Power saws are extremely useful machine tools, but they are also very confusing. There are so many types of saw in different categories and sub-categories of power saw, that it becomes difficult to remember what each kind of saw does. That is the purpose of this article, to act as a sort of “comprehensive guide” to explain the world of various types of power saws.
Generally, there are three varieties of power saws namely power saws with rotating blades, with reciprocating blade and circulating blade.
If you have ever played the word game CodyCross then you probably have across the puzzle: Power tool with rotating blade. The answer is BUZZSAW.
But what is a buzzsaw? It is nothing but a circular saw. Most of the electric saws fall under this classification.
In this guide, I’m going to give you a very brief explanation as to what each kind of power saw does, what it is good for, etc. My hope is that this saw guide will be useful for both beginners, who know nothing about power saws and professionals who are familiar with power saws, but who are also looking to expand their knowledge.
1. Table saws
Table saws are one of the workhorses of any workshop or garage. Everyone from professionals to home DIYers use this tool often. In my experience, it is hard to think of a woodworking or carpentry job that does not require you to use a table saw at least once. Table saws are very simple, a circular saw blade is spun at high speeds at a stationary position and the operator pushes the wood into the blade. There is some room for customizability, especially with regards to the blade, which can be changed to accommodate different kinds of jobs. However, ultimately the table saw is a simple, but effective tool.
Working Principle: The circular table saw blade fixed on an arbor revolves at a very high speed. The workpiece is fed against the rotating blade to make the cut.
Uses of Table Saw: They are widely used in the woodworking industry. You can use a table saw to cut wood, plywood, medium-density fiberboard or MDF, plastic and even soft metals like aluminum.
Advantages of Table Saw: You can use a table saw to make different types of cuts easily. You can rip wide boards, crosscut and cut at an angle using miter gauges. Depending on the model, you may also get to cut bevels by tilting the blade. With the right blade, you can even make dados.
Disadvantages: Table saw is not highly portable and takes up more space in a workshop. Not an ideal tool for miter cuts and resawing. Safety is another major concern. According to the number of accidents reported, the table saw is one of the most dangerous tools. Always follow the table saw safe working practices to avoid injuries.
You can learn more by going to the in-depth guide on table saw.
2. Circular saws
Circular saws, much like table saws, are a very common workhorse in both professional and DIY workshops. A circular saw is a versatile tool that offers high portability. The main purpose of a circular saw is to cut wood and other soft materials; in this sense, they are essentially portable table saws. You can also this saw to cut tough materials like metal with the appropriate circular saw blade. The working principle of a circular saw is opposite of a table saw.
How Circular Saw works: A circular saw it a handheld power tool with a rotating blade that is pushed across the workpiece to cut through it. That means the work needs to be stationary and the rotating circular saw blade moves to make the cut.
Pros: Advantages of a circular saw.
- A highly versatile power saw with which you can make a variety of cuts.
- Highly portable and requires very less storage space.
- You can slice through long pieces of wood and work-pieces that cannot be loaded on a table saw.
See the table saw vs circular saw chart where I compared these two types of saws that are most popular among woodworkers and hobbyists.
Circular saw is not a precision tool unless you setup guide-rails or straight edges.
Learn more about circular saw here.
3. Miter saws
Miter saws are a more specialized kind of saw, but despite this, they are fairly common, especially in professional workshops. A Miter saw, as the name implies, is designed to make one specific kind of cut, miter cuts. Miter cuts are cuts made at any angle other than 90-degrees along the length of the width of the wood. Don’t get me wrong; miter saws can make crosscuts (90-degree cuts) perfectly fine. However, the main reason one would buy a miter saw is to do angular cuts because crosscuts can be easily done on a table saw.
How Miter Saw works: A large revolving circular saw blade that is fixed on a swing arm is brought on to the workpiece which is fixed on the miter saw table to perform the cutting action. The workpiece is held against the miter saw fence to make sure that they are square to the miter saw blade.
Use of Miter Saw:
- You can do crosscuts, miter cuts, bevel and compound cuts on wood, plastic, plywood and a number of other soft materials.
- Miter saws are especially important in woodworking and carpentry because of how useful they are when it comes to building complicated things like furniture, cabinets, frames, etc.
