Circular saw vs miter saw vs table saw what to buy first for a beginner

Circular saw vs miter saw vs table saw: what to buy first for a beginner

Have you decided to add a power tool in your garage or workshop and start your career as a DIYer? So you want to know what is the difference between a circular saw vs a miter saw vs a table saw and what to get first. This is a question that many people have when they are starting off.

A circular saw is a great starter saw, it is very portable and can make a wide range of cuts including crosscuts and rip cuts. A miter saw is used for crosscuts and can easily make them in a range of angles (miter cuts). A table saw is the most versatile of the three saws and incorporates a circular saw with a table so that it is more stable and can easily make more accurate cuts. A table saw can do rip cuts, crosscuts and miter cuts.

If you are new to woodworking, you may struggle to find what is the best saw for you. Or, is there only one best saw?

Professionals prefer using more than one saw, as each one has its strong points. Almost every experienced user would admit that the circular saw, miter saw and table saw, as well as the cordless drill are the most used power tools.

But you just cannot perform every task with a random saw you have found in your garage. Every type of saw is suitable for different tasks, and you may find yourself in a tough situation if you don’t know which one to use for a particular job.

So what should be your pick?

Believe me, this choice is much harder than you think. I have struggled to find the answer and the advice I would give you is that you need to follow several parameters in order to make the right pick.

Since this is not easy, you will need to understand all of the types.

Let’s start with the circular saw. Here I provide you with the basics of this versatile tool. First, let’s define it.

What is a portable circular saw?

A portable circular saw consists of a circular blade which spins around an arbor and it is used for cutting a huge variety of different materials, ranging from wood to metals.

You can also find it called as a Skilsaw, named by the biggest manufacturer of saws of this type.

So, you need to hold this type of saw in your hands and push the blade in order to make a cut.

Depending on how you cut the wood, it can be two basic different types of cuts – rip cuts and crosscuts. If you want to learn more about them, I would suggest taking a look at the rip-cut versus a crosscut article.

If you have ever tried to build a shelf, you know the importance of making straight cuts. In order to learn how to do that, check my guide for straight cutting with a circular saw.

Circular saws come in two versions – right-handed and left-handed. You need to hold the saw firmly with both hands in order to operate it, but being a lefter or a righter doesn’t really solve the problem of choosing a particular version.

That what is the secret? The most important thing when cutting with a circular saw is the ability to track the blade. If you want to learn more about this, take a look at the right-handed vs left-handed circular saw comparison.

Circular saws are really small and handy tools and if you use them right you will be able to do the finest cuts. Depending on the material that you are cutting, you can switch the blade easily.

No matter how good this explanation is, you may won’t understand how this tool works unless you see it. To help you with that, I recommend considering this video.

Related: best circular saw under 100 dollars

Now, let’s continue to the table saw.

What is a table saw?

To understand this easier, imagine a circular saw, fixed on a table. Instead of moving the saw, the cutting here is done by pushing the wood towards the saw blade.

The saw goes underneath the table and it is turning thanks to the electric motor.

This is not a strict rule, but most of the table saws allow you to set the depth and angle by moving the blade.

The fence or the edge that supports the wood needs to be strong and you need to hold it really carefully as this is very important when using a table saw.

The final step in creating a super precise cut is the surface. Make sure that the surface is completely flat and an metal surface does this the best.

Plus, when cutting with a table saw, try to use other objects for pushing the wood (people often use what they call a push stick). If the task requires only your hands, be very careful, as the consequences of losing focus can be fatal.

Related: Best cabinet table saw

Need some tips for the table saw? Take a look at this.

And finally, let’s go over the miter saw.

What is a miter saw?

It is a type of saw that rotates on a vertical pivot. This setting allows the blade to move sideways and has a bevel adjustment as well, so you will be able to create precise cuts with no difficulties.

Related: Best miter saw

How do you operate it?

Very similar to a circular saw, you push the blade on the wood in order to cut it. In order to make a straight and precise cut, you need to hold the material against the edge of the saw platform.

