Powered saws are indispensable tools for every woodworker. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional cabinet maker or a home hobbyist — you know power saws for woodworking make your experience easier, faster and even safer than using hand saws. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to do many types of wood cuts efficiently without using electric powered saws.
There are many types of saw machines. Each one has a different purpose and operation method. Knowing the types of saws for woodworking and how to properly use them is critical to being a well-rounded woodsmith. Learning about different types of saws and their uses is part of the fun and satisfaction of woodworking. Powered saws are at a workshop’s heart.
There are types of power saws for every task. There are also many power saw types to fit every budget. Some electric saws are simple and inexpensive. Others are complicated and costly. No matter what woodworking spectrum you fall into, you’re sure to find the right wood cutting tool to fit your needs.
Professional carpenters and contractors typically have many different types of power saws. They need to, because their livelihoods depend on accurate cuts and efficient use of time. You’ll find cabinetmakers who own elaborate electric saws that perform multiple functions. You’ll find many weekend woodworkers with shops full of power tools.
You don’t have to break the bank to buy powered saws, though. It really depends on how you intend to use these necessary tools. Usually, you get what you pay for — but is it really what you need? To help you understand your needs, we hope you find the following guide to the power saws used in woodworking helpful.
If there’s one type of powered saw for woodworking to own, it’s a circular saw. You see circular saws in every wood shop and toolbox. They have a round or circular blade full of various teeth designed for fast and repetitive cuts.
You’ll hear circular saws called by the brand name “Skilsaw” or just “circular handsaws.” Even though they’re electrically powered, circular saws are designed for hand operation rather than being fixed or bench-mounted. There are two common circular saw types:
- Direct-Drive Circular Saws: These are one-hand-operated power saws and by far the most common of the two types. Their circular blades are mounted at a 90-degree angle to the electric motor. All have fixed handles on the device’s top rear with a finger-trigger activation. Circular saw blade diameters range from 7 ½” to 10”. This allows for different cut depths.
- Worm-Drive Circular Saws: These are larger and more powerful circular saws. They still have toothed circular blades, but the drive from their electric motor is parallel to the blade. You operate it turning a shaft like a screw or a worm. Worm-drive circular saws are held with two hands. One operates the rear handle and trigger. The other holds the power saw from the top, guiding it through the work. Blade diameters range from 10” to 12”.
Circular saws are the most versatile electric cutting tools. Like all tools, there’s a learned skill involved in operating circular saws. They let you perform these main cut types with one machine:
- Crosscuts: These are the mainstay woodworking cuts. Crosscuts refer to cutting across the wood’s grain. Most lumber pieces are manufactured with the woodgrain running parallel to the longest length.
- Rip Cuts: These circular saw cuts are used more in rough carpentry than fine woodworking. They saw the wood lengthways along the grain and are usually used to make smaller lumber or panel sections.
- Combination Cuts: This refers more to blade design than actual cutting. Combination blades on circular saws have teeth set to do both cross and rip cuts. Many woodworkers use combination blades on their circular saws most of the time.
If there’s only one electric saw to have, it’s a circular saw. They’re exceptionally handy when used by an experienced woodworker. Common circular saw uses include:
- Rough carpentry and framing
- Deck and stair building
- Fast panel cutting
- Trim and finish carpentry
- Fence building
Reciprocating saws are specialty saws for woodworking. These electric cutters are two-handed operations with one holding the rear handle and operating the trigger while the other stabilizes the motor and shaft. Reciprocating saws have a stiff, fixed, bayonet-type blade on the business end and saw through material with a back and forth motion.
This push and pull cutting function is highly efficient for fast and rough cutting. You’ll often see reciprocating saws used in demolition work where precision cuts aren’t required. Most reciprocating saws are powered by 110-volt plug-in cords, but some lighter-duty models have cordless rechargeable batteries.
