How to Choose the Right Power Saw for the Job

There’s a multitude of power saws on the market, and choosing the right one to add to your toolbox can be a bit of a minefield. Compared to using a hand saw, a power saw is far superior in terms of speed, accuracy and ease of use - but only if you purchase the right one for the job at hand. In this extensive guide we’ll go through some of the most popular types of saws on the market and explain the differences between them.

As with many power tools, you’ll find several variations of power saw, all designed for slightly different applications. There’s plenty of overlap between what each type of saw can do, so before you make your investment, you’ll need to know the sort of jobs you want to tackle around the home and garden. As with anything, the more ambitious your DIY projects, the more variants of power saw you’ll end up needing.

See the range of SGS Ryobi Saws

Choosing a Power Saw: Material and Type of Cut

We’ve put together this quick selection table to help you choose the right type of saw for the specific cut you want to perform. The table features four of the most popular power tools on the market; jigsaws, reciprocating saws, circular saws and mitre saws. We’ve rated each tool in each category depending on how suitable it is for the cut in question. We’ll go into detail about each type of power saw later in the guide.

Cut

Jigsaw

Recip.

Circular

Mitre

Wood/ MDF & Plywood Straight line Good Fair Excellent Fair
Shape Excellent Good Not possible Not possible
Cross cut Fair Fair Good Excellent
Bevel cut Some jigsaws Poor Some circular saws Excellent
Metals Straight line Good Good Not possible Poor
Shape Good Good Not possible Not possible
Piping Fair Fair Not possible Some mitre saws
Plastics Straight line Good Excellent Fair Poor
Shape Good Good Not possible Not possible
Piping Good Fair Poor Poor
Aluminium Straight line Good Good Not recommended Not recommended
Shape Good Fair Not possible Not possible
Pipe Good Good Not recommended Not recommended
Masonry All Not possible Special blade Not possible Not possible

Types of Power Saw

Now we’ve paired up a tool with a type of work, we’ll take a look in detail at the main types of saw. Features of power saws vary from brand-to-brand, so be sure to make sure the tool you’re looking at is right for the job before you reach for your wallet.

What is a Circular Saw?

Jobs you might use a circular saw for:
- Cutting across large pieces of wood and sheet materials
- MDF doors, shelves, laminate flooring, worktops and decking
- Making slots, grooves or shallow cuts

For professional quality straight cuts in wood, you can’t have a better tool in your box than the trusty circular saw. You can use your circular saw free hand, with a parallel fence or mounted in a saw table.

What to look out for when purchasing a circular saw:
The larger the blade of your circular saw, the thicker materials you’ll be able to handle and the more versatile your saw will be. Almost all circular saws have an adjustable cutting depth, so once you’re set up, you can cut similar pieces of wood again and again. View the Range Here

More information about circular saws:

What is a Jigsaw?

Jobs you might use a jigsaw for: - Awkward shapes in sheet materials and tiles - Cutting shelves, worktops, skirting boards, laminate flooring - Making your own jigsaw puzzle and wooden toys When it comes to making tricky, intricate and artistic cuts you can’t do better than a jigsaw. With the thinnest blades of all the saws featured here, a jigsaw can follow curved cut lines. Jigsaw blades can even fit through a drill hole, meaning you don’t need to start at the edge of a project like you do with a circular saw. Although you can make a long, straight cut, this isn’t the ideal tool for the job unless you use a fence as a guide. If you’re going to be making straighter cuts we’d suggest choosing a slower cutting speed and a wider angle to prevent the tool from binding. Things to look out for when purchasing a jigsaw: More advanced jigsaws will have an orbital cutting action for quick rough cuts. Many saws have a pivoting base for making cuts at an angle, which can be useful for making simple joints. Jobs you might use a jigsaw for:
- Awkward shapes in sheet materials and tiles
- Cutting shelves, worktops, skirting boards, laminate flooring
- Making your own jigsaw puzzle and wooden toys

When it comes to making tricky, intricate and artistic cuts you can’t do better than a jigsaw. With the thinnest blades of all the saws featured in this guide, a jigsaw can accurately follow curved cut lines. Jigsaw blades can even fit through a drill hole, meaning you don’t need to start at the edge of a project like you do with a circular saw.

Although you can make a long, straight cut, this isn’t the ideal tool for the job unless you use a fence as a guide. If you’re going to be making straighter cuts we’d suggest choosing a slower cutting speed and a wider blade to prevent the tool from binding.

Things to look out for when purchasing a jigsaw:
More advanced jigsaws will have an orbital cutting action for quick rough cuts. Many saws have a pivoting base for making cuts at an angle, which can be useful for making joints. View the Range Here

More information about jigsaws:

What is a Reciprocating Saw?

