Need a saw, but not sure of all your options? We list and explain all the different types of saws including hand-powered, electric and other power saws. We explain the use for which each saw is designed for and describe it in detail. Ultimate saw buying guide.
My first 2 years in college were spent in a shared college dorm room. To increase space, most of built lofts for the beds. Some folks built amazing lofts. While building our loft, I ended up in the hospital emergency room in need of stitches.
And get this, my deep cut was the result of a hand saw. Good thing I wasn’t using a power saw. I was cutting wood like a mad man in a clumsy position when without paying attention, I dragged the long hand saw at full force across the side of my knee. The saw sliced through my leg like a hot knife through butter. It didn’t hurt much, but I knew if it was going to heal, I’d need stitches. The doctor and nurse thought it pretty funny I managed such a gash with a hand saw.
Since then, I’ve built things injury free except for a few minor bruises here and there.
While every house hold should have a hand saw, that’s not the only saw you can buy. In fact, there are 21 different types of saws – both hand powered and mechanically powered (electric or gas). Here’s our saw buying guide.
Here is our ultimate guide to buying and using many different types of saws.
I. Saw Buying Guide
Before buying a saw, you want a clear idea of what you need it for.
Do you want a saw powered by electricity or one powered by good old fashioned hand power? Does your saw need to be lightweight and portable or do you want a more powerful, but less mobile, tabletop saw?
Not sure what type of saw you need? No problem. Let’s take a deeper look at the various types of saws available as well as their pros and cons.
A. Common Uses of Saws
From D.I.Y. household repair to extensive commercial construction, saws are a versatile and often invaluable tool. Common uses for saws include home remodeling, furniture building, tiling and carpentry.
There’s a saw available to cut through just about everything including wood, drywall, metal, concrete and more. With the right saw (and blade) practically any surface can be cleanly cut.
Most major tool manufacturers offer full lines of saws. When shopping for saws, you’ll likely encounter many familiar brands like Black & Decker, Blosh, DEWALK, Dremel, Makita and more.
B. Electric vs. Hand Powered
Saws come in many different varieties. In order to stay organized, let’s divide all saws into two broad categories: Hand saws and mechanically-powered. Here’s a more in-depth look at each:
1. Hand-Powered Saw
These traditional saws are a tried and true tool which have been around relatively unchanged for centuries. Some older hand saws are even considered antiques. For instance, only 24 saws exist today from 18th century England.
Still powered by nothing more than good, old-fashioned elbow grease, today’s hand-powered saws are often lightweight and easy to maneuver.
Hand saws are divided into two types. They can be either what are called “regular” hands saws or they can be back saws.
a. Regular Hand Saw
Regular saws are often overlooked. But they’re stronger than you may think, able to cut through materials harder than wood.
Plus, they’re flexible and precise. Hand saws are often a good choice if you need to cut shapes, patterns or other intricate designs.
Hand saws consist of basically two parts: a handle and a blade. The handle can be simply wood or can be a more durable composite material. The blade’s thickness determines the stiffness of the saw.
Let’s look at the common types of regular hand saws
b. Coping Saw
Simple and precise, coping saws are usually the best choice if you’re cutting patterns. They’re made from thin steel attached to a wooden handle with a C-shaped iron frame.
The thin blade allows for easy direction changes when cutting. Coping saws cut wood and are often used for joints.
c. Fret Saw
Similar to a coping saw, a fret saw is also used for detailed cutting designs. The blade is thinner than a coping saw and also has a fixed orientation to the frame. This makes cutting long, narrow components more difficult than using a coping saw.
Fret saws excel at cutting detailed scrollwork. They’re also capable of cutting tight circles. Also, the deep frame allows cuts far from the component edge.
d. Crosscut Saw
This is a specialty saw used to cut standing trees and lumber. Crosscut saws are used horizontally. If you’ve ever seen two people use a long saw to cut down a tree, they were probably using a crosscut saw. Aside from the two-person version, a one-person version is also available.
The saw’s teeth cut at a right angle to the direction of the wood grain. These crosscuts can quickly cut through the natural grain of trees and lumber.
Older crosscut saws are often highly sought after. Antique saws are less stiff than many modern crosscut saw. This increased flexibility helps prevent the saw from being stuck in tree trunks.
e. Rip Saw
Think of the rip saw as the crosscut’s opposite. Instead of horizontal cuts, the rip saw cuts parallel to the wood grain.
Blade configuration is a bit different on a rip saw than other saws. Each blade has a flat front edge. With no angle either backward or forwards, each tooth acts as a chisel. During operation, the blade avoids being guided by grain lines and instead cuts a straight line.
Need to cut through many different materials? A hacksaw is likely the best choice. This tough, fine-toothed saw can cut through wood, plastic, metal and even bone. An arched metal frame and pistol-grip handle provide secure handling and control.
g. Keyhole Saw
With a long, narrow blade, this saw is mainly used to cut holes into drywall. Also works well on softer woods. Blades can be either fixed or retractable. Keyhole saws are also called pad saws and jab saws.
h. Plywood Saw
As the name implies, these saws are creating for cutting and even shaping plywood. The fine-toothed blade creates smooth cuts. Tearing to the outer veneer layers is minimized. Works great for finishing work.
