Which Saw Should You Use?
Whenever anyone thinks about tools and tool boxes, they will often picture the contents of those tool boxes. They'll often think about hammers, nails, bolts, screwdrivers, and measuring tape, but there's another type of tool that's essential for the best all-around tool kit: a saw. This particular tool has been in use for over 5,000 years and continues to be a vital addition to every craftsman's tool kit.
There are many different types of saws out there, while our clear cut favorite is the miter saw, the type of saw you use will depend on the job you want to complete. With this list, we hope to provide you with as much detail as possible about the types of saws that are available on the market, how they work, and how they're most commonly used. We don't want to drill in too deep and analyze double vs single bevel saws but we will break down the various types of saws by class and then further classify them by use. Keep reading to find out all you could have ever possibly wanted to know about saws!
Related: Excellent Compound Miter Saw Choices & Reviews
A saw is one of the most common crafting tools available and consists of a strong blade made of metal, wire, chain, or in some cases, even stone and diamonds! Saws are used to cut through objects like plexiglass, plastic, wood, glass, and other materials that cannot be simply broken or otherwise taken apart by hand.
1. Mechanical Saw
These saws take most of the standard manual saws and strap on engines and motors powered by gas or by electricity to provide more power and greater ease of use. Here are just a few of the various mechanical saws you might encounter in your local hardware store.
The circular saw is an extremely powerful and versatile power tool that uses either flat metal discs or blades with abrasive edges or teeth for cutting. This is one of the most common types of power tool saws you'll find in use today with hobbyist woodworkers and professionals alike. Many are lightweight and easy to use unlike most miter saws which require bulky saw stands.
These saws first came into use in sawmills in the late 18th century and became commonplace tools used in the US by the 19th century. These saws can be useful for cutting a wide array of materials - everything from wood to plastic or even metal - and allow for quick and efficient material cutting for personal, commercial, or industrial purposes.
Table saws, also known as sawbenches are quite large tools consisting of a circular saw that's usually driven by a motor using gears or a belt. There are smaller and lighter table saws that are referred to as job site saws, since they're designed to be portable and easy to use. Other types of table saws include the contractor saw and the cabinet saw - both constructed using cabinets that are much larger and heavier compared to the job site saws. The contractor saw is the most common type of saw in use by hobbyist woodworkers today, since the electrical circuits in most homes can handle the power to run it and also because of it's more affordable cost compared to other models. Check out our portable and contractor table saw reviews page for more details.
The radial arm saw is the great grand-daddy to what would eventually become the power miter saw. This tool, developed by Ray DeWalt, features a circular saw mounted on an arm that slides horizontally. This saw was used well into the early 1900s up until the electric-powered miter saw was introduced. The radial arm saw is capable of making lengthwise cuts in long pieces of stock wood but can also be modified with the use of a dado blade to create a variety of joint types, including half lap, rabbet and dado. However, due to the cost and safety concerns with using this particular saw, it has since fallen out of common use.
Concrete saws are favored by construction workers and contractors due to their hardy blades, which are made with diamonds for their tremendous and unbreakable cutting power. These saws are not typically recommended for use by the hobbyist, as they're primarily for cutting asphalt or concrete.
As mentioned in the introduction to this section, most of the saws here are super-charged versions of manual saws that were created hundreds - sometimes even thousands - of years ago. To that end, the pendulum saw will probably look quite familiar as an ideal option for cross-cutting wood or cutting ice for extraction. The pendulum, in this case, is the swinging arm that the circular saw blade is attached to, which is drawn down into the material to be cut. This sets it apart from other saws, like the radial saw arm, as the operator brings the blade to the material, rather than bringing the material to the blade.
Along with the circular saw, the hole saw is another tool that hobbyists will probably be familiar with. As the name suggests, this tool usually features metal teeth or an abrasive surface to cut circular holes into material. If you've ever had to modify a wood door of some sort, then you might have used a tool like this yourself! They're usually attached to a power drill for quick and easy cutting.
2. Reciprocating Saw
Anything humans can do, machines can almost always do better and reciprocating saws are a prime example of that train of thought. This type of saw uses the reciprocating motion of up-down or forward-back to cut various materials, and are available as manually-powered form such as frame saws or ice saws or electric, gas, or compressed air-powered tools like the ones featured in this section.
