With over 40 years of experience as an avid DIYer, I only recently found out I was using the wrong saw most of the time.
I knew there were many types of saws out there – I do remember some of the things I was taught in woodwork class at school – so I decided to do some research and let you benefit from my past mistakes.
Read on to find the best type of saw for your next woodworking/carpentry project.
- Types of Saws – Hand Saws
- Types of Saws – Power Saws
- Types of Saws – Final Thoughts
Types of Saws – Hand Saws
With so many hand saws on the market, some highly specialised and some that are suitable for a multitude of jobs, I thought I’d start by explaining some of the terms used.
Cutting along the grain is known as rip-cutting, and this requires a saw blade with around 10 teeth per inch – yes, saw blades are still measured in teeth per inch or TPI – with a straight edge to chisel through the grain.
Cutting across the grain is known as cross-cutting. For this purpose, Saws have fewer teeth angled on the inside edge to slice through the fibres like tiny knives.
The more teeth a blade has, the finer the cut, so a cross-cut blade will cut more coarsely than a rip-cut blade. The deep trough (known as a gullet) between the teeth prevents the blade from getting clogged up as you cut.
Most saws these days can cut along and across the grain. Still, general-purpose saws are not always the best option if you’re serious about your carpentry and joinery work.
Push or Pull?
Some saws cut on the push stroke, others on the pull stroke, and some saws cut both ways. The direction of the teeth determines which direction a saw cuts.
If the teeth point away from the handle, the saw cuts as you push. This allows you to put more oomph into it, which is great if you’re sawing a challenging piece of wood or you’re working across the grain.
When the teeth point towards the handle, the saw will cut on the pull action, resulting in a more delicate cut.
Saws that cut both ways have teeth that point straight down. These saws are great for fast cutting where accuracy is not required, such as trimming branches off a tree.
The ‘set’ of the teeth is how they’re angled outwards, alternating left and right. This makes the cut wider than the blade itself, preventing it from sticking or ‘binding’.
Essentially, there are two types of handles, the pistol grip and the straight handle. A pistol grip is often seen on saws used for medium to heavy-duty use. In contrast, the straight handle is better for lighter, detailed work.
Let’s now look at the most commonly used hand saws and when best to use them.
1. Traditional Handsaw
This is probably the first wood saw you will ever own because it’s used for all kinds of carpentry work, both in the home and in the garden.
There are three handsaw types – the cross-cut saw, the rip saw, and the combination saw – each defined by the teeth’ number and shape. Keen amateurs and most professionals will have a selection of handsaws for various uses. Still, the combination saw is the tool of choice for most DIY enthusiasts.
|Cuts fast with and across the grain||Not particularly accurate|
|Good in the garden and general carpentry||Expect some rough edges|
|Excellent on MDF board and laminate flooring||Doesn’t cut through metal very well, so watch out for nails|
2. Tenon Saw
This short, stubby little saw is sometimes referred to as a backsaw because it has a strip of metal or wood running along the spine to stiffen the blade.
Tenon saws are used for making fine, straight cuts as you would when forming a mortise and tenon joint (hence the name). They have 10 to 14 TPI and are set to cross-cut the wood as you push.
Used with a mitre block, they’re handy for forming mitred joints and right angles in wooden frames, which is why they’re favoured by cabinet makers.
There is an even shorter, straight handled version of this saw, which has more teeth set to rip the wood as you cut along the grain.
Sometimes referred to as a Gents Saw, this saw is best used for forming dovetail joints.
|The stiff blade helps form fine accurate cuts||Cannot cut through wood thicker than the blade depth|
|Ideal for forming precise joints in joinery and cabinetry work||Not very versatile|
|Not suitable for metal|
3. Japanese Saw
Japanese saws are characterised by a straight handle and a strong, thin cutting blade, which cuts on the pull stroke for greater accuracy. There are three popular types – dozuki, ryoba, and kataba – and together, they cover everything from cutting delicate joints to lopping branches off trees.
The dozuki has a rigid spine (see image above) like the tenon saw, making it ideal for cutting neat joints. The blade is around 150mm long, with 20-26 TPI.
The ryoba is double-edged, one edge for cross-cutting and the other for ripping. The 240mm blade has 9 TPI on one edge and 26 TPI on the other edge. This saw is very flexible, so it can cut close to the surface.
The kataba has a single cutting edge with no spine. It’s a cross-cut saw with around 15 TPI and has the longest blade at 270mm. This makes the kataba ideal for cutting branches off trees.