Traditional plywood saws are 11 inches long. They also have 14 teeth per inch. (Incidentally, teeth per inch is a common unit of measurement you’ll often see when shopping for saws. It’s commonly abbreviated as TPI.)
i. Veneer Saw
A specialty tool for specialty work. A veneer saw is used only to cut thin hard veneer. The two-edged blade is usually three inches long with a TPI of 13.
2. Back Saws
These saws have finely-spaced teeth and a thin blade. Depth of the cut is limited by a rib on the opposite side of the cutting edge. This allows for precise control while still affording the user lots of flexibility.
Common types of back saws include miter saws and tenon saws.
Miter saws allow 90-degree crosscuts and 45-degree angle miters. The saw is suspended on rollers in a metal guide which works with a miter box. This allows for accurate and precision sawing. Miter saws are sometimes referred to as backsaws or large backsaws.
A tenon is a square, peg-like part of a morist and tenon join. In order to create tenons, you need a tenon saw. These medium-sized saws use either a 12 or 16-inch blade.
C. Advantages and Disadvantages of Hand Saws
Hand saws provide a lot of control and precision. They’re a good choice if you need to work in potentially dangerous areas such as around wires or pipes. Plus, the added control helps prevent accidental damage to public-facing areas.
Hand saws are also a good choice for inexperienced carpenters and craftsmen. As long as you always saw away from you and otherwise take proper precautions, a hand saw is very safe to use. It’s unlikely to get away from you and cause injury.
On the other hand (no pun intended), there are drawbacks to using this classic tool. First, hand saws require muscle power. Even if you’re in amazing shape, using a hand saw can quickly grow tiring.
If you need to saw a lot of material quickly, a hand saw might be too slow. Plus, hand power can only go so far. You’ll probably want a mechanical saw if you need to cut through metal, concrete or other heavy-duty material.
D. Mechanically Powered Saws
Looking for a bit more power? Mechanically powered saws operate by batteries, direct wire or even an internal combustion engine.
Mechanically powered saws can be divided into three types:
- Circular blade
- Reciprocating blade
- Continuous band
Mechanically powered saws are often powerful, fast and relatively easy to use.
1. Circular Blade Saws
These are any type of saw with a round, rotating blade. Circular saws can range from portable handheld saws to elaborate table mounted ones.
There are quite a few different types of circular saws. Let’s take a deeper look:
a. Circular Saw
This is the most common type of handheld saw. These handhelds fit many different blade sizes and style. With the right blade, a standard circular saw can cut through just about anything.
Circular saws are sometimes called buzz saws. They were first used in sawmills to cut beams. Although a handheld circular saw is obviously much smaller than the kind used in sawmills, but the basic design remains the same.
b. Table Saw
While circular saws are lightweight and portable, table saws are more fixed and stable. Table saws are any saw where a fixed circular blade rises from a slot in the table. The material to be cut is moved around on the table into the saw, which allows for straight, precise cuts.
Workbench saws are the smallest type of table saw. Able to be set on a workbench, they’re relatively portable and can be used on job sites.
The next size up is a contractor’s saw. These have steel legs so they can be set up on practically any sturdy, flat surface.
Need a heavy-duty table saw? You’ll probably be interested in a cabinet saw. With an enclosed based and multiple driving belts, cabinet saws are some of the most powerful circular saws available.
c. Radial Arm Saw
With a radial arm saw, the circular blade is mounted on a horizontal arm. Sliding the arm pulls the blade across the wood (or other material). Radial arm saws work great for cutting long pieces of wood. They’re also easy for crosscutting.
d. Rotary Saw
A rotary saw resemble a drill. The saw has a small, circular blade which can make precise cuts into drywall, plywood and similar materials. They’re useful when you want to cut into the wall without requiring pilot holes.
e. Electric Miter Saw
Remember the handheld miter described above? An electric version is also available. Electric miter saws allow for controlled cuts and precision angling. With an electric miter control, you get precise cuts much faster than with a manual miter.
f. Concrete Saw
Although not really for amateurs, this saw is a powerful tool for big jobs. A concrete saw can cut through not just concrete but asphalt and similar surfaces. Powered by either electric power or an internal combustion engine. They use diamond cutting blades.
g. Abrasive Saw
This is another tough saw for tough jobs. Abrasive saws cut metals. Instead of a toothed blade, these saws use an abrasive friction disc.
Also known as metal cut-off saws or metal chop saws, abrasive saws require a fairly high amount of maintenance. The discs are made to wear down as they cut through the metal. You’ll need to replace them fairly frequently.
Those are the main types of circular saws, but there’s still another major category you’ll want to know about:
2. Reciprocating Blade Saws
Reciprocating saws cut by moving a blade quickly back and forth. They can be handheld or fixed to a platform.
