Did you know that the oldest wood cutting tools are several handaxes estimated to be 1,76 million years old? These were made from stone and were quite crude. Still, they are a testament to how far we have come as a species in developing tools important for our survival.
Today, wood cutting tools are far more sophisticated. They come in various shapes, sizes and can complete tremendous tasks in a relatively short time. And inevitably, modern tools have made things easier and safer for those who make a living out of wood cutting.
They’ve also allowed homeowners to complete simple woodwork tasks and hobbyist DIY enthusiasts to work with wood from the comfort of their garage.
Whichever one you are- wood carver, woodcutter, carpenter, homeowner, or hobbyist- it helps to understand the various tools available. This is because different tasks require different tools, and having the right tools makes for easier, less complicated projects.
That said, here is a look at the wide range of wood cutting tools available in the market and their specific uses.
Hand Saws and axes
Hand-held wood cutting tools have been around for millennia. They’re also the most common and easiest to use tools available today. These include the ever-reliable ax, crosscut saw, hacksaw, the Japanese saw, bow saw, pruning saw, etc.
The ax is the oldest wood cutting too. It has existed in different variations that traditionally required a lot of energy and technique. Thus, most people picture axes as heavy, outdated tools used by lumberjacks to fell trees in the 18th century. But that’s not entirely accurate.
Modern axes are smaller, lighter, and useful tools to have around, even in the heavily mechanized world of logging. In the home setting, axes are typically used to split logs into smaller pieces of wood. These pieces are then arranged into bundles used as firewood in fireplaces.
With the proper technique, an ax is a very effective woodcutting tool. It also serves as a backup just in case your chainsaw fails.
Axes require a lot of swinging. Thus, you want to ensure that your ax has a sharp, secure blade and a firm handle. The last thing you want is to have either one of these flying out of your hands as you swing the tool. You should also think about the weight and balance of your ax.
A hacksaw is a relatively small hand-powered, fine-toothed saw. Although created to cut through metal, it has been adopted for a wide range of applications, including cutting through PVC pipes, plastic, brackets, conduit, metal rods, and wood. This makes the hacksaw one of the most valuable tools in any workshop dealing with different materials.
A typical hacksaw has the following parts; a D-handle, blade, tensioner knob, frame, blade tensioner, and blade pins. The form and function of these parts will vary depending on the type of hacksaw. For instance, the standard length of the blade varies between 10 and 12 inches, but some can be as small as 6 inches.
The hacksaw also allows you to change between different blades when cutting through various materials. How do you tell? Look at the teeth. The tooth count differs depending on the material it was designed to cut. Thus, if you’re cutting through wood, make sure you change into a blade meant for that material. Note that the more teeth per inch, the smoother the cut will be.
Alternatively, you can buy a hacksaw specifically designed for wood cutting. These have special blades that cut through wood at a curve.
You’ll also want a reliable hacksaw. Go for one with a sturdy frame, an easily adjustable but secure tensioner, an ergonomic handle, and a pivoting blade angle.
The Japanese saw is an interesting tool for woodcutters. This is perhaps due to its unique and stylish design that is visually pleasing to most. Still, it has so much to offer in terms of functionality and can easily be a wood artist’s best friend.
Japanese saws are categorized under pull saws. This means that unlike conventional saws, which require a back and forth motion, they cut wood by being pulled. They are also quite lightweight, and their simple but efficient design makes it easy to cut wood in simple pulling motions. Thus, this saw is not as labor-intensive as traditional saws since it doesn’t require significant upper body strength to use.
There are several types of Japanese saws with different blade designs and uses. These include the Douzukinoko, designed for cutting dovetails (a woodworking joint) and tenons. There is also the Ryoba, a double blade saw used for general carpentry, and the Kataba, which can handle much larger carpentry work and flush-cutting.
The Azebiki is a small Japanese saw with a convex blade commonly used to cut sliding dovetails, mortises, and grooves in the mid panel. It’s also suitable for making wooden sheaths for knives and swords. Finally, there is the Mawashibiki, a keyhole saw used for cutting curves.
Pull saws like these make it easier for people to pick up woodworking.
The term backsaw refers to a saw with a metal spine on the side opposite the blade (the back). This spine reinforces the thin blade, allowing for fine, precise cuts. Such cuts are also aided by the relatively high TPI count- 11 to 14 teeth per inch. However, the depth to which a backsaw can cut is limited by the spine.
