The best saws for the intended job
The right saw should do its intended job quickly and efficiently — after all, no one wants a saw that makes their arm ache and ruins the work. But when shopping for one, it’s not always easy to figure out whether a particular saw performs as well as the maker says.
To learn how to choose the best saw for your task, keep reading our buying guide, which includes quick reviews of a few of our favorites at the end. Our top choice is the Black+Decker Powered Handsaw, which is about as close to universal as it gets. There are not only blades for different tasks but also a motor that does the hard work for you.
Considerations when choosing a saw
How saws work
Considering how saws work might seem like an odd statement — just push and pull, right? Not exactly. Most saws only cut on the push stroke, though some (pull saws) cut when pulled toward you. The other half of the action helps to clear the waste, so the saw is ready to cut again on the next stroke.
There are dozens of different types of hand saws: hacksaws, coping saws, cross-cut saws, rip saws, flush-cut saws, pruning saws, and many more. It’s more useful to look at the general construction, which shows you which saw is best for a particular job. For instance, a pruning saw will have a curved blade to easily slice through tree branches, while the thin blade of a coping saw is made for intricate woodworking.
Big teeth spaced far apart give a rough cut, such as when you’re ripping through softwood boards. On the other end of the scale, lots of small, fine teeth would get clogged up trying to cut through softwood; they’re designed for sawing through steel and other metals, where the waste comes away as tiny fragments.
In between those two extremes, there’s plenty of variation. Closer spaced teeth on a wood saw reduce speed but increase accuracy. Both wood and metal cutting saws can be used for plastics, and again, density is key. Reasonably open-toothed blades can be used on plastic pipe, but you want more closely spaced teeth (probably a hacksaw) on solid plastic blocks.
Often, teeth are in a straight line, but sometimes they’re offset — one angled to the left, the next to the right, and so on. The cut they make is wider.
Blade length and thickness
A look at the blade length gives an indication of its intended use. A long blade indicates that your arm should make long, slow strokes, like when you’re cutting through wooden planks. A short blade indicates more rapid action, such as cutting a steel section.
If you’re cutting thick material, you want as much support behind the teeth as possible. If you’re cutting thin sheets, you want a narrow blade that won’t bind.
A chunky handle makes for a firm hold and tells you you’re going to be putting a fair amount of force into the task. By the same token, a small handle suggests the saw is likely for delicate precision work.
The best overall saw
Although the term “universal” saw is often used, there are always weaknesses. A universal wood saw won’t cut metal. A universal hacksaw cuts wood, but does a poor job. A universal powered saw can tackle a wide range of DIY jobs, but it isn’t great at cutting deck boards or solid blocks of metal.
Manufacturers are usually pretty good at describing the functionality of their tool, which helps narrow your selection. A close look at tooth pattern, blade size, and the handle should help you refine your choice. Fortunately, most hand saws are very affordable, so you don’t need to spend a lot to get two or three for different tasks.
How much you can expect to spend on a saw
You can buy inexpensive saws for a few bucks, though quality is likely poor. The majority of well-made tools only cost between $15-$40. You pay a bit more for specialist types — powered saws, long-reach pruning saws, and some Japanese pull saws — but very few are more than $70.
Best saws FAQ
Q. Why does the saw blade sometimes get stuck in the cut?
A. It mostly happens because the kerf (the cut slot made by the saw) tightens around the blade. It’s most common with thin sheet material and damp wood, though not keeping the blade straight can also cause problems. A little candle wax rubbed onto the blade often helps, or you can lodge a tack or small nail in the kerf to keep it open.
Q. Is there a good technique for sawing?
A. There are lots of different suggestions, but there are three general rules. First, make sure you’re using the right type of saw for the material. Second, don’t try to force the saw. If you’re going too fast, the teeth won’t cut properly. Third, focus on your action. The blade reflects your hand and arm movement, so keep them in line with your intended cut.
Best of the best
Black+Decker’s Powered Handsaw
Our take: Ideal home DIY and garden saw, particularly for those with reduced physicality.
What we like: The saw does the sawing. Effective reciprocating action cuts at the touch of a button. Lightweight. Blades for wood and metal, and both cut plastic, too.
What we dislike: Awkward blade-changing mechanism. Modest performance.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Best bang for your buck
Our take: Multi-position saw for light- to medium-duty metal cutting.
What we like: Clever variation on a standard hacksaw provides for easy cutting at all angles and into tight spaces. Simple, fast blade change and tensioning. Company supports ASPCA.
What we dislike: Blade-holding pins fail occasionally. Supplied blade is low quality.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: Good general-purpose saw for trade and home use.
What we like: Fast-cutting teeth are great in things like deck boards, plastic pipe, and drywall. Comfortable grip. Lacquer-coated blade reduces binding.
What we dislike: Not much. Not really universal. We don’t know what the holes in the blade are for.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.