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Whether using hand tools or power tools for your next woodworking or metal project, there’s no getting around one essential: the humble saw. As one of the essential tools of every woodworker’s arsenal, choosing the right saw for the job will make your projects easier and more satisfying.
To give you a head start on figuring out which saws can be used for which types of jobs, we’ve put together this guide to 21 styles of saws and their uses. By examining their qualities and features with us, you’ll better understand why each saw was created – and what sort of project it’s meant for.
Whether a small home woodworking project or a larger construction job, you’ll be fully prepared to choose the right saw for the job.
While more and more handymen are turning to power tools for their convenience and accuracy, hand saws give a feel for your materials that can increase accuracy and encourage the production of a sophisticated finished product. They’re the go-to of experienced woodworkers for small projects, and a pleasure to use.
A basic hand saw is a staple for home toolboxes. Hand saws have long, flexible blades with teeth slightly offset to allow for continuous sawing.
Depending on the type of job it’s intended for, a hand saw will have different types of teeth:
With hardened teeth fused to a flexible steel back, hacksaws are more suited for metalworking than woodworking. They’re the ideal saw for cutting thick metals, such as bars and tubes.
Better known as a lumberjack saw, two-person crosscut saws have a leading edge that leans back slightly and sharpened at an angle to form a precise edge and tip. Each tooth acts like a knife to score the wood, allowing sawdust to fall out as the blade passes by. They’re the right choice for cutting joints or sawing a plank to length.
Sometimes you can find pruning saws mounted to the end of poles for working on tree limbs, but as a hand tool, it’s great for reaching low-hanging branches or a line of dense vines. Designed specifically for use in managing trees and shrubs, pruning saws have many more teeth per inch than comparably sized saws. With a curved handle and blade, they can make quick work of trimming branches even in hard-to-reach areas.
Narrow blades are fitted to a small, lightweight frame in the bow saw. This makes them perfectly suited to making curved cuts, as they can be turned 360 degrees to move frames out of the way. At 8 to 12 inches long, they’re hardy enough to saw through thick sections of solid wood.
Exceptionally useful for camping and backpacking, folding saws also see use around the house as a convenient and space-saving option for pruning. Lightweight and compact, the best folding saws feature razor teeth that make short work of small branches.
Folding saws are often called “camping saws” but it’s important to note that not all folding saws are necessarily for camping, where space and weight are premium assets. If you’re looking for a camping saw, it should be portable and foldable. Especially useful for trimming trees and dividing firewood at your campsite, we’re a big fan of models that come with a sheath and non-slip grip.
Japan has a robust tradition of developing specialized saws for every job imaginable. The common characteristic for all Japanese saws is that they cut on the pull stroke rather than the push that is common in Western blades. This means the blades can be made much thinner, allowing for virtually no tearing of the grain.
The fret saw takes its name from the type of work it’s made for – latticework, from the French word for lattice, “freter”. A variation on the bow saw designed for cutting tight curves, fret saws are appropriate for very intricate work. Their fragile blades are equipped with up to 32 teeth per inch, making them both more accurate and more fragile. The name “fret saw” is sometimes used interchangeably with “scroll saw”.
With relatively thin blades and small, finely set teeth, back saws can be used for precise work. A heavy strip of brass or steel wrapped over the top edge of the blade helps to keep the blade straight, and the extra weight makes for easier cutting with less force applied. They are available in a variety of lengths and handle styles, variously referred to as tenon saws, dovetail saws, bead saws, and blitz saws.
Veneer saws are for small, fast work. Their blade size gives them a very limited range, but within that range, they can work quickly and deliver very smooth results. Just make sure that you keep the teeth clean of debris. Used with the aid of a straight edge, these saws can cut square-edged wood perfect for butt-joining matched veneers. Their reversible double-edged blades have fine teeth with no set.
Like the fret saw, blades of the coping saw are held under tension by their metal frames, and usually, measure 6 inches long. They’re most useful for cutting curves in solid wood.
Because of how narrow the blades are (with 15 to 17 teeth per inch), coping saws are unable to be sharpened and must be replaced when dull.
With a dagger-like point on the front of the blade, the keyhole saw – also called a pad saw, jab saw, or drywall saw – is used for cutting small, awkward shapes. Available with either a fixed or a retractable blade, they can make comparable cuts to the more popular electric jigsaw.
Specifically designed for cutting drywall, wallboard saws have teeth on both sides of a long, slender blade. A pointed tip allows for piercing cuts without drilling a pilot hole. Look for hardened or tempered blades to extend the lifespan of these hard-working saws.
Also known as a “butcher’s saw”, handheld bone saws have a similar design as the common hacksaw. Unsurprisingly, they are used for cutting through bones – most commonly by deer and other big game hunters. Look for all stainless-steel construction to prevent corrosion from animal blood.
This is an all-purpose woodworking saw that cuts with the wood grain, as opposed to crosscut saws that cut across the grain. Intended for rougher cuts and board sizing, the tooth edge is flat and carves out material with each push or pull, almost like a chisel. We like rip cut saws with a tapered end, as it reduces the friction you’ll experience while cutting.