Jobs you might use a reciprocating saw for: - Demolition work, removing old windows, bathroom renovations - Fence posts, decking boards, stud partitioning - Wood embedded with nails Also known as a saber saw, reciprocating power saws are designed for heavier duty tasks than jigsaws and utilize an oscillating cutting action for more aggressive cutting. You use a reciprocating saw with both hands, meaning it’s far easier to cut overhead or vertically than most other power-saws. The oscillating action means that the blade is mobbing back and forth as well as up and down, resulting in super quick cuts even in tougher materials - although the extra speed does come at the expense of quality. This makes reciprocating power saws popular for demolition work or making pre-cuts. What to look out for when purchasing a reciprocating saw Cheaper models are OK for the occasional destruction, but if you going to be using the saw a lot, it’s worth putting the investment in. High end models like the Ryobi ONE+ 18V Cordless 22mm Reciprocating Saw, have variable speed settings and adjustable pivoting heads for cutting at angles. Keep an eye out for good anti-vibration features too - a cheap reciprocating saw can cause strain after extended use. Jobs you might use a reciprocating saw for:
- Demolition work, removing old windows, bathroom renovations
- Fence posts, decking boards, stud partitioning
- Wood embedded with nails

Also known as a sabre saw, reciprocating power saws are designed for heavier duty tasks than jigsaws and utilize an oscillating cutting action for more aggressive cutting. You use a reciprocating saw with both hands, meaning it’s far easier to cut overhead or vertically than with most other power saws.

The oscillating action means that the blade moves back and forth as well as up and down, resulting in super quick cuts, even in tougher materials. This extra speed does come at the expense of the finish, making reciprocating power saws popular for demolition work and making pre-cuts.  

What to look out for when purchasing a reciprocating saw:
Cheaper models are OK for occasional destruction, but if you going to be using the saw a lot, it’s worth putting the investment in. Higher end models like the Ryobi ONE+ 18V Cordless 22mm Reciprocating Saw, have variable speed settings and adjustable pivoting heads for cutting at angles. Keep an eye out for good anti-vibration features too - a cheap reciprocating saw can cause strain after extended use.

What is a Mitre Saw?

A mitre saw is a bit like a circular saw on a large pivoting head, which is pulled down onto the workpiece on a spring loaded hinge. The base plate has a fence that can be adjusted and set at a specific angle so you can deliver straight cuts through wood at any angle. With a compound mitre saw you have the added bonus of being able to do a bevel cut, meaning the pivoting head can be angle too so you can do more complicated skirting joints, boxing in and MDF work. What to look out for when purchasing a circular saw: A sliding mitre saw has the added benefit of a rail that extends the cutting width of a saw blade. With a sliding saw you can cut wood that is larger than cutting blade - for example the Ryobi 2000W 254mm Compact Sliding Mitre Saw. Other features you may or may not find useful are things like a laser guide and dust extraction. Neither feature is essential, but these features do improve cut line visibility and thereby the quality of your cuts. A mitre saw is a bit like a circular saw on a large pivoting head, which is pulled down onto the workpiece via a spring loaded hinge. The base plate has a fence that can be adjusted and set at a specific angle so you can deliver straight cuts through wood at any angle.

With a compound mitre saw you have the added bonus of being able to do a bevel cut, meaning the pivoting head can be angled too. This means you can do more complicated skirting joints, boxing in and MDF work. View the Range Here

What to look out for when purchasing a mitre saw:
A sliding mitre saw has the added benefit of a rail that extends the cutting width of a saw blade. With a sliding saw you can cut wood that is larger than the cutting blade - for example the Ryobi 2000W 254mm Compact Sliding Mitre Saw. Other features you may or may not find useful are things like a laser guide and dust extraction. Neither feature is essential, but these features do improve cut line visibility and therefore the quality of your cuts.

More information about mitre saws:

Corded or Cordless Power Saws

Now you’ve managed to choose between the different types of power saw, your next big decision is whether you want a mains powered tool or a battery powered tool. It was once the case that if you wanted a powerful tool, you needed a corded saw, but with a new generation of lithium-ion powered battery tools, you have a bit more to choose from.

Safety

Most standard power tools with come with a pretty short cord, maybe under a metre long. Trailing cables and extension leads can be dangerous, especially when you’ve got an incredibly fast moving saw blade in your hand. There's no risk of damaging your power saw cable with a cordless option.

Portability

Being free from electrical outlets will give you far more options for where you can carry out a project than a corded alternative. If you want to be able to carry out a job in your home, attic, shed or the bottom of your garden with an equal amount of ease, a cordless option might be right for you.

Manoeuvrability

When you’re actually making a cut, you’ll find that a cordless option is easier to follow a cut line without trailing cables or an uneven weight distribution. This means that your sawing might actually be more accurate with a cordless tool.

The potential draw backs

Batteries run out - which can be less than convenient during longer DIY jobs. Be sure to get yourself a couple of batteries and have one on charge while you work with the other. Lithium cells charge very quickly (some Ryobi batteries charge in as little as 20 minutes), so you shouldn’t be waiting around for long.

The initial start up costs with battery tools can put people off from investing in a cordless alternative. A new tool, plus a couple of batteries and a charger will normally cost more than a simple plug-in-and-go style power saw. This extra cost can be offset by the fact many power tools have interchangeable battery systems, such as the Ryobi ONE+ range. All the Ryobi 18V batteries fit all the 18V home and garden power tools - and there are over 50 of them in the range. This means that you can buy a reciprocating saw and batteries, then later add a circular saw to your arsenal and simply swap around the batteries. Once you’ve purchased your batteries, you’ll find “body-only” units can be cheaper than corded alternatives. You can see the entire Ryobi ONE+ range of tools we stock here.

If in doubt, ask the experts...

Hopefully now you’re ready to choose exactly the power saw you need, regardless of how ambitious your DIY project is. As your collection of power tools grows, we’re sure you’ll add more and more cutting tools to your collection. If you have any questions about any of the tools we’ve talked about in this selection guide, or you require some sales advice, please feel free to contact our technical team through our online contact form here, or call us on 01332 576 850 - we’ll be happy to help!