Types of Saws and When To Use Them

Whether you're a woodworker, hobbyist or a home repair specialist, you need saws. Here's some help for choosing the right types of saws.

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rip saw
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Rip Saw

The original hand saw; one of those old tools your great-great grandfather probably had one of these in his shed. It features a long, wide blade that tapers gently from the wooden handle to the other end. It cuts on the push stroke and is suitable for cutting relatively large pieces of wood. Chipping and tear-out become problems on small pieces.

Uses

Family Handyman Guide To Saws
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Pull Saw
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Pull Saw

Japanese craftsmen have understood for centuries that a hand saw cuts more efficiently on the pull stroke than the push stroke. Japanese pull saws feature a thin flat blade, toothed on both edges and attached to a long handle. Western adaptations are similar, although handles usually aren’t wrapped in bamboo, and only one edge of the blade may have teeth.

Uses

  • Any task requiring a rip saw, because it cuts faster and more accurately;
  • Ripping and crosscutting small pieces of wood;
  • Cutting plastic sheeting and plastic pipe.
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Keyhole Saw
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Jab Saw

A jab saw blade tapers to a point, allowing you to poke it through a small hole to make the hole bigger. In the days of skeleton keys, a jab saw was used to cut keyholes; that’s why it’s also known as a keyhole saw. A drywall saw is a type of jab saw with an extra-thick metal blade and coarse teeth that make it suitable for sawing gypsum board. It’s essential for repairing drywall.

Uses

  • Piercing materials and cutting small holes;
  • Cutting notches in small spaces;
  • Making cutouts for pipes and electrical boxes in drywall.
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hack saw
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Hacksaw

A hacksaw blade is long and narrow. It may be attached to a U-shaped handle or fitted onto the end of a handle you can grip like a pistol. The blade has smaller teeth and more of them than a regular saw blade (from 14 to 32 teeth per inch), which makes it suitable for sawing metal.

Uses

  • Cutting metal rods, bars, electrical conduit and pipes. It will cut through thin metals like aluminum, brass, steel and copper;
  • Sawing through plastic pipe;
  • Making precision cuts in thin wood that would be damaged by a coarse-toothed wood-cutting blade.
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Wire Saw
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Cable Saw

A three- or four-foot (or longer) length of steel cable with easy grip handles on both ends, a cable saw wraps around pipes, branches and other cylindrical objects to cut them from behind. The cable can be coated with an abrasive or fitted with cutting teeth.

Some cable saws are smooth and cut plastic pipe solely by the heat of friction, which makes a smoother cut than an abrasive makes.

Uses

  • Cutting pipes in tight places a regular saw can’t reach;
  • Pruning tree branches;
  • Sawing through heavy fabrics like canvas, leather or nylon strapping.
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Circle Saw
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Circular Saw

First marketed by the Skil Corporation, the circular saw is often called a Skilsaw. It’s a handheld tool with a circular blade that rotates in a plane perpendicular to the saw base. This type of saw does rip cuts and crosscuts, and the blade can be tilted up to 45 degrees for bevel cuts.

Uses

  • Rip- and cross-cutting plywood, fiberboard and OSB sheets as well as dimensional lumber. With the proper blade, it can also cut metal, plastic and masonry;
  • Making rough bevel and angle cuts for framing;
  • Cutting small branches (less than three inches in diameter) for firewood.
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Jigsaw
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Jigsaw

The jigsaw has a narrow blade that extends perpendicular to the saw base and oscillates up and down when you press the trigger. The reciprocating action makes this saw ideal for cutting curved shapes, but not accurate straight lines.

The angle of the base relative to the blade can be adjusted to 45 degrees. The removable blade can be swapped for one that cuts wood, plastic, metal and even ceramic tile in a pinch.

Uses

  • Making curved cuts, notches and holes in wood, metal and sheet plastic;
  • Cutting carpet;
  • Cutting asphalt shingles and composite roofing.
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Reciprocating Saw
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Reciprocating Saw

The reciprocating saw is often called a Sawzall, a trademark name of Milwaukee Tools. It offers the same reciprocating action as a jigsaw, but the blade and body are longer and the motor more powerful.

This tool is a champ for demolition work. Because the long blade (up to nine inches) can reach where most blades can’t, it works in many situations.