Common backsaws include the miter saw, tenon saw, and the Japanese Dozuki saw.
Crosscut and rip saws
The crosscut saw is a reliable handheld wood cutting tool for hobbyists and loggers alike. It has a large and thick blade with large teeth that bend away from the blade. These come in handy when cutting through tough pieces of wood. Thus, it’s a good tool to have if you need to cut through large tree limbs and trunks regularly.
An important note about the crosscut saw is that it is designed to cut across the wood grain. This is a relatively difficult task, and thus, their teeth are slightly angled on their inside edge to allow them to slice through wood like a series of little knives.
On the other hand, Rip saws are designed to cut along or with the grain of the wood. Like crosscut saws, their teeth bend away from the blade but are not angled on their inside edge since they accomplish a relatively easier task. Thus, their teeth work by scraping away the wood rather than slicing through it, i.e., like little chisels.
Lately, saw manufacturers have started making saws with teeth that can cut both along and across the wood grain. These general-purpose saws are slowly becoming the standard in the woodcutting industry. So, rather than buying a crosscut and a rip saw for different cutting requirements, you can get one tool that does both pretty well.
This is a small double-edged tool used to cut veneers. A veneer is a thin sheet of wood, usually 0.4 to 0.6 mm wide, peeled off a log by a veneer cutting machine. The saw features a narrow curved blade, usually 3 to 4 inches long, with 13 teeth per inch. It is attached to an elevated offset handle to allow the saw to cut flush with a surface.
The fret saw has a shape almost similar to that of a coping saw, albeit it features a deeper frame with a relatively short blade. The frame can be up to 20 inches deep, while the blade is usually around 5 inches long with up to 32 teeth per inch. This allows the fret saw to make extra-fine cuts.
Like the coping saw, it is used to work along curves, but it can cut tighter and more delicate curves. Unfortunately, the blade also has a fixed orientation relative to the blade, making it less suitable for cutting narrow components. You’ll also realize that the fret saw’s blade is more fragile than that of your typical handheld saw.
Two-person saws have been around since Roman times. However, they became quite popular in the 15th century and have remained in use since then.
As by the name, a two-person saw is designed for use by two sawyers. These tools measure anywhere between 4 and 12 feet long. They have a handle at each end for the sawyers to hold. When cutting, each person alternates pulling the saw, creating a back and forth movement that pushes the teeth deeper into the wood. The saw can also cut in both directions, and the teeth are carefully designed to clear out the sawdust when cutting.
There are several variations of two-person saws, but most fall into one of two categories; feelings saws and bucking saws. Felling saws are designed for felling trees and have a thin blade to make it easier to install wedges (used to keep the kerf open).
On the other hand, bucking saws cut felled trees into smaller pieces. They have a wider blade than felling two-man saws, giving them more strength.
Note that the use of two-man saws in lumbering declined with the dawn of the chainsaw. Still, they’re popular among people who prefer to cut their trees using manpower over power tools. If you’re one such individual, you can buy one online or at select hardware stores. They’re also more friendly to the environment and are a good backup tool to chainsaws and axes.
The keyhole saw
Also known as a compass or jab saw, the keyhole saw is dagger-like. It is relatively small, pointed, and usually features a wooden or plastic hand. Most keyhole saws have handles that allow blades of varying widths and lengths to be fitted.
A keyhole saw’s blade can be between 5 and 15 inches long. Most blades have 8 to 10 teeth per inch, but you can find some with as little as 5 TPI or as many as 20 TPI.
The keyhole saw is used to poke and cut holes through soft plywood, wood, and drywall. These holes then serve as a starting point for more precise tools to cut through the wood.
The bow saw has a thin, long blade and a bow-shaped metal frame. Its metal frame is hollow, making the saw reasonably lightweight and easy to maneuver. On the other hand, the teeth are arranged in a cross-cut design. There are also relatively fewer teeth per inch- 4 to 8, depending on the blade.
This saw’s blade is long and straight and can be detached from the frame. Its crosscut design makes it best for cutting where speed matters over a neat finish. Such projects require one to cut quickly and roughly, making the bow saw a popular tool for sawing logs to size or cutting green wood like shrubs and tree branches.
