A simple but detailed guide to different types of power saws and their uses in woodworking – their pros and cons and which saw to buy.
“I am a beginner woodworker and want to buy my first saw. What saw should I get?” – this is one of the most common questions I get.
When you are starting out with woodworking, the various types of saws can get really confusing. Some seemingly similar projects might call for two different types of saws.
Which saw should you use?
Which saw should you buy?
While I have my favorites and I can definitely tell you which ones I think you should get, I think it will be useful for you to understand the different types of saws available and exactly what they do and how they compare so you can make your own decision. After all, knowledge is power.
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Types of saws
The most common types of power power saws used in woodworking are –
Let’s break them down further to give you a quick overview of each of them –
1. Circular Saw
The main purpose of a circular saw is to make straight cuts in lumber – both cross-cuts (cutting across the grain of the wood) and rip-cuts on plywood (cutting along the grain of the wood and making the board narrower).
Depending on the blade installed – a circular saw can cut plywood, lumber, rigid foam board, concrete, or metal.
They are available in corded and cordless versions. The average price range for a circular saw varies from $40 to $100 making it a very affordable starter saw.
Blades come in sizes ranging from 5″ to 12″ with 7¼” being the standard size. The blade size determines the depth to which you can cut with the saw. Be sure to check what size blade your saw will take before buying.
- It has an encased circular blade and a wide base that fits against your material.
- You can set the depth of your blade for the material you are cutting.
- You can change the angle of the base plate to make bevel cuts too.
- Portable and lightweight – easy to store in a large drawer or closet if needed.
- Less expensive.
- Can be used for making long continuous cuts.
- It works best to cut straight lines but can be used to cut mitered and beveled cuts.
- To ensure a straight cut, you will have to use an additional jig or guide if you aren’t good at cutting straight lines – this is VERY important or the blade can jam leading to a lot of frustration.
- More prone to causing injuries if you don’t follow proper safety guidelines.
Best Circular Saws for Beginners –
- SKIL 7¼” Circular Saw (corded)(Budget-friendly)
- DEWALT 7¼” Circular Saw (cordless)
- Milwaukee 7¼” Circular Saw (cordless) (Pro-quality)
2. Miter saw
A miter saw is a table top saw where the blade is mounted on a moving arm. The arm can move and so can the saw table to help make precise straight or angled cuts.
Depending on the miter saw model you can make a crosscut, miter cut, beveled cut or compound cut.
It is typically priced from $200-$600+ making it one of the mid-range priced saws.
They come in 8, 10, or 12 inch sizes. Other choices are sliding, single-bevel or double-bevel or a combination of all of these. These sizes define the width of the board that can be cut. For example a 10″ miter saw can only cut up to a 8″ wide board. whereas, a sliding 10″ miter saw can cut up to a 12″ wide board.
- Can cut metals, wood, copper, pipe and plastic.
- Blade is housed in a large disk on an adjustable arm that can be raised and lowered and swiveled side to side.
- Can make 4 different types of precision cuts. Crosscuts, miter cut, bevel cut, and compoud cut.
- Has a steel guide called a “fence” at the back to line up material being cut.
- You can work quickly and efficiently with a miter saw.
- Stationary on a table or stand.
- Although being stationary is a good thing, it also has a downside. A miter saw can take up a lot of space in your workshop
- More expensive.
Best Miter Saw for Beginners –
- Ryobi 10″ Compound Sliding Miter Saw (Budget-friendly and great beginner miter saw!)
- Dewalt 12″ double bevel sliding compound miter saw (The best upgrade!)
- BOSCH 12″ miter saw (small footprint – great for small workshops)
Difference between a miter saw and chop saw
A chop saw has an arm that can only go up and down and hence only make straight cross-cuts. A miter saw on the other hand has an arm that can be tilted or slid and the table can be rotated to make angled, beveled and compound cuts.
A lot of people use these terms interchangeably but the truth is that they are different in their capabilities.
A Jigsaw is a very versatile and easy to use saw. It can make cuts in any shape – from straight to intricately detailed shapes. It features a thin blade clamped to the saw which moves up and down and cus through the material.
The average price of a jig saw is between $30 to $200.
It can cut wood, particle board, plastic, metal, and ceramic tile depending on the blade used.
- Can cut any shape
- It has a base plate to help keep the saw level with the workpiece.
- Many Jigsaws have a bevel setting that can help cut angled lines and curves too.
- Can cut any shape you like – straight or curved.
- Can cut a variety of materials.
- It is lightweight and portable and easy to store!
- Depending on the model, the thickness of the material may be limited.
- You will need different blades for different materials
- A jigsaw cuts on the upstroke causing your material will splinter on the top side – hence you want to take that into account while setting up the cut.