A favorite of survivalists and ultralight backpackers, wire saws are similar to reciprocating or band saws in their use of abrasion to cut wood, rather than saw teeth. Handheld models are extremely lightweight but can take a long time and a lot of effort to complete even small cuts. Look for models that have comfortable handles, or else your fingers will take a real beating.
Favored by hobbyists and model train enthusiasts, the razor saw features finely pitched crosscut teeth that can make clean cuts in very soft woods used for model trains, planes, and boats. Unlike other members of the backsaw family, razor saws are often used to cut plastics and soft metals as well as soft woods.
Referring to the framework carcass of a cabinet – not an animal – the carcass saw is remarkably similar to a tenon saw. Their stiff blades make them useful for precise cuts across wood grain thanks to their crosscut filed teeth. It’s a particularly specialized saw that’s meant for smaller work than a tenon saw can handle accurately.
Take the chain off a standard gas-powered chainsaw, split it at one point, and add handles at both ends, and you have the basics of a pocket chainsaw. Like the wire saw, it’s a favorite of survivalists and backpackers thanks to its lightweight and compact design. They’re slightly heavier than wire saws, but cut using teeth rather than friction – making them faster and easier to use.
This beast of convenience is basically a folding or pruning saw on the end of a long stick. It allows you to reach high places for light to medium duty branch and brush cutting. The manual pole saw will give you a solid workout. Most people are now investing in gas or electric pole saws.
Power tools have led the way in building technology, making projects faster and easier to accomplish with minimal strain and effort. From tabletop to battery-powered, electric saws can make even the largest projects quicker and easier. The following 25 types of saws will keep you covered from the most intricate to the heaviest jobs.
Property owners with a lot of trees probably have a chainsaw in the shed. Since the development of the first industrial chain saw in 1918, they’ve been used for felling trees of all sizes. Chainsaws with electric motors can be powered either by a battery or a power cord and tend to vibrate less than gasoline-powered models. This makes them a popular choice for reducing fatigue on jobs that require a long duration of chain saw work.
Miter saws are designed for making angled cuts. A miter is a joint cut between two pieces of wood by cutting equally angled surfaces at the end of both pieces. Miter saws are equipped with boxes that guide the angles of these cuts, making the production of perfect 45-degree angle cuts quick and easy. They’re an indispensable tool for cutting molding and trim.
A circular saw is the power tool version of the hand saw. Portable circular saws are one of the most convenient ways to bring the utility of a table saw to work on-site. They allow for ripping and crosscutting woods of all types safely and easily and have long been a standby of carpenters and construction workers because of their lightweight and portability.
By changing to different blade types, you can easily use a circular saw for metal, stone, or ceramics as well.
The centerpiece of any well-outfitted woodshop as well as a fixture on many construction and remodeling job sites, table saws know no equal in the power saw world. Consisting of a circular saw blade powered by an electric motor and featuring stable guides, they provide the fastest and most accurate way to make repeated cuts.
Designed to cut curves and details, the jigsaw has a thin blade that can be tracked around a cutout so you get exactly the design you want. Also known as a “saber saw”, jigsaws are a versatile workhorse tool. Equally capable of making straight and curved cuts, their lightweight construction makes them most suitable to thin and man-made boards. Comfortable to use and relatively quiet, they make a good first investment for a small home woodworking setup.
Most often used for heavy construction jobs, reciprocating saws take the design of a jigsaw and orient it onto a handle that allows for vertical work. They’re especially useful in cutting drywall when accuracy is not as much of a concern. Technically, “reciprocating saw” can refer to any blade that cuts with a back-and-forth motion but is most often understood to mean this saw used in construction.
A band saw is kind of like a jigsaw connected to a table. Band saw blades are a continuous loop of metal that is driven over two or three wheels. Unlike tables saws, there is no danger of kickback in using a band saw. While it may not rip or crosscut as cleanly as a radial arm saw, its safety has made it a popular choice among cautious woodworkers. Also, band saws run relatively quietly and can make a good addition to any workshop located in a quiet neighborhood.
Used for cutting precise, intricate curves in almost any material, scroll saws have fine blades and variable operating speeds that make them perfectly suited for delicate work. The name of this saw comes from its traditional use in making scrollwork, or wooden ornaments that featured waves and curls.
Originally designed for use in making drywall cut-outs without a pilot hole, the rotating blade of this spiral cut rotary saw quickly became popular in fire and rescue as well as medical contexts. For home or professional use, they’re still most commonly used for clean and accurate drywall work.
Also known as a “pole chainsaw” or “pole pruner,” the pole saw is useful for trimming branches in hard-to-reach areas that would be unsafe to climb to while holding a chainsaw. Depending on the model, they can extend to be anywhere from 8 to 15 feet long.
These stationary saws only move up and down, differentiating them from the miter saw that can make angled cuts. Mostly, you’ll find specialized chop saws in metal shops, as woodworkers will prefer the versatility of miter saws to the extreme vertical precision and power of a chop saw.