Note that there are two types of bow saw blades; peg tooth and peg & raker tooth blades. The former has triangular blades arranged in groups of three and is designed to cut dry hardwood. The former also has triangular blades, but these are arranged in groups of four, followed by 1 ‘raker’ tooth. Thus, this blade type is ideal for cutting through wet or greenwood.
Generally though, both bow saw blades have large teeth with deep gullets. These allow for fast and aggressive cutting of wood, resulting in a rough finish. This is further accentuated by the fewer teeth per inch, which result in the blade cutting and removing more material with every stroke.
A bow saw is a good tool for people who work a lot outdoors. It’s one of the best branch and shrub cutting tools currently available, and thus, a great saw to have in your toolbox.
Another saw that works quite well with tree branches is the pruning saw. It features a relatively long and curved blade and, like the bow sow, is designed to make quick work of tree branches and limbs. They’re intended for trimming live trees and shrubs and come with hard-point coarse teeth.
Most pruning saws can easily cut through branches with 3 inches of diameter. They typically cut from both sides, i.e., during the pull and pull strokes. So, every time you move the saw, it makes a cut.
There are five types of pruning saws. These include the curved blade, which is handheld and features a fine curved blade and a slightly curved handle for comfort. Thus, it’s normally used in small household gardens and nurseries.
There are also pruning saws with straight, double-edged blades. These also feature slightly curved handles and are ideal for cutting through sap and green wood.
Another type of pruning saw is the pole saw. This is a pruning blade- straight or curved- mounted on a long pole. It is used to prune high branches and can cut wood up to 10 inches in diameter.
Generally, pruning saws with curved blades are suitable for cutting thick branches, while straight blades are better for thinner branches.
Coping saws feature a rather recognizable U- shaped frame with swiveling spigots (clip) on either end to hold the thin metal blade in place. The handle can be made from hardwood, plastic, or vulcanized rubber and is designed to allow the narrow blade to be turned during operation.
Thus, coping saws are typically used to make turning/curved cuts. Advanced users can use them to cut intricate shapes or even to cut the inside of the wood. The thin blade of a coping saw also makes it easy to change the cutting direction at will. And speaking of blades, most have 12 to 15 teeth per inch, but you can get finer and coarser blades depending on the job.
A coping saw is a useful tool to own if your woodwork projects involve making intricate cuts. However, mastering this saw will take some practice, but everything should be significantly easier once you do.
Technology has allowed the development of mechanized wood cutting tools that have made wood cutting significantly easier and more precise. Even better, such power cutting and power carving tools are available for everyone, from hobbyists at home to lumberjacks in the woods.
Chainsaws are portable electric and gasoline powered saws that use a set of teeth rotating on a chain to cut wood (hence the name). They emerged as a faster, more efficient, and less tiresome alternative to the ax and two-man saws in the logging industry. Today, the chainsaw is the most popular wood cutting tool in existence.
The typical chainsaw consists of a chain with a built-in saw of about 30 teeth. This chain is usually made from a hardened steel alloy and wrapped around a relatively long metal guide bar. Traditionally, these were powered by one-cylinder gasoline engines, but we’re seeing an increase in the number of chainsaws with an electric motor (powered by a battery pack or cord).
The chainsaw’s main advantage is speed. These roaring beasts are about five to ten times faster than your average hand saw. Thus, they are the main wood cutting tool in the logging industry, where they are used to fell giant trees as quickly and efficiently as possible. Some chainsaws in this industry are so big and powerful that they can only be controlled by two operators.
Smaller chainsaws are also available for homeowners and hobbyists. These can be used to fell small trees and prune branches with ease. However, chainsaws typically require a lot of maintenance due to the number of moving parts involved. So if you’re planning to buy one, be prepared to perform regular cleaning and maintenance as instructed by the manufacturer in the user manual.
Chainsaws are also inherently dangerous. If you’re not careful with one, it may slice through a limb or your head- and kill you. Thus, you’re advised to wear a helmet with a visor and dress in a chainsaw uniform when operating one.
The last big problem with these tools is their environmental impact. Chainsaws are pretty loud, especially those powered by gasoline. These can be as loud as 120 decibels (32 times louder than a conversation), which can be a really painful sound experience. Thus, you should use sound protection at all times.