Reccomended: Reciprocating Saw Reviews
Jigsaws are ideal for carving out unusual shapes because they feature narrow blades. This tool is another good choice for the hobbyist woodworker, as it's capable of creating free form shapes beyond the standard circle or straight lines of other saws. This is also another name for what was once known as the scroll saw, which is a tool that's used to create intricate curves in metal, wood, and other materials.
The dragsaw was one of the preferred means of chopping wood prior to WWII, when the chainsaw became more popular. An early version of the reciprocating saw, rumored to have been in use since as far back as the fourth dynasty of Egypt, where they were believed to have been used for cutting stone. These saws were the first mechanized saws to be used in the timber industry. Powered by steam and then gas powered later on, they could make log cutting much quicker and considerably more consistent compared to attempting to saw the logs with manual tools. Although these dragsaws were intended to be portable, they often weighed well over 200 pounds, making them an impractical option for all but the professional and commercial logging industry that was just beginning to boom. The timber industry owes much to this modest machine that would eventually become the chainsaw.
3. Backsaw or Tenon Saw
Enter your text hereThis saw type of saw is much like the standard rip saw, however it will often feature a rib or spine along the edge opposite its cutting teeth to help provide greater durability and control. This sub-type branches off even further, depending on the industry you're working in. Let's take a look at the different ways this type of saw can be used.
The bead or jeweler's saw is frequently used by jewelry makers for making jewelry with sheet metals. An especially thin and delicate saw, the jeweler's saw is typically only used on softer metals. This saw is similar to a coping saw in that it holds its blade in a tension frame. Also known as a piercing saw, it features a turned handle for easy use.
Another type of back saw is the blitz saw, which is most often used for cutting metal as well as wood. The toe of this saw will typically have a hook in place so that the operator can hook the thumb of their off-hand in place for added stability. These days, these saws are most often electric-powered rather than powered by elbow grease.
If you've ever seen the term "carcase saw" and were wondering where it came from or why you'd never heard it before now, don't worry! The phrase "carcase saw" was the name used in the early 20th century to refer to most any type of backsaw with a blade that was anywhere from 10 to 14 inches in length. Also known as a "carcass saw," this particular tool is especially helpful when you need to make precise cuts across the grain of the wood. This tool is a great companion to the dovetail saw, which is the next saw on our list!
The dovetail saw is another type of backsaw that has a blade of no more than 6 to 10 inches in length. Its most common use is for cutting joints (or "dovetails") when making cabinetry.
The electrician's saw was most often employed by those working on the caps and cases for electrical wiring. These saws were usually rather small. They've been replaced by electric-powered saws in the intervening years, but the saw is still a trusty friend to electricians all over the world.
For those who are DIY enthusiasts or well-heeled professionals, the miter box saw will probably be familiar. The miter box or tray helps to hold a piece of wood in place (often with the help of clamps to secure it) while the operator uses a miter saw to cut the wood itself. This miter saw box has slits where you can fit the saw into place and grooves at the bottom that will allow you to cut all the way through the piece of wood. Although there are electric versions of this type of saw, the manual version allows for more precision and control when making cuts. Usually, the miter saw itself is most often short, with fine teeth, and features a reinforced spine to prevent the blade from bending or buckling. Miter saws are especially useful for cutting light, thin pieces of wood, such as decorative crown or quarter round molding. For precision angled cuts, the compound miter saw is a fantastic choice, while the sliding miter saw gives you the best of both worlds: the angling capabilities of a compound miter saw and the ability to move the saw forward and back, as with a radial arm saw.
For any woodworker, carpenter, or cabinetmaker, the chop saw is just the ticket for making straight, precise, squared cuts in wood. This type of saw is especially helpful when it comes to making furniture and cabinetry as those types of woodworking often require exquisitely straight and even cuts. The chop saw is also much faster than the circular saw, which provides a great advantage for professionals and hobbyists alike.
Sash saws are, much like the carcase saw, a throwback to the early days of crafting with hand tools. These early backsaws were often anywhere from 14 to 16 inches in length and 2 1/2" to 3 1/4" deep. Saws of this type would typically have 10 or 11 ripping points per inch, whereas tenon saws of today have 10, so even though there might be some tenon saws that still fit that description being used today, they are no longer referred to by that name. These saws were often listed as part of a cabinetmaker's tool kit from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries.
