|Review by charlton||posted 07-01-2009 11:39 AM||14617 views||2 times favorited||37 comments|
I’ll preface my review with a warning to prospective readers that I can be obsessive about details and my day job entails finding design flaws. This review will be long. If you’re interested in purchasing this saw, you may find value in pouring over the details. Otherwise, you’ll likely be bored out of your mind.
In the beginning it was the 50100…
The bandsaw buying process was a very long and arduous one for me. I’ve always felt that the newer European-style saws to be superior yet the choice of saws with both big resaw capacity (>10”) and a small footprint are pretty dismal. The Rikon 10-325, Grizzly 0457, and Laguna LT14 series are probably the best candidates except none of them are available in Canada! Actually, the Laguna is now available but the pricing, coupled with the lack of standards approval make it less appealing.
I initially set my sights on the SteelCity 16” Industrial Bandsaw but it turns out that saw was relegated to the history books along with the Dodo and finding a store that carried one within a 100km radius proved pointless.
Resigned to the fact that I’d have to settle for one of the conventional cast iron saws with a riser, I chose the SteelCity 50100 14” bandsaw and bought the corresponding riser kit with it. Assembling the saw was fairly straightforward though one of the tapped holes used to secure the saw to the base was poorly executed resulting in a stripped bolt. I installed the riser kit from the get go and put on a Viking 3/8” 3tpi blade. The anticipation mounted as I fired up the saw and to my dismay, there was an unbelievable amount of vibration. I noticed that the included Poly-V belt had a fairly substantial twist to it that I suspected might be causing the vibration. I decided to call SteelCity to see if they would be willing to send a replacement belt and was told that it’s normal and that the twist will resolve itself in time. So I lived with the vibration…hoping with each use that the miraculous day would arrive when the saw would purr silently. After a few weeks, there was no improvement in site and I read in other forums of other people having vibration issues with the saw (also with the riser). I contacted SteelCity again and they graciously agreed to replace the saw with the forthcoming 50130! “Wow,” I thought to myself, “that’s some serious customer service!”
The 50130 arrives…
Turning the clocks ahead 3 months, the replacement 50130 saw arrived from the factory. I was told to keep the base/motor assembly and to package up the actual saw. True to their word, SteelCity came by one day, and delivered the 50130 and took away the 50100 with no questions asked. I had a nice conversation with Terry (the regional sales manager who dropped the saw off himself) and shortly after he departed, it was off to the races once again.
I’ll introduce the 50130 by reviewing what this saw has:
- “Native” 12in resaw capacity (no riser kit needed)
- Granite table
- Granite lower wheel/cast iron upper wheel
- Included fence
- Mobile base
- 1.5HP motor
- Roller bearing guides
It’s a pretty impressive saw on paper and if SteelCity’s reputation is any indication, this saw should be an absolute winner. Let’s see if this is the case.
The saw’s fit and finish, for the most part, is excellent. The components are all nicely packaged, screws sorted, and the paint job is well done.
The granite components really are quite nice. There is little concern for the table warping or rusting which is good. The bottom of the table is also flat which means clamping things is very convenient. There is absolutely no doubt that the granite wheel yields greater angular momentum because it takes much longer for the saw to stop. If cast iron helps the saw resaw better, then certainly the granite will be better.
The included mobile base saves you from having to purchase an external one which is good. It is, however, a two-fixed, one swivel system so maneuvering requires you to understand how to parallel park a car.
The fixed work light included with this saw is vastly superior to the magnetic base one that came with the 50100. The magnetic version didn’t have enough holding power to keep the light in position most of the time and it had such a large footprint, there wasn’t a whole lot of choice on where to actually mount it.
The saw has a cast 4-in dust collect port which is better than the 2.5-in ports on some of the other cast iron offerings.
The saw is capable of operating at two speeds, 1500sfpm and 3000sfpm. This is accomplished by moving the belt on a pair of stepped pulleys much like on a drill press.
The trunnion on this saw is nice and beefy. One many other 14-in offerings, the table supports are very soft and even applying a moderate amount of pressure causes movement of the table. This is not the case with this saw.
The saw has a quick-release lever for de-tensioning the blade. On the 50100, releasing the tension would allow the blade to be changed whereas on the 50130, even de-tensioned, there is still enough tension on the blade to prevent you from being able to change blades. You must, as a result, crank the tensioner down until the blade is relaxed enough to change.