If you’re a keen woodworker, these are great saws to have in your collection, especially the genuine Japanese imports. They’re traditional tools but can be used on many modern materials.
|Capable of cutting fine, accurate cuts for joints and for cutting through tough hardwoods||You need all three types to cover most situations.|
|The ryoba style is excellent for both fine rip-cuts and quick cross-cuts.||It takes a lot of practice to form a perfectly straight rip-cut on both sides|
|Blades can cut through non-ferrous metal|
4. Bow Saw
A bow saw is a type of cross-cut saw that is more at home in the garden. The long blade, which has between 3 and 8 TPI, is set to cut during the push and pull strokes, making it ideal for cutting thick branches quickly.
The blade is tensioned across a tubular steel frame incorporating a closed pistol-grip handle to protect the hand.
There are two types of blade, one for cutting wet or green wood – known as raker tooth – and one for dry timber – known as peg tooth. These two blades are quickly interchangeable.
|Cuts fast across the grain||Not suitable for fine joinery work|
|Ideal for cutting thick branches off trees||Limited use in the home|
|Blades are quickly Interchangeable for different types of wood|
The hacksaw is one of my favourite saws to have around. It’s incredibly versatile and quickly cuts through wood, plastic and most metals. The blades are easy to change, so you always have a sharp cutting edge.
But it isn’t suitable for everything.
The thin saw blade and the rigid frame make it easy to cut through pipes, tubing, and small wood sections, but it’s not so good on thicker sections.
Hacksaws usually come with a blade set in a wavy line, which is OK for thin metal sheets but not for thick pieces of wood as it tends to bind. Other blades are available for more rigid metals and plastic but not for timber.
The hacksaw is designed to cut on the push stroke so that plenty of force is applied when cutting more challenging materials. And with up to 32 TPI, the hacksaw can produce a neat cut. When changing the blade, remember to make sure the teeth point away from the handle unless you want to cut on the pull stroke.
|Interchangeable blades for different materials||The shape of the frame and handle makes it difficult to cut tight curves|
|Ideal for plastic and metal pipes||Not suitable for thick pieces of wood such as tree branches|
6. Coping Saw
The coping saw is used for light, delicate work. It gets its name from the type of joint it was designed for – a coped joint – a ‘scribed joint’ in the corners of moulded skirting or coving. The thin blade cuts on the pull stroke and typically has up to 20 TPI.
Coping saws are handy for forming shaped cut-outs in wood, plastic, ceramic and non-ferrous metal, but you need the right blade to suit the material. Fortunately, the blades are easy to change. Furthermore, the blade can rotate, making it easier to cut into tight spots.
|Interchangeable blades for different materials||Not suitable for heavy-duty cutting|
|Ideal for cutting mitres in moulded trim||Limited use|
|The small rotating blade makes it easy to cut shapes in a variety of materials|
|Produces an elegant finish|
7. Fret Saw
Wait a minute, isn’t this just a coping saw with a different shape? Basically, yes, but the deeper frame makes it better to get to places a coping saw can’t reach.
A fret saw blade can have as many as 48 TPI, and like the coping saw, it cuts on the pull stroke. Being thinner and having a lot more teeth, the fret saw is better at cutting tight curves.
Unlike the coping saw, the blade is fixed, so it’s not easy to cut intricate shapes.
|Interchangeable blades for different materials||Not suitable for heavy-duty cutting|
|Favoured by model makers||Blades are easily broken|
|The small flexible blade makes it easy to cut shapes in a variety of materials|
|Produces an elegant finish|
|The deeper frame allows you to go further into the wood|
8. Keyhole Saw
Also known as a compass saw, the keyhole saw comes with an open pistol handle or a straight handle like the one illustrated above. The padsaw is similar, but it has a thinner blade for cutting tighter circles.
The keyhole saw is useful for cutting shapes in drywall construction. It’s equally effective on wood panelling – just form a hole big enough to get the blade through, and off you go.
It’s also useful for working in tight spaces where larger saws can’t reach. It cuts reasonably quickly with 7 to 10 TPI and teeth set to cut on the push stroke. However, the finish is not as neat as other fine saws.
|Good in tight spaces||Expect rough edges|
|Quick and easy to use||Not suitable for large cuts|
9. Hole Saw
Some would class this as a drill bit because it attaches to your drill. However, flat spade drill bits only cut holes in wood up to 32mm in diameter. In contrast, the hole saw cuts holes in a whole range of materials up to 127mm in diameter.
