Adulthood means you get to tackle all sorts of new tasks, including breaking down materials for projects or cleanup. If you use the right saw, you can work faster. With these saws in your workshop, no project will slow you down.
Most of us know how a saw works—you move the blade back and forth across the material, and either the pull or push stroke slices through it. Different types of saws look similar, so you might assume a hacksaw, a bow saw, and a coping saw can all accomplish the same task equally well.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The nature of a blade often makes a huge difference in the type of material it can cut through, and when you should use it.
If you try to cut a metal pipe or tree limb with a standard crosscut handsaw, you’ll either wreck the blade or saw until your arm’s about to fall off—probably both.
If you own the right saw for the job, it has a massive impact on your workflow. With that in mind, here are five saws everyone should own.
The Workhorses: Crosscut and Ripsaws
When you think of a handsaw, you probably imagine a western crosscut saw. These come in two styles: crosscut and rip cut. The difference is the direction in which you want to saw the board.
Usually, when you buy a board from a box store, the wood is longer than it is wide. You cross cut to shorten the board and rip cut to narrow it.
Imagine a board composed of stacked toothpicks. A crosscut will cut the toothpicks in half, while a rip cut will separate them into two bundles of whole toothpicks. Crosscut teeth slice through the wood grain, and rip cut teeth separate it as it cuts. Technically, you can use either blade for either job, but you won’t get clean results, and it will take more effort.
Because you can generally buy a board as wide as you need, you can probably get away with owning just a crosscut saw. It’s handy if you have both, though—especially if you want to reuse leftover wood from previous projects. We’ve got a few recommendations to get you started.
Manufacturers design modern western handsaws to be disposable. When the teeth are dull or broken, you get rid of it and buy a new one—but they should last for years. This inexpensive IRWIN Marathon crosscut saw gets the job done. It gives you rough cuts you have to sand and clean up. And like all western saws, it requires a lot of pushing with your elbow and shoulder.
The Japanese Ryoba saw looks a lot different than the more recognizable western saw, but it includes several benefits. First, it’s two saws in one: one side is a ripcut, and the other is a crosscut. Second, the blade is thin, so you lose less material when you saw. Third, you pull instead of push to work this saw. This means you use your whole body to saw: arms, shoulder, back, core, and legs.
It’s also far more ergonomic than a western saw. There’s a learning curve, but the results you get from a Ryoba saw are finer and require less sanding and clean up. Best of all, the blade is replaceable—you only have to buy the handle once.
Best for Fresh Wood: Bow Saws
If you have trees on your property or go camping frequently, you’ll likely have to cut down some fresh (or green) wood at some point. You might be tempted to grab your handy crosscut saw and go to town, but don’t. Green wood is full of moisture, which causes your handsaw to bind and get stuck. You’ll work harder to saw the limb and, ultimately, dull or damage the teeth.
Bow saws are better suited for the job, provided you use blades designed for green wood. The thin blade is held under tension, so the wood doesn’t pinch your saw.
Unlike standard blades, which look like a row of serrated teeth, green wood blades have curves, channels, and valleys. These allow the moisture in the tree to escape, so the blade doesn’t bind. The shape of the bow helps you saw through a limb or log.
The inexpensive Black & Decker bow saw will do the job. At 21 inches, it’s large enough for most average tasks, like cutting tree limbs. It only comes with a green wood blade, though—if you want dry wood options, you’ll have to find compatible blades.
The Bahco bow saw offers everything the Black & Decker does, and more. Its 30-inch blade helps with larger tasks, like cutting firewood. You can also buy it with a dry wood blade (or just buy the dry wood blades and swap) if you want to work on large, thick, dry wood projects.
For Delicate Work and Complicated Joints: Coping Saws
Most of the saws on this list are large and heavy-handed. They get the job done quickly but aren’t necessarily precise. Nor do they create a beautiful cut. Coping saws are different.
At first glance, they look like a tiny bow saw, and that’s because they work on similar principles. The handle holds an extremely thin blade at tension, which means this saw can do something others can’t: it turns.
With a coping saw, you can do more creative things, like carve a heart into a chair, but you can also adjust a mismatched joint. This is very helpful when you’re doing something like putting up crown molding or replacing floor trim.
Most homes aren’t square, and that only gets worse with age. If you try to meet two boards in the corner of a room, you might find they don’t sit flush. With a coping saw, you can adjust the fit until you have an excellent, tight seal. This is called a coping joint, and it’s how this saw got its name. With the right blades, you can cut through wood, plastic, or metal.
The Olson Coping saw’s main selling point is its price. If you don’t need a coping saw daily, you shouldn’t spend too much on one. Even the blade replacements are inexpensive. Just keep in mind, the handle isn’t very ergonomic, so you might find it painful to use for extended periods.
On the other hand, if you tackle a lot of projects that require delicate work, it might be worth it to step up to the Smithline. Its rubberized handle feels better in your hands, and it’s easier to replace the blades. The thicker steel that creates the tension is also more durable than that on the Olson Coping saw.
For Metal and Plastic: Hacksaws
If you think a hacksaw looks like a smaller bow saw, you’re right. Hacksaws use the same blade-under-tension principle as bow and coping saws. But hacksaws fall in the middle when it comes to size, and you use them to cut metal or plastic.
You could try to shorten a metal tub with your bow or crosscut saw, but you’ll just ruin the blade. It requires a complete redesign of the saw teeth to cut through metal. If you look closely at a hacksaw blade, you see the teeth make a wave formation. When you need to cut any sort of metal or tubing, it’s time to break out your hacksaw.
The Milwaukee Compact Hack Saw is perfect for small jobs. If you need to cut brass rods, or even a screw or bolt, this little guy will do the job. When you wear out the blade, you can replace it without having to buy an entirely new saw. You don’t even need tools to replace the blade. And the rubber grip should keep your hand comfortable.
However, if you need to cut something larger than a bolt, that’s where the Lightdot comes in. It’s large enough to take on PVC pipes, and you can angle the blade for 45-degree cuts. And bonus: you can store your extra blades in the handle.
Miter Saws Have the Angle on Your Next Cut
A miter saw (mitre outside the U.S.) primarily cuts a 45-degree angle into a wood board. If you line up two boards with a miter cut, you get a 90-degree turn. Picture frames, boxes, or anything square or rectangular often use miter cuts, so you might need a miter saw more often than you think.
You can either buy a miter box and handsaw—which gives you accurate 45- and 90-degree cuts—or you can buy a powered miter saw. When it comes to power tools, miter saws are one of the safer options, and generally, you should use one of those instead of a table saw whenever possible.
A powered miter saw can cut at angles that miter boxes don’t offer, and they’re quick. But a miter box and saw are far less expensive. They’re also gentler on the material and leave you with a cleaner edge, so that option might be better for more delicate jobs.
If you don’t cut miter joints often, you don’t need to spend a bundle on a miter saw. With a miter box, you can cut clean, 45-degree angles (on either side). The box also assists with 90-degree (straight) cuts. This Greatneck box comes with a saw, but you can use your own if it’s nicer (and it probably is).
Metabo is the new name for Hitachi, and they’ve made reliable power tools for years. This powered miter saw has a 10-inch blade, which is suitable for most people. It also has a fold-out fence for longer pieces of wood, and a clamp to secure the material.
If you need to cut something larger than 10 inches, the DEWALT sliding miter saw will do the trick. Not only does it have a 12-inch blade, but you can also pull it toward you, and then push back to cut a total of 16 inches in the material. Like the Metabo, you get a fold-out fence, and while it doesn’t come with a clamp, you can use your own to secure the wood. The DEWALT also turns left, right, and tilts.