Scroll saws are delicate, typically sit on a tabletop and are used for crafting. Band saws are workhorses, stand upright, and are used for lumber, cabinetry and woodworking. Scroll saws cut thin materials with precision. Band saws cut thicker materials aggressively. Scroll saws are specialized, while band saws are versatile.

Band saw with sawdust
credit: Paula J Miller-Cook/iStock/Getty Images
Both saws have downward-pointing teeth.

Rotation and Oscillation

Scroll saws use thin, short blades, typically less than 1/4 inch in width. Band saws use long, continuous blades 3/8 inch or more in width. Scroll saw blades oscillate at a high rate of speed. Band saw blades rotate in a continuous, downward circle. Scroll saw blades, typically no longer than about 5 or 6 inches, attach at the top and bottom, are spring-loaded and attach with small knobs. Band saw blades are 6 to 11 feet in length or longer, form a continuous loop and rotate around two rubber wheels.

Struggles and Aggression

Band saws cut material up to about 2 inches or more in thickness. Scroll saws struggle to cut through anything thicker than 3/4 inch. Band saws, depending on the blade, make aggressive cuts, with rougher edges than scroll saws. Scroll saws cut more slowly, with cleaner edges.

Inside or Outside

The ability to cut on the inside of a workpiece is the big advantage of the scroll saw. By inserting the blade through a hole or pattern, a scroll saw can cut a circle or design on the inside of a piece of wood without passing through the outer perimeter. Band saws, with their fixed blade, must cut through the perimeter of any given object to reach the inside of a pattern.

Radius Limitations

Scroll saws cut tighter, smaller circles than band saws, giving them the advantage for delicate patterns with twists, turns or designs. Band saw blades, with their wider blades, have a limited turning radius and won't turn as sharply as a scroll saw blade.

Cabinets or Crafts

Band saws are best for cabinet or woodworking shops because they are more universal for cutting a variety of thicknesses and materials. Scroll saws are better for craft shops because they are more accurate,and cut cleaner. Scroll saws are physically smaller than band saws and can be purchased at about half the cost of a band saw. Blades for scroll saws are cheaper than band saw blades. Power consumption of a scroll saw is considerably less than that of a band saw.

Fence Option

Band saws can be used like a table saw by clamping a fence to the table. Scroll saws are freehand only, typically too small to adapt to a fence. Some scroll saw operators report using a fence on a scroll saw, but because the blades are so small, they have a tendency to come off or break if you push too hard. The use of a fence on a scroll saw is limited.

Straight and Narrow

Band saws, with tougher, bigger blades, cut straight lines better than scroll saws. Scroll saw blades tend to wander or swerve on straight cuts. If you're cutting lumber, parts for furniture, scraps or the occasional resaw -- cutting lumber standing on edge -- the band saw is the one to choose. If you're cutting patterns, inlay, fretwork or inside designs, choose a scroll saw.