Unfortunately, with all that the saw has to offer, there are some warts as well. In fact, there are many warts. As this saw is based on the venerable design of the old Delta 14in bandsaw, it invariably suffers from some of the same shortcomings. You would think that after 40 or 50 years of continuous “refinement” they’d be able to improve upon the design enough to make the saw feel a little more contemporary rather than like the Ford Model T. Many of the comments that I make henceforth are likely applicable to many Delta copies. Nevertheless, since SteelCity seems like a company that’s willing to try new things and to improve upon existing designs, I’d expect them to pick up some of the low hanging fruit as they pass Go.
The first problem with this saw is that it suffers from usability/ergonomic issues.
Let’s start with the blade guard. The design of this blade guard is such that it mounts to the guide assembly and folds around the front of the guide assembly shielding the user from the blade. Almost all 14in bandsaws have guards this way except for some reason, SteelCity elected to use a guard that blocks all the way to the bottom of the guide bearings. The average human is about 6’ and the usual recommendation is to have the guides set about 1/4” above your workpiece. It doesn’t take long before you realize that you can’t see enough of the blade to guide the workpiece in making accurate cuts (unless you stoop down even lower). With the 50100 riser kit guard, it was “tough luck.” With the 50130 SteelCity “improved” the guard by putting in two small plastic windows to help the user see. I’ve worn glasses the vast majority of my life but these plastic windows make me feel like I need to have corrective eye surgery even with my glasses on. Surely they didn’t think that looking through Coke bottles was going to help the problem any great amount? Not to mention that as you cut, sawdust tends to stick to the plastic and you soon end up with a graffiti canvas…the kind where people write “wash me”.
Fortunately, the little plastic windows are removable though their absence only improves visibility by a fraction. Imagine cutting with tunnel vision.
Next up, the blade guard…again! My PC chassis have been tooless for quite some time. The good news is that the SteelCity is tooless as well, but only for the bearing adjustments. Removal of the blade guard requires the help of your friend Phillip.
A couple of knurled screws (positioned slightly differently, of course) would have made it fully tooless. Of course, no one would ever want to take the blade guard off unless one wanted to change the blade. It turns out that removing the blade with the guard on especially with wide blades (i.e. 5/8”, 3/4”) is extremely difficult. In fact, darn near impossible.
As if changing blades wasn’t hard enough with the nuisance of the blade guard, next up we have the fence and lower door. Observe exhibit A:
The nice fence rail is so long that even with the door wide open (yes, 90 degrees is as wide as it goes), there’s hardly a gap for you to pass the blade through. In fact, for wide blades, it simply can’t be done. Instead, you have to tilt the table (unless you prefer removing the fence rail).
Next up is the lower bearing guides. Everyone knows that setting these bad boys is a test of patience. In the case of the 50130, they’ve decided to push the human frontiers of patience. Observe exhibit B:
This is a photo of the bevel gauge but what you don’t see but really want to see, is the guide assembly that’s craftily hidden behind the knob. That’s right folks, the vantage point from which you are best able to set the bearings is not available. Of course, one could remove the knob (there’s another one at the back anyway) except:
that lower blade guard will pretty much hide whatever the knob doesn’t. Of course, you can peer down the hole in the table but, trust me, it’s dark down there.
A more minor quibble has to do with the work lamp and the quick release lever. SteelCity chose to use a quick release mechanism that rotates almost 180 degrees. That’s fine. However, the lamp is mounted along the trajectory of the quick release lever. The following photo doesn’t have the lamp mounted but the two screw holes are where the lamp would mount.
At least the lever doesn’t hit the mounting bracket of the lamp but you typically have to move the lamp out of the way to engage and disengage the quick release mechanism. Also, the lamp requires its own plug. It would be very nice if it could just tap its power off of the same line feeding the saw.
As I mentioned earlier, the saw has a nice 4” dust port to suck up all those sawdust baddies. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:
That little red bracket is supposed to help direct dust into the dust port. Frankly, I find the dust collection on this saw to be pretty bad. I think the dust port is too low and should be positioned closer to the lower guide assembly. Positioned where it is, dust is inevitably going to get trapped between the blade and the tire before it makes it to the dust port. Oddly, dust seems to always find a way into the holes in the lower granite wheel:
Going back to the guides, I fail to see why the guide bearings have to be adjusted fully independently. The eccentricity I can understand but the amount of thrust should somehow be locked together. Now I’m not claiming that the Ridgid BS1400 is a better saw but even it has a micro-adjusting screw that moves both left and right guide blocks in tandem. This is especially true of the lower guide assembly where it’s hard to see how far out the left bearing is relative to the blade. I won’t even complain about the fact that the thrust bearings do not have micro-adjusting screws (that are present on even the lowly BS1400).
