Saws have been in use for thousands of years, branching out to fill specific niches as the times, technology, and materials required. Today’s “complete” tool collection will include a variety of saws, from coping saws to hacksaws to any of a number of specialized table saws, and sometimes includes more than one saw of a given type.
There are many specialized cutting tools as well, but they are not commonly used outside of trades they were developed for. Additionally, you may be surprised to find that many saws are regionally called by the name of other saws. In most cases, the shape of the saw plus the shape and count of the teeth will determine how a saw was intended to be used.
Hand saws have evolved to fill many niches and cutting styles. Some saws are general purpose tools, such as the traditional hand saw, while others were designed for specific applications, such as the keyhole saw. No tool collection is complete without at least one of each of these, while practical craftsmen may only purchase the tools which fit their individual usage patterns, such as framing or trim.
A back saw is a relatively short saw with a narrow blade that is reinforced along the upper edge, giving it the name. Back saws are commonly used with miter boxes and in other applications which require a consistently fine, straight cut. Back saws may also be called miter saws or tenon saws, depending on saw design, intended use, and region.
(see our pick for best bow saw)
Another type of crosscut saw, the bow saw is more at home outdoors than inside. It uses a relatively long blade with numerous crosscut teeth designed to remove material while pushing and pulling. Bow saws are used for trimming trees, pruning, and cutting logs, but may be used for other rough cuts as well.
(see our pick for best coping saw)
With a thin, narrow blade, the coping saw is ideal for trim work, scrolling, and any other cutting which requires precision and intricate cuts. Coping saws can be used to cut a wide variety of materials, and can be found in the toolkits of everyone from carpenters and plumbers to toy and furniture makers.
Designed specifically for rough cutting wood, a crosscut saw has a comparatively thick blade, with large, beveled teeth. Traditional 2-man crosscut saws (aka felling saws) have a handle on each end and are meant to be used by two people to cut across (perpendicular) the grain of timber. The more common 1-man crosscut saw is great for rough cutting lumber, trimming limbs or branches, and makes an excellent saw for camping or at the job site.
Most closely resembling a coping saw, the fret saw has a long, thin blade for making intricate cuts. The fret saw has a longer, larger frame that allows cutting farther from the outer edges, but the blade cannot be rotated, which results in more tedious and difficult cutting positions when performing intricate scrollwork.
(see our pick for best hacksaw)
Perfect for cutting pipes and tubing, the hacksaw is one of the most common saw types. They are lightweight and versatile, able to cut through wood, metal, plastic and other materials using material-specific cutting blades with a tooth count ranging from about 18 to 32 per inch.
Built with a single handle and a protruding strong, thin cutting blade, this type of saw is more precise than a back saw and has the advantage of being able to reach places where other saws cannot reach. They saws are available in three types (dozuki, ryoba, and kataba), and can be used to cut hard and soft woods with equal precision.
Best described as a round handle with a single blade protruding from the top of the handle, a keyhole saw is used to rough cut circles or patterns. Keyhole saws can be indispensable for drywall, especially when a small section needs to be removed and/or replaced, or where the interior of the wall prevents the use of powered tools.
(see our pick for best pruning saw)
Pruning saws most often have a 13-15″ curved blade, protruding from a single “pistol grip” style handle. The blade is wide and has coarse teeth that are able to cut in both directions for faster material removal. Pruning saws are more commonly found in a homeowner’s toolkit, but they are also widely used by tree surgeons, lawn services, and landscapers.
Rip Cut Saw
(see our pick for best rip cut saw)
Often referred to simply as a “hand saw,” the rip cut saw is a must-have for framing. It has relatively few teeth per inch, but each tooth is a sharpened point designed to remove wood. Anyone who works with wood will have one or more rip cut saws, usually of varying lengths.
Another highly specialized saw, the veneer saw is designed with a short double-edged blade that has about 13 teeth per inch. This saw is specifically used for precision veneer work, and the short blade prevents it being readily adapted to most other cutting tasks.
Looking very similar to a keyhole saw, the wallboard saw generally has a shorter, wider blade and fewer teeth per inch and often comes in a double-edge variety. It is designed for puncturing through paneling or drywall, and is often used to create starter holes for powered tools.
Rather than simply duplicating various handheld saws, powered saws have evolved to fill niches of their own. For example, a radial arm saw expands on the capabilities of a miter saw and circular saw, but does not directly duplicate either. Powered saws come in three primary categories: Continuous Band, Reciprocating Blade, and Circular Blade.
