀
Rare earth magnets alone wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the fence scale in place – one slight nudge could easily offset it by 0.5mm or, much more. While I did sink some in to the rear face of the oak to help align the scale temporarily, I had to attempt to drill through the cast iron edge… Last time I did this, using a cheap cobalt drill bit, it was fine. This time, however, I was struggling, even with my SDS drill! I guess it’s another lesson in using cheap drill bits… They’re not going to last forever. I persevered for a good twenty-minutes (even though I could feel that the bit wasn’t doing anything) before switching down to a smaller 4mm drill bit, which instantly felt as though it had some life left in it! Then, I enlarged the holes up to 5mm before threaded the hole with an M6 tap from a cheap tape and die set, which does work well.
You’ll notice, below, that I had to remove some more material on the left-hand end of the oak (using a slot cutter in my router table) so that it would sit over the left-hand washer, not on it:
Also, as the slots I’d cut were fairly close to the lower edge, I decided to add a thin oak lipping for reinforcement. Any fixings I used were going to have to be countersunk below the surface, or else, they’d foul the casting where the fence mounts on to the round rail. I had some slotted machine screws that were ideal for this and so, I then had to cut some larger holes (for the screw heads) using a larger forstner bit.
Something must have gone slightly amiss at the drilling stage though. When I came to fit the new rail initially, one end was sitting higher than the other. In order to get it level, I had to first pare away some of the oak to widen each of the slots. Normally, I’d centre my holes in the cast iron using a punch but, on this occasion, well; I got there in the end… 🙂
Calibrating the fence to ‘zero’ on the new scale is a real doddle. You nip the machine screws up so that they’re just holding and then, with a blade correctly fitted and tensioned, align the edge of the fence up carefully to the blade. Lock the fence in place and tap either end of the scale until it’s in line with ‘zero’. When that’s done, tighten the two machine screws, double-check the reading and there should be nothing more to do.
One final tip I have it to place self-adhesive cork pads (or similar) underneath the far end of the fence as this helps to reduce friction and means the fence slides across much more easily (particularly if it’s a large heavy section). Of course, lubricating and waxing the cast iron table in the first place also helps. These ones actually came from Rockler in the US but, I’m sure you could find something similar wherever you may be.
Thanks for reading.