It is almost impossible to do any woodworking project without a decent power saw and if you are new to the world of power saws, you will soon realize that there are lots of power saws available and all suited to different projects. Power saws are designed for cutting wood, metal and plastics etc. and come in many different styles. How do you know which one you need? How do you know that it has all the features of a good power saw? This buying guide will introduce you to the many different kinds of power saw as well as tell you all about the features of a good power saw and what to look for.
Different power saws for different projects
Power saw is a wide term that is used to describe a saw tool that is used to cut mainly through wood (it can also be used to cut through other materials such as plastics and metals using suitable blades) and that is powered direct via a cord from your power outlet or cordless using one of the three main battery technologies (Ni-Mh, Ni-Cad or Lithium-Ion). Different power saws are used to make different types of cuts. Here are some of the most commonly used ones:
1. Circular saws
These are used to make straight cuts, cross cuts and angle cuts. They are the most commonly used power saw for home improvement projects and can be used for wood, metal and even masonry. They have, as the name suggests, a circular blade with the larger the blade the deeper the cut. Great for straight cutting of all types of wood and sheet material and with the right blade it can cut metal and rip through concrete too.
2. Jig saws
Also called bayonet or saber saws by some manufacturers, they are used for making arbitrary curves and custom cuts. They are very manoeuvrable and handy allowing you to cut intricate shapes in many different types of material including wood, metal, plasterboard, drywall etc.
They typically have a small, fine blade capable of making intricate cuts and are used mostly by carpenters who require fine, intricate woodwork cuts.
Incidentally, jig saw puzzles got their name from being made with a jig saw 🙂
3. Reciprocating saws
They are so called because of the back and forth motion of the blades to achieve cuts. They’ll cut through just about anything – wood, aluminium, vinyl, drywall, pipes etc. They are mostly used for construction and demolition work. Great for general use and can also be used for cutting green wood too with the right blade selection.
4. Miter saws
Also known as a chop saw they are used to make rapid and exact cuts and crosscuts and angle cuts (compound miter saw) especially in wood. They are great for making frames and corners and accurate cuts in moulding. They are fitted with a circular blade and when this blade spins and is lowered into the wood, it can make very precise and quick cuts.
5. Table saws
These are large, stationary types that are fitted with a rotary bladed circular saw. They are best for making cuts in MDF and plywood sheets etc – the piece is placed on the table and with the saw in motion, pushed through until a cut is made.
6. Band saws
They are quite versatile – they can be used to cut straight and curved lines. They are best for intricate or decorative carpentry work. They can be either floor mounted or portable.
Features of a good power saw
Whatever kind of power saw you are looking to buy, there are specific features it should have so that it can give you maximum performance. Look for the following:
If you are going to be cutting through different materials, shop around for a saw that has more than one or two speeds (variable speed is the best for control and for use with different materials). The more speeds you have, the more materials you can easily work with. Speed is measured in RPM (revolutions per minute).
• Depth of Cut
This is the depth that the saw will be able to cut into your material and is typically measured in millimetres.
• Corded or cordless
For maximum power availability and heavy duty use we would suggest sticking with a corded saw although corded saws restrict how far away from a power outlet you can be. For convenience and flexibility, cordless saws that rely on a battery for power, will allow you to use your saw any place without the need for a convenient power outlet. You may though, depending upon the battery technology used, only have maximum speed and power when the battery is full. Lithium is the technology of choice for best available power. Do bear in mind though that with this technology the saw will just stop working with no warning once the battery discharges below a certain point to prevent damage to the battery. If you are going to opt for a cordless saw, choose one that has a long battery life and then buy a spare battery.
Selection of the right blade for the job at hand is the key here.
Don’t scrimp on the blade quality and make sure it is the correct type for the material you will be cutting. Carbide tipped blades last longer and you will need to choose the correct amount of teeth per inch with more teeth per inch (TPI) for finer cuts.
For fine saw cuts you should be looking at around 60 to 100 TPI and for ripping wood and 2 x 4 work maybe down to 24 TPI. Rough wood reciprocating saw work will typically be a lot less with maybe 10 TPI.
As a general rule of thumb, you will need fewer teeth for thicker material.
• Positive stops
Some of the more recent miter power saws are designed with ‘positive stops’ at common angles (i.e. 45 & 90 degrees etc.) This allows for more precise work with repeatable accuracy.
If you are looking to get a saw that will last, you should be ready to spend a reasonable amount of money – good corded saws are available at quite reasonable prices but if you want to go cordless then you will typically be looking at a lot more.
Buy with both quality and versatility in mind and you should have a saw that lasts a long time.