Difference between a Jigsaw vs Scroll Saw
Jigsaws and scroll saws are similar in that they are both primarily used to cut curves and shapes. However, a jigsaw is handheld whereas the scroll saw sits on a table. The main difference is in the use – you can use a jigsaw for any types of cuts whereas the scroll saw is more suited for detailed intricate designs.
Best Jigsaw for Beginners –
- RYOBI Corded variable speed Jigsaw (Budget-friendly)
- Bosch Corded Variable speed Jigsaw
- Milwaukee Brushless Jigsaw (Cordless-best upgrade!)
4. Table Saw
A table saw is considered a fairly advanced saw. The blade is mounted in the center of a “table” and spins as you feed material across it to cut.
It can open up possibilities of the kind of cuts you can make – rip, cross-cut, miter cut, square, dado, and rabbet.
Depending on the type and features you want for a table saw, you can expect to spend between $300 to $1200 on a table saw. The price will also depend on whether you buy a stationary or portable one.
- Raise and lower the blade depending on the material you are cutting
- Has a fence parallel to the cutting blade making it easy to get the perfect straight cut.
- Can cut plywood, hardwood, plastic laminate, and melamine
- A table saw can help you do a vast variety of things if you have the right jig. It opens up a whole world of possibilities for various advanced joinery techniques too!
- A table saw can be very dangerous and proper safety measures need to be followed when operating it.
- Whether it’s portable or stationary, it takes up a lot of space in the workshop.
Best Table Saw for Beginners
- RIDGID10″ Table Saw
- DEWALT compact table saw (budget-friendly)
- Sawstops Jobsite saw (THE best and safest table saw)
5. Reciprocating Saw
In simple terms – a reciprocating saw is a power version of a handsaw. The blade makes back and forth motion to achieve the cut. It is not a saw of choice for making precise cuts.
It is more of a demolition tool. It can cut metal, masonry, wood, plaster, fiberglass, stucco, drywall, and much more.
Reciprocating saws average in price from $70 to $130 depending on the brand and corded or cordless model.
- It is lightweight and portable.
- Can be corded or cordless.
- It is a great demolition tool.
- It is a workhorse and will cut through almost anything with the right blade.
- You will need a different blade to cut different materials.
- There is no true universal blade for a reciprocating saw.
- There is no blade guard so safety is a must when using a reciprocating saw.
Best reciprocating saw for beginners
- RYOBI reciprocating saw (budget-friendly)
- DEWALT reciprocating saw(Top pick)
- Milwaukee reciprocating saw (great upgrade)
A bandsaw uses a long band of blade stretched across 2 wheels to cut.
Used a lot for re-sawing or making thicker material into thinner material and can be used to make ornamental pieces and furniture
There are several types of bandsaws – Floor standing, Portable/handheld, bench-top, Meat bandsaw (yes there is one specifically for meat cutters).
Cost ranging from $100 to $5000. Significant investment if buying a stationary bandsaw.
A bench-top band saw is the most popular type of bandsaw for residential and DIY project use. They are more mobile and can be attached to a solid flat surface that is used as the saws stand or base.
- Cutting can be more controlled – bandsaws can cut irregular shapes and make more precise cuts. The blade works in a continuous loop with a cutting direction that is always downwards.
- There is less waste with a bandsaw because the blade is thinner
- Can cut wood, metal and plastic. Can cut material up to 4 inches thick and depending on the size of the band saw even 6 inches thick
- Can be stationary or portable
So what is the best saw to buy?
Now that you have a good overview of each saw’s function, let’s dive into the important question – which saw should I buy?
Best all-around saw for home projects
It comes down to two options for a starter saw – the miter saw and the circular saw. If its general home improvement projects, a circular saw will be a great starting point because of its versatility and price point. Plus, it is easy to store it away.
Best basic saw for the beginner woodworker
For a beginner woodworker, it comes down to 2 choices – the miter saw and the circular saw. The saw you choose will depend on the type of projects you intend to make. Miter saws help make precise cuts – straight or angled. Circular saws help rip plywood in addition to making cuts but can be harder to use for making precise cuts.
In my opinion, a miter saw is a better bet to start off with as it is safer.
Best saw for a woman to use
I get this question a lot and my answer is simple – there is NO saw that a woman CANNOT use! It is all about learning how the saw works and the safety features. Just pull up your hair, roll up your sleeves, put on your safety gear, and go for it! You can do this!
Deciding which saw to buy can be confusing and challenging. Make a decision based on all the features of the saws and what you will be using it for. As a beginner, a circular saw or a miter saw will go a long way depending on if you are primarily planning on tackling home improvement projects or woodworking. Start with one saw and slowly build up your collection as you feel the need.