The central arbour drill bit ensures accuracy on wooden surfaces so you can centre the hole on a mark.
If you want to cut a hole in ceramic tiles, the hole saw is the tool to use. This works best with a pillar drill, applying light pressure at a low speed while wetting the cutting area as you go to reduce friction and keep the cutting edge cool.
Pro Tip: lightly lubricate the inner surface to make it easier to remove the cut material, but DON’T use WD-40 as this goes everywhere, including the cutting edge.
|It cuts large holes in a variety of materials||The depth of cut is limited by the depth of the saw|
|Diamond edged saws are great for glass and ceramics||It can be challenging to remove the cut material from the centre of the saw|
Types of Saws – Power Saws
You can do almost anything with a hand saw. Still, even for the most minor job, a power tool can do the job quicker with less effort, and in some cases, more accurately.
As with manual saws, the more teeth per inch, the finer the cut, so it’s essential to choose a blade that matches the job in hand. Also, there are blades to suit various materials – wood, plastic, metal, ceramic – so make sure you use the right one.
The roar power and speed of power tools make nasty accidents far more likely when compared with using manual tools.
There are two aspects of safety – preventive measures and protective measures.
Always look at preventive measures first and personal protection as a secondary precaution. This means using tools correctly, having proper guards fitted securely, clearing the floor of trip hazards, and keeping others out of the way, especially children and pets. In particular, hand-held power saws are prone to kick-back, so be wary of this at all times.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be selected to suit the project. No point wearing a hi-vis vest when it’s only you working on the job. A hard hat is another item that is totally useless in specific environments.
Excessive PPE can hinder your movements and potentially increase the risk rather than mitigate it. Choose PPE that protects you from the hazards you can’t avoid, such as eye protection, gloves, ear defenders and face masks. And don’t forget your feet, they need protection too!
Pro Tip: When cutting wood, a lot of dust is created, so consider having an extraction system in place. Your lungs will thank you!
Cord or Cordless
Many of the power tools listed below can either be battery-powered (DC) or mains-powered (AC).
A cordless power saw is easier to use, and you don’t have cables running all over your work site. However, the drain on the battery in some cases is excessive, so it’s always a good idea to have a spare battery continuously on charge.
You can also share a battery across a range of compatible tools, reducing the number of cables lying around and saving you money.
Pro Tip: Many power tool manufacturers offer body-only power tools that have no battery included. This can save you money and space if you already own compatible batteries for other power tools in the same range.
Mains-powered tools tend to be more powerful and don’t suffer from loss of power as the charge runs down. They’re also lighter because they don’t have a heavy battery weighing them down.
In my experience, it’s better to have a mix of corded and cordless tools, but it depends on the way you use them. The choice between the two is often a trade-off between power and portability. Other factors, such as cost, safety and convenience, also play a part in the decision-making process.
Continuing with our list of 21 saws, I have split power saws into two groups. The first group is table or floor mounted saws, and the second group is hand-held saws.
10. Table Saw
Whether you have a workshop or you’re limited to the back-end of your garage, the table saw is a must-have for all joinery and carpentry work.
Basically, this is a flat table with a high-speed motor underneath powering a circular blade, which can be changed to suit different materials. It operates similar to a circular saw. However, the table saw, you offer the material – wood, chipboard, MDF, sheet metal – to the blade, pushing it across the flat surface. This gives you greater control over the cut and a more precise finish.
Table saws can perform bevelled and mitred cuts, making this a handy and versatile tool to have around.
To learn more, check out our buying guide and reviews of the best table saws in the UK.
|Great for rip cuts and repetitive work||It can be very noisy|
|Versatile – cuts various materials at almost any angle||Max cutting thickness is limited to around 85mm when vertical|
|Cuts wide panels as well as narrow planks||Not the most accurate tool around|
11. Mitre Saw
Mitre saws are ideal for precision work with specific measurements and angles. These saws can be set at any angle horizontally and at 45° vertically. Use them for mitred joints on skirting boards and architraves. Mitre saws are also useful for more delicate work, such as picture frames.
The blade is mounted on a swing-arm, which you bring down onto the piece you’re working on. The swing arm has a guard to protect your hand until the blade is just above the wood or metal. Long pieces can be clamped to the frame to keep your free hand out of the way.