Reciprocating saws are often called by the generic brand name “Sawzall,” which represents the Milwaukee Tool Company. That’s because these tough contenders are designed to saw through all types of material, including wood, metal, plastic and drywall. They’re also referred to as “hognose saws” or simply “recip” saws. Most have these operating features:
- Variable speed control
- Interchangeable blade lengths
- Oval and straight blade oscillation
- Cord or cordless operation
- Hinged baseplates or shoes
Many carpenters find reciprocating saws to be irreplaceable, all-purpose tools. In the right hands, recip saws can rip and crosscut as well as make curved and beveled slices. Common reciprocating saw uses include:
- Demolition work
- Rough carpentry and framing
- Fitting in compact and hard-to-reach spaces
- Cutting pipes and soft materials like wallboard
- Tree pruning and shrub trimming
Many woodworkers consider their table saw as the shop’s anchor point. Table saws have been used for several hundred years and come in many sizes. They also have countless variations and features. Table saws are like bench-mounted circular saws where the saw motor driving the circular blade is lower than the table surface. This makes them ideal for ripping large pieces of lumber or panels. Miters, dados and bevels are easily performed on table saws.
Table saws have three main designs. They all serve the same purpose of making accurate and fast wood cuts, but these different designs are used in various locations. Much of this depends on what the woodworker is using their table saw for as well as where they’re operating it.
The three different table saw types are:
- Cabinet Table Saws: These are the big workhorses standing on the shop floor. Most are very heavy, with cast iron frames and ballast weights. That’s to ensure the tool stays rigid and allows the worker to pass heavy timbers and huge panels through its revolving blade. All cabinet table saws have an adjustable fence as well as a tilting blade assembly to allow bevel cuts. Blade diameters range from 7 to 12 inches. Commercial and industrial table saws have even larger blades. Almost all cabinet table saws are driven by a belt and pulley system.
- Benchtop Table Saws: These are more compact table saws. They’re designed for smaller spaces and lighter-duty work than cabinet table saws. You’ll often find benchtop saws in home hobby shops or in commercial business where they serve secondary duties. Special features include portable table extensions and variable-speed direct-drives rather than bulky pulleys and belts. Blade diameters are usually on the smaller size.
- Contractor Table Saws: These are designed to be portable. Contractors benefit from having a table saw away from the shop they can quickly set up and take down. Portability doesn’t give away power and precision, though. Leading brand contractor table saws are highly accurate and make multiple cuts through dense materials. Saw blade diameters range from 7” to 10”.
Table saws are versatile equipment pieces. Almost every shop that does any amount of woodworking can’t function without one. You’ll find table saws used for these functions:
- Panel ripping and cross sectioning
- Lumber ripping
- Furniture building
- Dado notching and bevel angling
- Trim carpentry
Miter saws are next in line to circular saws and table saws when it comes to power woodcutting tools. That’s because miter saws are a clever combination of both. The term “miter” means an angled cut that’s used in wood joinery. It’s similar to beveling but more applicable to making complex and precise cuts both with and across wood grain.
Miter saws are the closest electric tool that mimics a hand saw. Powered miter tools replaced the simple right-angled handsaw boxes used to cut small materials like moldings. Now, there are many variations of miter saws known by names like “chop saws,” “cut-off saws” and “drop saws.” They all essentially do the same thing: bring a spinning circular blade down and across the work face.
Miter saws have significantly evolved over the years. Almost all are plug-in, 110-volt models rather than battery-operated. Blade size varies from 7” to 12”. This depends on the application and what requirements the worker needs. These are the main miter saw types:
- Straight Cut-Off Miter Saw: These are the simplest and least expensive models. The blade drops straight down across the work. Angles can be preset, with the most common being 22 1/2, 45 and 90.
- Compound Miter Saw: These are more complex. The blade can be fixed at side angles as well as up and down. Compound cuts are extremely difficult to make without a powered miter saw.
- Sliding Compound Miter Saw: These are the most sophisticated of the miter saw family. Sliding compound saws do everything the other two miter saws do, but the sliding arm lets the blade travel a great deal further.
