I'll readily admit that the bandsaw has been
one of the more difficult machines to fine tune in my workshop. In fact, I
still don't have it set up as well as I think it can be set up. I have a
generic Taiwanese 14" bandsaw and it came with rather ordinary guide
blocks by default. Not long after I purchased the bandsaw, I bought a set
of replacement roller guide blocks and these did go a long way to
improving accuracy and performance of the machine, but the noise they
generated was a little distracting at times.
seen and heard of ceramic guideblocks being used in larger manufacturing
businesses for larger bandsaws, but these had been harder to find for the
smaller, home workshop bandsaws in the past.
U.S. company, Spaceage
Ceramic Guideblocks (based in California) has started producing and
distributing ceramic bandsaw blocks and thrust bearings, which are now
sold through many retailers. Currently the set they sell will fit both Jet
import and Delta import machines, but may also fit other branded Taiwanese
import 14" machines. The guideblocks will fit bandsaws with 1/2" x
1/2" block holders (as shown in pictures of my saw in the right hand
I hooked up with Colin Rayner from
Northwood Tools in Australia, who kindly supplied a set
for review, and is a supplier of these guides in the Australasian region.
Check out his website if you get a chance.
It does seem an odd material to be used in the woodworking arena, so
why use it?
The simple answer would be durability. The guide blocks are created
from alumina-oxide which, according to the manufacturer, is the same
material used to manufacture ceramic products for the NASA space program.
The manufacturers goes on to claim that these guides will outlast any
other on the market. I certainly hope this is true, because it will
certainly save many of us some money in the future!
Other claimed benefits are listed on the back of the
- Create Less Friction
- Provide A Cooler Running Blade
- Provide A Longer Lasting Blade
- Provide Truer Tracking Blade Cut
- Provide A Guideblock Seat Tolerance of +/- 0.005
- Provide Quieter And Smoother Running Blades
- Outlast Any Guideblock On The Market
Well, I'd certainly be happy if only a few of those
claims come true. Let's see if we can validate, or discount, any of those
claims using some qualitative analysis and testing. We do not have a full
scientific testing lab with the appropriate gear to validate all those
claims accurately, so our results will be based primarily on observation
and test cut results.
Replacing the standard guide blocks on my 14" bandsaw is very simple.
It takes less than a minute to unscrew the clamps holding the guideblocks
in place, remove the old blocks, slide in the new ceramic blocks and
tighten up the screw again once in position.
The ceramic thrust bearings may take slightly longer
depending on your model and type of thrust bearings you have on your
machine. On my bandsaw, the standard thrust bearings were held in place
with circlips. If you have a pair of circlip pliers on hand then you can
easily remove the clip retaining the thrust bearing, slide off the old
bearing, add the supplied washer as per the instructions for both top and bottom
bearings, slide on the ceramic replacement and re-install your circlip.
About 30 seconds each and no trouble at all. This is definitely the
fastest upgrade I have made to any machine in a long time, and the stress
levels didn't shoot through the roof!
Once your blade is tensioned correctly, you will need to
check the placement of your guides to ensure smooth operation and
accuracy. There are plenty of books/guides/websites explaining how you should do this
elsewhere so I will not repeat it here. You might like to read our review
of Mark Duginske's
Band Saw Handbook if you need a good book on these
machines. Ensure the guideblocks are also positioned just behind the
teeth/gullets on the blade so these do not cut into the ceramic and cause
damage and inefficient machine operation.
I think the best way to explain the results of my tests is to
summarize the outcomes and observations I made during the test period.
Firstly, on the subject of noise... My previous roller bearing guide
blocks were good but they sure did create a large amount of noise in use.
In contrast, the ceramic guideblocks significantly reduced this problem.
No more ball bearings whizzing around at high rate to create an audio
annoyance. The ceramic option was certainly not noise-free, but the
difference in friction at the point of contact in regards to noise levels
is very noticeable.
In terms of blade heat, after sawing/re-sawing through
many types of softwood and hardwood, the blade could be touched/handled
(saw turned off and unplugged of course) without risking burns to one's
fingers or hands. There certainly was not any sufficient heat to
prematurely dull the teeth or damage the blade in any way that I could
imagine. So it seems the guideblocks and thrust bearings are living up to
their claims in that department.
The biggest factor determining whether I would be
keeping the ceramic blocks and thrust bearings in my saw was their ability
to reduce blade flex and blade wander during a cut. Obviously, you can
have the best guideblocks in the world, but if they are not set up
correctly, then they won't perform to their potential. I spent a good deal
of time setting the blocks up as I did with the roller guides that were
previously installed on my saw. I then proceeded to test blade tracking in
a number of cuts. With thin, softwood, no trouble at all. The same with
hardwood in both ripping and crosscutting and even with curve cutting, the
results were positive with little blade wander given the correct feed rate
for the material being used. It was only when I tried resawing hardwood at maximum bandsaw capacity that the blade tracking
started to suffer slightly. Naturally, these type of situations are very
hard to avoid with this type of cut. All I can say here is that from my
own observations, I think the ceramic guides slightly improved blade
tracking over my roller guides. A lot of it comes down to feed rate and
user technique in resawing, knowing your machines limitations and working
After several weeks of testing and general bandsaw use,
I removed the guideblocks to check for wear or damage. I am happy to
report that the faces that made contact with the blade in use were as
smooth as when first installed. Obviously some of the 'color' from the
blade (rust/wood marks) rubbed off onto the guides - which is visible in
the picture to the right), but the face surface was smooth, intact and
ready to take more punishment!
For the US$40 (AUD$60) or so that these guide blocks and thrust
bearing sets cost (they can be bought individually), I feel they are an
inexpensive way of making a good improvement to your bandsaw. The most
significant results achieved in my experience using the product was a
reduction in machine operating noise and improved tracking on general cuts.
Given also that the ceramic exhibited almost no signs of wear is very
promising and means you may save even more money in the long run if you do
not have to replace your guides regularly down the track.
If you are not too happy with your current guides, then
do consider the Spaceage Ceramic Guides as a means to improving your
bandsaw's operation. Just remember that a lot of your bandsawing success
lies in the combination of good blades and guides and the proper setup of
your bandsaw for optimal results.
Spaceage Website -
Spaceage Ceramic Guideblock
All photos copyright onlinetoolreviews.com. Use without prior
written permission prohibited
Packaged ceramic guide blocks and thrust bearings. Postage cost on
these should not break the bank
Fitting the ceramic guideblocks takes no more than a few seconds!
Depending on your model of bandsaw, you may need a set of circlip
pliers to install the ceramic thrust bearings.
Guideblocks and thrust bearings fully installed and ready for action!
Just one of the many tests and types of cuts we evaluated the ceramic
After several weeks of use, the top faces of the guideblocks that were
in contact with the blade show no signs of wear.