Most come fitted with a laser for accurate cutting. If you want to know more about mitre saws, check out our buying guide and reviews of the best mitre saws in the UK.
|Produces precise cuts at any angle||Not suitable for rip-cutting|
|Capable of 3-dimensional compound cuts||Max cutting thickness is limited to around 70 – 85mm|
The bandsaw may be a luxury item in your workshop. Still, if you have repetitive, continuous cutting to do, it’s an excellent machine to have around.
It works by driving a steel band over two wheels above and below the workbench in a continuous loop. This band contains teeth that cut the material in one direction only, making it more efficient than a scroll saw, which works in a reciprocating fashion.
A wide range of thicknesses is accommodated – 80 to 150mm – and the table can be tilted up to 45°, allowing you to make mitred and bevelled cuts.
See this guide for our recent buying guide and reviews of the best bandsaws in the UK.
Some bandsaws are floor mounted, while others are designed to be fixed onto a worktop. The model below is a handheld version from Milwaukee Tools.
This handheld version is mainly used for plumbing and metalwork. However, as similar and lighter options are available, it’s probably one tool you can do without.
|Good for repetitive cutting||The stationary type is heavy and bulky|
|Capable of cutting thicker pieces than a table saw||The portable type is too big for a tool that only cuts small pieces|
13. Tile Saw
The tile saw blade doesn’t contain teeth; it’s a circular disk with a diamond particle coated edge, similar to an angle grinder. The water reservoir below the table must be filled before use as this keeps the cutting edge cool and reduces dust.
Tile saws include sliding guides on each side of the blade that allow you to make accurate and repetitive cuts.
Pro Tip: place the tile on the table face up as this stops the ceramic face from chipping.
If you want to know more about cutting tiles, read our in-depth buying guide and reviews of the best electric tile cutters in the UK.
|Cuts ceramic and porcelain tiles effortlessly||Noisy, especially in an enclosed space|
|Can cut glass with a change of blade||Tiles can chip if the blade is worn|
|Easy to cut shapes|
14. Panel Saw
If you have a lot of panels to cut, this is the saw for the job.
You will often find panel saws in DIY stores as they’re used to cut large wholesale sheets into smaller pieces for customers. If you have a project requiring specific lengths or widths, this saw does the job quickly, accurately and safely. Also, most panel saws have a built-in vac to extract dust as you cut.
The best thing about vertical panel saws is that they’re much easier to work with than a horizontal table saw when cutting large sheets. The one illustrated is an Elcon DSX available from Daltons Wadkin.
|Ideal for large sheets of plywood, MDF or chipboard. Can cut non-ferrous metals||Too large for the average DIY workshop|
|Safer than a horizontal table for large pieces||Cannot make angled cuts|
15. Scroll Saw
Scroll saws cut precise shapes in wood using a thin blade that moves up and down at varying speeds.
Some models include a foot pedal that controls the speed and stops the motor without taking your hands off the piece you’re working on.
The table can be tilted to a 45° angle for bevel cuts. Still, when doing so, the maximum thickness of the material is more than halved.
|Creates tight, precise curves and accurate straight cuts||Max cutting thickness is limited to around 20mm on bevel cuts|
|Easy to use if you have a foot pedal|
16. Circular Saw
The circular saw is extremely versatile, and if you have a decking project, you need to invest in one. These saws can cross-cut and rip-cut with consummate ease.
As well as decking, they’re great for cutting timber frames, floor & ceiling joists, rafters and cladding materials. An excellent all-around saw.
Some saws have an adjustable base plate, enabling you to cut angles up to 60° and adjust the cut’s depth.
Blades to suit most materials are available – wood, metal, stone, ceramics – but you must use the best blade for the job to avoid damaging the saw.
If you’re looking to buy a new circular saw, take a look at our buying guide and reviews of the best circular saws in the UK.
|Portable – you take the saw to the wood||Not suitable for fine, accurate work|
|Versatile – cuts through plywood, MDF, softwood and hardwood. Also cuts metal, stone and ceramics||Only suitable for straight cuts|
|Suitable for cross cuts, rip cuts, bevel cuts and grooves|
The jigsaw is likely to be the first power saw most DIY enthusiasts buy due to the wide range of jobs this simple and inexpensive tool can undertake.
Jigsaws use a thin reciprocating blade and are used primarily for cutting thin sections of wood. They’re also used to scribe wood flooring around architraves.
