A saw is a common manual or powered tool used to cut through wood, metal, plastic, or a variety of other materials depending on the type of saw. Saws are tools that have been used for millennia, so it should come as no surprise that there are many different types with specialized designs intended for specific purposes. By learning about the various saw types, you can discover how to use these tools properly. Knowing the right tool for the job helps to ensure that you get the best results for DIY projects.
Manual saws come in a range of options that are great for precision cuts in many materials or rough cuts, like trimming shrubs or cutting down trees. Power saws save time and effort by providing the driving force behind the saw with the push of a button or the squeeze of a trigger. However, there are significant dangers involved with using power saws, so it's important to learn more about these tools before trying to using them. Take a look at these 15 types of saws and keep reading to discover how to choose a saw for your next project.
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- Best for: Cutting through metal or plastic
The small, sharp teeth on a hacksaw are primarily designed for hacking through copper, iron, or lead pipes, though they can also be used on plastic. Hacksaws are not usually used on wood because the thin blade often gets caught between the two sides. It should also be mentioned that using a hacksaw on wooden material can damage the blades, so it's recommended to stick to cutting metal and plastic with a hacksaw. You can recognize this saw by the metal C-frame and the thin blade held in under tension by bolts at either end of the frame. If you will be tackling any plumbing projects in the future, it's a good idea to have a hacksaw nearby in case your pipe cutter blade chips.
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- Best for: Making rough cuts in wood, trimming branches, cutting lumber and small trees
A classic type of manual saw, crosscut saws are commonly used for maintaining trees, shrubs, and hedges. This type of saw is characterized by the large rows of teeth and the relatively thick blade that helps the saw cut through thick logs and tree trunks. Crosscut saws are often seen during the holiday season when families head out to cut down Christmas trees, though they can also be used to cut through pieces of lumber. The two-person crosscut saws are less frequently seen, but perhaps more instantly recognizable with a handle at either end that allows two people to saw through large diameter trees.
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- Best for: Punching holes and cutting drywall or paneling
A standard professional dry waller's tool, the drywall saw or wallboard saw has a narrow, pointed nose that is made for punching small holes through soft material, like drywall and paneling. It has a short, wide blade with thick teeth that can cut through drywall with little effort, allowing the user to make accurate, precise cuts. This is essential for cutting out holes in the drywall for electrical outlets or access panels without making the opening too large. Drywall saws are typically used with one hand and they can have teeth on just one side of the blade or on both the top and bottom of the blade for a double-sided cut.
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Bow Cut Saw
- Best for: Pruning trees and cutting logs or pieces of lumber
Similar to a crosscut saw, bow cut saws are designed for cutting through tough pieces of lumber, rough logs, and small trees. They are also commonly used during the holidays when individuals head out to cut down Christmas trees. The rest of the year, bow cut saws are typically found in DIYer garages, workshops, and sheds, unless they are needed to prune trees in the yard or maintain unruly bushes and hedges. These saws look similar to hacksaws because they have a metal handle that extends across the entire length of the blade, though the shape of the handle is generally curved more towards one end than the other, instead of the uniform C-shape of a hacksaw handle.
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- Best for: Portability and cutting through stone, metal, wood, plastic, and ceramics
Anytime a saw is powered by an electric motor, it adds an extra element of danger that needs to be accounted for before you start to work. This is true for all power saws, though it's especially important for portable saws, like a circular saw, because the motion of the powered blade can cause the saw to be pulled out of the user's hands. To help support and keep a firm grip on this saw, circular saws are made with a front handle and a rear handle where the trigger is located.
These saws have a large, circular blade and a flat, adjustable plate that acts as both a guard and partial support for the bulk of the saw while the blade cuts through the target material. Circular saws can be used with a range of different blades to cut through stone, metal, wood, plastic, or ceramics.
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- Best for: Making several identical angled or mitered cuts in wood, metal, or masonry
Commonly mistaken for compound miter saws or chop saws, miter saws have a base that is made to sit on a workbench or table. Material can then be placed on top of this base and a large circular blade is pulled down to cut through the material. This is also how a chop saw works, but the difference between a chop saw and a miter saw is that the fence and saw can both be adjusted on a miter saw to allow you to make mitered cuts and angled cuts at varying degrees. Once you find the correct angle, just lock the saw and fence in place and you can use the miter saw to replicate this exact cut with multiple pieces of wood.
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- Best for: Cutting multiple pieces of lumber in quick succession with a vertical downward cut
As mentioned, miter saws, compound miter saws, and chop saws are often confused because they have the same basic design. However, chop saws are more basic in their movement than miter saws or compound miter saws because they are only made to cut vertically. Most chop saws are made to cut only at a 90-degree angle to the material on the base, though some models have an adjustable fence that allows the saw to make mitered cuts with the large, circular blade. These saws can be packed into a work truck to take to the job site, but they are large enough that you may prefer to leave them set up on a workbench or work table.