Probably the most popular type of saws with a reciprocating blade is a jigsaw. This is a handheld saw with a narrow blade. Jigsaws are rather unique in that they’re able to cut curved lines. This flexibility can be useful if you’re building large, multi-shaped items like furniture.
b. Reciprocating Saw
Now, this gets a little confusing. A reciprocating saw is the name of a type of saw with a reciprocating blade. So most people end up calling this a Sawzall, regardless of brand name.
The blade here is parallel. This is a jack-of-all-trades saw which cuts woods, drywall, pipes and much more. Lacking finesses, these saws are frequently used for demo work.
c. Scroll Saw
On the other end of the finesses spectrum is the scroll saws. These are often used by artists, woodworkers and other hobbyists. In the hands of a skilled user, scroll saws can cut practically any shape or design. The wood is moved around the platform in relation to the fixed blade.
3. Continuous Band Saws
Reciprocating saws have one blade which moves back and forth. Continuous saws use a different method. The blade is a long band of metal with teeth.
a. Band Saws
This is a stationary continuous-band saw. The blade is a band of metal on wheels which all rotate on the same plain. You’ll commonly see these types of saws used to cut large pieces of timber. You might also see them at the butcher, too. Band saws are often used to cut meat.
This is a handheld continuous band saw. They’re typically used for heavy-duty jobs like cutting brush and trees. Loud and powerful, most chainsaws are powered by a two-stroke internal combustion engine. Recently, electric chainsaws have been making in-roads into the market.
II. How to Use a Circular Saw Safely
Circular saws can seem a bit intimidating. But they’re actually pretty easy to operate. Let’s take a look at how to safely use a circular saw.
E. Circular Saw Safety Components
Safety starts with information. A circular saw has a few different parts you’ll want to know about. Don’t worry – circular saws have numerous automatic safety features to help protect against accidental injury.
1. On and Off Trigger
Squeeze the trigger to operate the saws. Circular saws use a trigger system for safety purposes. If you accidentally drop or lose control of the saw, the blade will stop automatically.
2. Lock Switch
This is a trigger guard which prevents the saw from being turned on accidentally.
3. Guard Lift Handle
The blade is covered by a retractable guard. You only want to move this guard when you’re ready to cut.
4. Bevel Lock Knob
Adjusting this knob changes the cutting angles. The bevel lock knob allows you to make different types of cuts.
If the circular saw is powered by a battery, you’ll want to remove it if you won’t be using the saw for an extended period of time. If the saw is corded, make sure the cord has no frays.
F. Using a Circular Saw
Safety should always be first. Never cut towards any part of your body. Always stand behind the saw. Plus, always wear proper eye and ear protection.
Before you cut, have a plan. Measure at least twice before cutting. Mark your cut lines clearly.
Next you’ll need to set the blade depth. Make sure the blade is deep enough to cut through the material. At the same time, always be aware of what surfaces are underneath the material you’re cutting.
Align the blade with the cut line. But don’t actually make contact with the blade and the material. Instead, make sure the blade is fully spinning before starting a cut.
If you’re cutting wooden boards or deck rails, an angle cuts is probably the easier and most efficient. If you’re cutting baseboards, fascia and other lighter wood you’ll probably want right-angle bevel cuts. Generally, the more teeth on the saw blade, the smoother the cut.
III. Common Questions When Buying a Saw
Even expert carpenters and other professionals get confused about all the various features and types of saw available. Let’s take a step back and answer some of the most common general questions many people have when shopping for a saw:
G. How Many Teeth Should the Blade Have?
Generally, more teeth equals a smoother cut. This is true for all types for both hand and electric saws. With table saws, miter saws and circular saws you’re looking for the number of teeth overall. On jigsaws, scroll saws and band saws you want to look for the number of teeth per inch of blade.
The fewer the teeth, the more aggressive the cut. But you will be able to cut quickly. Fewer teeth are better if you want to cut quickly and don’t care too much about what the finished cut looks like.
If you want a smoother cut, the blade should have more teeth. Note that a blade with a lot of teeth will cut slower. As you become more familiar with different saws, you can experiment with different blades to learn what works best for your needs.
H. Is Electric Better Than Manual Power?
Electric saws are faster and more powerful than hand saws. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. Don’t overlook hand saws. They might be the perfect tool if you need a lot of control over your cuts.
I. How Many Saws Do I Need?
Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just because there are many different options doesn’t mean you need to own 5, 10 or 50 different saws.
If you’re just building up a library of tools for household use, two tools will take you far: an 11-inch hand saw and an electric Sawzall. Together they’re versatile enough for jobs big and small.
Keep in mind you can always rent table saws from most major home improvement stores. This can be a cost-effective way to tackle a big D.I.Y. project.
Prices depend on the complexity, size and brand of the saw. Generally, higher-end table and standing saws will run between $100 and $500. You can find pretty decent battery-powered reciprocating and other handheld saws for around $100 to $200.
Hand saws are often significantly cheaper. You can find 26-inch hand saws for under $20 at most major retailers. If you need a tool for occasional cutting, a hand saw is often an inexpensive solution.
V. Where to Buy Saws Online
Now that you understand what types of saws are available, and what jobs each type is best suited for, you’re ready to start shopping. Here’s a list of online merchants we recommend when shopping for a saw: