How to choose the right saw for the job – Mother Earth News


Using a rip fence to guide a piece of wood on a table saw allows for a straight and precise cut.



A scroll saw is used to cut circles or curves.



For quick, rough cuts (like cutting a tree branch), a bow saw is a good choice.





Choosing the best saw for a particular job involves several factors: the material you are cutting, the precision of the cut, whether you are cutting a straight line or a curve, and how fast you want to get the job done. Here’s a quick look at some of the more common types of saws.

Hand saws

A cut-off saw
(and a shorter version called box saw) is the saw most people think of when they think of a handsaw. Its main purpose is to cut the wood in the direction of the grain. A rip saw looks like but has larger teeth and is used for cutting along the grain (splitting a board lengthwise, for example).

Scroll saws are shaped like a “P” and are used to cut circles or irregular shapes in wood. The blades are quite thin and narrow so they don’t bond between the wood as the blade cuts a curved shape. Scroll saws are often used to cut woodwork so that it fits into the corners of a room. Due to the frame of the saw, cuts cannot be made more than about 6 inches from the edge of the wood.

If you need to make a straight, precise cut (like those used to make a thin wood joint), consider a back saw.
(or miter saw). The rear saws have an additional metal brace on the top to keep the blade straight. They are often used with a miter gauge or box that guides the saw to make angled cuts, such as those used in making photo frames (45 degree angles).

Hacksaws have small teeth, so they don’t remove a lot of material with each stroke. They are especially useful for cutting hard materials such as metal or pipes. The narrow blade of a hacksaw is held taut by a metal frame with a handle perpendicular to the blade.

For a rough and quick cut (pruning a tree, cutting a fallen branch, etc.), a bow saw is an excellent choice. The large teeth of these D-shaped saws cut wood quickly, but do not make precise cuts.

Hole saws are used to saw small holes or curves in wood. They were originally used to punch small holes in doors so that a metal lock could be incorporated into the door. Today people use them more frequently to punch holes for electrical boxes in drywall.

Electric saws

Circular saws have a round blade powered by an electric motor. They can be equipped with several types of blades, including a versatile blade for making cross cuts and splitting wood.

If you are looking for an electric version of a scroll saw to make cuts that are not straight, choose a jigsaw.
(also called saber saw). These saws sit on a flat metal foot and have a small, narrow blade that moves up and down quickly to cut wood. You can also find special blades for other materials. Pressing the foot of a jigsaw against the material you are cutting keeps the blade perpendicular. Because jigsaws don’t have a frame like a scroll saw, cuts can be made far from the edge of the wood.

The cutting action of a reciprocating saw is similar to that of a jigsaw, but reciprocating saws have smaller feet and are generally more powerful. These saws cut in fairly tight spaces and are versatile enough for rough construction projects, such as framing a house.

To cut small and precise curves, scroll saws combine a table with a small blade. Scroll saws are used to cut wooden toys, elaborate decorations for shelves or cabinets and other “scroll work”.

Table saws are used to cut straight lines and angular cuts for woodworking projects. While multipurpose blades are available, you can purchase blades specifically designed for ripping or cutting wood. When cutting the length of a board, a rip fence is a fence used to hold wood a specific distance from the blade of a table saw. A miter gauge or fence is used to hold the lumber at an angle or perpendicular to the blade. The saw blade can also be rotated to cut at an angle as the wood slides across the table. Additionally, you can add dado blades (a series of thick blades) to cut wide grooves.

Miter saws are like a circular saw held by a metal arm. The blade can be tilted and rotated to cut compound tabs (cutting angles on two planes of a board) – a very useful feature for cutting more intricate moldings or photo frame corners. Instead of moving lumber on a table above a blade, when using a miter saw the lumber is held stationary and the saw moves. This same type of saw, when designed for cutting metal, is generally referred to as a jigsaw.

Tile saws may be similar in design to a table saw or miter saw, but the blade is designed to cut tiles and is water cooled.

The teeth of band saws are cut into a metal strip that spins on two wheels. You can tear planks or cut angles on a bandsaw. Since the strips are generally narrower than the planks, you waste a little less wood. Band saws are especially useful for sawing wood, for example cutting a 2 by 6 into two 1 by 6.

Chain saws have teeth on each link of a narrow chain that runs over a metal bar with a rounded end. They can be powered by gas engines or electric motors. Chainsaws make wide and coarse cuts, so they are mainly used for cutting down trees, making firewood, and pruning large branches. Some chainsaws can be attached to a special bar so that they work like a small sawmill.

Posted on April 2, 2008

Elizabeth J. Harless