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A saw is a tool for cutting wood or other material, consisting of a serrated blade (a blade with the cutting edge dentated or toothed) and worked either by hand or by steam, water, electric or other power. The teeth of the saw are each bent to specific angle and this angle is called "set". The set of a tooth is dependent on the kind of cut the saw will be making. For example a "rip saw" has a tooth set that is similar to the angle used on a chisel. The idea is to have the teeth rip or tear the fibers of the wood apart.

Saw terminology

Diagram showing the teeth of a saw blade when looking front-on. The teeth protrude to the left and right, so that the saw cut (kerf) is wider than the blade width. The term set describes how much the teeth protrude.
  • Heel: The end closest to the handle.
  • Toe: The end farthest from the handle.
  • Front: The side with the teeth (the "bottom edge").
  • Back: Opposite the front ("top edge").
  • Teeth: Small sharp points along the cutting side of the saw.
  • Gullet: Valley between the points of the teeth
  • Fleam: The angle of the faces of the teeth relative to a line perpendicular to the face of the saw.
  • Rake: The angle of the front face of the tooth relative to a line perpendicular to the length of the saw. Teeth designed to cut with the grain (ripping) are generally steeper than teeth designed to cut across the grain (crosscutting)
  • Points per inch (25 mm): The most common measurement of the frequency of teeth on a saw blade. This is measured by setting the tip, or point, of one tooth at the zero point on a ruler, and then counting how many points are contained within one inch (25 mm) of length, counting inclusively. There will always be one more point per inch than there are teeth per inch (e.g., a saw with 14 points per inch will have 13 teeth per inch, a saw with 10 points per inch will have 9 teeth per inch). Some saws do not have the same number of teeth per inch throughout their entire length, but the vast majority do.
  • Teeth Per inch : Another common measurement of the amount of teeth residing in any one inch length of a saw blade. Usually abbreviated as TPI, eg a blade cosisting of 18TPI (Teeth Per Inch).
  • Kerf: Width of the saw cut. On most saws the kerf is wider than the saw blade because the teeth are flared out sideways (set). This allows the blade to move through the cut easily without getting stuck (binding). However, some saws are made so that the teeth have no set on one side. This is done so that the saw can lie flat on a surface and cut along the surface without scratching it. These are referred to as flush cutting saws.

Types of saws

There are a number of different categories of saw, all with the same purpose of accurately making larger pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood. The first and largest division is between hand-powered saws and mechanically powered saws.

Note that the names used for different types of saw are by no means universal. Names have changed over time and even today the same name may be used for different kinds of saws in different parts of the world or by different manufacturers. Also, the same saw may be referred to by different names.

Hand saws

Hand-powered saws fall into three divisions, which are defined by the way they hold the blade stiff (a requirement to get an even, clean cut).

A Hand saw uses either simply a blade thick enough to be stiff, or cuts on the pull stoke which reduces the stiffness requirement. This division includes the following specific types of saws:

  • Crosscut saw, for making cuts perpendicular to the grain
  • Rip saw, for cutting along the grain
  • Hand saw, saws operated by hand as opposed to power saws
  • Floorboard saw, with curved blade
  • Japanese saw, hand saws that cut on the pull stroke with straight handles
  • Keyhole saw or padsaw or compass saw, with narrow pointed blade
  • Two-man saw, for cutting large logs or trees
  • Plywood saw, fine-toothed blade to reduce tearing of plywood
  • Veneer saw, two edged saw with fine teeth used to cut veneer
  • See saw, This saw is used by two people to simulate going up and down

Although their use is dwindling the jigsaw and sabre saw (unpowered tools) may also refer to blade style saws.

Back saws

The second category of hand saws keep a thinner blade stiff by reinforcing it with a steel or brass back. Back saws are differentiated by length of blade. While this list is not definitive, they are generally named, from longest to shortest: Mitre Saw, Carcase Saw, Tenon saw, and Dovetail saw. These saws also have a handle that is vertical in relation to the blade. A saw with a straight handle that extends from the top back of the blade is referred to as a Gent's saw. Finally, some Dozuki saws, which are an Eastern-style (cut on the pull stroke)saw have backs and are classified as back-saws.