Tenon saws are most often a mid-sized backsaw that's used to create mortise and tenon joints. These joints have been used by carpenters and woodworkers for generations and are especially helpful for piecing together two pieces of wood securely where the two pieces connect at a 90 degree angle. These saws have helped to create everything from ships to furniture and even the wooden lining for water wells. Whenever you need to create a solid, strong joint without the necessity of nails, this is a good saw to consider....
4. Frame Saw
When your project requires more precise cuts that are anything besides a straight line, frame saws are your best bet. Whether your project uses wood or another material altogether, these saws help to make shapes beyond the basic horizontal or vertical cuts.
The bow or buck saw features a slim blade held in a tension frame. It can have teeth on just one side or both sides of its blade. These saws were the hand saw of choice for woodworkers in Europe until even more precise machines came along. This type of saw would often be used in concert with a sawbuck (better known as a sawhorse) for cutting firewood down to size, which is also known as bucking and serves to explain where this saw gets its name.
Coping saws typically feature a narrow blade that's held in place by a metal frame which allows the operator to rotate the blade to cut patterns out of wood. This particular saw is usually a hand-held saw and is used for making intricate cuts externally or internally, depending on the job. These saws can also be used to create fretwork for stringed instruments, such as guitars, basses, or even violins. It's not the best choice for thinner materials but is capable of making slightly curved cuts in material.
The fret saw is the big brother to the coping saw, and can do certain things that the coping saw is incapable of, like creating intricate cuts in tight curves for more delicate results. This saw features an unusually shaped frame and a blade that has extra fine shallow blades, with up to 32 points per inch. The depth of the frame itself can be anywhere from 10 to 20 inches. Because of the peculiarly large frame, this saw is often held on a vertical when cutting to help offset the weight of the saw's own frame.
As the name implies, girder saws are hack saws that are build with a deep frame to allow the cutting of girders for the purposes of building or other large-scale, heavy-duty construction jobs. These saws are often rather large and most likely won't be for the hobbyist woodworker or handyman, but it's always good to know what tools are at your disposal.
The bow saw has a fine-toothed, wide, crosscut blade in a tension frame, making it a great choice for woodworking to create straight or curved cuts. To ensure the tension of the saw is just right, the turnbuckle - a piece of tightly twisted cord - can be adjusted. This particular saw has also been called the Swede saw or the buck saw, depending on the material it's being used to cut.
The pit or whip saw often features a large, wooden frame that's useful for converting raw timber into lumber. These saws can have blades as long as up to 10 feet in length and were often used in conjunction with a pit (where their name comes from) to facilitate the splitting of large logs or raised trestles. As with some other saws in this list, this isn't really a tool for the home hobbyist woodworker or even professional carpenters, however if you work in a tree-felling operation, this particular saw might come in handy.
Much like with pit saws and other saws mentioned in this list, the stave saw is a tool for a niche industry: namely, the sawing of staves to create wooden casks or barrels. Also known as a cylinder saw, the early versions of this tool were quite large and took up a great deal of space, which makes sense, considering they were used to process huge chunks of raw wood. To cut round or 'bulging' staves, another version of the stave saw - known as the bile saw would be employed. In addition, there's also a bottom-cutting saw, which is used to cut out the appropriate shapes for the bottoms of barrels and casks. Unless you work in a winery or somewhere that barrels or casks are used, chances are good that you won't have use for these tools, but we're striving to make as comprehensive a list as possible for this type of equipment.
5. Hand Saw
Hand saws are the tool of choice for a wide array of industries; everyone from carpenters and plumbers to lumberjacks uses saws in the course of their daily work. A handsaw often consists of a tapered metal blade with serrated teeth and a grip made of resin or wood affixed to the widest part of the blade. To use this type of hand saw, you grip it firmly by the handle, rest the edge of the blade against the edge of the material you'd like to cut and apply some pressure as you slide the blade forward along the plane at an angle and then draw it back to complete your cut.
Artillery saws were issued to soldiers in the military during the 19th century as a means of clearing away branches and trees so their artillery could have a clear shot of the enemy. These saws were often chain-driven but others were slender and sword-like with serrated teeth for less cumbersome carrying.
Butcher's saws are, as the name would suggest, used in the process of cutting or splitting bones. Also known as frame saws, these tools feature a long, thin blade surrounded by a sturdy rectangular wooden frame. The long blade itself is positioned perpendicularly to the surface being cut so that it can pass through the center of the saw's frame.
