Power or electric saws have made the lives of us woodworkers and DIYers much easier. There are many different types of electric saws, and for a beginner, the extremely wide variety can be quite overwhelming.
In this guide, we’ll go through the most common types of electric saws and talk about what each saw is good for. You will find that some saws are far more versatile than others!
Power saws can be split into three broad categories depending on how the blade moves:
- Rotating blades
- Reciprocating blades
- Circulating blades
Before we get into the different types of power saws, it’s important to understand the distinction between electric and hand saws.
Electric vs Hand Saws
Hand saws are saws that don’t need any power to function. The power comes from within! There are actually a ton of different hand saws, too.
All seasoned woodworkers will have at least one hand saw in their toolkit. It’s very useful for general cutting here and there. The toothed blade cuts through material when you move it back and forth, much like a serrated knife.
Realistically, though, you’ll use power saws for most of your work. Electric saws are much quicker and much more accurate than hand saws.
Power saws require electricity, and this can come in the form of a battery or directly from your wall outlet. Corded tools have the advantage of being more powerful and not running out of power!
Cordless tools are very useful if you need to move around a lot and may need to work outside where there is no easy access to a power outlet.
Types of Electric Saws
As mentioned above, there are many different types of electric saws. Some are more all-purpose than others, so as a beginner woodworker, it’s better to pick up a saw that can be used for multiple cuts. Then, as you progress, you can invest in more specialized tools.
To make things simpler, we’ll start with the most versatile saws, then move on to more specialized tools.
1. Table Saws
Arguably the most versatile type of power saw out there is the table saw. Nearly all woodworkers get their start with a table saw, and the different levels of table saws available make them essential tools for everyone from the weekend woodworker all the way up to contractors.
Table saws are very straightforward by design: they’re simply a platform with a rotating blade, and you push a piece of wood along the table into the blade to cut with it.
You can switch out the blade to cut through different materials.
Table saws are nearly universally used by woodworkers. You can use it to rip boards, make crosscuts, and even cut at angles using miter gauges. Some models even let you bevel cut with rotating blades.
- Can make a wide variety of cuts
- Very powerful
- Available as portable models too
- Not very portable: large table saws take up an entire workshop
- Miter gauges are only good for simple miter cuts
- Very powerful, but exposed blade has safety concerns
2. Circular saws
The next workhorse saw is the circular saw. Like the table saw, the circular saw is a tool that can do nearly every job requried by a woodworker. Circular saws make clean rip and crosscuts through wood and other materials. You can think of a circular saw as a portable table saw!
The main difference is that with a circular saw, the material is stationary and the saw will move, whereas with a table saw, the saw is stationary and the material itself is moved to make the cut.
- All-in-one power tool
- Very portable: great for working in the garage or on site
- Can cut through longer pieces of wood that may be difficult to fit on a table saw
- Precision depends on how steady your hand is
- Needs extra guiderails if you want extreme precision
3. Miter Saws
Miter saws are a little more specialized than table saws or circular saws, but they’re still one of those saws that is enough to own by themselves and not need any other saws for basic woodworking projects.
Miter saws are meant to make a specific type of cut: a miter cut, which is a cut at an angle other than 90 degrees. Think of the way the inside edge of a picture frame is cut. Miter cuts can also make 90 degree crosscuts, but they’re really meant to make miter cuts.
Miter saws come in many different varieties: basic miter saws can just do crosscuts and miter cuts, and compound saws can make crosscuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts as well.
These saws have a large circular blade that is attached to an arm that can swing down at various angles to make the cut. It’s kind of a cross between a circular saw and a table saw.
Miter saws are essential for making slightly complex cuts such as molding and frames.
- Makes crosscuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts
- Available in many different varities to suit different budgets and uses
- Very powerful
- Table saws can handle crosscuts better, and can also do basic miter cuts
4. Band saws
Band saws move a band of toothed metal up and down. Bandsaws have a work platform and a box on top from which the blade comes down and goes into the table.
The blade moves up and down very quickly, but does not become detached from the top or bottom of the saw at any time.
To use a band saw, you push the piece of wood into the saw blade and make your cuts.
Bandsaws can be used to rip small pieces of lumber, but they are best used for cutting irregular shapes and molding.
This is because the small but powerful blade lets you move the wood around as you want. It’s difficult to cut small curves unless you have a band saw.
You also get vertical and horizontal band saws. Vertical band saws are great for resawing, whereas horizontal band saws work well for smaller and more accurate cuts.
- Great for cutting irregular shapes
- Highly specialized: not needed by everyone
Before you start picturing a character from a popular horror movie, jigsaws are actually very specialized woodworking tools that have a very specific use. They are held like a circular saw, but instead of a circular blade, they have a blade similar to that of a band saw.
The blade goes straight down, letting you work with the saw on a surface in a way similar to how you would iron clothes. Jigsaws are ideal for making curved cuts.