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Compound Miter Saw
- Best for: Enhanced control and versatility while making straight, mitered, angled, and compound cuts
Compound miter saws stand apart from standard miter saws and chop saws because they feature a large, circular cutting blade attached to an arm, instead of a pivoting lever. This allows the user to make more accurate adjustments to the saw for straight, mitered, angled, and compound cuts through wood, plastic, metal, masonry, and composite materials. Just make sure to equip the right blade before trying to cut through stone, brick, or metal.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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- Best for: Portability and freehand cuts for curves, angles, or irregular shapes
One of the more versatile saws on this list, a jigsaw consists of a rectangular or square body with a top handle and a small, rectangular blade that extends down vertically from near the front of the saw. This blade moves up and down rapidly in a vertical sawing motion. Use one hand to direct the blade through horizontal material in order to cut curves, angles, spirals, and any other irregular shapes or patterns. Typically, these saws are made for cutting through wood, paneling, or drywall, though they can be equipped with different blades that can handle metal, tile, or ceramic.
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- Best for: Measured, accurate vertical cuts through wood, metal, or plastic
Band saws are large, stationary tools that are common in woodworking workshops because they have a thin, vertical cutting blade with fine teeth that can cut through a range of materials. Place the target material on the band saw table and adjust the fence or guide to lead the material through the blade. Unlike a table saw, when you cut with a band saw you don't need to worry as much about kickback. Cut through wood, metal, and plastic with ease, but just make sure to pay attention so your fingers are well away from the blade while you work.
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- Best for: Adjustable blade depth and accurate, lengthwise cuts
Trying to balance an 8-foot by 4-foot sheet of wood on a couple of sawhorses to make lengthwise cuts with a circular saw is incredibly difficult, dangerous, and inefficient. However, for many DIYers, this make-shift solution is worth trying because they don't have a table saw. While table saws take up a lot of space in a workshop, they also provide DIYers with a broad, flat surface to place material for measurements and larger pieces of wood, metal, or plastic can be pushed through the table saw blade to make straight, lengthwise cuts. Table saws have a circular blade that protrudes up from the table's surface. The height of the blade can also be adjusted for deeper or more shallow cuts.
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- Best for: Portability and freehand cuts through metal, or wood
Reciprocating saws are portable options with a long body and a short, thin blade that moves back and forth in a rapid reciprocating motion. These small saws are common on busy worksites, where they can be used to cut through wooden studs, slice through metal pipe, or saw through plastic. Reciprocating saws require a lot of control and precision on the part of the user to prevent the blade from jumping or bending. Opt for a corded model for more power or go with cordless for superior maneuverability. Keep a firm grip on a reciprocating saw or the blade can catch on the edge of the target surface, causing it to bend or break.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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- Best for: Cutting logs, felling trees, and pruning large hedges or shrubs
While many DIYers will have a circular saw, reciprocating saw, and even a miter saw or chop saw, a chainsaw isn't traditionally counted among common DIYer woodworking tools. However, given the rising popularity of chainsaw carving, this categorization may change, but until that point, chainsaws are better described as powered garden tools. They are used for pruning trees, shrubs, and hedges while maintaining a garden, though chainsaws are also made to cut clean through tree trunks, which is essential for safely removing old, dying trees. Chainsaws cut through rough wood with a linked chain that rapidly rotates around a piece of steel. The chain has specialized teeth that cut through the wood, allowing this machine to fell trees and cut lumber.
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Wet Tile Saw
- Best for: Cutting flooring or wall tiles
Saw blades can heat up quickly when they are cutting through tough materials, like rock or tile. In order to prevent damage to the saw blade without sacrificing cutting power, a wet tile saw cools the blade with water. These saws are designed for cutting through tiles without chipping or cracking them, making them a necessary addition for renovating bathrooms or installing kitchen backsplashes. Wet tile saws range in size, though most models are small enough to be moved around a job site or packed into a vehicle for easy transportation.
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- Best for: Pruning trees and trimming hedges at tall heights
Climbing a ladder with a chainsaw is generally considered a bad idea because you cannot grip the ladder properly while maintaining your balance or grip on the saw. So, to prune tall trees and hedges, it's necessary to use a pole saw. These garden tools look like small chainsaws mounted on an extendable pole. The long blade can cut through sticks, leaves, and small branches, while the user remains safely on the ground operating the saw with controls located on the handle. Pole saws can be corded electric, gas-powered, battery-powered, or manual depending on your preference.
Choosing a Saw
Before starting a project, you need to determine the tools that are necessary to complete the job. Saws are used to cut through wood, metal, plastic, and other materials, but not every saw is intended for every type of material. For instance, a chainsaw is ideal for cutting through a tree, but you wouldn't want to use it for cutting tiles. So, when you are selecting a saw, consider the material it is capable of cutting before proceeding.
You will also need to think about the type of cuts you want to make. Jigsaws, circular saws, and reciprocating saws are all portable power saws, but they are used to make different types of cuts. Similarly, chop saws make straight, vertical cuts, while miter saws or compound miter saws can make straight, angled, or mitered cuts.
It's also recommended to factor in the maneuverability of a saw. Many manual saws can be maneuvered freely, allowing you to make precise, detailed cuts, but you need to maneuver the material instead of the saw when you are dealing with large stationary power saws, like band saws or table saws.