Uses

  • Cutting wood framing in hard-to-reach places, like on the floor or deep inside a wall cavity;
  • Topping fence posts;
  • Cutting plastic and metal pipes.
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Table Saw
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Table Saw

The circular blade of a table saw extends vertically upward from a flat table. You make rips or crosscuts by pushing the material through the blade.

This tool’s adjustable fence allows you to rip wood to accurate widths, and it’s miter gauge permits accurate crosscuts. The blade tilts 45 degrees in either direction for bevels. DIYs usually purchase a portable benchtop table saw rather than a full-sized, stationary table saw.

Uses

  • Cutting sheets of plywood, plastic or fiberboard;
  • Ripping and crosscutting dimensional lumber;
  • Making rabbets and dadoes (two types of grooves) in wood.
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Miter Saw Fhm
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Miter Saw

A circular miter saw blade is mounted in a housing that pivots up and down over a stationary base. The housing can rotate 45 degrees in either direction.

This saw is exclusively for making straight and angled crosscuts in dimensional lumber. If the saw is a compound miter saw, the housing can rotate on an axis parallel to the base. If the saw housing can’t rotate at all, it’s a chop saw.

Uses

  • Making quick, clean and repeatable crosscuts;
  • Cutting precision angles for joinery;
  • Combining angle and bevel cuts in a single motion (compound miter saw).
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bandsaw
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Bandsaw

The blade of a bandsaw is a long metal loop with teeth on one side. It’s stretched over a pair of drums. When the drums rotate, the teeth pass through a hole in the work table. You push the stock through the blade to cut it.

Wide blades can rip and crosscut thick stock, and narrow blades can cut shapes more accurately than a jigsaw.

Uses

  • Crosscutting thick pieces of wood, metal or plastic;
  • Cutting delicate and irregular curves for wood inlay and other woodworking projects;
  • Resawing lumber into thinner slabs.
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Chainsaw
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Chainsaw

The motor in a chainsaw drives a chain with cutting teeth around a bar that extends in front of the handle. Homeowners wary of gas-powered chainsaws may prefer corded and cordless models with less power that are safer to use.

A chainsaw is a must-have for anyone who does a lot of yard work or who cuts their own firewood. A small chainsaw mounted on a pole for cutting high branches is known as a pole saw.

Uses

  • Pruning trees and bushes;
  • Cutting logs into smaller pieces;
  • Making crosscuts in heavy lumber.
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hole saw
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Hole Saw

When you need to cut a perfect hole of a specific diameter in wood, plastic or metal, you need a hole saw. It’s attached to a pilot bit that fits into a power drill. The bit allows you to drill a centered hole exactly on a mark. Hole saws for wood have teeth while those for metal feature abrasive cutting edges.

Uses

  • Sawing holes in doors for door knobs and deadbolts;
  • Making holes in acrylic and fiberglass shower stalls for faucet handles, spouts and shower heads;
  • Cutting holes in framing for pipes and wires.
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Rotary Tool
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Rotary Saw

Instead of a blade, a rotary saw (AKA a spiral saw, rotary cutter or the brand name RotoZip) has cylindrical cutter that looks like a drill bit. The cutter fits into the chuck of the tool, which has a powerful motor that spins it at high speeds.

When the cutter is spinning, you can poke it directly into a surface and cut a shape more quickly than you can with a keyhole saw or jigsaw. Many rotary saws are cordless so you can use them anywhere.

Uses

  • Making quick cutouts in drywall for electrical boxes;
  • Sawing holes and notches in wood paneling;
  • Cutting intricate patterns in wood and other materials.
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Oscillating saw
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Oscillating Saw

At the end of the long, cylindrical body of an oscillating saw is a flat blade that swings back and forth. The blade curves slightly downward before extending straight ahead, allowing you to get it flush to the floor.

Contractors affectionately call this tool the “persuader.” It’s popular for cutting through caulk, wood and nails to release trim and bottom plate framing for demolition. This type of saw also cuts out rotted wood.

Uses

  • Undercutting door jambs and trim during flooring installation;
  • Removing old caulk and grout;
  • Cutting baseboards and other trim to make them easier to remove.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.