Choosing a Saw for Your Workshop

Motorized miter saws being used to crosscut wood stock.
Motorized miter saws are great for crosscutting and mitering.

For the average homeowner who already has a circular saw, which would be the best choice for most home projects: a table saw, radial arm saw, or miter saw?

Hi Matt,
That would depend on the kind of projects you plan to tackle, as each have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Table saws excel at ripping lumber and plywood. While they can also crosscut and miter, it can be awkward with pieces over a few feet long.
  • Radial arm saws are great for crosscutting, but are difficult—and potentially dangerous—to use for ripping. They can also be used to miter, but it takes more set up time than with a power miter saw and stock thickness is limited.
  • Power miter saws are perfect for mitering and crosscutting moldings and lumber, but most have limited capacity for cutting wide stock.

While all three have an important place in a well equipped shop, I would choose a table saw first with a miter saw as a close second.


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  1. Hi Walter,
    Band saws are a great addition to a workshop for cutting curves and resawing lumber, but they’re probably not as versatile as a table saw or miter saw in most shops.

  2. I am going to buy miter saw. I read many websites and I see Dewalt DW175 which is suitable for my needs. Do you have any information on it?

  3. A 10″ sliding compound miter saw is great when you’re just getting started. There’s usually a few for sale on Craigslist, and if you’re patient you can end up with a whole lot of saw for not a lot of $.

    However, there are countless youtube videos on how to build jigs for a table saw to make it able to do anything a miter saw can. Additionally, the table saw can innately do anything a miter saw can. If you like the idea of being a mad scientist in your wood shop, this might be your option.

    Both of these come after the circular saw. This is a must. They’re called “the saw that built America” for a reason.
    Ripping: table saws are great for ripping boards – if you have an outfeed table, a ripping blade, and know how to set up the guide properly so the wood doesn’t shoot into your gut at 70mph. Even if you have these things, if you’re only ripping one board you’re not saving any time using a table saw especially if you have to change blades. You can use a store-bought guide or just a long piece of straight wood and rip quickly and accurately with a circular saw.

    Crosscutting: miter saws excel at this and I use my miter/table for 99% of my crosscutting. However, I can measure an extra 1 1/4 inch from the crosscut I need to make (distance from circular saw blade to edge of its guide), clamp down a guide and make a perfect crosscut quickly with a circular saw.

    For plywood and mdf there’s no comparison. Circular saw every day of the week and twice on sundays. Unless, of course, you want to change blades to a plywood blade and have an infeed table and an outfeed table.

    So… circular saw first, then get whatever power saw you find you need the most after a few months of working in your shop. Generally for power tools, my rule is I don’t buy it until I frequently find myself saying “damnit I would have been done an hour ago if I had an X”. Have the requirement for a tool before you buy it, not the other way around.

    Finally, a cheap jigsaw with a good blade is where I recommend starting for curved cuts. Get a guide for making precision curves (if you need to). Band saws and scroll saws come later and for different reasons than “I need to make a curved cut”.

    Armed with a circular saw, drill, and jigsaw – you can do almost everything. Tools beyond those, with a few exceptions of course, are mostly just about making the operation more accurate, faster, and looking better.

    (I’m not long-winded, I just type really, really fast.)


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