Band Saw (Stationary)
(see our pick for best band saw)
This tall, floor-standing saw uses large pulleys above and below the cutting table to move a continuous band with fine teeth to cut through most materials. Band saws are perfect for intricate cutting of curves into wood, as well as cutting tubes, piping, and PVC, but are limited to a depth of only a few inches. Resawing (cutting boards so they are thinner) is possible with a band saw by standing the board on its edge and carefully ripping it using a fence. Patience is definitely required for this task.
Band Saw (Portable)
(see our pick for best portable band saw)
A small portable version of the stationary unit, it can accomplish most of the same jobs as its big brother with the portability to be able to take to a jobsite or someone else’s garage. You are of course more limited as to what you can cut (typically up to 3-4″ diameter pipes) and it takes more effort to make straight cuts, but it can be an invaluable tool especially for plumbers, welders, and metalworkers.
As the name implies, a chainsaw uses a linked chain with numerous specially designed ripping teeth. While chainsaws are uniquely designed, they fall into the category of band saws. Chainsaws are more commonly used in tree work than any other field, and may be essential to homeowners depending on your region.
One of the largest portable versions of circular saws, the chop saw is manufactured in both metal and masonry cutting versions. The concrete cutting saw often includes a connection for a water line to reduce dust while cutting. Both types of chop saws use toothless blades manufactured with special abrasives designed for the materials to be cut. Chop saws are also known as cut-off saws, concrete saws, and abrasive saws.
(see our pick for best circular saw)
Sometimes referred to as a buzz saw or by the popular brand name of Skilsaw, circular saws use a toothed blade, typically between 7-¼ and 9 inches in diameter. They are the most common type of powered saw, and accept blades that cut all types of wood, metal, plastic, masonry, and more.
Compound Miter Saw
(see our pick for best compound miter saw)
This is the miter saw on steroids. Compound saws are used to make straight, miter, and compound cuts. Instead of pivoting up and down the way a miter saws cuts, the blade is mounted on an arm that can be adjusted for complex angles, including cuts for complex scrollwork and trim. The compound miter saw is one of the best time-savers when you need to trim out windows or add crown molding.
As the name implies, a flooring saw is a portable unit intended to re-saw flooring (hardwood, engineered, bamboo, or laminate) to fit. It’s a fairly specialized tool that in essence replaces a table saw, miter saw, and other accessories you may need to cut flooring. The portability factor is its biggest advantage as you won’t have to spend a lot of time moving materials from garage to room and vice versa when putting in flooring.
(see our pick for best jigsaw)
This handheld saw has a short, fine-toothed blade which moves up and down at variable speeds. This is one of the few saws which are designed specifically for cutting curves and other non-straight lines. Look for a jigsaw with a long cord or even a cordless option.
One of the few saws designed to expressly mimic a hand saw, the miter saw is ideal for use in trim or other jobs involving precise measurements and angle cuts. A simple miter saw can pivot up to 45 degrees to either side of a straight 90 degree cut, and can be used in conjunction with tables for cutting long mitered ends.
Radial Arm Saw
By placing the motor and blade on an arm that extends over the cutting table, the radial arm saw allows you to make identical compound cuts, miter cuts, and more. Depending on the manufacturer, radial arm saw blades may be interchangeable with circular saw blades, but verify the recommended speed of spin, as some radial saws turn very fast.
Like the jigsaw, this saw has a blade which moves forward and back very quickly. Reciprocating saws are sometimes called a Sawzall, referring to the original manufacturer of this type of saw. They are used for cutting tubing, wood, and plastics, and are also used for cutting beneath walls or wood joints because the blades can cut nails as well as wood.
Rotary saws (or rotary tools) have a fixed blade and a small screwdriver-type handle. They are used for everything from crafts to construction, and are ideal for cutting into a wall for access or repairs. Like the keyhole saw, a rotary saw is essential for drywall, panelling, and a myriad of other small cutting tasks.
Scroll saws can operate with a band or a continuous or a reciprocating blade. Similar to coping saws, these powered saws are designed for intricate scroll work, spiral lines, or patterns with the added benefit of a table the material can be laid on while cutting to achieve precise rotation and detail. Creating curves with edges is what it excels at.
(see our pick for best table saw)
Table saw blades tend to be a little larger than for a circular saw, and consist of a high speed motor mounted beneath a flat table. To adjust the the depth of cut, the blades rises out of the table bed. Table saws are great for making numerous rip cuts or preparing a large number of identical sized pieces. Table saws accept metal and masonry blades, but take care that the blade design matches the motor rpm.