Types of power saws and how to tell them apart

The concept of sawing originates from the New Stone Age, just kidding, there will be no boring history reviews. This time I’m going to guide you through the variety of completely modern tools for sawing. Mostly for you to better understand which types of power saws are the most suitable for the job.

I’m going to cover basic types of power saws, their features, as well as some applications. Hopefully, after reading this piece, you’ll have a good idea of what kind of tool you need at the moment or in perspective.

Tip. Also, you can read more about How to get into woodworking.

General types of power saws classification

Power saws are tools powered by a motor designated to saw various materials. Different types of power saws come in a lot of designs for various tasks. They differ by power source, mobility, blade design, and other features.

Types of power saws by power source

The power source is less relevant in terms of the designation of types of power saws, so I’ll just outline it here. Basically, there are electric and gas-powered saws. Gas-powered saws are equipped with a gas (or other fuel) engine, while electric ones come in corded or cordless designs.

Cordless power saws are equipped with some batteries, while the ones with corded electric-powered motors work from the mains. And that’s it.

Safety note: Always stick to safety measures while operating all types of power saws. Blades do move fast to ease your woodcutting, but they don’t actually care what to cut. So taking care of your fingers is up to you.

Types of power saws
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Types of power saws by mobility

There are three types of power saws regarding mobility:

  1. Stationary.
  2. Semi-stationary.
  3. Handheld.

Stationary types of power saws are usually mounted on a separate stand or on a workbench and are not intended to be moved. Those are great options for your workshop or garage.

Semi-stationary types of power saws are much easier in transporting around. You can easily load them in the back of a truck or in the trunk of a car, mount them on site quickly, and perform all needed rip cuts or other kinds of cuts.

Handheld power saws, in complete accordance with their name, are meant to be operated by hand. This is their main feature. There are many types of power saws within this category.

Of course, this division is not very strict. There are stationary types of power saws mounted on wheels or ones that have a significant range of the actual cutting part.

There are also handheld power saws that can be mounted on dedicated jigs. But those are some extremities, and there is no sense in going into too much detail on them.

Types of power saws
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Types of power saws by a blade

The cutting tool of various types of power saws comes in one of the following designs:

  1. Circular.
  2. Loop/chain.
  3. Straight/plate.

Circular blades are round and have teeth along their circumference. They come in different sizes, types of material, and teeth configurations. Cutting occurs due to the rotation of a blade. Some types of power saws with circular blades are also suitable for use with abrasive discs (which are technically not saw blades).

A continuous blade is a loop of hard metal string with teeth along one of the edges. They are designed to run between two or more guiding wheels of different types of power saws. Chain saw blades are chains with teeth mounted on the outer side.

Tip. You can read my guide and learn more about Chainsaw chain direction.

Straight power saw blades are very similar to hand saws, but instead of a handle, they have a corresponding part that engages with the moving part of a tool to produce back-and-forth movement.

Plate blades are used exclusively with oscillating saws and have a spatula or putty knife shape with teeth on the front edge. Types of power saws that use these blades aren’t completely power saws, they’re rather oscillating multi-tools.

Types of power saws
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Actual types of power saws

Now, having a general idea of power saw variations, let’s take a closer look at some types of power saws that are being used in every possible application, ranging from a DIY garage workshop to the actual industry.

Stationary and semi-stationary types of power saws

Stationary and semi-stationary power saws are perfect for mounting in a workshop and cutting a lot of material with decent precision. Some of them are completely industrial (panel saw) while others have a wide range of models for hobby and professional use (table saw, miter saw, etc.).

Table saws – Types of power saws

In complete accordance with the name, the table saw resembles a table. The motor of these types of power saws is mounted underneath the tabletop, while the blade protrudes through the slit in it.

That’s the basic idea behind all table saws. Various models of table power saws come equipped with motors of different power.

Tip. In this article, we will help you to select the Best table saw fence. Read further and find out.

Depending on the class of a tool, there are several modifications:

  • blade tilting;
  • cut height regulation;
  • various safety mechanisms (instant stop, etc.).

Work surfaces of these types of power saws (yes, there are a lot of them too) are fashioned with a number of guides for a range of jigs that allow straight cut, cross-cutting, making slits, various compound cuts, and even resawing.

Pro-tip: You can use a table saw to fabricate a vast variety of specialized jigs for cutting at the weirdest angles. A sliding table is one of the most prominent examples.

Types of power saws
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Miter saw and compound miter saw – Types of power saws

Miter saws have the same blade as table power saws and a motor unit mounted on a lever or a swing arm. Miter saws are designed to make precise angled cuts for miter joints and other purposes.

