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Archive for July 17th, 2009

Silver-soldered Bandsaw Blade Joint

Usually I replace the blade on my ancient (cast iron!) 14-inch Delta band saw when I can no longer force it through the thing-to-be-cut, which means every few years, tops, unless I procrastinate. Having just stripped the teeth off a foot of blade, it was time for a replacement long before one was due…

The first step is whacking off 93″ of blade from the 100-foot coil I bought ever so many years ago, using a cold chisel on the vise’s anvil surface. If you’re fussy, wrap a piece of duct tape around the ends-to-be so they don’t fly away after the cut. Otherwise, just enjoy the twang and risk some ritual scarification.

Scarfing the blade ends

Scarfing the blade ends

Clamp the blade to the top of the vise with a half-twist so opposite sides face up, then scarf both ends about halfway through, so the finished joint will be more-or-less the same thickness as the rest of the blade. Chuck up a grinding wheel / cylinder in your Dremel-tool-like gadget, go slow so as to not overheat the joint, and shower your workbench with steel dust.

To emphasize: note that the teeth face this way on one end and that way on the other! You might want to butt the ends together, but I’m not sure I could get the taper thin enough in the middle that way. You want to cut about halfway through the width of the teeth, too, because they must overlap in the finished joint.

Preparing solder foil

Preparing solder foil

I use a homebrew resistance soldering gadget, but a honkin’ big soldering gun might work. In any event, solder foil works better than solder wire, so I put a snippet of Brownell’s Hi-Force 44 4% silver solder (far more expensive now than when I bought that 1-lb spool long ago) in a stainless-steel sleeve and massage it with a hammer. Crude, but effective: the point is to keep the solder clean, which doesn’t happen when you just whack it on theĀ  anvil.

Aligning and clamping blade ends

Aligning and clamping blade ends

However you do the joint, you must align the blade ends so they’re collinear: you do not want a kink in the middle of the blade. This setup reflects my soldering gear: a graphite slab clamped to a brass plate caught in the vise, an aluminum channel for alignment, and a pair of battery clamps to hold the blade in place. I apply paste flux to both sides of the joint and poke the solder foil into the flux, too. If you squint, you can see the trimmed-to-fit solder foil lying atop the scarfed edge.

Resistance soldering

Resistance soldering

Slide the right side over the left, make sure the teeth on both ends overlay each other, clamp in place, check the alignment, and apply heat. This is a slightly staged shot showing the carbon gouging rod in position well after the joint has solidified. The key advantage of resistance soldering is having a footswitch so you can hold everything in position while the joint cools.

Thinning the joint

Thinning the joint

Clamp the finished blade to the vise and thin both sides to the width of the rest of the blade. If you’ve done a better job of scarfing than I usually do, this is just a matter of tapering the edge a bit. The pic shows the first surface I thinned, so there’s some flux hanging in the teeth. That’ll vanish as you cut if you don’t clear it off while thinning.

Finished joint - victim's view

Finished joint - victim's view

The end result should look like this, as seen from the victim’s position in the bandsaw: no lumps, no bumps, nothing sticking out on either side.

The whole process takes about half an hour, what with clearing space on the workbench, setting up the soldering gear, deploying the Dremel tool, and cleaning up a bit afterward. That would be crazy in a production environment, which is why they have blade welders bolted to the side of the bandsaws, but it’s OK for something I do every few years.

I formerly used a propane torch and a fixture to align the pieces, but the resistance soldering unit eliminates the flame and delivers a much better result because it compresses the joint while the solder cools.

Side views, just for completeness…

Finished joint - left side

Finished joint - left side

Finished joint - right side

Finished joint - right side

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