- Dual bevel miter saws are also widely used for trim jobs such as trimming crown molding.
Types of Miter Saws: These power saws come in different designs from simple basic miter saws to compound and sliding compound miter saws. I suggest you read the miter saw guide for a detailed explanation of different types of miter saws and the advantages of each of them.
In case you are wondering which one should you get first, see the comparison between the table saw and miter saw. For most people a table saw is a much more versatile tool. Should you decide to go for this type of saw, I strongly recommend you to read my miter saw buyers guide.
4. Chop Saws
This is a specialized kind of saw that is designed to cut tough materials. Although they look very similar to your miter saw, chop saws fulfill a different role. Whereas miter saws cut through wood with ease, chop saws cut through hard materials like metal, brick, concrete, and masonry. Since most DIYers don’t usually need to cut through tough materials like that on a regular basis, chop saws tend to only be found in professional workshops. However, they can still be of use to DIYers, so you do occasionally find them in home workshops and garages.
How it works
An abrasive disc that rotates at very high rpm on a swing arm is fed onto the workpiece that is held on the table. As you can see the working principle of a chop saw is similar to a miter saw. However, the major difference between the two types of saws is that in a chop saw an abrasive disc is the cutting tool whereas in case of a miter saw the cutting tool is a toothed steel blade. A detailed comparison between the two can be found at miter saw vs chop saw page.
Uses: Chop saws are primarily used for crosscuts on tough materials like metal. Metal cutting chop saw is widely used in construction and metalworking industry. Chop saws can also cut angles, but not with the accuracy and precision of a miter saw.
5. Radial arm saws
Radial arm saws are a unique kind of saw. Rather than having the blade attached to the table, the blade is instead attached to a mobile arm. You could imagine it as the opposite of a table saw. The workpiece is held stationary on the table, while the rotating blade along with the blade head moves in a straight line along the arm.
The main purpose of a radial arm saw is to provide an all-in-one cutting saw. Radial arm saws can make all kinds of cuts, including crosscuts, miter cuts, compound cuts, etc.
Radial arm saws were very popular in the past and now they are largely replaced by miter saws. The main reason for this change is the safety issue. Furthermore, most people wouldn’t need a large radial arm saw to do the miter cuts. With the emergence of sliding compound miter saw, you can easily cut wider workpieces easily. For long rip cuts and wider crosscuts, most professionals would opt for the table saw.
I think most, if not all of you, are familiar with what a chainsaw is, so I won’t go into much detail here. We have all seen them in some of the other Hollywood movies.
A chainsaw uses chains of linked teeth to cut through a variety of materials, but primarily wood. It does not deliver accurate cuts, but it is a fast and efficient way of cutting through large amounts of wood in a short amount of time.
Before you start working, it is extremely important that you make sure that you can handle this saw for a longer period of time. Read all the safety instructions and get used to its weight and grip before you even think of switching the chainsaw on.
7. Reciprocating Saws
Reciprocating saws work differently than the other kinds of saws that I have covered so far. With a reciprocating saw, the blade is pushed forward and then pulled back; this is repeated at a rapid pace. This constant pushing and pulling produce a “sawing” motion that cuts through wood.
Reciprocating saw is a handheld power tool which comes in both corded and cordless version. I suggest you check the reciprocating saw guide to find out about the different options and what to look for when buying a new saw.
Reciprocating saws are used for pruning trees, cutting through wood, bricks, and tiles. These kinds of saws are most useful for demolition and remodeling work because of their ability to rapidly cut through wood and other tougher material.
Reciprocating saw which is also known as Sawzall is very useful in replacing drywall, installing doors and windows, cutting PVC pipes, cutting through wood with nails, removing floor tiles, etc.
All you need is to replace the blade to cut different materials. With the right reciprocating blade, it can also penetrate hard materials like bricks and tiles.
Jigsaws work similarly to reciprocating saws, except with two key differences. Firstly, unlike with regular reciprocating saws, the blade on a jigsaw aims downward, instead of jutting out from the nose of the saw. Secondly, jigsaws are designed specifically to make curved or otherwise non-straight cuts.
A jigsaw when compared to a reciprocating saw is a much more precise tool. Also, it is the only handheld power saw with which you can produce curved cuts.