As with most 14in bandsaws of the cast iron variety, the 50130’s guide post is not perfectly parallel and in lateral plane with the blade. This means that every time you move the guide up or down, you can expect to have to readjust the bearings. It’s annoying but it’s not a show stopper and I’ve stopped worrying about this in light of the “Ugly” issues below (which are of far greater concern).
It’s time now to embark upon the truly nasty aspects of the saw. The following section will be long and detailed and if your stomach has already turned, then I suggest you close your browser down now. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.
Perhaps the biggest failing of this saw (at least this particular instance of the saw) is that the tolerances throughout are all over the place. We’ll start with the most minor issue. The blade guard that houses the blade on the left side of the saw is made of plastic and is kept in place using two bolts. It’s simple enough except the piece of plastic clearly isn’t straight. A blade under tension, though, is close to being straight so naturally a straight line drawn through a curved channel is bound to result in some tangential intersection (if you’re unlucky). Looking closely at this picture:
you’ll notice that the blade within the guard is awfully close to the side of the guard around the power switch area. Stick a straight edge against the guard:
and it’s clear that the guard is bowing to the left (which is why the blade is riding so close to the right wall). I’ve tried loosening the bolts, pushing the guard straight while tightening down the bolts again in hopes that it would retain its shape but to no avail. Now I’ve stuck a couple of shims between the power switch and the guard to make it straight.
To the more serious issues now….As I stated above, the upper guide assembly has zero ability to compensate for front/back or lateral shift. If the whole upper guide assembly could shift left or right having to readjust the guides when raising or lowering the guide post would be of minimal consequence. However, this saw suffers from a major problem. With the guide assembly placed on the guide post as shipped from the factory, the right bearing has used up all of its eccentricity threshold and is still touching the blade when the guide post is down:
The blade is actually touching the right bearing which has been turned to be as far right as possible already. But you need not look any further than the thrust bearing to know that something is wrong. The blade is riding ridiculously close to the inner raceway of the thrust bearing. In fact, the snap ring that holds the bearing in place looks like it’s prone to hitting the blade. Now there are a couple of ways to possibly deal with this:
- Shim the entire upper assembly of the saw
- File and shim the upper wheel axle so that the blade shifts over to the left
I haven’t sat down to bust out my trigonometry yet but I suspect the amount of shimming required is substantial. What I’ve done in the meantime is to loosen the set screw that holds the guide assembly to the guide post, shift the assembly down a little bit so that the set screw doesn’t engage in the V-groove of the guide post. That way, I can rotate the guide assembly a little bit to give the right bearing a little bit of clearance. Obviously, though, this presents other problems:
When you rotate the assembly to the right, the bearing edges are no longer parallel to the blade. You can see that for the right bearing, the back touches the blade but there is a gap at the front. Conversely, the left bearing touches the blade at the front while there is a gap at the back.
Another upper guide assembly problem is the fact that the guide bearings can’t project out far enough to properly support even a 5/8” blade:
The bearing edges are quite far from the gullet of the blade even though the shaft that holds them has been fully extended.
The final issue, and the one that I’ve spent the most time (and money) addressing has been saw vibration. I don’t expect a saw of this value to be perfect but the saw vibrated so badly that I was afraid to use it. Unfortunately, as great as SteelCity’s support was in replacing the first saw, they’ve become quite silent for everything else. When I asked again for a replacement Poly-V belt, I was told that they didn’t have stock and that I could get one from Motion Industries. For all that they did for me, I was happy to fork out the tiny cost of getting a new belt. While that helped a little bit, there was still a ridiculous amount of vibration. Trying to minimize the drive train vibration, I bought new V-belt pulleys and a link belt. What’s interesting is that the shafts are all metric. The motor shaft is 16mm with a 5mm keyway while the lower wheel shaft is 18mm also with a 5mm keyway. My understanding is that 18mm shafts are supposed to have a 6mm keyway and this meant that I had to have a custom step key machined just to use a standard 18mm bushing. The new pulleys haven’t eliminated all the vibration from the drive train but I’m content with its performance at this point. This allowed me to turn my attention to the other moving parts of the saw. Surprisingly, the lower granite wheel appears to be remarkably well balanced. Unfortunately, the same is not true for the upper wheel. The upper wheel is so out of balance that it will seesaw back and forth to nearly the same rotational poise every single time. When I took the wheel off to look at the back of the heavy spot, I found this:
There were a hole slew of balancing divots drilled where the heavy spot was but clearly more material needed to be removed (but there wasn’t much more to remove). What’s more, two divots had whitish substance in them. When I picked at one of divots, the debris actually fell through and a hole appeared. I believe the divot was drilled a bit too deeply and there was a paper thin layer of metal left that succumbed when I imparted a tiny bit of force. Here’s the divot with the hole:
I’m uneasy about drilling into the cast iron wheel so I’ve since elected to attach wire to the wheel in hopes of balancing it out (though it’s made minimal improvement only). I’ve told SteelCity about the bad wheel and though initial correspondences indicated they would replace it, they’ve dodged the issue in subsequent correspondences.