Incidentally, that’s also how the puzzle got its name: you can’t cut those kind of shapes unless you have a jigsaw!
Jigsaws are meant for precision, and the handheld use makes that even easier.
You can cut through wood, metal, tiles, granite, and plastic.
Jigsaws are also the only tools with which you can cut internal profiles. You just need to make a small hole for the jigsaw blade to go in, and you can start cutting.
- Great for specific, curved cuts
- May gather dust if you don’t need to make profile cuts
6. Scroll Saws
Scroll Saws are quite similar to band saws. They also have a small strip of continuous, toothed metal that moves very quickly. While band saws are almost as big as table saws, scroll saws have the footprint of a mite rsaw.
Scroll saws are also meant for making very accurate and intricate cuts like patterns and designs in wood.
The main difference between scroll saws and band saws is that the scroll saw is quite limited to the thickness of the wood it can handle. Band saws can cut much thicker pieces of wood.
Then again, most of your intricate and precision cuts will be in thin pieces of wood anyway.
- Very precise
- Comparatively slower blade for higher precision cuts
- Great for cutting puzzles, signs, marquetry, and the like
- Highly specialized: you’re not going to use it much unless you do a lot of design work
7. Reciprocating Saws
Reciprocating saws are a slightly different breed than the other saws we’ve listed here. While most of the saws above are used for building, reciprocating saws are primarily used for demolition.
Reciprocating saws get their name because of the way the blade moves back and forth. The back and forth movement generates the sawing power that can cut through a wide variety of materials.
Reciprocating saws can be used to cut through wood, bricks, metal, and even for pruning trees. To handle tough materials, you’ll need to use an appropriate blade.
- Can demolish nearly anything with the right blade
- Only good for demolition: a weekend woodworker may not need one
Chainsaws are incredibly powerful monsters of tools that can cut through wood incredibly effectively. It’s not the most accurate tool in the world, but it’s very fast and powerful.
- Can cut through a lot of wood in very little time
- Chainsaws are incredibly dangerous and not recommended for beginners
- Not at all accurate
9. Panel Saws
Panel saws are highly specialized tools that are designed to cut larger panels of wood into smaller ones.
They are very similar to table saws, except the the blade moves along the table to cut the wood. They can handle a lot of different materials and will comfortably cut MDF, acrylic, and even thin aluminum sheets.
One area in which panel saws would be very useful is making cabinets. A panel saw could be used to quickly cut shelves and cabinet doors.
Panel saws come as horizontal or vertical panel saws. Vertical panel saws obviously have a much smaller footprint, making them a more preferable choice.
You may wonder why you’d want a panel saw instead of a table saw. The reason is that table saws can be used to comfortably cut pieces of wood to a certain length. This is because you have to push the wood through the blade to make the cut.
In a panel saw, the blade moves along a track, making it very easy to cut boards that are much longer.
One shortcoming of a panel saw compared to a table saw is that the panel saw can’t make miter cuts.
- Very effective at cutting large sheets
- Great for cabinet makers and large furniture makers
- Highly specific use
- Can’t replace your table saw
10. Chop saws
Chop saws are meant to cut tough materials like metals. Chop saws actually look a lot like miter saws to the untrained eye. However, miter saws can’t very effectively cut through metals and harder materials.
The biggest difference between a miter saw and a chop saw is that a chop saw uses an abrasive disc to make the cut, whereas a miter saw uses a toothed saw blade.
Chop saws can’t replace miter saws, but if you need to cut metals very often, it is a worthwhile investment.
While it is possible to cut metals with a miter saw, doing so very regularly can wear it down.
- This is the tool you need to cut metal
- You can’t use it to effectively cut wood
11. Rip Saws
Rip saws are dedicated tools for making rip cuts. Rip cuts go parallel to the wood grain.
The term rip saw is a bit of a misnomer as any saw that can do rip cuts is actually a rip saw. However, the saws we’re talking about here are dedicated machines meant to rip lots of wood in very little time.
Rip saws are useful if you are a professional and need to produce a high volume of finished product. A weekend woodworker won’t need a dedicated tool like this because a regular table saw will do the job just fine.
12. Track Saws
Track saws are quite similar to circular saws, except they have a metal guide rail called a track attached to it. The track attaches to whatever you’re working on, and then you push the blade into the material and start moving it.
Track saws don’t let you move side by side: you can only move forward or backward. In that sense, track saws are great for making really straight cuts. They’re also very useful for making straight cuts on boards that would not fit on a table saw.
You can also do miter cuts with track saws simply by aligning the track at the angle you need.
Most track saws also have rubber grips that hold the track in place so you can work on most pieces of wood without needing to clamp anything down.
- Ideal for making straight cuts
- You have to take measurements by hand
- Track saws can’t make dados and rabbets
There’s a power tool out there for nearly every kind of job, but not everyone needs every single tool on this list. If we had to choose tools that were absolutely critical, we’d pick table saws, circular saws, and miter saws.