If sound is a major issue, then we need to discuss electric chainsaws. The last decade has seen dramatic improvements in battery technology that now make electric chainsaws particularly good choices for small to medium wood carving and cutting tasks. For the bigger tasks you’re going to find a gasoline powered chainsaw the best choice for the task.
When it comes to mounted saws, the table saw is one of the best power tools available. It is essentially a circular saw mounted under a table’s surface. Part of the blade protrudes above the table to cut through wood.
The table saw’s most common use is sawing large boards of wood into smaller pieces. This can be during ripping (cutting wood to width), which involves sawing parallel to the wood’s grain. Crosscutting, cutting the wood to length, is also possible on a table saw. This refers to cutting across the grain of the wood.
Table saws can also change the blade’s angle. This lets the operator perform bevel cuts. Other table saw uses include cutting rabbets, grooves, and joints. Some of the joints you can complete on a table saw include dado, dovetail, tenon, lap, finger, and reinforced miter.
You can also use the power tool for kerfing. This latter refers to removing portions of a wooden board to give it a curve. It involves making regularly spaced cuts that give the wood enough local flexibility to form tight bends. The table saw makes kerfing more precise and less tiring than if you were using a regular saw.
Example of a 16-inch Kerfing Chainsaw variant from the popular Skilsaw power tools manufacturer shown below;
Each function requires its own specialized blade. For instance, ripping blades have large chisel-like teeth with deep grooves between them. This lets the saw clear out the excess sawdust usually produced when cutting along the grain. On the other hand, crosscut blades feature much smaller teeth that can saw across the grain without cutting it.
If you run a wood cutting business, you want to use specialized blades to maximize performance and accuracy during your projects. But for hobbyists, combination blades are a cheaper and more convenient alternative. These are designed to cut both along and across the grain.
There are also carbide-tipped saw blades, which offer a bit of both worlds. They can deliver the performance of specialized blades while maintaining the versatility of combination ones.
Cutting curves is one of the most challenging aspects of woodworking- that is, if you’re using a traditional handsaw. If you want to avoid the hassle of angling a blade while you saw back and forth, you may want to try a jigsaw. This is a tool primarily used to cut curves and intricate lines in wood, plastic, ceramic tiles, and even sheet metal.
Overall, the jigsaw is a more delicate woodcutter than other powered saws. It features a thin blade that can fit into tight spaces and easily follow a curve. The jigsaw is also relatively lightweight, allowing the user to conveniently maneuver the tool along a stenciled design. When cutting along a curved line, you have the option of going freehand or using a cutting guide.
It can also make straight, plunge, and bevel cuts. Straight cuts usually require a wider blade and can be made along or across the grain of the wood. On the other hand, plunge cuts involve sawing from the middle of a workpiece. This technique is used to make holes in plasterboard or wood to allow for the installation of letterboxes, electric outlets, sinks, and other fixtures.
Jigsaws saws are available as either corded or cordless. Cordless saws can be used away from the power source since they run on a battery pack. They are thus, portable. This makes them much more convenient, especially if you do a lot of off-grid projects. However, it also limits their usage since you have to worry about battery life.
A cordless electric jigsaw example from the popular DeWalt manufacturer shown below;
On the other hand, corded options corded jigsaws need to be used next to a power source. They pack relatively more power and can be used for long periods since they don’t rely on batteries. However, this comes at the cost of portability.
Whichever jigsaw you use, make sure you have the right blade installed. This will depend on the specific material and cut you want to make. If you want to create clean and accurate cuts, use a fine-toothed blade and if you want to cut faster, use blades with bigger teeth. Also, use carbon steel blades for PVC and wood and bi-metal blades for cutting thin metal sheets.
Overall though, the jigsaw is a versatile tool that’ll come in handy in several projects. This makes them excellent for people who work a lot with wooden designs.
Band saws are almost two hundred years old. But still, they are one of the most reliable wood-cutting tools anyone can own. A band saw is a saw with a long blade stretched between two wheels. The blade has a set of fine saw teeth and constantly oscillates along the wheels to create a cutting motion.
Usually, only a fraction of the saw teeth are exposed above the flat surface of a table. This is the cutting area, and the table provides a flat surface where the workpiece is moved into the vibrating blade to create cuts. The blade’s small size and fine teeth allow the operator to make detailed, intricate cuts.
Like jigsaws, band saws are primarily used to cut wood but are useful for cutting plastic and metal sheets. Some can also cut curved or irregular shapes but do it in a much more controlled way than jigsaws. But perhaps their biggest advantage is that they do so while maintaining a highly uniform cutting action.
When shopping for a band saw, you have the option of buying a horizontal or vertical saw. Horizontal band saws are suitable if you run a large-scale lumbering business. Here, the blade moves downwards to cut into a stationary workpiece. These saws pack the most power of the two and are used to cut through large and hard pieces of wood. However, horizontal band saws cannot cut curves.
Portable Bandsaw variant from the popular Makita power tools manufacturer shown below. Great for those cases where mobility is of paramount importance.
In comparison, vertical saws use a stationary blade against which the workpiece is moved. This allows you to cut curves and irregular, complicated shapes. However, they use less power and thus, cannot be used to cut through very hard or large pieces of material.
Example of an electric vertical bandsaw from the popular Woodskil manufacturer show below;
Therefore, vertical band saws are best for small shops and homes.
The Lathe is a firm favorite among wood and metal workers. This ever-reliable and versatile tool can be used for drilling, cutting, knurling, deformation, turning, and sanding. However, its main application comes when shaping wood or metal, where it is used to remove unwanted material from the workpiece to leave behind a nicely shaped piece. Thus, it’s quite popular amongst artists and carpenters.
There are several types of lathes, all available in different sizes. Generally though, the main parts include the bed, where all lathe parts are attached. It holds the structure together and is one of the biggest determinants of size.
On the left side of the machine is the headstock. It holds the main spindle and is attached to the motor on one end, and the spindle on another. The main spindle holds the workpiece and rotates it when the motor is turned on. In most machines, it’s hollow and threaded on the outside to allow different accessories and attachments to be outfitted.
Another part of the lathe is the tool rest. This horizontal surface supports and guides the tools used to shape the wood. It can be adjusted for height, but you should only do so while the machine is off. The tailstock is also adjustable and can even be removed entirely in some lathes.
A motor powers all the rotating parts of the lathe. Most machines use an electric motor, but it’s not rare to find one with a hydraulic motor.
Example of a benchtop lathe from the popular WEN power tools manufacturer;
A lathe is a perfect tool for a woodworker who shapes wood and makes precise cuts. However, buying a reliable one will cost you a lot of money. The machine also comes with several safety instructions, including wearing the right gear, using sharp tools, and always powering off before making any adjustments.
If you want to avoid the pitfalls of using hand saws, then the circular saw is a must-have tool. This power saw is one of the most essential wood cutting tools for contractors, homeowners, and DIY enthusiasts since it can be used in all types of projects, from simple tasks in your garage to major construction works.
The circular saw can cut through wood, metal, plastic, and even concrete. To do so, it uses a toothed or abrasive disc blade that spins at very high speeds around an arbor. The rotary motion of the disk is what drives the saw into the workpiece. This makes it similar to the table saw in operation, only this time, it is handheld.
The typical circular saw consists of the bevel adjustment, plate, blade cover, bolt clamp, blade, cord, power switch, trigger, and handle. When cutting, the bevel adjustment is used to adjust the bevel angle, allowing the operator to cut at an angle.
On the other hand, the plate keeps the saw steady and level while the blade cover protects against accidental contact with the blade. If you have a corded saw, the cord connects the equipment to the power source. It is located on the back of the saw and can be detached for storage purposes.
Circular saws are available in different types depending on the positioning of the motor. These are the sidewinder, worm drive, and hypoid. They function almost similarly, with the main differences being in power, reach, portability, and weight. Whichever one you use, make sure you select the appropriate blade depending on the type of cut you’re after.
- Ripping blade: Appropriate for cutting along the grain of the wood. They are designed with large teeth to help remove sawdust efficiently from the cut and easily cut through the hardest woods.
- Crosscut blades: These cut perpendicular to the wood grain. They are usually
- Combination blades: These are the most common circular saw blades. They are designed to cut both along and across the wood grain, making them pretty convenient since you won’t have to switch between blades as often.
Circular saws also come in corded and cordless options and are usually powered by an electric motor. There are also gasoline-powered versions and hydraulic-powered ones, although these are not as common.
