Power Saws


Power saws usually make up a large portion of most do-it-yourself tool arsenals. The reason for amassing this collection is simple-each type of power saw is used for a unique purpose. Whereas one saw excels at cutting 2 x 4s, another is better suited for cutting plywood, another for making holes and another still for cutting through metal.

In many cases, a homeowner who does his or her own repairs may have no fewer than five or six different saws stored in the basement or garage, awaiting that next project. This buyer's guide will help you learn what types of saws are available and what they're best suited for so you can make an informed decision in finding a power saw for meeting a particular need.

Power Saw Types

Enter any home improvement superstore, and you'll find an endless ocean of power saws to choose from. Yet while there can be literally hundreds of different ones available, any power saw usually tends to fall under the umbrella of one of the following twelve types:

Band saws - Band saws feature a serrated metal band held in place by two pulleys. The pulleys rotate the band, or blade, in a circular motion. The user manually feeds the material to be cut into the blade. Band saws have different blades for different cutting purposes, so if you're cutting wood followed by a piece of light metal, the blade will have to be changed in order to properly cut the metal.

Band saws come in a wide variety of styles and types, including large floor-standing models and smaller tabletop versions. The most common type used by homeowners is the tabletop horizontal band saw, but other types include these:

  • Vertical band saws
  • Industrial band saws
  • Wood band saws

Table saws - A table saw is commonly recognized by professionals as one of the most useful saws in their collection because it is the one saw that sizes the wood to the proper width necessary for the job at hand. As its name indicates, a table saw features a large, circular saw located in the center of the table that can be raised or lowered for customizing cutting depths.

The table saw is used for repetitive cutting of long pieces of lumber or panels, and because of its adjustable blade, it's also used for cutting grooves or slots on molding and other types of wood. Table saws come in a variety of sizes but typically in two types:

  • Stand table saws
  • Sliding table saws

Chain saws - A chain saw is instantly identifiable from horror movies, but it has been the tool of choice for felling trees for years. Chain saws feature a cutting chain that is driven by a drive mechanism that rotates the chain along a guide bar. It is used for bucking trees and cutting limbs and other types of woodland foliage.

Specialized chain saws are made specifically for cutting concrete or brick. Chain saws vary in chain length and horsepower and come in a variety of styles, including the following:

  • Electric chain saws
  • Gas-powered chain saws
  • Cordless chain saws

Miter saws - Miter saws are used for making accurate crosscuts on wood commonly used in framing or molding applications. A miter saw features an adjustable miter index by which the saw can be adjusted by one-degree increments to make precise angular cuts.

Compound miter saws feature an adjustable cutting blade in addition to the horizontal base for more sophisticated bevel cutting, while slide miter saws feature a blade that can be moved along the cutting plane for making cuts that are longer than the blade's diameter.

Circular saws - Circular saws are similar in premise to table saws and miter saws but are of the hand-held variety. These saws are typically used to cut wood or plywood, but blades are available for cutting other materials as well.

Because a circular saw is controlled by hand, precision should not be an essential requirement when cutting with one. The most common types of circular saws are power circular saws and cordless, battery-powered circular saws. Other types include these:

  • Metal circular saws
  • Laser circular saws
  • Circular table saws
  • Circular jigsaws

Hole saws - Hole saws are more of a power drill accessory; however, they do fall under the power saw category. They come available in a wide range of sizes and can be used to drill holes through relatively thin pieces of wood, plastic or metal. Diamond-tipped blades are available for drilling through glass, concrete, brick or stone.

Hole saws feature a drill bit that extends beyond the cutting cylinder. The drill bit works as a pilot hole and guideline for the hole-cutting cylinder. The following hole saws are recommended for specific jobs:

  • Wood hole saws
  • Metal hole saws
  • Carbide hole saws
  • Diamond hole saws
  • Bi-metal hole saws

Tile saws - As the name suggests are used for cutting tiles. Similar to a table saw, a tile saw is useful only for cutting tile because in order to make clean, smooth edges in thick, brittle ceramic tiles, the saw has to use a rather dull blade that is continually being rinsed by water.

Tile saws include a reservoir and a water pump that recycles the water over the blade as it cuts through the tile. The most common type of tile saw is the wet tile saw, although tile hole saws are available for cutting holes in ceramic tiles.

Jigsaws - A jigsaw is a common power tool in the do-it-yourselfer's tool arsenal. It is perfect for cutting curves in wood, light metal or other thin materials for customized pieces. Blades can be easily changed to accommodate materials.

In many cases, the jigsaw's cutting blade follows a stencil or customized design that a standard saw is incapable of maneuvering around. A jigsaw features a thin, reciprocating blade that allows for arbitrary cutting. At one time called a scroll saw, modern jigsaws are also sold under the name "bayonet saw." Available in a variety of types and sizes, the family of jigsaws includes the following:

  • Top handle jigsaws
  • Cordless jigsaws
  • Laser jigsaws
  • Metal jigsaws
  • Heavy-duty jigsaws
  • Electric jigsaws

Reciprocating saws - A reciprocating saw is a larger version of a jigsaw that's used for cutting through stronger, denser materials, like metal or wood beams. Also called a sabre saw and recipro saw, this type of saw is a common tool used in construction and demolition work. It features a thicker blade that reciprocates back-and-forth and variable speeds. Reciprocating saws are available in different varieties, including these:

  • Cordless reciprocating saws
  • Heavy-duty reciprocating saws
  • Air-powered reciprocating saws
  • Variable speed reciprocating saws
  • Amp reciprocating saws

Chop saws - Chop saws are essentially another type of miter saw. These types of saws are used primarily for cutting bars, pipe, form channels and structures.

Cut-off saws - Cut-off saws are similar to chop saws in that they are used to cut harder materials like dense, thick metals, such as steel. This type of saw features an abrasive cutting blade that's more like a grinding wheel than a serrated saw blade.

Portable saws - Using the latest in high-powered rechargeable battery technology, most traditional power saws are available in cordless versions for increased flexibility. In most cases, cordless saws are slightly more expensive than traditional powered saws, but many manufacturers make batteries that can be shared among their line of products for increased convenience.

Portable saws come available in a range of voltages with the most common being 18, 28 and 36 volts. The following saws are available in portable, cordless versions:

  • Portable band saws
  • Portable table saws
  • Portable mill saws
  • Portable cut-off saws
  • Portable panel saws
  • Portable circular saws
  • Portable power saws