Selecting a Power Saw

What saw should I buy first?

That is a question that comes up quite frequently in woodworking forums and discussion groups. My first comment is that it doesn't really matter, go for the best deal you can find, for the best model you can afford.

Woodworking is a forgiving hobby, there is usually no right way or wrong way of accomplishing a task, there is usually a work around to get the job done with the tools at hand.

This page is meant to give you a basic idea of the function of each type of saw, more info is available from the dedicated page for each of the saws linked under the graphic.

Common Cuts Made on a Power Saw

Cross Cuts

Cross cuts can be made with a band saw with limitations, a circular saw, jig saw, miter saw, radial arm saw and a table saw.

Best saws for the job are the radial arm and miter saws, a table saw with a sled is an alternative.

Miter Cuts

Miter cuts can be made a band saw, circular saw with jig, miter saw, radial arm saw and a table saw.

Best saw for the job would be the miter saw, followed by either a radial arm or table saw with suitable attachments.

Rip Cuts

Rip cuts can be made on a band saw, circular saw, radial arm or table saw.

Best saw for job is the table saw, followed by the band saw with limitations.

Dados and Rabbets

Dados and rabbets can be cut on a radial arm saw or a table saw.

Best saw for job is a toss up, radial arm saw is great for narrow boards as you can see what you are doing, longer cuts are better on a table saw. The work can be pushed through a radial arm saw in the rip position but is not a generally prefered method.

Dados and rabbets can also be made with a router and straight bit.

Curved Work

Thicker material is best cut on a band saw, thinner material with small radius curves is best done on a scroll saw. A jig saw will substitute for a band saw for most jobs.

Inside Cuts

There are times when a section has to be cut out of the inside of a board or panel. Generally a hole is drilled to allow the saw blade to pass through and a jig saw or scroll saw is used to make the cut.



Band Saw

Most well equipped shops will have at least one bandsaw.


With a good blade a band makes a fast clean cut on both a straight or curved line.

They are almost essential if you need to resaw lumber.

They are capable of cutting much thicker material than any other type of home shop saw.

Very narrow kerf so material is not wasted as sawdust.


They have a limited throat depth so do not work that well as a cross cut saw.

Very difficult to make inside cuts, the blade can be cut on some models and rewelded but you will still have a limited swing so planning before hand is essential, some times cuts are just not possible.

Will work as a rip saw but only within the throat depth.

Circular Saw

Circular saws are pretty well essential for any construction or remodeling projects. There is a wide range in the price of these saws.


One of the least expensive power tools you can buy.

Straight, clean cuts are possible with a guide and a quality blade.

Great for breaking down large sheet goods to manageable sizes for table and band saws.


Only makes straight cuts, will not cut curves.

There is a bit of a learning curve to use one.

Jig Saw

Jig saws, an alternative to using a band saw to make curved cuts are available in many price ranges. They are also a rather quiet running tool.


Less intimidating to use than a circular saw.

Quiet running saw where noise is a factor.

An inexpensive way to cut curves if you do not have a band saw.

Easiest way to make inside cuts.

Large selection of blades for many different materials.


Difficult to make straight cuts unless proper technique and blades are used.

Works best in thinner material, blade may tend to wander off vertical cutting thicker material.

Miter Saws

There are two basic types of miter saws, the chop saw style and the sliding style which is becoming more popular because of the extended cutting range. Get one that is adjustable both vertically and horizontally. It is very important that the proper blade is used on these saws.


Can cut any length material as the saw moves through the wood.

Once tuned in they tend to settle in to a great degee of accuracy.

Light enough to carry to the job site.

These are a good compliment to a table saw.


The chop saw style has a very limited cutting width.

Can't cut dados.

Radial Arm Saw

Radial arm saws are either loved or hated, not as popular as they once were but they do have there place in a home shop. Many have been replaced by the now popular compound sliding miter saws.


Works very well as a cross cut saw for long material.

Great machine to cut dados in narrow boards such as the sides of bookcases.

Can make cross cuts, miter cuts and rip cuts.

Prices for used saws are quite reasonable so they are a good option for anyone starting out that wants a "one size fits all saw".


It can be difficult to keep them accurate for 90 degree cuts when the arm is swung for miter cuts. Many users make gigs for angled cuts and leave the arm permantely lined up for square cross cuts.

Not the greatest saw for ripping, but will get the job done.

Scroll Saw

scroll saw
Sawdust Making 101 Scroll Saw Page

The scroll saw is about the only saw in the group that basically has one purpose, it is built for the scroll sawing hobby. There is a wide range of choice, from inexpensive hobby saws to top of the line professional quality saws.


Scroll Saws are relatively quiet running saws so can be used where noise is a factor.

The only power saw that will make really fine, intricate cuts. Thin blades allow sharp curves to be cut.

Inside cuts are easily made as blade can be quickly detached.


Not well suited for cutting thicker material.

Table Saw

Table saws are considered the heart of most workshops, and are pretty well essential in production shops. They come in a range of sizes and styles, from portable work site saws to hefty cabinet saws.


Probably the best saw for ripping, band saws are close seconds.

Dado and molding heads can be attached.

Will cross cut, miter cut and rip.


Difficult to cross cut long material without the use of a sled.

Good saws are expensive.

Buying Tip

Consider a higher end used saw in good condition rather than a new version of a lower end model.




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