Designed specifically to allow you to cut flooring at the same site as your installation, flooring saws combine some of the capabilities of miter and table saws in a portable package. Thick rubber feet give these saws stability while preventing any damage to your newly installed flooring. They’re excellent for saving time and effort during flooring jobs but tend to be less accurate than a dedicated table saw.
Also known as a plunge saw, the track saw is a hyper-specialized version of a handheld circular saw. They run on a guide rail during operation, allowing for long and accurate cuts at a pre-determined depth. Some woodworkers favor them over circular saws thanks to their ability to reduce splintering and tear-out, making for a more polished final product.
Used for making crosscuts, miters, and bevels by pulling a mounted circular blade downward, these stationary compound miter saws see frequent use in cutting trim. As opposed to a traditional miter saw, compound miter saws can tilt the head and blade at an angle to the workpiece, allowing for the addition of bevel cuts.
Variously named as a concrete saw, road saw, slab saw, or masonry saw, a diamond saw blade is necessary for the heavy-duty work that these saws encounter. The most common varieties are handheld and resemble a circular saw, but rarely you’ll also find stationary chop saws. Because of the added friction experienced when cutting stone, many masonry saws will use water to cool the blade and reduce airborne dust.
A precursor to the powered miter saw, these saws operate via a circular saw mounted on a movable horizontal arm. While they were considered high technology in the 1920s, by the 1970s miter saws had begun to replace them due to the radial arm saw’s reputation for being dangerous to operate. Though still manufactured today, they’ve fallen out of favor in comparison to the more affordable portable miter saws available today.
Integrating a water reservoir or distribution system into a small, mounted circular saw blade, wet tile saws make it easy to cut tile quickly and accurately to whatever measurement you need. Their ability to leave smooth, clean edges makes them the choice of professional tile setters, but their utility is limited outside of this application.
Given the moniker of “Multi-Tool” by home DIY enthusiasts and professional remodelers alike, the oscillating saw is a lightweight and easy to use tool that excels in small spaces and tight corners. A variety of blades can be used to make it suitable for cutting through wood, metal, plastic, drywall, tile, and cement. It’s an excellent choice for smaller jobs, but not appropriate for making accurate longer cuts.
A more specialized version of a table saw, the panel saw does just one thing: cut large sheets to size. They’re one of the biggest pieces of woodworking equipment that anyone is likely to own, and are rarely found outside of professional woodshops or cabinetry operations.
Circular saws that are designed specifically for use in cutting metal, cold saws come in both handheld and stationary models. Using a slower rotational speed and toothed blades made of thermal-resistant materials that allow them to stay cool, they are most often used by sheet metal roofers.
Using an abrasive disk rather than a toothed saw wheel, abrasive saws are available in handheld, tabletop, and walk-behind models. They specialize in grinding through hard materials like concrete and metal and are a versatile tool for heavy-duty construction and demolition job sites.
Resembling a combination of a handheld circular saw and a downward-mounted chainsaw, the chain beam saw is specifically designed to make the work of timber framers and log builders faster and more efficient. They are quite expensive but offer unparalleled ease and accuracy for cutting big wooden beams.
This relative newcomer to the handheld saw market offers a specialized take on the classic circular saw, the straight flush saw allows for cuts directly adjacent to posts, studs, headers, and more. A recessed mounting point for the circular saw blade allows for this zero-clearance cutting style, often eliminating the need for using a reciprocating saw to clean up after a circular saw.
It’s hard to get much more niche than the handheld toe-kick saw – a small, flush-cutting circular saw that lets you cut under the toe-kick panels of cabinets so you can remove the flooring without removing the cabinet. They’re so specific, in fact, that it may be more efficient to rent one rather than buy one.
Used for cutting narrow grooves in walls made of hard materials, these “wall chasers” are most often used for laying electrical cable. Wall cutters are equipped with a pair of abrasive discs that make them capable of grinding through concrete and metal.
Sometimes called an “undercut saw”, the jamb saw is another hyper-specialized tool that’s used for cutting out a small section of door jamb or molding. That way, you can lay flooring flush with the wall rather than the jamb or molding. It’s another saw that’s often better to rent than to own.
Part saw and part gluing box, a biscuit joiner can be used in making edge-to-edge or perpendicular joints. A circular saw blade cuts a hole in opposite edges of two pieces of wood, where a wooden “biscuit” is covered with glue and inserted before clamping the boards together. The resulting joints are typically as strong as mortise and tenon joints.
A modified version of the biscuit joiner produced by power tool legend Festool, the domino joiner cuts mortises to be filled with proprietary Festool brand tenons. They allow for quick joinery in commercial carpentry, and produce a stronger joint than a biscuit joiner – but are more expensive and tend to produce a lot of noise and dust.
We saved the most ridiculous saw for last – the electric hand saw. This virtually worthless saw offers all the inconvenience of a hand saw with none of the results. There isn’t any conceivable job that couldn’t be handled better by one of the above hand or power tools. It’s nice to know that it exists, but we really can’t think of a reason for it.
That’s a rap on our comprehensive look at the saws currently available and in use today. Do you think we missed one? Send us a message and let us know!