The defining feature of a miter saw is an intricate table beneath the lever with a motor and circular blade unit. The table allows these types of power saws the precise setting of an angle for clean and repeatable miter cuts.

A compound miter saw is the further development of a miter saw. Compound miter saws have an arm with more mobility and tables altered to accommodate longer stock and make more precise miter cuts.

Types of power saws
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Radial arm saws – Types of power saws

Radial arm power saws are very similar to miter saws. The main difference is in the construction of the swing arm. The motor unit and the blade of these types of power saws are mounted on a railing to have additional movement range with the ability to set angle and height.

Radial arm power saws are industrial-grade equipment that slowly but surely becomes obsolete due to the development of CNC machines and other kinds of sawing equipment.

Band saws – Types of power saws

Stationary band saws have fine-toothed blade that runs in one direction between two or three spools. There are vertical and horizontal types of power saws like these, which differ by the positioning of the blade in relation to the material.

Vertical band saws are especially useful in woodworking since there are no limitations in the length of stock to saw. Those are perfect tools for resawing and making a longitudinal rip cut. Due to the flexibility of the blade, power saws of this kind allow a certain curvature of a cut.

Note: These types of power saws provide limited means of controlling the straightness of a cut. If you need to do resawing on an industrial scale, consider a dedicated resawing machine.

Horizontal band saws have the spool, blade, and motor unit mounted on a swing arm. Such tools are usually used in metalworking rather than woodworking shops. Cutting occurs when the blade is being lowered against the stock manually or automatically with help of a hydraulic or mechanical lowering system.

Types of power saws
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Scroll saw – Types of power saws

Scroll saws are really similar to power saws of the previous type, but the blade band is much narrower. These types of power saws are dedicated to performing more complex cutting, intricate ornamented elements with lots of curved cuts and fine details.

Basically, those types of power saws are powered fret saws. They are suitable for cutting wood, sheet metal, plastic, and other materials, depending on the type of installed blade.

Some power saws of this type utilize a straight oscillating blade rather than a blade band. Either way, such tools are equipped with a table for the material to rest on while cutting.

Types of power saws
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Flooring saws – Types of power saws

A flooring saw in its core is a circular saw. It is paired with a heavy metal stand to provide straight cuts with clean surfaces of various flooring materials (laminate, bamboo, etc.).

The stand allows the setting of a blade angle, cut depth, and some parameters useful for professional flooring contractors. In general, these types of power saws are highly specialized tools that can be easily substituted with any other kind of power saw in a DIY workshop.

Types of power saws
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Panel saws – Types of power saws

Panel saws are rather complicated professional tools. Their design is based on the idea of a cutting unit with a motor and blade mounted on a number of railings to cut large sheets of the material.

There are horizontal and vertical types of power saws like these with manual or automatic cutting unit positioning. Horizontal and vertical panel saws are industrial-grade equipment used in furniture manufacturing, fabricating of signs, and other fields that require sawing of large panels.

Types of power saws
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Chop saw – Types of power saws

Chop saws are similar to other circular saws, but instead of blades it works with abrasive discs and is meant to cut different materials harder than wood: brick, stone, metal, etc. Chop saw has very limited application in woodworking, so I see no use in going into too much detail on types of power saws like these.

Types of power saws
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Handheld types of power saws

Every handheld power tool is meant to be operated manually. These types of power saws provide high portability and versatility with some sacrificing of accuracy. On the other hand, various extensions compensate for the lack of accuracy, also, many use cases don’t even need it that much.

Circular saw and its variations – Types of power saws

The basic idea behind a circular saw is a motor with a round blade and a handle. Those are perfect types of power saws for straight cuts, cross-cuts, and some compound cuts. They are equipped with flat tilting bases, safety guards, and other options that promote the safety and accuracy of cutting.

Pro-tip: Go for a saw with a laser guide for precise cuts, even without any additional jigs.

Track saws have a circular rotating blade and are equipped with a set of railings that are usually mounted on the piece to provide accuracy to the cuts. Railings of such types of power saws can be detachable or stationary mounted to the main unit. Track saws are a bit bulkier than circular ones, but this is the price for additional accuracy.

A handheld circular saw is a versatile tool essential for most professional and hobby woodworkers, as it is a great and affordable tool for cutting larger pieces of material into usable stock. It is also very useful in a household in general.

There are various blades for circular saws and other types of power saws. The ones with teeth around the circumference are mostly for wood, while smooth toothless blades are used to cut through glass or ceramic tiles.