Uses of Jigsaw:
The jigsaw is a very versatile tool that can be used to cut straight and curved cuts on different materials including wood, plastic, metal, granite, tiles, and metal. One of the most common applications of a jigsaw in a household is to install countertops.
Another advantage of a jig saw is that you can use it to cut internal profiles. All you need to do is drill a start hole for the blade to enter and you are ready to cut straight, angled and curved shapes.
Find out more about jigsaw to decide if this is the best saw for your purpose.
9. Band Saws
Band saws are saws that work by moving a continuous band of metal through two wheels to create cutting power. They are designed to cut tubes, piping, and curved objects (similar to what jigsaws do, but with more power). They come in two models; vertical and horizontal. There are stationary band saws, which are quite bulky, and portable band saws, which are obviously a lot smaller.
How does a band saw work: The band saw blade that is installed between two rotating wheels is a continuous band of metal with teeth on one side. In case of a vertical band saw, the workpiece is continuously fed against the rotating blade. On the other hand, in a horizontal bandsaw, the rotating blade is on a swing arm, which is brought down on to the work-piece to cut through it.
Uses of band saw: Vertical band saws are very popular in woodworking. They can be used for ripping through long lumber, doing crosscuts to size the boards, and you can also make miter cuts with the help of a miter gauge. Vertical band saw is the ideal machine tool for resawing.
Horizontal bandsaws are mainly used in the metalworking industry. Today, they are replacing the power hacksaw in most metalworking shops since horizontal band saws are faster and offer higher productivity.
Read my band saw guide to learn more about this power tool.
10. Scroll saws
Scroll saws are a highly specialized kind of power saw. Much like band saws, scroll saws work by having two wheels manipulate a band of continuous metal. Scroll saws are highly specialized power saws because they are intended for extremely accurate cutting. If you need to make very intricate cuts or create patterns on wood, then a scroll saw is the tool for you. For this reason, the saw is popular among woodworkers who create wooden toys, wood art, etc.
Should I get a scroll saw if I own a band saw?
As I mentioned before the strength of the scroll saw lies in its ability to cut exceptionally intricate patterns and shapes accurately. It can cut very sharp corners that you can even cut dovetails with a scroll saw. However there is a limit to the thickness of the wood; usually 2 inches that you can cut.
On the other hand, band saw can accommodate much higher thickness which makes it the go-to tool for resawing. Compared to scroll saw band saw also has a higher rate of material removal. However, a scroll saw is a much more precise saw.
More Info: Bandsaw vs Scroll saw comparison.
What are the uses of Scroll Saw?
They are used for cutting patterns, making intarsia, jigsaw puzzles, lettered signs, marquetry, templates, wooden toys, and numerous other crafts.
Further Reading: See my definite guide scroll saw here.
11. Panel Saws
A panel saw is meant for one purpose; to cut larger panels into smaller sections. Panel saws are essentially very large table saws. However, in a panel saw the blade moves across the table along the track to make the cut. In this respect, panel saws are similar to track saw, but they have a very different purpose.
What is a Panel Saw used for?
The main purpose of a panel saw is to slice large wooden boards or other sheet materials to smaller rectangular pieces. They can be used to cut wood, plywood, Oriented strand board (OSB), MDF, laminated sheets, acrylic sheets, etc. You may also change the blade and use it slice aluminum and plastic sheets. Panel saws are commonly used in cabinet making shops where they have to cut huge volume of large panels into smaller boards.
Types of Panel Saws
They are available in two designs; horizontal and vertical. A horizontal panel saw looks similar to a large table saw and takes up a lot of space. On the other hand, a vertical panel saw requires less floor space and hence is a preferred choice for many.
Panel saw vs Other saws
The two rivals of panel saw are table saw and track saw. So let’s see how a panel saw compare to these two. While a regular table saw is meant to cut small to medium-sized pieces of wood, the panel saws are meant to cut large wooden panels. Moving large panels of wood to make the cut is difficult with a regular table saw, but that is where panel saws come in handy. Compared to a table saw or a track saw, a vertical panel saw takes up little space.
Conversely, panel saws cannot be used for making angular cuts. In addition to that, they are not a good choice for cutting boards with a small width.