Powered miter saws have almost eliminated the old radial arm saws used for decades. Sliding compound miter saws do everything a radial arm can do except rip material lengthwise. But that was always the dangerous thing to avoid with a radial arm saw.
You’ll find miter saws used for these woodworking tasks:
- Construction framing
- Standard molding cuts
- Crown molding cuts
- Door and window making
- Picture framing
Many woodworkers would love to have a band saw but don’t feel they can justify the expense. Top-quality band saws can be pricey, but if you ask anyone with a band saw in their shop, they’ll tell you it’s worth it. Band saws take on a wood cutting tack that can’t be achieved with any other machine.
They’re actually quite simple in principle, but band saws are complex devices composed of three main moving parts. Two are wheels mounted above and below the work table. The other is a continuous blade, or band, of cutting teeth. The band revolves around the drive wheels and is set in place by guides. Bands are secured to the wheels by rubber tires or urethane adhesive.
Band saws come in many different sizes and electric motor ratings. You’ll find them in small shops where they perform light duties or in large commercial facilities cutting raw timber. Band saw capability depends on these three different capacities:
- Face Opening: This determines the height of material that can be passed straight through the band saw. This could be 4” for small machines and up to 16” or larger on big models.
- Throat Depth: This is the distance from the band to the back of the frame. It determines the width of material the saw can take and is important when the work needs turning. Small depths may be 12” while big tools can take full-sized panels.
Most band saws are floor-standing models. However, some are small enough to be bench-mounted. Band widths vary depending on the machine’s overall size. Additionally, band teeth range from fine to coarse depending on the material to be cut.
You’ll find band saws used in these applications:
- Rough lumber milling
- Squaring or truing framing timbers
- Making curved cuts
- Furniture making
- Fine scrolling
Oscillating saws are often called “multi-tools.” That’s because there’s a multitude of tasks these tools take on. They’re irreplaceable for making flush wood cuts against walls or other tight spots. You can also change the saw blade and turn your multi-tool into a metal saw, a sander, a scraper or a polisher.
To “oscillate” is to travel back and forth. That’s what these small but busy electric power saws do. Some oscillating saws cycles as high as 20,000 strokes per minute. At that rate, it’s their intense vibration doing the cutting work. The intense back and forth stroking only travels about three degrees, but that’s plenty to make cutting easy.
Many oscillating saws are now cordless. Their small size uses minimal power, making them suitable for 14, 18 and 24-volt lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Without a clumsy cord, multi-tools are user-friendly in small spots where room is limited. They also have many convenient attachments, from wood sawing blades to tile cutters.
Most serious hobbyists and almost all contractors wouldn’t be caught without their oscillating saw. They’re inexpensive and extremely handy. You’ll find multi-tools used in many jobs:
- Flush cutting
- Finish carpentry
- Metal pipe cutting
- Model making
- Tile setting
Scroll saws are similar to band saws but on a smaller scale. Some novices might even mistake a scroll saw for a sewing machine. These specialized saws are the darlings of fine furniture makers and modellers. They’re also perfectly suited for intarsia artists.
Scroll saws work on the same basic principle as band saws. Material is passed through a blade mounted in a face opening and a deep throat. However, where a band saw blade continuously spins in a revolving loop, a scroll saw blade cuts back and forth like a reciprocating saw. Scroll saws are similar to their jigsaw cousins but offer much more stable cuts because the blade is anchored at the upper and lower ends.
Scroll saws also have a critical feature that makes them different from band saws. The blade is easily detached and can be passed through a hole in the work piece, allowing interior cuts. They’re similar to hand coping saws but with the convenience of powerful electric motors.
Scroll saws are specialized equipment pieces. They lend themselves more to creative shops rather than larger construction projects. You’ll commonly find scroll saws used for these tasks:
- Furniture making
- Picture framing
- Decorative moldings
- Door and window detailing
- Model making
One of the first powered woodworking tools most people get is a jigsaw. That’s possibly because jigsaws are easy to handle. They’re nowhere near as dangerous as circular saws or some of the more aggressive electric saw tools. That makes them relatively safe for young people as well as those who are newer to the craft.