Types of power saws
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Jigsaw – Types of power saws

A jigsaw has a straight blade mounted at a right angle in relation to its motor, handle, and tilting base. Cutting occurs when the blade with every cutting edge moves vertically.

This is the tool for free-hand cutting curved shapes out of sheet materials. It is also good for cutting lumber across the grain. The thickness is limited by the length of a blade.

Due to the downward pointing blade, these types of power saws are great for curved cuts and cutting out internal profiles. Making countertops or some intricate formwork are some typical uses of a jigsaw.

When it comes to cutting across the grain, some square stock jigsaws somewhat lack accuracy and cleanness, but those aren’t always necessary. Tilting-base assists angled and beveled cuts.

Types of power saws
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Portable band saw – Types of power saws

Portable band saws implement the general band saw conception in a handheld format: a band-looped blade with fine teeth runs between two spools.

These types of power saws are capable of producing fast and clean cuts with straight edge control, but the thickness of the stock is quite limited compared to the other power saws.

Speed and cleanness of cuts lead to the significant popularity of these types of power saws among metalworkers. Those tools are great for cutting rebar, metal corners, tubing, etc.

Types of power saws
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Reciprocating saw – Types of power saws

A reciprocating saw is made to mimic the work of a usual hand saw by moving a straight blade back and forth. Tools of this kind are powerful and versatile. These types of power saws have extreme demand among demolitionists and renovators. Especially when reciprocating saws equipped with combined blades that cut wood and metal equally easily.

Reciprocating power saws are similar to jigsaws, but their blades are in line with the rest of the tool. Meaning that the whole tool stays at a right angle to the surface being cut.

Reciprocating blade of respective type makes fast and dirty cuts through most of the materials. Similar to handheld keyhole saws, these types of power saws are suitable for cutting out holes in walls and sheet materials.

Chain saws and pole saws – Types of power saws

Chain saws take the concept of fast and dirty cuts to a whole new level. Chain saws utilize saw chains with metal blades that are engaging with the sprocket connected to the engine. The chain runs along the guide bar. There are some features that determine the field of use of a chainsaw:

  • guide bar length;
  • engine power;
  • chain configuration.

These types of power saws are mainly designed to cut greenwood or prune trees. But the uses for a chainsaw are not limited to this. Cutting large pieces of lumber, demolition or even wooden sculpture are some of the typical uses.

Pole saw is a chain saw with a telescopic pole incorporated into its design between the engine and the chain unit. These types of power saws are specialized pruning tools that extend the operator’s reach from ground level.

Types of power saws
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Oscillating saws – Types of power saws

Technically, oscillating saws are not a separate type of tool. It is rather a blade attachment to an oscillating cutting tool. Along with sanding pads and other attachments for grout removal and other jobs, this kind of tool can be paired with a saw.

It is a flat plate with sharp teeth on its outer edge. Cutting occurs with oscillation (swinging from side to side) of the sharp blade.

It is not wide and not suitable for larger volumes, but truly shines when there’s a need for some plunge-cuts in drywall or shortening some protruding nails. In general, oscillating saws are great for tricky jobs where other types of power saws fail.

Tip. You can read more about How to join two pieces of wood at 90 degrees.

Q&A bit

Now let’s dedicate some space on this page to answers to some popular questions regarding types of power saws and other related topics.

What are the 2 types of circular saws?

Actually, there are a lot more than 2 types of power saws of this configuration. Every saw that has a round blade is a circular saw. If it comes to handheld saws, I suppose those will be just your regular circular saw and a track saw.

But the actual variety of circular saws includes a broad range of machines, beginning with small portable saws and humongous aggregates with dedicated engines (for blacktop cutting, for instance).

What is the best power saw for a garage workshop?

The best types of power saws for a garage workshop depend on the most common types of cuts, the usual materials to cut, and, of course, the budget. Woodworking garage workshops in particular benefit a lot even from the basic table saw. A band saw will be great too. Just put your hands on anything available.

Handheld power tools are more accessible, so just think about the common tasks you perform the most. Usually, a jigsaw and a circular saw combo cover 80% of them.

Are rotary saws actually saws?

Rotary saws closely resemble wood routers, their blades similar to drills, so these tools are saws rather by name than by what they actually are. Even though their purpose is to make holes, sounds much more like a drill to me.

Wrapping it up

Now you have some idea of the variety of types of power saws. It is a great start to begin digging in the direction of interest, learning more and more about the tool you need to do your job better or to pursue your hobbies.

Because I have a lot more to tell about woodworking in general and power tools specifically, the actual amount of information is way beyond what I can possibly put in one blog. But now you have the needed minimum to start your one theoretical and practical journey.

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