In short, a panel saw will not replace your table saw. But if you have to cut a lot of large sheets, panel saw is an excellent choice.
12. Rip saws
The term rip saw can be confusing because many people use this interchangeably for hand-saw as well any power saws that can do a rip saw. However since we are discussing the types of power saws, let’s omit the hand tools.
Rip saws are power saws designed to make rip cuts. For those who don’t know what a rip cut is, it is any cut that is made parallel to the wood grain.
Rip saws are a sort of broad category that includes saws that I have already mentioned, such as circular saws. Nevertheless, there are dedicated machines designed to perform straight-line rips cuts. These machines are heavy duty ripping saws that can slice a large amount of lumber in a short time. The Diehl Machines were one of the first to develop the straight line rip saw (SLR).
Who should get a straight line rip saw?
The dedicating ripping saw is for those who produce large volume. For most woodworkers and carpenters a table saw with feeder should work just fine. However, if you are manufacturing in bulk, say 100 plus cabinet doors a week, then get a dedicated straight-line ripping saw. It will save you money in the long run and will last much longer.
13. Track Saws
Track saws are essentially circular saws, but with an added metal track attached. The metal track is designed to enhance the accuracy and stability of the saw.
How does it work?
You will attach the metal track on to the sheet or workpiece. Then plunge the circular saw blade into the work and push forward to cut. Track saws are also known as plunge-cut saws. The riving knife behind the saw blade eliminates kickback producing a smooth cutting action.
Advantages of a Plunge-cut Track Saw
You might be wondering why you should get these kinds of saws which are basically identical to circular saws. Let’s see some of the advantages of this saw.
- First of all track saws are not just a circular saw with a straight edge. Unlike a straight edge, there is no sideways movement or jerk in case of a track saw. It can only move forward or backward along the precision track. This enables the track saw to produce perfectly straight cuts.
- You can cut much wider boards than your average table saw can handle. For example, if you want to cut 4×8-inches plywood sheet, a track saw can be preferred choice.
- Track saws are ideal for long miter cuts where even a sliding compound miter saw or a table saw can reach.
- In many cases, you can use the plunge cut saw without clamping. The rubber grips below the tracks keep the track in position and you can cut most softwoods.
- Unlike a regular circular saw, you can accurately control the depth of cut.
- They are portable compared to a table saw.
Cons: Now that we have seen the benefits, let’s see the disadvantages of a plunge cut track saw.
- The workpiece needs to be stiff to support the track.
- While a track saw provides you the ability to cut straight, the dimension from the edge can be controlled much more precisely on a table saw.
- You can’t use a track saw to do milling operations to produce dados and rabbets.
Further reading: Check my track saw buying guide for the key features to look for.
14. Tile Saws
As the name implies, these kinds of power saws are meant to cut through thick tiles. They can cut ceramic tiles, glass tiles, granites, stones, marbles, and porcelain tiles.
A regular circular saw or table saw cannot cut tiles easily. Because ceramic tiles are hard and brittle and require a special saw. Usually, tile saws are equipped with specialized diamond blades that give them the cutting power necessary to cut through hard material like tiles.
Depending on the type of cut, there are wet tiles saws and dry cutting saw. The advantage of wet tile saw is that it will keep both the blade and the workpiece from over-heating and thus produces a clean cut.
15. Flooring saws
Flooring saws are an uncommon, but very useful kind of power saw. As you might guess from the name, they are meant to help you with cutting flooring. Flooring saw tends to be relatively compact, which allows you to use them in small spaces. Using a flooring saw is simple; you just lay the metal table on the floor put the wood on top, and then glide the blade through the wood.
What is a flooring saw used for?
Flooring saws are very useful for professionals who do a lot of laminated flooring work. For DIY enthusiasts who are doing home remodeling, I would say that a jigsaw would do just fine. The major advantage of a flooring saw is its ability to do rip cuts, miter and crosscuts fairly easily. Furthermore, they are highly portable making it a good choice for building contractors and professionals.
I hope that this guide has helped you understand the complicated world of power saws. This guide is meant to provide a brief introduction to each kind of power saw. I have linked to the web pages with more details on each type of cutting saws. Once you have found the type of saw that is suitable for your work, check out the detailed guide on that particular saw to find out what to look for when buying a new power saw.