Jigsaws are also called “saber saws.” They are reciprocating saws with similar back and forth or up and down action to Sawzalls. The main difference is that jigsaws are designed for their baseplates to sit flat on the work surface while the saber-type blade cuts or scrolls its way through.
Jigsaws are available in light, medium and heavy-duty models. The lower-scale saws have a ½” stroke while the larger ones travel ¾” from top to bottom. This stoke length difference allows more cutting action for bigger machines and more material removal.
Most jigsaws operate to a maximum rate of 2,500 strokes per minute. Lower-end jigsaws usually have a simple off and on feature where they only run at maximum speed. More advanced tools have variable speed that work on adjustable settings. This really improves tool control and adjustment to the particular material being cut.
All jigsaws cut on the upstroke, so the teeth are set in a top-facing position. Blades are rated in teeth per inch and vary between 7 and 32. Like any blade, more teeth means a finer and slower cut. Blade composition also varies depending on intention.
Jigsaws perform similar jobs to scroll saws. Jigsaws can make internal and external cuts but they’re not as stable as scroll saws. That’s because jigsaws have to be moved through the work, whereas it’s the opposite when scrolling. On the other hand, jigsaws are portable and can be used in any position.
The only drawback to jigsaws is their lack of control. Jigsaw blades tend to be weak and have no support on their leading end. However, if jigsaws aren’t forced into the work and you allow the tool to do the cutting, jigsaws are excellent power tools. They’re commonly used for these projects:
- Coping millwork
- Fretting and decorating
- Cutting holes in paneling and counters
- Furniture making
- Model making
Chainsaws are the real brutes of wood cutting. Chainsaws are like mobile band saws brought to the work and turned loose. Their revolving chain with sharp cutting teeth is the chainsaw blade. You can consider chainsaws as the ultimate, high-speed wood cutting machine.
Chainsaws are commonly called “powersaws.” When most people hear the term “power saw” they instantly recall the screaming whine of a two-cycle gas engine and the sharp scent of freshly cut wood. Not all chainsaws are fuel-fired, however. Many light-duty chainsaws have electric motors that work off household current. Some even have rechargeable batteries.
There’s nothing dainty about a chainsaw. Although some talented craftspeople do amazing chainsaw art, most chainsaws are outdoor, bush-dwelling machines. Models vary according to power level and bar size. A chainsaw’s bar is the guide or rail the saw chain travels around.
You have to be especially careful operating a chainsaw. Although every powered wood cutting tool has its hazards, serious injuries are possible from chainsaw accidents. What makes chainsaws so dangerous is they’re prone to kickback. That’s when the forward end of the spinning chain suddenly comes in contact with a fixed object. Energy stops and reverses, causing the bar to leap up and kick back. That’s easily avoidable by starting the cut along the main bar flange.
Chainsaws were first developed for the foresting industry. They had to be portable and powerful. Today, there are hundreds of chainsaw models that range from professional lumberjack saws to homeowner tools. You’ll normally find chainsaws in these settings:
- Professional logging sites
- Tree service companies
- Firewood cutting
- Yard pruning and cleanup
- Demolition work
What All Power Saws Have in Common
All wood cutting power saws have something in common. They need to have their blades replaced with newer, sharper products on a regular basis. Whether it’s circular blades for table saws, straight blades for reciprocating saws or flexible bands for band saws, every woodworker needs a steady supply. They also need a reputable source who knows their business.
LUXITE® saw blades are some of the best blades in the woodcraft industry. They come to you from York, PA, and are proudly made in America. We supply professional and hobbyist woodworkers with top-quality blades — and we’re one of the oldest industrial saw blade manufacturers in the country.
Check out or line of crosscut, rip and combination blades that work with table saws and miter saws. We stock standard and premium carbide-tipped blades for the cleanest cuts. We even supply rubber tires for band saws as well as urethane band saw tires. View our selection of saw blades and make your purchase online today. Feel free to contact us about our products!