A crosscut or 'thwart' saw is just what it says on the tin and is used for cutting wood across the grain. These saws are quite versatile and their design can impact their use: for fine detail work on wood carving, a crosscut saw will have teeth that are smaller and closer together, while a crosscut saw used for processing large trees will have larger teeth spaced farther apart. These particular saws are best for cutting logs to length. There are also super-sized versions of the cross-cut saw that were made for either one or two people and could be anywhere from 30 to 60 inches in length! These types of saws are often used when cutting down younger, green timber as well as old, rougher timber. These are also quite versatile tools, as a second handle could be added to the other end of the saw so that two people could work the saw at a time for quicker cooperative cutting.
Docking saws are the rough and ready cousin to the crosscut saw and are frequently used whenever cuts have to be made quickly, if not neatly. You'll find docking saws most often in shipyards, road and bridge construction, or anywhere there's a cramped space where any other kind of saw would not normally fit.
The farmer or miner's saw is quite similar to certain crosscut saws. They're hardy tools, with coarse teeth, and can be used for a variety of purposes, from pruning trees, cutting branches or tough vines, and more.
The felloe or 'fellow' saw were most commonly used to create curved planes in wood for such items as the curved portions of wheels (the 'felloes' in the name) or curvy arms and legs for furniture. Featuring a narrow blade, this pit saw can be up to seven feet in length.
Floorboard or flooring saws are a more compact saw without a back, whose teeth often extend up the back of the saw's toe for a certain length. This particular saw is a trusty tool for carpenters who want to saw through a plank without damaging the boards next to it.
A grafting or table saw is - apart from the hand saw - is probably one of the most recognizable tools in this list. This particular saw has a tapered blade that can range anywhere from six inches all the way up to 30 inches long. These days, most table saws are quite expensive, heavy-duty tools powered by electricity and often require safety goggles or other eye protection to prevent splinters or sawdust from flying into the operator's face.
If you're a fan of ice fishing or have watched the movie Frozen recently, then you might have seen an ice saw being put to good use. These saws frequently feature long blades with large, coarse teeth that are either angled or run perpendicular to the handle, and long, slender handles. These particular blades are used for either harvesting ice or creating a hole in thick ice so the water beneath can be accessed for fishing.
The Japanese saw or pull saw - also known as a nokogiri - does things a little bit differently compared to your average hand saw. Instead of cutting material as the blade is pushed forward against the plane, this saw cuts as it is being pulled back. This type of saw is also quite common in countries like Turkey, Nepal, and Iraq. Unfortunately, unlike standard push-force saws, these nokogiri saws do not work well when it comes to cutting hard woods.
These saws can also be double-sided, with a rip saw blade on one side and a cross saw blade on the opposite side. Other types of saws in this category include Douzukinoko, which is the Japanese cousin to the backsaw. There's also the Ryouba, which has a double-edged cutting blade for cross-cutting on one side and ripping cuts on the other. Another type of Ryouba, the Azebiki, is curved and made for cutting into the surface of the wood rather than starting at the edge. Meanwhile, the Mawashibiki is the distant relation to the keyhole saw, which means "turning cut," and refers to cutting curved shapes into the wood. There's even a Japanese rendition of the pit saw, known as the Oga, which is operated by two people for the purposes of creating rip cuts in large pieces of wood before power saws came into use.
The compass or keyhole saw features a narrow tapered blade affixed to a handle. This type of saw is especially useful when creating curves.
For those who aren't fond of single-purpose tools, the nest of saws might be a good choice for you. This saw will often feature three or four different types of saw blades connected to a handle with nuts for quick and easy removal.
The pad saw is similar in construction to the compass saw as it often features a long, narrow blade with fine teeth. However, instead of an angled grip, these saws will usually feature a straight, knife-like handle. These particular saws lack a frame, often include multiple blades, and can be put to use where a coping saw would not be able to fit. Pad saws are especially useful for carving keyholes.
Panel saws are a more lightweight version of the hand saw, most often less than 24 inches in length and featuring a finer set of teeth. These saws are especially useful in making long, straight cuts in large pieces of material. This saw can be used to make cross cuts (widthwise along the sheet) or rip cuts (lengthwise across).
Plywood saws are, as the name implies, particularly helpful in cutting plywood down to size. It features fine teeth to prevent tearing or splintering of the individual sheets that have been glued together to create the sheet of plywood itself.
