Can you leave a bandsaw unattended?

A Lively Debate

The simple question was posed by a member of the Metal Fabrication Tips social media group: “Horizontal bandsaw vs. chop saw?” Several group members quickly chimed in with their preferences.

One group member, G., gave a very thorough response detailing his history with each, ending with his vote in favor of the bandsaw, adding, “The only drawback is that it is a little bit slower than the chop saws, but it makes up for it by the fact that we can put multiple pieces in the band saw, push the button, and walk away to do other things while it cuts.”

G.’s last line, however, began an entire sub-thread about the merits and/or dangers of walking away from a bandsaw:

J. responded, “I get it that you can walk away while it cuts and people do, but I would like to submit that this is not a good practice for too many reasons to list.”

S., the author of the original post, asked J., “What are some of the many reasons?”

J. replied, “The main reason is that basic shop safety mandates this. Even the most sophisticated CNC automations require operator intervention from time to time. Also, I would bet that the operator’s manual says in bold: DO NOT LEAVE MACHINE UNATTENDED.”

M. commented to J., “I’ve seen a lot of machine shops where only one man runs up to 5 lathes at a time,” to which J. replied, “That’s not unattended by any means.”

B. responded to J. with, “Eight years in a shop with hem saws, automated and manual, and have never had an issue with walking away. Structural and tool steel to soft aluminums, brass, and bronze. With that said it wasn’t your average home saw and was production based. At home, I’d have no issue watching it cut.”

Meanwhile, P. started a long multi-part commentary when he asked J., “Why do you get them with automatic measuring feeds and a runoff table then?”

J.: “The automation is for repeatability not so you can multitask. The first time something isn’t quite right—such as non-conforming material—machine failure or something weird and unexpected happens, you will understand.”

P.: “I understand the possibility of complications. I also understand the possibility of complications when I drive to work every day, but I still do it on a daily basis with the same result of me reaching work every day. Maintaining the machine is key and using it within its capacity. I also understand standing around watching the machine is the best option. But in industry time is money and the key to running most businesses.”

P. continued, “Again I’m not disputing what is printed in any safety manual or safe operating procedure. I’m just saying if I had to walk away from a band saw for a short period of time that I had set to cut 100 parts and it had an automatic feed, I would. As long as I was familiar with the machine and knew it was in working order etc. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t.” P. immediately added, “If I had a trades assistant or an apprentice on a low wage cutting parts, his ___ wouldn’t move from the machine. A lot of time common sense needs to be used.”

P. finished with, “I would class not being at a machine unattended no matter how long a period of time it is. I bet instruction manuals and work safe would also agree. This is my whole point. I’m not on about leaving it running over night. Anyway, I’m leaving it there… band saws are good, and you can do other things while it’s working away.”

Can You Leave vs. Should You Leave A Bandsaw Unattended

So, can you leave a running bandsaw unattended? Sure—just as you can take your eyes off the road while you are driving, but it is usually a very bad idea.

It is doubtful that any bandsaw manual would recommend walking away from a running machine. A simple online search of the topic repeatedly produced similar results:

  • “Do not leave a running saw unattended.”
  • “You don’t want to let the band saw run idle or leave it unattended.”
  • “Never leave the machine unattended when the saw is running.”
  • “Do not leave the machine unattended during operation.”
  • “If you leave it unattended, it can cause inconsistent processing results.”

One home hobbyist who cuts his own stock down to run on a mini lathe praised the virtues of having a small bandsaw where he could just clamp the work in the vise and the saw would automatically shut off when the cut was finished. He said it allowed him to be free to work on other things around his shop while the bandsaw “hums away in the background.” Despite his endorsement of such a policy, he confessed to leaving the saw running while he went for lunch, only to come back to smoke in his shop, caused when the saw stalled in the workpiece, ruining the motor.

Many manual bandsaws feature a “gravity feed” that allows the weight of the saw head to continually move the spinning blade down through the material as it cuts. The advantage of this is that the operator can, in fact, look away momentarily to work on another part of the overall process while the saw is cutting. However, it does require that the operator stay with the machine, even if the saw has an automatic shutoff that stops the blade once the cut has been made. Leaving the area of the machine would simply be reckless, as an unattended piece of moving equipment always invites serious risks.

Semiautomatic horizontal bandsaws will utilize hydraulic pistons to raise and lower their heads, which eases the physical stress of the operator. The operator should still stay near the machine and observe the operation, just to avoid any problems, and the material must be manually positioned to make the next cut.

Automatic bandsaws do allow an operator to walk away, but it should still only be a short distance, if at all. Such saws feed material into position and then continue to make cuts until the program is complete or the material runs out. Most will have sensors to detect a broken blade and shut off the machine, but again, an operator should be standing by within feet of the machine to make sure that something unforeseen doesn’t occur.

The bottom line is this: even if you can walk away, you probably shouldn’t, and if you do so, just don’t go far. Otherwise, your story might become some new cautionary tale that future fabricators share to warn others about the hazards of leaving a bandsaw unattended.



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Filed Under: Machine Tools, Bandsaws, Saws