The most important thing you need to learn about miter saws is next:

You cannot perform a rip-cut with a miter saw.

Then, what types of cuts can you use this saw for?

  • Crosscut
  • Miter cut
  • Beveled cut
  • Compound cut

And what exactly can you do with a miter saw? This video will show you.

Circular saw vs miter saw vs table saw

These were the basics, but as a beginner, it would be really hard to differentiate these types of saws. Read this section carefully, and you will be able to make a clear distinction between these types.

Related: Table saw vs band saw

Circular saw vs miter saw

Circular saw is a more versatile tool, while the main purpose of the miter saw is to cut miters. In most cases, this refers to 45-degree cuts but miter saws can cut a wide range of angles.

Be careful when cutting an angle, as some miter gauges maybe not so accurate as you think.

On the other hand, the circular saw is capable of both rip-cuts and crosscuts, while miter saws can’t do a rip-cut.

When to use a miter rather than a circular saw?

Well, if you often do picture framing tasks; skirting boards; window or door architraves, then a miter saw would be a better pick. Otherwise, you should go for a circular saw.

But is a circular saw really the best pick you can make? Let’s compare it to a table saw.

Circular saw vs table saw

I already said a lot of things about these tools, so let’s just summarize it so I don’t repeat myself. A circular saw is a very powerful tool, designed to handle a variety of tasks.

Rip-cut and crosscuts, none of this is a problem for a circular saw. However, you use both hands to cut with it and you need to move the saw across the wood. What if you could fix the blade and move the material instead of the saw?

The table saw is exactly that – it can handle both types of cuts and even though it requires a jig for safe crosscutting, it will help you to get precise cuts.

However, a quality table saw will cost you much more than a quality circular saw. Plus, don’t forget about the portability – you can always take your circular saw to the job site.

And lastly, what are the differences between miter saw and a table saw?

Miter saw vs table saw

Well, a miter saw is only limited to crosscuts, while the table saw can do both types of cuts. But on the other hand, a miter saw should be your pick if you are focusing on quickly repeating a lot of crosscuts (including miter, beveled and compound cuts).

So, the main difference between these types is this – the miter saw moves while the wood is fixed, and the table saw is fixed and you push the material.

Related: Best circular saw under 200 bucks

Summing up

To conclude, all of these saws are great tools to have, as they all provide precise cuts depending on your needs.

However, as a beginner, you may be able to afford only one. So what should be your first pick?

The miter saw is best for miter/angled crosscuts, the table saw lacks portability, so personally, I would suggest going with a circular saw.

It is a versatile tool that is capable of different tasks that will help you to get started and learn the basics of the woodworking.

But this doesn’t have to be true for you – what are your suggestions? Which tool would you use as a beginner? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below.

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Comments 3

  1. Being brief, to the point, and referencing well established experts for additional knowledge, makes this a fast easy read with reasonable credibility. The reasoning is clear, complete and concise with sound arguments, valid evidence and logical outcomes. Content wise this is a good article.

    That said, this article needs a serious proof reading. At several points the wrong word is used or the needed word is completely left out. The author even creates a self contradiction by erroneously stating “… while miter saws can’t do a crosscut.” when comparing the circular saw to the miter saw (miter saws only crosscut – they cannot do rip cuts). I would love to see this article “re-worked” to correct these mistakes. Then I would rate it a Great article for beginners or those teaching beginners.

    Michael S. Olsen, B.S.E.
    Woodsmith Craftsman

    1. Post

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your honest feedback including pointing out the typos/errors. I really appreciate it! I have fixed up all of the typos that I could find and hope that I got them all.
      Nigel William

  2. Hi, Nigel! You are absolutely right- choosing the right tool can be very hard. In fact, I struggled with this for a long time (still do sometimes). That’s why articles like this one can be really helpful, especially when you have direct comparison in it. I started with a table saw first, it’s easier for beginners to learn how to manage it. The only problem is to be very careful and not afraid of it at the same time.

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