Considering the most popular style of saw available, this article discusses the merits of each according to what project you have in mind. With a complex task, you may have to consider purchasing a single, two saws, or even the whole three, as they offer different cutting options for other jobs.
For the sake of definition, all of these tools use circular saw blades, but there are sometimes different tooth designs according to cutting requirements.
Circular Saw or Skil Saw
To avoid confusion, I will define this “circular saw” as a handheld tool utilizing a circular blade, sometimes called a “Skil Saw.” A definition of the circular saw could also encompass any power saw using a circular-shaped blade that spins around an arbor to cut through various materials, often wood.
A circular saw can be used either handheld or it can be fitted in some way to a purpose machine. Circular saw blades have teeth that hook in such a way as to continually pull the wood towards the blade, so they require the skill of handling to retain the accuracy of cutting. The blades a redesigned for each material they are intended to cut, and concerning wood, they can make rip cuts, crosscuts, or a combination of the two.
Because circular/skil saws are designed to be used freehand, the material being cut has to hold firmly in some way, usually in a vise or by clamps. If the wood can move, catch and jam on the saw injury could result, so caution is always required when handing a circular saw freehand.
Circular saws can be either left or right-handed, depending on the side of the blade where the motor sits. A left-handed saw is easier to use by holding in the right hand, and alternatively, a right-handed saw is held to the left, so the operator is not required to lean over the saw to see the cutting line. The base of the saw can be adjusted to alter the depth of the cut and can be tilted up to 45º about the blade for mitered cuts.
Circular saw blades are usually tungsten carbide tipped (TCT) for longevity and precision, but high-speed steel (HSS) blades are also available. Blade diameters vary according to each saw, from 5.5 to 24 inches. The blades are cut straight and accurately with a narrow kerf to give a relatively smooth surface finish; however, in cases where burrs remain, these have to be smoothed with sandpaper.
They are usually relatively small and portable and fit circular saw blades usually size 8, 10, or 12 inch that determines the depth of cut. There are different types of blades depending on what material is to be cut, and the more teeth in the blade generally make a finer cut. Blades come in many designs depending on the material to be cut – for crosscutting, ripping, multipurpose, plywood, and plastic laminates, among others. You can purchase blades as you need.
A saw bench or table saw is a woodworking bench with a circular saw blade fitted underneath and driven by an electric motor. The blade protrudes upwards through the table surface, and the wood is pushed manually across the blade edge.
Modern table saws vary the depth of cut by moving the blade up or down through the slot in the table, and the angle of the blade controls the miter angle. The firm edge, known as the fence that supports the wood you are cutting, needs to be very firm and hold accurately and be able to be adjusted easily. Most table saws have 10-inch blades, which work fine for most tasks, providing good blade quality.
You can choose a table that allows the angle adjustment for the miter saw to cuts to the left or right, but not both. Most tables have choices tilting to the right, and ultimately it comes to personal preference that suits you. When cutting miters, you have to use a tool called a miter gauge that fits into the tabletop to guide the wood as it is fed through the saw. This miter gauge must fit firmly for any accuracy of the cut.
Also critical to accuracy is the tabletop surface, and all good table saws have a cast iron table that is milled smooth and flat to within 1/1000th of an inch. A quality miter saw will always be the better option when it comes to precision and accuracy for miter cuts for moldings frames.
A compound miter saw rotates on a vertical pivot that allows the cutter head and the blade to tilt sideways or be set for beveling (or both) to make accurate miter cuts and rotation of the table. The saw blade can be set to various angles, arranging for the more popular ones, such as 45º for right-angle joints.
The miter saw is operated manually by pulling a circular saw blade down onto the material to be cut. The material is usually held firmly against a “fence” to ensure the material is secure and the cut is precise and accurate.
Miter saws are dedicated to crosscuts, so long rip cuts are impossible. These miter saws are commonly used for producing framing and cutting moldings. A miter saw has essentially four basic cuts.
- A straight cut across the grain of a board
- A miter cut which is angled across the width of a board
- A beveled cut that cuts part-way into the thickness of the board
- A compound cut that combines miter and beveled cuts
There is also some difference in blade construction for table circular and miter saws. For the table circular saw, the teeth have a hook that continually pulls the wood towards the blade, and the depth of cut is controlled by how it is set in the table. The blade for the miter saw has a negative hook at the end, which holds the material against the fence while cutting, which aids stability.
There are some absolute differences.
A table saw is perhaps more versatile for many woodworking jobs in that it performs rip cuts lengthwise, cross cuts, and miter angles. However, the miter angles are limited in options and accuracy. There may also involve a lot more handling if you want to make many miter cuts for a particular project. Being a table, it is also not particularly portable, although sizes vary considerably.
A miter saw is the best option if most of your projects require miters for cabinet making or moldings. A table saw would not offer the same accuracy, refinement, or ease of use. However, a miter saw is useless if your job requires material to be ripped.
A circular/skil saw is lightweight and very portable and can, with some skill, be used for ripping and basic miter cuts but will not do either job as well as a dedicated table saw or miter saw.