For those gardeners or groundskeepers out there, the pruning saw is a trusty companion. This saw type will often feature a curved blade lined with teeth, ranging anywhere from 12 to 28 inches in length. These saws can be double sided, with a fine side for more delicate branches as well as a coarse side for rougher wood. The pruning saw will usually feature collapsible or folding construction but can also be mounted to a pole to extend the reach of the saw to cut branches that are higher up.
The rip saw is the type of saw that most people tend to associate with the word 'saw'. These saws are most commonly used to create 'rip' cuts, or cuts that are made parallel to the grain of the wood. The teeth of this saw are angled backwards and with a flat front edge. This type of saw can be found most often in sawmills, along with circular, band and reciprocating saws.
A rule or combination saw is much like a basic hand saw, but with a difference: it features a ruled scale on its back and handle to form a 90 degree square in combination with the measured edge. If you're in search of a multi-purpose saw to start building out your tool kit, this would be the best one to start with.
The salt saw is one that isn't seen that much, anymore - at least in America. This saw often featured a short blade made of copper or zinc that was less likely to corrode and it was used to cut blocks of salt for use in industrial or institutional kitchens. Of course, this was back in the old days, before salt was widely available in stores in little blue canisters.
The Turkish or "monkey" saw is a compact saw with a parallel-sided blade that's designed to cut on the pull back rather than the push forward, much like the nokogiri of Japan that was mentioned earlier.
As its name would suggest, a veneer saw was designed specifically for cutting delicate wood veneer. Featuring a double bladed design, these saws most often feature an angled, rounded handle to allow the blade to work its way along the side of a sheet of paneling. Another common design is more like a dough knife than a saw, featuring the double blades held together by a single handle at the top.
Wire saws are one of the most compact saws of its type, usually featuring two safety handles or grips to allow the operator to grasp them. To use this saw, simply wrap it around the material you'd like to cut, grasp the ends or handles, and work your hands back and forth to start cutting. These saws are particularly useful for hiking trips or any other time where you don't want to lug heavy or cumbersome tools around with you.
6. Sawmill Saw
As mentioned previously, not all of the saws on this list will be ones that the home woodworker or DIY fanatic would need to use, mainly because they're quite large and prohibitively expensive to all but established woodcutting operations. However, there are smaller, more affordable options that come close. To that end, band saws and chain saws are both available in varying sizes and types. Continuous band saws usually consist of a rip saw that cuts parallel to the wood grain, driven continuously by a motor that's driven by electricity. Another version, driven by rotating power shafts, was in common use at one point, but became obsolete by the early 20th century.
Recommended: Bandsaw Reviews
Chainsaws, on the other hand, consist of a guide bar encircled by a chain of metal teeth. The guide bar - and, in fact, the chainsaw itself - can be anywhere from 6 inches for electric-powered saws and up to 20 inches for heftier, gas-powered models. Smaller chainsaws are ideal for light work, like trimming shrubs or small branches, while larger chainsaws can take down an enormous tree with just a few careful cuts in the right places. These saws are also one of the more common tools you'll see in a hobbyist's garage as they are incredibly versatile and easy to use, for the most part.
Chainsaws can be powered by gas, electric, or even battery, though there are pros and cons to every type of power source. You'll need to weigh your options and pick the one that's best for you. For small jobs, the electric, cordless saw is probably the best option as it provides better mobility, but for larger jobs or projects that require longer operation or more cutting power, the more common gas-powered chain saw is probably your best bet.
Chainsaws are also quite useful with cutting ice - whether that's for the purposes of cutting a hole in the ice to go fishing or swimming, or to create beautiful, glistening artwork using blocks of ice or snow or earthy creations using chunks of wood!
Saws have been an essential part of the art of crafting - with wood, stone, masonry, ice and more - since cavemen picked up rocks and learned how to bash them together just right to create a sharp edge. We hope that this piece has provided helpful information about the wide array of saws that are available out there, or in some cases, once existed but no longer.
Regardless of your preferred medium, however you choose to use these tools, make sure to heed the safety instructions and follow safety guidelines to the letter, including using safety goggles and hearing protection, if necessary. Also make sure to have a friend or your phone close by in the event of an emergency. These tools are incredibly powerful but they can also be unbelievably destructive, so please select your saw and safety gear with care and follow all the instructions in the user's manual as closely as possible.