  • One type of hand powered Miter saw (makes precisely angled cross cuts) uses a backsaw.

Mechanically powered saws

Mechanically powered saws mechanically move the teeth past the wood while the saw itself is held stationary. This is accomplished in one of three ways: the teeth are along the perimeter of a flat, circular blade; the blade reciprocates up and down rapidly; or the teeth are along one edge of a continuous band. They are more specifically differentiated as follows:

Circular blade saws

  • Circular saw, machine-driven for industrial sawing of log and beams, typically found in sawmills - also name given to smaller hand-held saws
  • Table saw, circular blade rises through a slot in a table. It is the most common piece of stationary woodworking equipment. The smaller direct-drive versions that can be set on a workbench are called workbench saws. Smaller belt-driven ones generally set on steel legs are often called Contractor's Saws. The heavier, more precise and more powerful, often driven by multiple belts, with an enclosed base stand as an integral part of the saw are called Cabinet saws. A relatively new version, called a hybrid saw, has the lighter weight mechanism of a Contractor saw but with an enclosed base like the Cabinet saw.
  • Radial arm saw, versatile machine used mainly for cross-cutting where the blade is pulled on a guide arm through a piece of wood held stationary on the saw's table
  • Rotary saw, for making accurate cuts without the need for a pilot hole in wallboard, plywood, and other thin materials, also called a spiral cut saw or a "RotoZip". The latter is a trademark owned by Bosch Tool Corp. who pioneered this type of saw - design is similar to a small wood router, bits are similar to a twist drill, some cut on the upward twist, some cut downwards
  • Electric miter saw, (also called chop saw, cut-off saw or power miter box) – for making accurate cross cuts and miter cuts. The basic model has its circular blade fixed at a 90° angle to the vertical, a compound miter saw's blade can be adjusted to other angles. A sliding compound miter saw has a blade which can be pulled through the work similar to the action of a radial arm saw, which gives a greater capacity for cutting wider workpieces.
  • Concrete saw, usually powered by an internal combustion engine and used with a Diamond Blade to cut concrete or asphalt pavement.

Reciprocating blade saws

  • Jigsaw or saber saw (mainly US), narrow blade for cutting irregular shapes, typically held in one hand with the barrel perpendicular to the saw blade. Historically, the term jigsaw was also commonly used for what is now usually called a scroll saw.
  • Reciprocating saw or sabre saw (mainly UK and Australia), action similar to a jigsaw, but much larger, more powerful and with a longer stroke with the blade parallel to the barrel. Normally held in both hands, useful for demolition work or for cutting pipe. Sometimes powered by compressed air.
  • Scroll saw, saw for making intricate curved cuts (scrolls), the first of which were pedal powered. Traditionally called a jigsaw.
  • Dragsaw, internal combustion powered saw used for bucking logs before the advent of the chainsaw.
  • Sternal saw, used in surgery to open a patient's sternum.

Continuous band

Types of saw blades and the cuts they make

Blade teeth are of two general types: Tool steel or carbide. Carbide is harder and holds a sharp edge much longer.

In woodworking, a cut made at (or near) a right angle to the direction of the grain of the workpiece. A crosscut saw is used to make this type of cut.
Rip cut
In woodworking, a cut made parallel to the direction of the grain of the workpiece. A rip saw is used to make this type of cut.
A circular saw blade with many small teeth designed for cutting plywood with minimal splintering.
Dado blade
A special type of circular saw blade used for making wide grooved cuts in wood so the edge of another piece of wood will fit into the groove to make a joint. Dado blades can make different width grooves by addition or removal of chipper blades of various widths between the outer dado blades. This first type is called a stacked dado blade. There is another type of dado blade capable of cutting variable width grooves. An adjustable dado utilizes a moveable locking cam mechanism which causes the blade to wobble sideways more or less. This allows continuously variable groove width from the lower to upper design limits of the dado.

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