An example of a cordless circular saw from the popular Makita power tools manufacturer shown below;
The router is a little different from other woodworking tools on this list. This is because it doesn’t exactly cut through the wood. Rather, routers are used to hollow out wood and other hard materials. It’s quite sophisticated and allows the user to make intricate cuts and edges.
The power tool has a flat base with a rotating shaft or bit extending beyond it. This shaft is powered by an electric motor, which spins it fast enough to ‘cut’ through the wood. It can also be used to cut through metal and plastic.
An example of an electronic fixed base router from the popular Bosch wood power tools manufacturer shown below;
Other wooding cutting tools
There are several wood cutting tools that are not saws. These include;
which is used to carve wood. It is a popular tool among wood artists to create stunning wood sculptures. The chisel works by chipping tiny pieces of wood. They are relatively small and can be easily maneuvered, allowing the artisan to carve the workpiece in their desired manner.
Planes can also be classified as wood cutting tools. These are used to smoothen sheets of timber and work by shaving down bumps on the surface of the wood. Planes are necessary for completing certain carpentry jobs, like making tables and stools. The manual ones typically rely on upper body strength to work effectively.
Knives are another handy wood-cutting tool for wood-carving. They are versatile and allow the artisan to make small accurate cuts on the workpiece.
Different knives exist for various purposes. These include the hook knife, which features a bent hook-shaped blade that is ideal for making spoons, and the beginner-friendly chip knife with its thin short blade for chipping pieces of wood. There is also the whittling knife that serves as an all-purpose carving tool.
The gouge, just like the chisel, is used for wood carving. However, unlike chisels, which have gouges feature curved cutting edges. Thus, they are used to remove little clumps of wood.
Gouges come in different shapes and sizes but generally fall under V, U, or spoon gouges. V gouges are used to make precision and angled cuts, while spoon gouges shovel out clumps of wood.
Laser Wood Cutters – CNC Wood Cutting Machines
Laser wood cutters are now well established as quality woodworking tools in industry. The drop in prices and increased safety features are starting to see them appear more in the serious home and hobby woodworker.
These are great tools when you want repeatable precision of have very specific or intricate patterns you want cut into the wood (like the puzzle and wood house model shown in the image above). Many types of laser wood cutters also serve as excellent for custom engraving jobs.
Factors to consider when choosing a wood cutting tool
Unless you run a mill, you can’t possibly buy all the above wood cutting tools for your workshops. The following factors should guide your choice of wood cutting tools to acquire.
What projects do you need it for?
While there are general-purpose wood cutting tools, most are built to handle specific kinds of projects. Thus, you want to ensure that you have the right tool(s) for your regular tasks. If you get one that is too big or too small, your projects won’t be as efficient. Generally;
- Table saws are used to cut multiple pieces of wood fast. Thus, professional table saws are best for businesses or establishments that deal with large volumes of wood. The same applies to powerful chainsaws.
- Jigsaws and band saws work best for projects that require you to cut curves and complicated shapes. On the other hand, the lathe is a handy tool to have if you shape and carve many wooden pieces.
- Handheld saws, like the bow saw, hack saw, and crosscut saw, are suitable for everyday wood cutting projects. They are handy tools to have, no matter the scope of your project.
Do you need something portable or stationery?
This decision will depend on the location of your projects. For example, those who prefer working outdoors will want to own portable wood cutting tools, like hand saws and cordless motor saws.
But if you have an indoor workstation, you should settle for stationery wood cutting tools, like a table saw and a bandsaw. Here, you don’t have to worry about not having access to electricity. Thus, you can also buy corded versions of motor saws.
Some of these power saws don’t come cheap. So, you have to keep your budget in mind as you shop for wood-cutting tools. Generally though;
- Heavy-duty wood cutting machines are very expensive and are thus best for business purposes. This is because the venture can generate profit, which will provide you with a return on investment.
- If you need wood-cutting tools for leisure or home renovation projects, go for relatively inexpensive options.
It’s your decision
There are dozens of wood-cutting tools capable of making your projects significantly easier. However, not all of them can fit in your workshop and certainly not in your wallet. You’ll have to choose the best wood cutting tools for your specific situation. For this, consider the scope of your projects, your budget, and your safety.