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How to Choose the Right Saw for the Job

You can make better, safer cuts if you know the intended uses for each kind of saw.

| April 3, 2008

  • using a table saw
    Using a rip fence to guide a piece of lumber across a table saw makes a straight, accurate cut.
  • coping saw
    A coping saw is used for cutting circles or curves.
  • bow saw
    For quick, rough cuts (such as cutting a tree limb), a bow saw is a good choice.
  • jig saw
    Jig saw

  • using a table saw
  • coping saw
  • bow saw
  • jig saw

Choosing the best saw for a particular job involves several factors: the material you’re cutting, how precise the cut must be, whether you’re cutting a straight line or a curve, and how quickly you want to get the work done. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most common types of saws.


A crosscut saw  (and a shorter version called a box saw) is the saw most people think of when they think of a handsaw. Its primary purpose is to cut wood across the grain. A rip saw looks similar but has larger teeth and is used for cutting with the grain (splitting a board length-wise, for example).

Coping saws are shaped like a “P” and used for cutting circles or irregular shapes in wood. The blades are quite thin and narrow so they don’t bind between the wood as the blade cuts a curved shape. Coping saws are often used to cut woodwork to fit together in the corners of a room. Because of the frame of the saw, cuts cannot be made more than about 6 inches from the edge of the wood.

If you need to make a precise, straight cut (such as those used for making a fine wooden joint), consider a back saw  (or miter saw). Back saws have additional metal bracing on the top side to keep the blade straight. They’re often used with a miter gauge or box that guides the saw to make angled cuts, such as those used for making picture frames (45 degree angles).

Hack saws have small teeth so they don’t remove a great deal of material with each stroke. They’re particularly useful for cutting hard materials such as metal or pipe. The narrow blade of a hack saw is held taut by a metal frame with a handle that is perpendicular to the blade.

For a rough, quick cut (pruning a tree, cutting a fallen branch, etc.), a bow saw is an excellent choice. The large teeth of these D-shaped saws cut quickly through wood, but do not make precise cuts.

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