This is one powerful tool that’s definitely better cordless, as the cord always seems to get in the way, even when cutting long straight lines.
Jigsaws make straight and curved cuts in most sheet materials using interchangeable blades designed for each material.
|A handy tool for cutting wood boards and panels||Not suitable for thick wooden sections|
|Capable of cutting metal with a simple change of blade||Hard to make accurate straight cuts|
18. Reciprocating Saw
If you’re undertaking demolition work or simply want to cut through large sections of wood quickly, this is the tool for you.
The reciprocating saw uses a push-pull action that is similar to a jigsaw. However, the blades are more prolonged, enabling you to cut through 180mm thick wooden posts and beams with ease.
On most models, the blades can be changed without tools, so you can quickly switch to a metal cutting blade for wrought iron railings and the like.
It’s not the most accessible tool to use. With the centre of gravity being so far from the handle, even the lightest models need two hands to operate.
Compact models are easier to use but are not as powerful. Still, if you’re just looking for something to cut through branches, the DeWalt DCS389X2-GB is worth considering.
If you want to know what to look for when buying this handy saw, we recently created a buying guide that reviews the best reciprocating saws in the UK.
|Cuts through thick wood sections up to 180mm||You need two hands to operate most models|
|Cuts through metal, so perfect for general heavy-duty work||Noise and vibration issues with cheaper models|
19. Oscillating Saw
The Oscillating saw is a handy saw to have in your toolbox. It works similarly to an electric razor, with the teeth oscillating from side to side.
The cutting blade is shaped to reach tight spots against the floor or an adjoining wall. You can use the oscillating saw to cut through wallboard, tiles, and sheet metal.
This multi-purpose saw is also useful for removing grout, cutting through nails and doing other small jobs around the house.
Some models like the DeWalt DCS356N-XJ come with grinding and sanding attachments, making it the ultimate multi-tool for DIY enthusiasts and professionals.
|Works in tight corners||Not suitable for cutting long runs|
|Cuts through wood, plastic and metal. Added accessories make it a handy multi-tool|
20. Plunge Saw
Also referred to as a track saw, this version of a circular saw runs along a track placed over the cut line. Plunge saws differ from circular saws in that the blade is set within the machine, negating the need for a retractable guard. This makes the plunge saw much safer to use.
The plunge saw is a valued tool amongst kitchen fitters because the blade can be ‘plunged’ into 38 and 50mm thick worktops, making it easy to form cutouts for sinks.
|Lightweight and portable||Tracks usually have to be bought separately|
|Forms straight cuts with minimum effort||Difficult to use without the track|
|Suitable for cutting through large MDF sheets, plywood and similar boards or for extended lengths of floorboard. Ideal for kitchen worktop cutouts||Requires a flat surface for the track to sit on|
|Cuts at angles up to 48°|
Saving the biggest until last, this is the beast amongst power saws and the one that needs training before use – not just to learn how to handle it but also how to cut.
Chainsaws are used for lopping branches and cutting down trees, which is a hazardous operation. I.e. get it wrong, and you might end up in a hospital or have a tree in your front room.
Chainsaws have a set of sharp teeth linked together, which run along a guide bar in one direction. When fitting the chain, make sure it’s pointing the right way which is usually indicated on the guide bar.
You can also find electric models, corded and cordless. These tend to have shorter guide bars – 350 to 400mm – but this should be enough for most jobs around the garden. Being electric, they’re not quite as powerful as the petrol saws, but you don’t have the hassle of priming the engine and pulling a cord every time you want to cut some wood.
|Cuts through large sections of wood easily||Heavy, noisy and dangerous.|
|Ideal for site clearances and cutting up firewood||Beware of nails – they will blunt the teeth.|
|Starting the motor can be a real pain on petrol models|
Types of Saws – Final Thoughts
More so with the power saws than hand saws, you may have noticed that many of the saws in our list do the same job. Yes, you need specialised tools such as the panel saw or the tile saw for specific jobs, but you have a choice to make for many other jobs.
Unless you’re a professional with a large workshop, it’s doubtful you will need every saw described on this list. For most of us, we only need to have a handful of these saws.
The dilemma is, which types of saws should you buy to cover all the projects you’re likely to undertake? I hope this guide helps answer this question, and you end up with only the saws you need. For a detailed look at the types of hand saws commonly used, check out this video by Paul Sellers. It’s well worth subscribing to his Youtube channel, and please remember to tell him that Property Workshop sent you.