How To Choose a Power Saw

Written by: Erica Spangler

This guide explains the basics for purchasing a power saw for your next project.

Types of Power Saws

Reciprocating Saws

  • Great for cutting through lumber, drywall, pipes, and vinyl and aluminum siding
  • Mostly used for construction or demo jobs
  • Cuts through by a push-and-pull motion of the blade

Having an adjustable shoe, located opposite of the handle, maintains stability while cutting. Consider a handle that rotates 360 degrees will allow you to use it in harder to reach places. Some saws have minimal vibration and a sturdy grip, which makes continual use more comfortable.

Shop All Reciprocating Saws

Jig Saws

  • Also called a saber saw
  • Cutting arbitrary curves into wood
  • Thin blade is ideal for creating stenciled designs or custom shapes

Consider a jig saw with orbital action in order to cut different materials, and you can easily adjust your cuts. Some come with dust blowers near the blade so debris won’t block your straight-line.

Shop All Jig Saws

Table Saws

  • Also called a bench saw
  • Features a large, flat work area and a circular blade
  • Makes straight and precise cuts

Consider a table saw with alignment features to match blade with preferred cutline. Also, saws with easily replaceable blades and attachments make maintaining your saw easier.

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Miter Saws

  • Also called a chop saw
  • Makes rapid and exact cuts
  • Circular blade pins and is lowered down in a short, controlled motion
  • Ideal when working with wood for framing or matching corners

Consider a miter saw with a sliding compound for more versatility; this helps you make longer cuts and the saw can pivot to do bevels. Some saws offer a laser alignment system to help guide the blade for an accurate cut.

Shop All Miter Saws

Circular Saws

  • Great for straight cuts, including cross or angle cuts
  • Either right- or left-handed, depending on the side the motor sits
  • Most popular and most versatile power saw
Shop All Circular Saws

Band Saws

  • Makes curved or straight lines
  • Comes in either a portable or a floor-type model
  • These can execute irregular cuts and intricate curves and cuts
Shop All Band Saws

Tile Saws

  • Also called masonry saws
  • Makes straight cuts through clay and porcelain tile
  • Wets tile ad blade to keep blade cool and minimize dust and debris
Shop All Tile Saws

Fuel Type

Electric

  • Operate by electricity
  • Battery or power cord required

Gasoline

  • Operate by gasoline
  • Typically a two-stroke engine, where you have mixture of gasoline and oil.

Hydraulic

  • Operate by fluid and pistons
  • Requires updating new hydraulic fluid as needed

Diesel

  • Operates on diesel fuel

Note: You should never run out of gas on a diesel engine because you can damage the system.


Terminology

Stroke Length

  • Determines distance the distance the blade travels in operation.
  • Longer stroke lengths determine quicker cutting
  • Smaller stroke lengths allow for confined working areas

Voltage

The required operating voltage for the saw. This correlates to the longevity and power of the tool.

Important Considerations

Cordless vs. Power

Because they rely on batteries, cordless power saws tend to be a bit heavier than their electric counterparts, and won't generate as much power. But even larger power saws are incredibly portable.

Variable speeds

One and two speeds are nice, but if you want to maximize your power saw's potential, opt for something that offers more.

Sharp thinking

Carbide-tip blades are the preferred type of blade for most circular saws, table saws, and miter saws. Look for blades that measure 7 ¼ inches and have 24 teeth. Also, keep these blades as sharp as possible.

Positive Stops

Some power saws (like circular saws and miter saws) feature positive stops. These are points that stop at commonly used angles (15, 30, and 45 degrees) and help eliminate guesswork for smooth and accurate cuts.

Invest In the Best

Power saws and their accessories are not cheap. And while you might be tempted to purchase something less expensive, that tack could backfire (in a very bad way) in the long run. So, if you can, shell out the extra cash for a power saw or carbide-tip blade you know will remain safe effective for years to come.

Safety First When Using A Power Saw

Safety First

  • Wear eye and face protection
  • Maintain sharp blades
  • Keep hands at a safe distance from the blade while in operation
  • Cut on an even surface
  • Be wary of cutting poor lumber
  • Watch for Kickback – This happens when the blade catches a piece of wood (or other material) and throws it viciously back to the rear of the power saw (in other words, at you). This can be a fatal mistake, as the wood can get thrown back at tremendous speed.
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