Review By Dean Bielanowski  Website - http://www.www.spaceageceramicguideblocks.com


Spaceage Ceramic Guideblock Sets

Review

By Dean Bielanowski

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.

I had 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 column).

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.

Why Ceramic?
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 packaging:

  • 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.

Setting Up
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.

Testing
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 with it.

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!

Conclusion
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 - www.spaceageceramicguideblocks.com

Available to Order Online through these companies...
Click graphic to go to their direct product page for this item

In Australia:

www.northwoodtools.com.au

In the USA:

Ceramic Bandsaw Guide Blocks

Spaceage Ceramic Guideblock  Photos
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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 guides on.


After several weeks of use, the top faces of the guideblocks that were in contact with the blade show no signs of wear.

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