In addition to the vibration, I noticed that the blade was oscillating quite violently. This led me first to measure the “out of roundness” of all wheels and tires. What I discovered was that the granite wheel had all sorts of lumps in the crown. It’s difficult to see but it’s either some sort of epoxy or glue.
The lump here becomes obvious when I started to sand it down:
There were also entire areas like this:
The dark areas are all covered with some sort of glue and are raised. All of these contributed to wheel/tire runout. Removing the tires was a mixed ordeal. The top wheel’s tire came off easily with just minor finger strength. The granite wheel tire was extremely difficult to get off (I suspect it’s a bit bigger in diameter than the cast iron counterpart). I had to use a screwdriver to dig out the tire and, in the process, chipped the granite. It was a bit disheartening at first but a little Gorilla Glue and it was good again. Here I am gluing the chip back into place:
What’s ironic is that when I was taking a photo of the wheel brush, I noticed that there was a factory chip repair as well:
This is obviously a chip but the repair job is obviously much better than mine (here for reference):
When trying to determine the root cause of blade vibration, I noticed that there were actually sparks arcing between the blade the roller bearings. At first I thought that my bearings must have been set too close and that the bearings were contacting the blade but I set them further still to the point where I was certain that contact wasn’t the cause of the sparks. I looked around and saw this:
These photos show the tire actually lifting away from the wheel. I remembered how easy it was to take off the tire and suspect that maybe the tires were slipping, building up charge, and then discharging through the blade. I drew a hash line across the tire and onto the rim and then ran the saw. Sure enough, after power-down the hash line on the tire was no longer registered to the hash line on the rim. As such, I ordered a new set of neoprene tires from R&D Bandsaw and there is no longer any slipping (and no sparking).
So how does it perform?
Ironically, I haven’t done much real cutting with the saw because I’ve spent all my time trying to fix the saw. The guide assembly issue still irks me but I’m no longer content throwing my own money at the problem. I believe I’ve repaid SteelCity’s graciousness with my own time and money. As ill set up as the machine is, it at least cuts without any drifting (at least using a 5/8” blade). I haven’t had a chance to do any serious resawing but will hopefully follow-up with a post when I get around to doing that.
It should come as little surprise that I give the saw such a mediocre rating. I don’t believe anyone should have to waste such copious amounts of time and money on a new saw. I’m ambivalent about SteelCity’s customer service (they’ve been exemplary on one hand and rather abysmal on the other). I think the granite components have merit but execution on the other parts of the saw is weak. I’m disappointed that SteelCity didn’t capitalize on the inception of its new saw by addressing all the shortcomings I’ve stated in my review. Save for the granite, I have to say that the 50130 is just another run of the mill 14” cast iron band saw. Perhaps SteelCity is content playing the status quo card but I suspect that if that’s the case, they’ll always be playing second fiddle to the field if they’re playing at all.
A few updates here. SteelCity did get back to me eventually. They did have some miscommunication internally with the regional rep assuming that a service technician had come out and resolved the issues when, in fact, that person never received the email about my case. SteelCity did follow-up some weeks later and then promptly sent someone to look at the saw. They then replaced the upper wheel and the upper guide assembly. I believe the new upper wheel is better but the upper guide assembly, I’m afraid, likely isn’t going to be rectifiable. The technician who came to look at my saw basically did the same thing I ended up doing which was to rotate the upper guide assembly a little bit to allow for more lateral clearance for the right-most bearing. Of course, the bearing surface isn’t perfectly parallel to the blade face but for now, I’m going to have to live with it.
On a performance note, I would have to agree with most reviews that at least the saw has considerable cutting power. I’ve not had a chance to resaw to the full capacity yet but 6” QSWO seems to be no problem whatsoever. The cut quality is certainly acceptable and there is, as mentioned previously, negligible drift. This is with a 5/8” R&D Little Ripper blade.
With respect to the blade guard blocking the view, I was told that this was a requirement enforced by the standards associations (CSA? UL?). This may be true but I have to wonder why few other companies seem to be subject to this rule.
SteelCity has certainly worked hard to rectify the situation and hasn’t really forgotten the little customers so I do have to give them kudos for their service. Hopefully, SteelCity will do well and thrive despite the corporate changes that have taken place. Perhaps if they weather the economic storm, they’ll make version 2 of this saw a much more formidable contender in the 14” bandsaw category.